Monrovia – Not regarded as one to mince his words, Senator Sando Dazoe Johnson(NPP, Bomi) has established himself as one of the strong voices in the Senate. Since his election in the 2011 elections, the Bomi lawmaker has not shied away from taking on some of the most controversial issues of the day while holding the executive branch’s feet to the fire.
He currently chairs the Senate Committee on Concessions and Investment, Co-Chairs the committee on Internal Affairs, Good Governance and Reconciliation and is a member of the committees on Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Commerce, Trade and Industry, Post and Telecommunications and Public Works and Rural Development.
In the wake of the ongoing debate regarding a controversial loan from an Asian Conglomerate, undertaken by the Executive Branch of government, FrontPageAfrica sat down with the Senator to get his views on the memorandum of understanding and how he and his colleagues are tackling some of the complicated issues on the table.
FRONTPAGEAFRICA: Senator, What is your impressions of the loan arrangement currently being debated by the Senate?
SENATOR SANDO DAZOE JOHNSON: I am kind of confused – and this is my confusion. Normally if a country wants to borrow it is done through bilateral arrangement country to country or the World Bank but I don’t see that happening in this agreement. My fear is to go into loan agreement with a private entity whether this entity has a credible status we don’t know where is the Sovereign Guarantee trust the agreement is not telling us what we are going to mortgage in the agreement.
What is the collateral? We have a lot of resources. What are we giving? If you leave it open and in case where – because you know countries have borrowed money and maybe either those monies were misapplied and when those monies are misapplied it makes it difficult. So, assuming those monies were misapplied or something happened and we didn’t even achieve the goals for which we are taking them who is going to pay? If we cannot pay, all of our resources will be at stake, at risk and at the disposal of this company. So, I’m worried about that.
FPA: Is there an MOU and has it been made available to the legislature. Have you read it?
SENATOR JOHNSON: It is before us now for ratification. Mine you, the idea to do the coastal road is welcoming; to do the road from Bomi to Gbarpolu is welcoming; Madina to Robertsport is welcoming; but we are in dire need and we want our country to be developed so we must put in place an appropriate plan of action so that our future generation don’t suffer as a result of our action. If you borrow $US536 million, in my mind, thirty percent of that money could land in private pockets and we will not achieve what we want to achieve. So, what are we going to be able to show that we paid, and our country would end up – all of our assets, all of our resources would be seized and monitored until this money is paid. If it is a bilateral agreement I would agree because assuming when we borrow from the World Bank or the IMF, if we don’t’ pay, that loan could be restructured and sometimes people waive it but would that private company waive our loan if we defaulted on the payment? No!
FPA: Plenary has given a seven days mandate to study this document. Do you think that is enough time to go through this?
SENATOR JOHNSON: Seven days will not be enough. Right now, consultations are going on and most of my colleagues are beginning to see the idea. Firstly, If you look at the agreement, I think the Ministry of Justice did not sign it, the Ministry of Justice is the legal person in this country, why didn’t he sign it? So, we have to look at all this thing and ask what’s going on? I’m really not sure whether this company has the money. I want to believe that if this thing was ratified then they will go and try to raise the money but, in my mind, will it come? Thirty percent of that money will land in individual pockets at the detriment of the Liberian people. Now, if we don’t pay all of your resources are finished because that company will seize it. So, I believe we have to look at it carefully and this cause should not just be from lawmakers but from Liberians from all walks of life who have interest in this country. It is not a bad idea to borrow but who are we borrowing from? So, Liberia’s resources will be subjected to a private company just in case we do not pay; but if it is from country to country, those are bilateral arrangements, people can waive debt, Liberia’s debt was waived before. Will this company waive this debt when we don’t pay? No!
The World Bank in my mind did not give us approval to borrow from a private firm, it set the ceiling as to where we can stop in terms of borrowing. So, I hear people saying the World Bank agree that Liberia can go to this company to borrow, but that’s not true. The World Bank and IMF set a ceiling that If you are going to borrow, you will not pass this. So, if you got $US536 million, all of the roads in question are more than 600 kilometers or 600 miles. To do one road pavement is $US1.1 million, so the $US536 million will not do all of the road projects. Yeah, it will jump start but there are underlying factors. If you don’t pay your assets are seized. Liberia’s assets will be seized by a private company. So, we are selling our sovereignty because it is their sovereign guarantee. Liberia will now mortgage her sovereignty to a private company which I don’t agree with.
FPA: What is your advice to your colleagues in the wake of this saga?
SENATOR JOHNSON: Well, we are making the issue. Again, we are not against the country borrowing. Even if they say we should borrow five billion dollars and we have the resources to pay, fine. But it must be a bilateral borrowing, country to country or Liberia and the World Bank. So, just in case we default, our assets will be secured. But not with a private firm. I don’t even know where this private firm is from or whether it has a credible nature, we don’t know. And so, we are making the case to most of our colleagues and most of them are trying to buy it. We are logical. We are not going to rush because we want coastal road paved or because we want to pave from Gbarpolu to Bomi. I should not mortgage the future of this country then in the end when we don’t pay, the future generation suffer. All of us in this legislature will go, we will not be here forever. So, we must always set the example that those that will come after us will not inherit problem like what we are experiencing now. See what happened with NOCAL; see what we inherited from the Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s government. Most of our resources ended in friends and families’ pockets. Today, we are suffering. So, should we go through the same thing? No!
I know President Weah has vision, he wants to see Liberia grow. All of us will support him. But we must do in a way we do not embarrass the country, we don’t embarrass our future leaders. We should not sell our assets like that.
FPA: Some people believe that borrowing from the IMF and the World Bank has brought the country backwards because of the too many bottlenecks and procedures. Do you share that view?
We must not be in a rush. Let us look at it, let us look at the risks before we can take a decision. For me I prefer to go back to the World Bank, the IMF and these bilateral arrangements to take out loans so that even if we don’t pay, they can waive it. But this company will never waive. In fact, it will be in their own interest for the entire country to be sold to them.
SENATOR JOHNSON: Those bureaucracies and bottlenecks save the nation. All the monies Liberia borrowed were waived by these institutions because those were bilateral arrangements. If we default on a loan from a private firm, they will not forgive and the interests alone will be costly. If it takes us thirty years, all of our assets will be seized. Is that what we want? So, it’s better we go through all the bureaucratic arrangements and secure a loan that even if we default a waiver can be done. But not to go through a private institution especially when we don’t know the credibility of this institution. Where they are? Who is associated with them? It could be a bunch of crooks sitting down somewhere with money and they want Liberia to borrow from them on an interest rate and when you don’t pay they will seize your resources. I’m not against borrowing but I’m against the way we are proceeding and the institutions we want to deal with. If I were to vote tomorrow I would not vote for it. I will not be here to be party to that. I will not. We will give all of our professional advices, the experiences we have. If the legislature does not see it the way we are seeing it, because here it is about votes, it is about majority. If the majority blindly vote, well, history will recall that one of the lawmakers who did not vote was Sando Johnson because these are the advices we gave. Let’s look at it over and over, let’s look at the implications, let’s look at the risks of our resources being seized by a private entity. We should not put ourselves in the situation where one small group is sitting down somewhere with our assets because we were unable to pay.
FPA: Some might say you are anti-government for this view?
SENATOR JOHNSON: That’s not the case, I brought this government in. But I’m giving a professional advice, a political advice to save the image of our country. Most monies that were brought here ended in private individuals’ pockets. It will happen I believe that thirty percent of this money could go into private pockets and the country will be paying for that. You can tell me you will bring 536 million and you will justify that nobody ate some. Some of those monies will be consumed and you and I will be paying for money that you put in private pockets. My worry is the company, my worry is Liberia going to a private firm that if we default they could seize our assets because they say sovereign guarantee, not even qualifying which one of the resources we are going to put up for this money.
They talk about putting toll road. You put toll roads from here to Harper, you put gate there you will never raise the money. How many people here got car? How many persons have car here? How many rich people we have here. You put toll gates here you will not raise that money. You will not. We do not have the population. The people that will put that gate there will get frustrated. How many cars will move from here to the southeast? We must be mindful. You put a toll gate here for hundred years you will not raise that money. Maybe in one daytime, three cars will go to the southeast. So, let’s look at all of these risks like I said it is important to borrow because we want this country to grow but we must do it the right way, they say hurry-hurry bust trousers.