Caught in a Lie: Liberia’s Ministry of Finance Fumbles Defense of Minister’s First Class Travel to Beijing

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Dear Readers,

The last Approved Travel Ordinance FY2016/2017 for the Republic of Liberia dated June 30, 2016 was signed by former Minister Mr. Boimah S. Kamara, the last man to occupy the Ministry of Finance prior to the ushering in of the current George Manneh Weah-led government and approved by Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.

In its attempt to explain the controversy involving why Minister Samuel D. Tweah decided to upgrade his Business Class ticket to First Class to attend the just-ended Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, the ministry is asking the people of Liberia to believe otherwise.

To put it simply, the ministry in its lazy excuse of a response Thursday suggests that the policy has been changed. It does not say when, where or how one can find the new policy neither did it provide one for all to see as we did in providing all of the supporting documents – including the minister’s confirmed E-Ticket which is the last document checked before one boards an airplane for travel with corresponding numbers – to support our story on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2018.

That policy, which is available on the worldwide web and linked here for you to read in full, states:

“The President shall travel First Class. The Vice President, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives and President Pro-Tempore of the Liberian Senate shall travel by Business Class. If these dignitaries are traveling as State guests and taking their spouses along with them, then their spouses shall also be entitled to travel by First Class and half the applicable per diem rates. With the exception of those listed in Rule 16, all other officials, civil servants, employees and heads of SOEs shall travel by economy class.

The ministry, without providing any evidence or documentation – as we did to support our story on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2018, wants you to believe that the policy was changed to allow the Minister of Finance to fly Business Class with options to upgrade to a higher class at his own expense. We have found no record anywhere on paper – or the worldwide web, to back this up…

The response notes:

The purchase of the Minister’s ticket to Beijing, China was in accordance with the Government of Liberia Revised Travel Ordinance of 2016/2017 which changed the traveling class of the Minister of Finance and Development Planning as well as the Minister of Foreign Affairs from economy to business class. The Minister of Finance and Development Planning in its release has also clarified that officials or employees of government business abroad are free to upgrade their ticket with absolutely no financial burden to government.

On the contrary, FrontPageAfrica has learned that the policy was never in fact, ever changed. What we have gathered is that a proposal was made to Cabinet in 2016 to change, but was never approved until former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf departed office in January 2018.

Minister Kamara reportedly went back to President Sirleaf with a request to adjust the policy but that policy did not get the full backing of the Cabinet and the current one quoted by FrontPageAfrica still stands. More importantly, the suggested adjustments do not invalidate our Thursday’s report.

Former Minister Kamara’s revision dated October 17, 2016 now in FPA’s possession was tweaked to state:

“The President shall travel First Class. The Vice President, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, President Pro-Tempore of the Liberian Senate, finance and foreign ministers shall travel by Business Class. If these dignitaries are traveling as State guests and taking their spouses along with them, then their spouses shall also be entitled to travel by the Business Class and half the applicable per diem rates. With the exception of those listed in Rule 17, all other officials, civil servants, employees and heads of SOEs shall travel by economy class.”

Because this document was not approved by Cabinet, it is not in the public domain, thus it is not printed as a new policy which means the ministry is relying on an unapproved law to justify the minister’s First Class Travel.

The ministry also notes that it has no knowledge of the purported ticket published by FrontPageAfrica that the paper claims belongs to Minister Tweah and was purchased from Worldwide Air Service in Osu, Ghana. The Ministry says that contrary to this deliberate falsehood being peddled by the FrontPageAfrica, the authentic ticket purchased by the Ministry for Hon. Samuel D. Tweah’s trip to China was purchased from Jos Travels and Tours, Inc. in Monrovia.

To the contrary, the copy of the E-Ticket (reference and Booking reference MQSHXF for Ticket No. 1762654039489 of the minister’s itinerary issued by Worldwide Air Service in Osu, obtained by FrontPageAfrica matches all the information on the final stamped boarding pass and E-Ticket the minister used to travel First Class.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. The fact of the matter is, the world has changed. With the click of a mouse on your computer, you can find any information you want about anyone traveling on any airline once you have two things: The E-Ticket reference number, which we did in this case: H5FEQB and the Booking Reference No. MQSHXF for the ticket No. 1762654039489 which Minister Tweah used to travel.

That ticket shows that the minister departed Accra on Monday, August 27, 2018 and arrived in Beijing on Wednesday, August 29, 2018. The minister, according to the E-Ticket in FPA’s possession is due to return on Saturday, September 8, 2018.

We owe it to Liberia to help President Weah succeed but President Weah owes it to himself to right the wrongs of the past and makes sure that he doesn’t repeat them. He can begin by ridding his circles of sycophantic followers afraid to tell the emperor he has no clothes; he can begin by removing himself from the bubble guarding him against the unfolding realities.

So, whether it was purchased in Monrovia or Osu, the bottom line is, the E-Ticket we published Thursday, Sept. 6, 2018 belonged to the Minister of Finance – and was upgraded in Accra, Ghana, just as the E-Ticket we published on Thursday, September 6, 2018 indicates.

Business Class fares on Emirates run between $6,000 to $8,000 while First Class fares on Emirates run between $10,000 to $12,000 depending on the time of purchase. Upgrades on either service at departure could run up to US$16,000 for First Class between Accra and Beijing. In comparison, First Class fares from New York to Beijing run close to US$19,000.

While we appreciate the Ministry’s assertions that it will vigorously drive the government’s pro-poor agenda and remains committed to ensuring the upholding of financial standards and regulations that guide against waste and abuse of public resources, flying First Class on Emirates Airlines, one of world’s best en route to seeking money to help one’s self, is not the best way to convince donors and stakeholders that one is sincere about curbing waste and abuse.

This is where we are Liberia, a government which refuses to declare assets or make them public, a government which has ignored all of our calls and appeals to enforce transparency and accountability in government institutions; a government who’s first order of business when taking over was to remove the internationally-vetted Liberia Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative head for a stooge, is asking us to stay quiet when a minister flies First Class. It is asking us to believe that a travel policy was changed without providing the new one. Where are the minister’s assets? What was he worth prior to assuming the office? How do we know he could afford a First Class Ticket from his pocket?

These days we are not allowed to ask, only accept the realities of the new abnormal way of doing things.

This is a government that refuses to provide the full details of its travel contingent forcing us to search the Facebook pages of some of the members of the delegation and counts from there just to get a rough estimate.

The truth of the matter is, we are all being unfair to the late Samuel Kanyon Doe and William R. Tolbert as well as those thirteen members of his government who were placed on poles and executed; we are being unfair to the scores of decent Liberians who were plucked out of refugee lines and camps, and killed – all in the name of ridding Liberia of this one thing called corruption, bad governance, nepotism, abuse, waste etc.

We all owe them an apology for celebrating their deaths and allowing their killers to go free; we owe them – even Charles Taylor, an apology for repeating the very ills we accused them of yesterday.

Minister Tweah himself admitted recently: “People died in this country, great men died. Tonia Richardson, for the first time since he died I just saw his son today. Tonia Richardson might be my greatest inspiration, he died in this war. Their blood were shed today so that today you can criticize any president, so that you can hold truth to power, to the extent that your truth is true.”

Lost in all of this is the reasons why a government advocating a pro-poor policy would encourage First Class Travel and arrogantly defend it while hiding behind a travel policy adjustment which was never approved and is nowhere to be found.

We owe it to Liberia to help President Weah succeed but President Weah owes it to himself to right the wrongs of the past and makes sure that he doesn’t repeat them. He can begin by ridding his circles of sycophantic followers afraid to tell the emperor he has no clothes; he can begin by removing himself from the bubble guarding him against the unfolding realities.

The likes of Doe, Taylor, Tolbert, Tubman and of late, Sirleaf etc, were supposed to be the bad ones, the evil ones, the ones who stole all Liberia’s riches and maimed their critics. If they were all that bad, then what – and who are we?

The Editor

VACANCY ANNOUNCEMENT

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