Rodney D. Sieh, [email protected]
Monrovia – Former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, often keen about the legacy she left behind expressed a sense of pride back in February, when she declared that the only house she built while she was President is the one on her farm in Bomi County.
Said President Sirleaf in an OK FM post-presidency interview: “I built my houses in the ‘70s… I’ve had good jobs, I’ve worked with the World Bank, I’ve also worked with the Citi Bank, Nairobi office; I was the head of the Africa Bureau of UNDP and all of those jobs had good money, all of those jobs had pension. I didn’t build any house when I was President. My lifestyle helped me control how I used money.”
Sirleaf’s assertions came in the backdrop of mounting scrutiny over what many say is President George Weah’s construction of gigantic structures in and around Monrovia.
“I built my houses in the ‘70s… I’ve had good jobs, I’ve worked with the World Bank, I’ve also worked with the Citi Bank, Nairobi office; I was the head of the Africa Bureau of UNDP and all of those jobs had good money, all of those jobs had pension. I didn’t build any house when I was President. My lifestyle helped me control how I used money.”Former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf
A 48-unit apartment complex off the Robertsfield Highway, the refurbishing of his Jamaica Resort and his once dormant property in 9th Street Sinkor, are just a few of the many mired in controversy since the President came to office in January 2018.
The controversy took a swift turn this week when Presidential Press Secretary Smith Toby ignited a firestorm with an emphatic declaration that the President’s controversial 9th Street property is now owned by his son, Timothy Weah, since it was demolished in early 2018.
Tim Weah Drawn into Quagmire
Photographs of the refurbished property first posted on the social medium Facebook by Talk Show host Henry Costa immediately drew topical discussions, prompting Mr. Toby to clear the air.
Mr. Toby had initially said: “I think to convince you further, we’ll get the transfer documents transferring that property that was demolished – remember that building was demolished and remolded by the current head of the property, so we need now to give you further clarity on it by giving you those transfer documents because that property is no longer in the name of the President.”
Barely 24 hours later, Mr. Toby backpedaled on his earlier comments by withdrawing his statement on the property, saying “It was not the factual information”. “If our information weren’t correct around that particular claim, now he’s [Pres. Weah] come back to tell us the information you put out isn’t correct, you need to correct the information and let the people know that, it’s my property, it has no attachment with my son.”
Mr. Toby added: “I’m doing an erratum that the previous information on that property wasn’t the factual information; the fact of the matter currently confirmed by the President is that property belongs to him and not his son.”
This is not the first time that President Weah has drawn his son, Timothy, a rising star on the US Men’s national football team, who plies his trade for the French Ligue 1 side, Lille into property controversy in Liberia.
In 2018, Timothy was the center of yet of another saga involving several acres of property in Zeh Town, Marshall Highway, Margibi County.
According to the deed in possession of FrontPageAfrica, Timothy reportedly paid a whopping forty-five thousand, two hundred United States Dollars to one Abner Glay Johnson for the property.
Presidents past and present have often found themselves embroiled in messy entanglements regarding properties.
Relics of the Past
As far back as the first President Joseph Jenkins Roberts, history has left a trail.
Roberts, an African American merchant who emigrated to Liberia in 1829 and ruled Liberia from January 3, 1848 to January 7, 1856, at the time of his death, left $10,000 and his estate to the educational system of Liberia.
Roberts directed that his property, including a coffee farm at Mamba Point, be used for “supporting the education of Liberia’s children. These properties today include the area occupied by the Ducor Palace Hotel, the Grand Masonic Temple and several foreign embassies.
Today, much of the properties have been leased or sold to Lebanese businesses accruing huge amounts of money. Although scores of students benefit annually from Roberts Education foundation, previous years have seen some students struggle to benefit from the scholarships named in Roberts honor.
Late President William V.S. Tubman, who ruled Liberia for 27 years, from 1944 to 1971, did not leave anything for the Methodist Church in his will but left his farms in Totota, Bong County and many other properties, including his mansion in his hometown, Maryland County, and his money only to his widow, and his 18 children.
Today, Tubman’s famous mansion lay in ruins, kept intact by a few squatters who have done their best to keep what’s left of the mansion standing. Similarly, the late President’s large farm in Totota is mostly abandoned. President Tubman’s last building constructed in Congo town is now a shell of what it used to be with a For Lease sign at the front. The family is said to be looking for tenants. It was where he lived for a short while before he died in 1971. The building was used as the Chinese Embassy before the war.
For years, the government of Liberia paid rent to the Tubman family for use of what used to be the Ministry of Justice opposite the College of West Africa on Ashmun Street.
Today, the building is empty, paraded on most days by petit traders looking to make a living as central Monrovia is losing its prime value.
Former President Edwin Barclay, who led Liberia from 1930 to 1944 left behind a handful of properties including his mansion which was known as the Marble Building or what used to be the Family Planning Building on Snapper Hill Broad Street opposite the Cathedral Catholic Church.
Much of the areas in the block containing stores and office spaces around Broad and Randall Streets and Broad and Gurley Street Including the ITC bank building which is now IB bank belonged to late President Charles Dunbar King, who was President of Liberia from January 5, 1920–December 3, 1930. Much of those properties were willed to the Dunbar’s family.
President William R. Tolbert, who succeeded Tubman from 1971 until his demise in the 1980 coup d’etat did a lot for his home area in the city of Bentol. During Tolbert’s reign, churches, and several acres of properties including his massive ranch in Bentol were constructed. Today, much of those buildings are being covered by bushes and unsuitable not even for squatters.
Doe Follows the Trend
Tolbert’s successor Samuel Kanyon Doe who ended decades of Americo-Liberian rule when he and a band of 17 low-ranked army officers seized power in a bloody coup, has continued the trend.
After the coup, Doe ordered the executions of 13 former government officials of the Tolbert government and jailed political foes he accused of corruption, greed and nepotism.
Doe’s justification for the coup was the deteriorating economy, under which only a corrupt minority lived decently. The first Liberian Ambassador after the 1980 coup and Minister of State in the interim government of Dr. Amos Sawyer, Dr. Joseph Saye Guannu, stated in the documentary, “Liberia, America’s step-Child” that Doe’s government was more corrupt than all the governments before 1980.
Today, Tubman’s famous mansion lay in ruins, kept intact by a few squatters who have done their best to keep what’s left of the mansion standing. Similarly, the late President’s large farm in Totota is mostly abandoned.
Doe bitterly complained that his government had inherited a whopping $US800 million debt and declared that revenues from Liberia’s iron ore exports, 60 percent of the country’s $250 million annual earnings, were steadily dropping because of a recession in the world’s steel industries.
At the time, the government’s budget stood at $US325 million while expected earnings, with aid grants, were around $US240 million.
In September 1980, Doe complained in a speech that it seemed the Tolbert government, with a projected deficit of at least $75 million, “had only been surviving from hand-to-mouth and from money they had borrowed at a very high cost to the Liberian people.”
The country’s three iron-ore mining companies could go bankrupt, Doe indicated, leaving destitute some “25,000 Liberians who are either employees or dependents.”
For nearly a decade, the United States, Liberia’s traditional stepfather, under President Ronald Reagan, pumped in nearly $500 million, making Liberia the largest per capita U.S. aid recipient in sub-Saharan Africa.
In addition, Liberia won emergency aid from the United States and Western Europe following the adoption of an International Monetary Fund stabilization plan. In September 1980, the IMF agreed to pump $85 million into the country over the next two years and Western creditors agreed to reschedule payment of the existing $800 million debt.
Much of the US grants were in response to apparent overtures Doe was making with Libyan leader, Muammar Qaddafi, who had pledged aid to Doe.
Despite the windfall, a December 16, 1988 New York Times report concluded: “Very little of that aid ever reached the population. Well-connected government employees have wallowed in luxury consumer goods and built foreign bank accounts. After a fraudulent election and an attempted coup in 1985, Congress put the brakes on U.S. aid. Payment arrears have jeopardized further help from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. Last year, an embarrassed Reagan Administration sent in the financial experts. They worked hard but were ignored. Those in the Doe group seem interested only in helping themselves at Liberia’s expense. There’s no finer place to start cutting the U.S. budget deficit than by cutting them off at the pockets.”
Doe’s Family in Tussle Over Property
For nearly a decade, Doe, following the footsteps of his predecessors whom he had blamed for much of Liberia’s predicament, began to amass massive wealth with investments in several properties in Monrovia and his now abandoned presidential mansion in Tuzon, Grand Gedeh County.
In Monrovia, former first Lady Nance B. Doe, recently accused Cllr. Archibald F. Bernard, legal advisor to President George Weah, of using political power to hijack a property on the Tubman Boulevard, adjacent to Vamoma House, she says was sold by Mr. Bernard to President Doe just before the country’s civil conflict in 1990. Ironically, it is alleged that the property has been sold to President Weah by Cllr. Bernard.
The Doe family now argues that if they are to hand the property back to the Bernard children, the children should repay them the $25,000 Doe paid Bernard plus costs for damage done to the property. Since Bernard has refused to pay, according to Wright, the family says it is left with no option but to sue Bernard. Wright says the Supreme Court did not rule on the issue of repayment in 2011 saying it was not part of the case before them. But the court advised the Does to sue Bernard for the money. Frustrated by the judicial process they are asking the president put an end to the matter.
Fast-forward to today, mirroring perceptions are resurrecting chapters from Liberia’s past. President Charles Taylor, who led Liberia from August 1997 to August 2003 is famously noted for his White-Flower Mansion in the Congo Town belt.
In its prime during the Taylor years, the mansion, was the most visible and populated haven for followers of the presidency looking to gain favor, jobs or a seat at the table.
During the course of the last decade of the Sirleaf reign, her ranch-like home on the Tubman Boulevard served that purpose. On most weekends, it was her farm home in Bomi. But like the ever- recurring circle in Liberia, the crowds of visitors often seem to fade away as leaders or rulers’ days under the spotlight comes to an end.
Since assuming the presidency, President Weah has been in the firing line of critics pushing him to declare his assets. The president finally bowed to pressure last year and filed but those filings have not been made public.
Assets Under Scrutiny
The President himself has put the pressure on his officials to do the same, saying at a December 2018 Cabinet Retreat: “During the campaign, we told the people of Liberia and assured the international community that our government would adopt a zero tolerance posture towards corruption and graft and would demonstrate utmost transparency and accountability,” the Liberian leader said. “It is therefore important and critical that each of you serving in my government declare your assets to the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission in one week.”
The only detailed assets in the public domain of the President is the one he filed in 2005 ahead of the presidential elections that year.
According to the declaration, he earned US$60,000 from his supermarket in Florida, USA; US$250,000 from real estate in the USA and US$25,000 from his real estate in Liberia.
President Weah in 2005 declared that his combined assets both in Liberia and the USA were more US$2.8 million. His residence in Florida, USA was said to worth US$1.5 million, while his Supermarket in Miami, Florida was said to worth US$1.2 million.
Documents obtained by FrontPageAfrica indicate that the Florida supermarket – Flavors West Indian Supermarket and Restaurant – which is registered in his wife’s name had been inactive.
His two residences in Liberia were said to be valued US$250,000, with the one in which he currently resides in the ELWA Rehab Road community in Paynesville being put at US$100,000.
The demolished residence on 9th Street in Sinkor, Monrovia was valued in 2005 at US$150,000. He, however, failed to state his bank balances in the declared assets.
Several years later, Weah in 2014 won the Senatorial elections and became Senator of Montserrado for three years until his election as President in December 2017, earning a monthly income of somewhere around US$15,000. His total worth as Senator for the three years is estimated to be US$540,000.
For President Weah, now enjoying his moment under the sun; many political and diplomatic watchers say, taking a cue from history may be a good gauging point for viewing mimicking objects of yesteryears, often looking much closer than they appear in the sands of an obsessed time-capsule mired in a recurring state of political and economic uncertainty.