Liberia: Critics Slam President Weah’s World Cup Trip in Qatar, Decry Waste of Taxpayers’ Money
DIPLOMATIC CAMPAIGN OR WASTE OF TAXPAYERS’ MONEY?
Monrovia – Montserrado County Senator Abraham Darius Dillon has underscored the need for the Liberian Senate to launch an investigation into what he termed as “deceptive and untrue” information provided by President George Manneh Weah for his prolong stay out of the country.
Senator Dillon is representing the people of Montserrado in the 54th National Legislature on the ticket of the opposition Collaborating Political Parties (CPP).
It can be recalled that on October 31, President Weah departed the country for Morocco and Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt to attend the MEDays Forum and COP27 respectively.
By: Obediah Johnson
On November 9, he departed Egypt and arrived in Paris, France to attend the 5th Edition of the Paris Peace Forum which serves as a platform upon which state and non-state actors engage in transnational cooperation for collective action.
He spent several days in Qatar to witness his son Timothy Weah, who received a call up to the senior national team of the United States of America, features in the World Cup.
President Weah extended his trip abroad by additional 25 days. The notice of the extension was contained in a letter he dispatched to the Liberian Senate on Tuesday, 18 November.
A dispatch from Doha, Qatar, where the president is Guest of Honor of the Fifa World Cup, noted that the president will not be returning home until 18 December. But speaking to the BBC on Wednesday, December 1, Senator Dillon stated that President Weah’s reason provided to extend his stay abroad was deceptive.
He justified that the Liberian leader is under constitutional obligation to inform the Liberian people, through the National Legislature, about the purpose of his foreign trip, duration, return and who will steer the affairs of the nation while he is away.
Senator Dillon pointed out that a travel ordinance document in Liberia clearly calls for public officials, including the President to shoulder bills for per diem, lounging, feeding and incidentals, for a prolong stay out of the country for more than a week.
“We have a travel ordinance here that says beyond seven days, any public official including the President will have to be responsible to sponsor his or her extension or stay out of the country.”
He noted that officials overstaying abroad in the interest of the nation will have to show valid proof or evidence to substantiate their claims to make a case for refund.
“As it is now, the President has not demonstrated to us that his extension or stay to watch FIFA football games could yield any benefit to this country. And so, I’m asking the Liberian Senate to launch a legislative probe into the information provided by the President because, our information gathered, with evidence attached, shows that the President misled the Liberian people through the Liberian Senate for an extension.”
Senator Dillon maintained pointed out that the Paris Peace Forum, which President Weah claimed to attend was not extended.
He said though the forum was extended, the Liberian leader chose to extend his stay in a foreign country to “watch football games when it has nothing to do with Liberia.”
“The Paris Peace Forum in France was never extended for which the President has extended his stay in Qatar to watch football games. The President had written earlier to the effect that he was attending the Paris Peace Forum from November 9 to the 15 and that from the 15th of November to the 23rd of November, he will be attending FIFA World Cup as guest of FIFA.”
“The President wrote a subsequent communication to inform the Senate that the Paris Peace Forum was extended from the 9th to the 15th to the 18th of November. That information has turned out to be untrue, misleading and for which the President said, he’s extending his stay in Qatar because
Senator Dillon noted that though the Liberian leader’s extension is just three additional days, his action remains a “big deal because the forum was never extended.”
He said the Liberian Senate must investigate the misinformation allegedly provided by the Liberian Chief Executive.
“We need to know at all times where the President of Liberia is, especially on a foreign travel. When the President says he will be at a particular place at a particular time on government money and it is found out only to be untrue, it warrants investigation.”
He questioned the rationale behind claims being made by some supporters of the government that President Weah’s prolong stay is intended to solidify bilateral relations and reap benefits for the country and its citizens.
“How watching FIFA games where his son is playing, brings back anything to the country for over 15 days.”
Senator Dillon maintained that the source of funding for the President’s trip extension and what does Liberia and its citizens stand to benefit upon his return should be ascertained.
He said the appropriate and corrective measures should be taken after the probe.
In Liberians’ interest
For his part, the Commissioner General of the Liberia Maritime Authority (LiMA) Eugene Nagbe, who is also travelling with the President, claimed that the Liberian leader’s travel is “totally in the interest of the people of Liberia.”
According to him, the trip will help galvanize the necessary supports for ongoing infrastructure works in Liberia.
He said President Weah will also engage other world leaders during his stay out of the country.
Mr. Nagbe termed as “show boating” the move made by Senator Dillon to call for a probe on information provided on the President trips.
“As a tradition in Liberia, the President informs the Legislature about his travelling and catalogued the extent of his travel and the purposes of the travels.”
He denied that President Weah misled citizens on the Paris Peace Forum extension.
According to him, the Liberian leader held several other meetings at the climax of the forum.
Not taking US$2000 for incidentals
Finance and Development Planning Minister Samuel Tweah announced that President Weah was entitled to the amount of US$2000 as incidental on every foreign trip.
But Mr. Nagbe denied that the President was receiving the money on his current stay out of Liberia.
“President Weah has not taken a cent even though he is entitled to it under our travel ordinance. Every time the President ravels, there is a fiscal out turn report that is done. Though he’s entitled to that, he has not touched it.”
He pointed out that “most of the trips” being attended by President Weah and his entourage are not paid for by the Liberian government.
He made specific reference to the forum held in Morocco.
“The problems in Liberia that the President inherited and he’s fixing now have been so huge that he has to behave in a different way than normal. It’s unfortunate to call a President who has now contracted over a US$175 on one trip of Cali venting.”
Mr. Nagbe claimed that there has been no constitutional crisis as a result of President Weah current foreign travels.
When quizzed why President Weah’s son, Timothy Weah is not playing for Liberia, but rather the National Team of the United States, Mr. Nagbe justified: “The President’s son is above 18 and he has lived most of his life in America and he made that decision that we all support. Mr. Tim Weah is also a Liberian citizen by birth, and we are all celebrating his progress.”
“The President is currently in Monaco (France), and after here, he’s going to the United States and then he will come back to Liberia on the 18th of December.”
President Weah continues to be heavily criticized by his political opponents, civil society actors and others for using taxpayers’ monies to travel to the World Cup along with a huge delegation.
The Standard Bearer of the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP), Mr. Alexander Benedict Cummings sometimes ago claimed that the move made by the Liberian leader to stay out of Liberia for a prolong period clearly demonstrates the truth that his administration does not care about the Liberian people.
He said public officials only cared about illegally enriching themselves by cutting the salaries of civil servants, making life increasingly difficult for them.
He added that citizens are suffering everywhere in the country and in every political party, while the President “uselessly runs around the world at the expense of the people.”
“President Weah is flying about in private jets paid for by the Liberian people while Liberians, including an 8-weeks old baby, are drowning from capsized canoes while traveling to their farms. President Weah is sleeping in the vest of hotels in other countries while many are sleeping in slums and going to bed hungry. President Weah is enjoying while Liberians are suffering, civil servants’ salaries are harmonized to as low as $40 per month, cost of living is rising, and people are not being paid on time!”
“This is wicked. This is not presidential leadership. It is self-seeking and an abuse of the trust of the Liberian people. We will end this in 2023 and give Liberians a chance to better their lives. Liberia is too rich for Liberians to be so poor!”
Mr. Cummings said although President Weah declared the census holiday, his poor quality of leadership and obvious lack of judgment led him and his officials to be initially excluded from the counting process had it started.
He stressed that the “so-called leader of our country and many of his officials would have been out of the country while the people he claims to be leading were being counted.”
“One can conclude that perhaps the President did not wish to be counted with the people he claims to love and has a sworn duty to lead.”
Demanding info on cost
Mr. Cummings, however, frowned at the Minister of Finance and Development Planning Minister Samuel Tweah for his failure to inform citizens about the total cost of the President’s seven weeks trip away from Liberia.
He noted that President Weah should have been in the country “inspiring, encouraging and finding solutions” to the numerous problems confronting the citizens, including the hike in the price of the nation’s staple food-rice on the local market at this time.
“We need to know how much they are spending, and we will keep demanding it because, that money can be used to pay teachers, healthcare workers, and the police. People want to see their leaders sacrificing too; particularly when their leaders are using their monies.”