Liberia: Witch Hunting in the Midst of COVID-19? Solicitor General’s Letter Raises Questions About Motive, Injustice
Rodney D. Sieh, [email protected]
Monrovia – In a letter to Mr. Samuel D. Tweah, Minister of Finance and Development Planning (MFDP), dated May 1, 2020, the Solicitor General of Liberia, Cllr. Cyrennius Cephus is seeking the exclusion of two recently -appointed members of the of the National Coronavirus Response Team, because, in Mr. Cephus’s own words, they grossly “mismanaged Ebola Fund” during the 2014 Epidemic.
The letter which is in the possession of FrontPageAfrica reads as follows:
Dear Mr. Minister:
We present our compliments and wish to request your honorable office to have Mr. Fidel Wiah, former Comptroller of the National Public Health Institute of Liberia(NPHIL) and Mr. Johnson Sloan, former Procurement Director at the GSA, withdrawn from COVID-19 RESPONSE Team for the fact that these two individuals have been undergoing separate and distinct formal criminal investigations at the Assets Investigation Restitution, and Recovery (AIRR) and the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission(LACC) respectively for alleged financial malpractices during the deadly Ebola epidemic.
“From January 2015-2016 I was in the United States studying at Strayer University in Pennsylvania, Delaware County where I studied and earned a Masters of Business Administration (MBA). Additionally, the entire 2014, I was employed was Putu Iron Ore Mining Company, in Congo town.”Mr. Fidel Wiah
Further, we believe that their presence on the COVID-19 Response team set up by this government, while there’s allegation of waste and abuse and the alleged mismanagement of public resources are hanging over their heads unresolved, will not only be an affront to the government’s declared war on corruption but will also undermine the good intentions of the government in identifying and recruiting credible men and women to lead the campaign against the deadly virus.
That being the case, we demand their unconditional removal from the COVID-19 Response Team to serve as a clear warning that no amount of their willingness or unbridled eagerness to support the government campaign will obfuscate or their past horrible records in the gross mismanagement of Ebola Fund.
An investigation by FrontPageAfrica has however found that both Mr. Wiah and Mr. Sloan, were not part of the Ebola response team neither did they manage finances during the Ebola Response.
Interviews with several former executives of the Ebola Response Team indicate that during the Ebola operation was handled by Mrs. Wede Brownell who was assisted by Mr. Janga Kowo, the current Comptroller General of the Republic of Liberia, who served as an accountant for the Ebola trust fund.
Kowo, however, served as Accountant at the Ebola Task Force around July 2014 to January 2015 when he left and was elected National Secretary General of the CDC in January 2015.
Kowo told FPA Saturday that his service on the Taskforce as Accountant was for about 6 Months and had No Decision Making Role. “It important to clarify that so that the impression is not created that I was the Accountant for the entire duration of the Ebola outbreak. Additionally, my name is not even mentioned in the GAC Audit because I didn’t play any decision Making Role on Eloba Funds,” Kowo said.
Wiah Sets Record Straight
“Any defense of these two individuals in the face of compelling information that they are facing a formal criminal investigation could be misconstrued by the investigators as an attempt to baffle the process and perhaps seen or considered as a possible collusion. There is a zero tolerance to countenance the alleged acts of these individuals.”Cllr. Cyrennius Cephus, Solicitor General
Speaking to FrontPageAfrica Saturday, Mr. Wiah explained that: “From January 2015-2016 I was in the United States studying at Strayer University in Pennsylvania, Delaware County where I studied and earned a Masters of Business Administration (MBA). Additionally, the entire 2014 I was employed was Putu Iron Ore Mining Company, in Congo town.”
The Ebola epidemic which hit Liberia in March 2014 and officially ended in on May 9, 2015 when the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak over in Liberia.
Although there were smaller flareups in 2016, passport and travel records viewed by FPA showed that Mr. Wiah was out of Liberia at the time.
FPA has learned that during the Ebola Response, the institution that managed the response was the Ministry of Health through the Incident management system set up by former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. At this stage the National Public Health Institute of Liberia (NPHIL) was never established.
NPHIL was official established by an Act of the Legislature and signed in handbill on January 26, 2017.
As a new organization NPHIL needed a financial management team and Mr. Wiah was recruited through the NPHIL Board of directors and management as its first financial comptroller and chief of financial management. In this position NPHIL has a sound financial management System.
Mr. Wiah is currently the comptroller and Acting Deputy Director General for administration of the NPHIL, in this position he is the business officer of the US Government CDC grant on strengthening public health emergencies surveillance and IPC control. I am serving as coordinator for the European development clinical trial (EDCTP) in Liberia. All these donors have no issues with my performance including my previous supervisors.
Mr. Wiah holds a Bsc degree in Economics, from the United Methodist University, MBA in Finance from the Cuttington and MPA in public Administration from the Jack Welsh School of management and public administration-Strayer University, Delaware County, PA, USA.
Sloan Was ‘Nonessential Staff’ During Ebola 2014
For his part, Mr. Sloan, when contacted by FrontPageAfrica Saturday explained that he had no major or minor role to play during the Ebola virus epidemic in 2014. “I came from the Financial Management School in 2014 as a Procurement Specialist and I got deployed at the GSA as a Procurement Specialist with an already established department with the Director and other procurement officers in January of 2014. After two months in the unit, as a specialist, playing an advisory role to the Director, the Ebola outbreak arrived; and I was classified as nonessential staff and sent home. So, absolutely let me be on record, I didn’t have any interference with GSA Ebola activities; and I didn’t even receive a cent from management on any Ebola matter.”
Regarding the ongoing COVID-19, Mr. Sloan explained that he does not have any role with the current team. “I have not been given any role as a staff at GSA and I haven’t even bought a single thing concerning it. Please also be informed that the entire 2018/2019 fiscal year, we only received allotment one time for goods and services and even this 2019/2020 we just received allotment as an entity for goods and services, since July wish is the beginning of the fiscal year.”
On April 10, 2020, Madam Mary Broh, head of the COVID-19 response team, released her full team as follows:
Dr. Wilhelmina Jallah, Minister of Health, Chair and Dr. Francis N. Kateh (Chief Medical Officer), Co-Chair. In charge of EPI-Surveillance is Mr. Luke Bawo, National Coordinator/Health Management Information & Vital Statistics(MoH) while Mr. Sanford Wesseh, Assistant Minister/Vital Statistics(MoH), is put in charge of Contact Tracing.
“I came from the Financial Management School in 2014 as a Procurement Specialist and I got deployed at the GSA as a Procurement Specialist with an already established department with the Director and other procurement officers in January of 2014. After two months in the unit, as a specialist, playing an advisory role to the Director, the Ebola outbreak arrived; and I was classified as nonessential staff and sent home. So, absolutely let me be on record, I didn’t have any interference with GSA Ebola activities; and I didn’t even receive a cent from management on any Ebola matter.”Mr. Johnson P. Sloan
Dr. Jerry Brown, Chief Executive Officer/Administration, JFK is put in charge of Case Management while Dr. Samson Azoaquoi, Consultant, Clinton Health Associates is put in charge of Infection Prevention and Control.
Mr. Fahn Taweh is placed in charge of laboratory while Information Minister Lenn Eugene Nagbe is put in charge of Risk Communication.
Madam Broh, currently head of the General Services Agency will be in charge of Logistics and Supplies, Mr. Thomas Nagbe, Assistant Director of NPHIL is put in charge of Case Investigation.
Mrs. Williametta Piso-Saydee Tarr, Minister of Gender and Protective Services will be responsible for Psychological while Mr. Robert W. Budy, Commissioner General Liberia Immigration Services is in charge of Ports of Entry and Internal Affairs Minister Varney Sirleaf is in charge of Dead Body Management and Bobby Whitfield, Commissioner of the Liberia Water and Sanitation(WASH).
FrontPageAfrica has learned that it was Dr. Jallah, who wrote the Minister of Finance to work with the team because of his experience. It is not clear how Sloan comes into the picture.
FPA has also learned that it was Dr. Fallah requested Mr. Wiah to serve as advisor to the IMS on Finance and Administration because his preferred choice was reportedly not up to the task. This was before that choice was removed from the IMS chair post, in a communication on which the youth wing chair of a political party was copied.
Interventions Falling on Deaf Ears
Since the resignation of then NPHIL Director General and Deputy Director General for Administration, the newly appointed Director General, Dr. Fallah has reportedly been at odds with Mr. Wiah.
The NPHIL boss did not return a message seeking clarity on this, when FPA contacted him.
Mr. Wiah has reportedly been sidelined from his role as Acting DG for Administration and Finance for Dr. Fallah’s preferred, Mr. Amos Gborie, an environmentalist and Deputy Director for Environmental Health, who according to sources have no prior financial management background.
One source told FPA Saturday, “There has been a lot of back and forth between Dr. Fallah and Mr. Wiah over Wiah’s position. Dr. Peter Coleman, Chair on the Health Committee, Dr. Moses Massaquoi, Board Chair of NPHIL and Dr. Jallah have all taken turns trying to intervene on the issue, prevailing on Dr. Fallah to work with Mr. Wiah and his entire senior staff that he is now in loggerhead with.”
The letter, FPA has learned is said to be a last-ditch attempt, using the office of the Solicitor General to remove Mr. Wiah from the position he currently occupies. “The sad thing is for a learned lawyer, Chief Prosecutor of the state to go to the level of rumor mongering, without any color of respect of the character of a professional Liberian citizen is scaring speaks volumes and raises questions of motive,” said the source, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Defiant SG Says Evidence Inconsequential
Asked Saturday, whether he had any proof or evidence of corruption from the pair he is seeking to have excluded from the COVID-19 Response, Solicitor General Cephus, said: “If you read my letter correctly and understood its content I said undergoing formal criminal investigation that could possibly lead to indictment. The investigations have been interrupted by a number of intervening factors but have not been abandoned. That said, they could take weeks or months and moreover as a certified international criminal lawyer and Chief Prosecutor of the Republic I have not heard, am not sure it is the practice and procedure for the Chief Prosecutor to provide an administrative agency evidence that is intended for a court trial and that is still being gathered and compiled. I would advise that you unconditionally exclude the two individuals from your team for reasons stated inter alia.”
The SG went on to suggest that: “Any defense of these two individuals in the face of compelling information that they are facing a formal criminal investigation could be misconstrued by the investigators as an attempt to baffle the process and perhaps seen or considered as a possible collusion. There is a zero tolerance to countenance the alleged acts of these individuals.”
While emphasizing that the government has a strong political will to fight corruption, Cllr. Cephus said as Chief Prosecutor, he will work with the investigators at the LACC and AIRReT to bring the pair to book.
However, many are wondering whether the issue is a matter of witch hunt.
Pressure has been mounting of late for the government to bring the disgraced nominee to head the National Elections Commission, Cllr. Ndubusi Nwabudike to book after his confirmation hearing before the Senate revealed deceptions and inconsistencies leading to his nomination to be revoke. Nwabudike, has since the saga reportedly resumed his position as head of the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission and has not been penalized for submitting fake documentations at his hearing.
What About the Ones that Got Away?
Similarly, many are puzzled over the prosecutor’s office going after the pair, when several other high-profile individuals are being let off the hook.
Recently, Ms. Ellen Corkrum, the former head of the Liberia Airport Authority who quietly slipped out on a US-COVID-19 charted flight recently without being charged.
Corkrum arrived in Monrovia back in January to a rousing welcome as scores of her supporters gathered at the Roberts International Airport to greet her. Ms. Corkrum, an ex-fugitive, who fled Liberia nearly seven years ago as a result of an Economic Sabotage charge hanging over her head, had criminal charges filed against her with the court mysteriously dropped.
Last July, the prosecutor’s office turned a blind eye after a report by the LACC hooked District No.15 candidate, Mr. Abu Kamara, for receiving double salaries and benefits. Kamara consented to receiving US$ 8000. 00 and L$200,000 and promised to restitute the amount.
Despite Kamara expressing guilt, he was allowed to run on the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change’s ticket, defeating Telia Urey of the opposition All Liberian Party, part of the four-party Collaboration of Political Parties (CPP).