Liberia: Sports Minister Accuses Female Staffer of ‘Blunder’ in Granting use of Stadium to Opposition
Monrovia – The planned rally of the new Collaborating Political Parties (CPP) has received a major setback following a move from the Government of Liberia (GOL), through the Ministry of Youth and Sports (MYS), to deny the party the use of the Samuel Kanyon Doe Sports Complex outdoor facilities in Paynesville, outside Monrovia for the event.
The CPP comprises of the opposition Alternative National Congress (ANC) and the Liberty Party.
By: Obediah Johnson
Last week, the CPP announced that it will stage a peaceful rally under the captioned “We Tired Suffering” on December 17 to call President Weah and his government’s attention to the growing wave of sufferings, extreme hardship, societal ills, and bad governance vast majority of the citizens are encountering.
Lewis Brown, Senior Advisor to the Standard Bearer of the CPP and one of the planners of the rally, disclosed that the event is a plea for President Weah’s “failed, wasteful and disappointing administration to care for the Liberian people and care about what ordinary Liberians are living, going through and feeling every day.”
“WE TIRED SUFFERING is a cry on the administration to do their jobs to serve the Liberian people and not themselves. Liberians are tired suffering. We hear echoes of this everywhere and we have a duty to help them peacefully express this to the government. And make no mistake; you will not frighten or intimidate the people of Liberia from expressing themselves. I dare and defy you. On December 17, the people from across Montserrado will stand up. People are in the streets begging just for food for the day; you think you can frighten us? We will be there, and we invite workers of the government who are tired suffering.”
The CPP announced that it has already paid the amount of US$2000 to the MYS as part-payment for the usage of facilities after the ministry provided an invoice of nearly US$4000 to the party.
But over the weekend, the government, through the Ministry furtively announced that the request of the CPP has not be granted and the party should collect the amount initially paid for the venue to the person they arranged with.
Justifying the government’s action in a telephone interview with FrontPage Africa during the evening hours of Sunday, December 4, the Minister of Youth and Sports Zeogar Wilson disclosed that the CPP was deceitful in seeking the use of the public facilities.
Minister Wilson was out of the country at the time the request was made by the CPP.
He claimed that despite the collection of money initially from the CPP by a staffer at the ministry, both the acting Minister of youth and Sports at the time Audrian Smith Forbes, and the deputy minister for Sports Andy Quamie did not authorize the use of the facilities by the party.
He disclosed that Minister Forbes requested his Special Assistant Gabriel Burnett to duly inform the CPP that their request couldn’t be granted following the receipt of the communication.
Minister Wilson noted that his Special Assistant, who was busy at the time, also requested his Technical Assistant Hassan Kemokai to draft the ministry’s response to the CPP’s communication.
While in the process, he added that, the CPP, through its Secretary General Aloysius Toe, Martin Kollah and an unidentified lady visited the ministry to do a follow-up on the communication sent.
“They met with my Special Assistant for about 15 minutes. And in that meeting, Gabriel made it very clear to them that the facility was not available to be rented. The first thing Gabriel tried to ask them which part of the facility they wanted to use; and they said “outside”. He also asked them how many persons will be attending and they said, “between 20 to 100,000 people.”
He added that following the disclosure, his Special Assistant informed the CPP officials that such a huge number could not be accommodated at the SKD, and in fact, the ministry was not renting out the facility for now.
Minister Wilson pointed out that the CPP officials were asked to find another venue for the holding of their political rally.
“They started to appeal to Gabriel that they have made all preparations for that day and venue, and they can’t change the place. Gabriel said to them that ‘how will you plan for a facility you have not gotten? The first thing to do was to come and get the venue and go ahead and make your planning’.”
He said the CPP officials later requested an audience with anyone who was in charge with scheduling the renting of the SKD facilities at the ministry.
Madam Miatta Zinnah Dongbo, a Senior Accountant at the MYS, oversees the scheduling and renting of the SKD facilities.
According to Minister Wilson, Madam Dongbo was unaware about the discussions they had with Gabriel. “When they got to Miatta, they showed her a copy of the letter that they sent my office. They put Miatta under the impression that my office was in the know. But Miatta knows that before she can bill anybody, she needs to get approval. So, she left them in her office and went to get clarification. When she went to the office of the acting Minister, the Minister was not in office at the time because she was at the House of Representatives.”
He added that the Senior Accountant later went at his office, informing the staffs that Minister Forbes was not around to authorize the billing of the CPP for the use of the SKD.
“My staff advised Miatta to send a copy of the letter and text me to get my approval. Miatta said OK and left, but she did not do that. She went back to her office and her boss, who is the Comptroller, told her twice to send the letter to the Minister, text or call him and let him approve it. Miatta didn’t do it. Miatta went ahead and took the money from CPP.”
Minister Wilson emphasized that Madam Dongbo was not clothed with the authority to singlehandedly issue invoice to any political party or institution, seeking the use of the SKD without approval from her bosses.
He said authorities of the Ministry realized that the outdoor facilities were booked by the CPP on November 30, and in turn informed the party on December 1 that their request was disapproved.
Minister Wilson disclosed that the ministry has launched a probe to establish the facts and circumstances which prompted Madam Dongbo to individually issue an invoice and collect initial payment from the CPP without seeking approval.
He added that an investigative committee, headed by Minister Quamie, was constituted last week to investigate the matter.
He said the facts will be gathered and “administrative actions” will be taken against Madam Dongbo for “acting unilaterally without approval.”
Minister Wilson maintained that Madam Dongbo “blundered” by not seeking the approval of her bosses before billing and collecting money from the CPP.
CDC denied too
He, however, disclosed that the decision taken by the government, through the ministry to deny the CPP the use of the facilities is not political as evidenced by similar action taken against the ruling CDC.
He claimed that the CDC, through its leadership, requested the use of the facilities for the holding of its event on December 20. “We also denied the CDC the use of the facility. The tourism group from the Ministry of Information wants to use the facility on December 10; we also denied them too. So, it’s not that we’re trying to pick on CPP.”
Minister Wilson pointed out that from initial “background discussions” held with hierarchies of the governing party; he emphasized the need for an alternative venue because the SKD was not available.
How SKD facilities are rented
“Before anybody use any of our facilities-even the gym or our hall, they will write me or anybody else. The first time I do when I’m in office is that I read the letter and if the person wants the gym for example, I put a sticker on the letter and send it to Miatta asking if the date is available? If yes, I ask her to negotiate with them for the use of the facility.”
Minister Wilson justified that the CPP did not receive any official approval from his office to use the facilities but chose to allegedly mislead Madam Dongbo to believe so by presenting only a copy of their communication which was received and signed for by one of his staffs.
“You did not get the approval from me. But my office told you that your request is disapproved yet still, you went to the finance section to make payment. This is politics and they are the ones circumventing our process with a political intent.”
President not aware
Minister Wilson was reported to have been threatened with dismissal by President Weah if he allows the CPP to use the SKD facilities to stage a political rally against the government.
His critics, including some officials of the CPP, claimed that because of the threat, he rendered a decision to refund their money and deny them the use of the facilities.
However, Minister Wilson has debunked those speculations, terming the reports as false and misleading
“The President does not intervene in this kind of thing. Maybe the only intervention the President can make is to call me and say we want to use the facility and I will not say no. At no time, the President speak to me about it. At no time, I have even called the President to speak about it because; the President knows that he gave me a work to do. I am the Minister of Youth and Sports, and it falls in my jurisdiction.”
He said although he denied the ruling party from using the SKD facilities, President Weah has not intervened to compel him to surrender the facilities to his party.
Only Weah can request usage
Speaking further, Minister Wilson noted that the use of the SKD facilities can only be requested by President Weah.
He said although he will not shun or deny his boss’ request to use the public facilities for any other gathering, he will clearly state why it is not expedient at this time for any political parties or groups to use the SKD under the prevailing circumstances.
He noted that if the Liberian leader insists to use the complex, he will not hesitate to submit to such a request.
“If the President who is my boss requests me to give the (SKD) facility to CDC, the first thing I will do is to explain to the President the ramifications of using the SKD Sports Complex for such an event. I will give him all the dos and don’ts. If I tell the President why it is not expedient for any political group to use the SKD and he insists that I give the field to the CDC, I will still submit; he is my boss. But I want him to make informed decision.”
Why SKD is not usable now?
For several decades now, the SKD Sports Complex, which is the biggest stadium in Liberia and other facilities, have been rented by political parties, local and international religious groups, and other organizations for the hosting of political rallies, crusades, revivals, and other programs.
But in recent time, authorities of the Ministry of Youth and Sports, the custodians of the facilities, have been depriving and denying institutions and citizens the use of it.
Minister Wilson disclosed that the current management team of the MYS resolved to place a ban on the usage of the facilities as part of efforts to maintain it.
He said the move was triggered because of backlashes they continue to receive from citizens for not maintaining the facilities in the wake of the ban from CAF and FIFA, despite generating thousands of United States dollars as rental fees.
He stated that the stadium has been cleared “partially’ by FIFA and CAF and as such, authorities of the ministry are working toward obtaining a full clearance from the two groups.
Minister Wilson, however, assured that no political rally or activity will be hosted at the SKD under the watch of the current management team at the MYS ahead of the 2023 elections.
He urged employees at the ministry to always follow the procedures laid out at the ministry.
Martin Kollah, Secretary General of the opposition Liberty Party (LP) and one of the chief architects of the December 17 rally, accused the ministry of scapegoating to deny Liberians the opportunity to use the public facilities.
According to him, the government has agreed for the CPP to go ahead as planned and scheduled but wondered why the decision was rescinded only few days to the event.
He claimed that the Special Assistant to the Minister of Youth and Sports took him on a guided tour in a bid to show the proper area that will be used by the CPP following the initial payment made by the party.
The CPP has vowed to go ahead with its planned rally as scheduled despite the denial of their request by the government.
The failure of the ministry to officially announce and inform the public of the ban placed on renting the SKD facilities amounts to denying citizens, including political parties and others the right to information and to peacefully assemble and use the public facilities.
The rationale behind the decision taken by MYS authorities to also respond lately and deny the CPP the use of the facilities nearly two weeks after Madam Dongbo received the part-payment also raised eyebrows to a calculated ploy.
The accused employee, who is yet to speak on the accusations made against her by Minister Wilson, appears to be used as a “sacrificial lamb” to cover up for some higher-ups at the ministry since in fact, it’s customary that she seeks approval before issuing invoices to political parties or groups seeking the use of the SKD facilities.
The denial of the CDC to use of the facilities now appears as a “cover up” by the MYS to also deny the CPP the right to peacefully assemble.
The use or granting access of public facilities, including stadiums, town and city halls, administrative buildings to opposition political parties or public figures has been an aged-old problem in post conflict Liberia.
National government, through their respective representatives, especially Ministers, Superintendents, Commissioners, and others normally deprived opposition political actors the right to peacefully assemble with their supporters to host rallies or other programs that will not promote the government or their perceived political interests.
In some instances, government officials request their financial offices to inflict the bills for the use of these public facilities to prevent their political opponents from having access, while the political interests or actors are made to use the facilities either free of charge or are made to pay a minimum amount.
The acceptance of request from President Weah by authorities of the MYS for the use of the SKD facilities on December 20 by the CDC would be in clear violation of Section 9.9 of the National Code of Conduct Law for public officials under the captioned: Equal and Fair Treatment of the Public.
Section 9.9 of the law states that: “Public Officials and Employees of Government shall not, in the performance of official duties, give preferential treatment to any individual, corporation or institution, including a non-profit organization.”