Liberia: Pres. Weah Breaks Silence on Lemah Gbowee’s Independence Day Speech, Says It’s Full of Fallacies
MONROVIA – Nobel Laureate Leymah R. Gbowee’s Independence Day Oration was glorified by Liberians from all walks of life as one of the best in history and a rare attempt to speak truth to power, but weeks after its delivery, President George Weah has ceased holding his tolerance for Gbowee’s utterances – he said her speech was full of fallacies.
Report by Lennart Dodoo, [email protected]
In deed Gbowee’s speech was one of a kind. Her message cut across all sectors of Liberia – a country so small but politically charged. She addressed the ordinary Liberians whom she referred to as “The No Position”. She also addressed “The Opposition” and “The Ruling Position”.
The ’26 Orator laid side-by-side how these three groups of the Liberian society have over the years continued to repeat errors of the past that have stagnated Liberia’s progress and development. The errors made by these three groups, she said have been in existence since time immemorial and yet, the tradition goes on.
Madam Gbowee was specific about a number of issues, but President Weah took interest in the ones that directly pointed out his ‘failures, actions and inactions’ and he believes Gbowee failed to seek facts.
She named corruption in government, gender imbalance in cabinet, favoritism and nepotism and lack of transparency as issues dogging the Weah-led administration.
“Mr. President, members of the Legislature, the fight against corruption is not in words, it is in action. You must walk your talk. You cannot preach against corruption and then not declare your assets and keep it locked up. Show us what you came with so that in a few years when you’ve got two houses, we can know that you already had those resources in the bank,” Gbowee asserted on Independence Day.
“We listened to our national orator and I said the other time she spoke very well, but in her assertions, there were all false allegations – nothing was truth in her assertions. She said to you that only two women in our government, but we have more than two women in our government.”– George M. Weah, President, Republic of Liberia
She also said, “Liberia is not a political party. Liberia is a nation for all Liberians. In order for us to move forward together, we must recognize that men as well as women, the blind, the physically challenged, and youth groups are equal parts of the society. Mr. President, I will address this to you directly. It is not acceptable for us to have only two women in cabinet. I, Leymah Roberta Gbowee, Nobel Laureate challenge any Liberian to tell me that the men in this country are smarter than the women, hence the men should be given prominence in jobs and elected position. I believe that it is high time that the women who fought through tears and blood from the founding of this country to the bringing of peace to this nation should be given positions of leadership based on their competence. As a self-declared feminist in chief, you are being called out to walk your talk. It’s time to stop the old boy’s network.”
President Weah was mute about this assertion until last Friday, August 9 when he dedicated structures built for victims of Popo Beach in New Kru Town, Bushrod Island. He again spoke on the matter at the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) Awards ceremony later that evening.
At the dedication ceremony, he said without mincing his words, “We listened to our national orator and I said the other time she spoke very well, but in her assertions, there were all false allegations – nothing was truth in her assertions. She said to you that only two women in our government, but we have more than two women in our government.”
“Mr. President, members of the Legislature, the fight against corruption is not in words, it is in action. You must walk your talk. You cannot preach against corruption and then not declare your assets and keep it locked up. Show us what you came with so that in a few years when you’ve got two houses, we can know that you already had those resources in the bank.”– Leymah Gbowee, Liberia’s 172nd Independence Day Orator, Nobel Laureate
Leymah Said Cabinet, Not Government
President Weah, however, missed the mark in his attempt to interpret and denigrate Madam Gbowee’s assertion on the gender equity in the Cabinet. Madam Gbowee made specific reference to cabinet, not the entire government.
In his Friday’s assertion, he said the Orator lied when she said he has “only two women in our government”.
A cabinet is a body of high-ranking state officials, typically consisting of the top leaders of the executive branch. Members of a cabinet are usually called cabinet ministers. In Liberia, it is a collegiate decision-making body with collective responsibility. Cabinets are typically the body responsible for the day-to-day management of the government and response to sudden events.
No Way! – Not Making Declared Assets Public
“I respect the laws of the Republic of Liberia. The law of declaration tells me to declare at certain time. It did not tell me when you declare, you should give your receipt to organizations; it only tells me you declare when you’re entering, when you are leaving you declare. If you have more assets you can go to where you declare and add upon that.”– George M. Weah, President, Republic of Liberia
In talking about transparency during her oration, Madam Gbowee raised concerns on the failure of officials of government to declare their assets and refusal to make the declared assets public.
There have been a lot of concerns over President Weah’s fast acquisition of properties during his first year in office when he was yet to declare his assets. When President Weah finally declared his assets in July 2018, the media and the public called on him to, for the sake for transparency, make his asset declaration forms public.
In defense for his action and in reaction to Madam Gbowee, President Weah said as a law-abiding citizen, no law in the country compels him to distribute his asset declaration forms, hence, he sees no reason for such call.
Weah: “I respect the laws of the Republic of Liberia. The law of declaration tells me to declare at certain time. It did not tell me when you declare, you should give your receipt to organizations; it only tells me you declare when you’re entering, when you are leaving you declare. If you have more assets you can go to where you declare and add upon that.”
At the PUL event on Friday evening, President Weah boasted that he declared his assets on July 28, 2018 and asserted that he owes no journalists information on what his asset declaration form contains.
He is on record for telling the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) that he cannot make his asset declaration form public because “it is my privacy.”
“I have kids and families to protect. So, I gave them access to all my banks, so they have to protect me. Information about my assets cannot be made public. For those government officials who have not yet declared their assets, I have told them to do so because they have to abide by the law.”
What Does the Code of Conduct Say
Section 10.1 of the National Code of Conduct of Liberia says, Every Public Official and Employee of Government involved in making decisions affecting contracting, tendering or procurement, and issuance of licenses of various types shall sign performance or financial bonds and shall in addition declare his or her income, assets and liabilities prior to taking office and thereafter:
a. at the end of every three years;
b. on promotion or progression from one level to another;
c. upon transfer to another public office; and d. upon retirement or resignation.
Weah came under a barrage of criticisms for failing to declare his assets within this stipulated time upon taking office in January 2018.
Section 10.2 says in part that: “All such declarations shall be accessible to both the public employer and the general public upon a court order; as well as to the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) and the General Auditing Commission (GAC) for investigative purposes. The declaration shall be promptly updated by Public Officials and Employees of Government upon subsequent changes in his or her interest and/or assets. Each declaration along with the updates thereto shall include disclosure of income, assets, liabilities, net worth, financial and family interests held by the official.”
For this reason, the President said during the dedication ceremony on Popo Beach that “If I were bearing witness, or I’m in the court today, I’ll just haul my phone and show my asset declaration and you’re going to see it and know that those are saying that I’ve not declared my assets are all fallacy.”
With President Weah’s latest comments, political observers and analysts are predicting that it might dampen relationship between him and Gbowee, just as it happened between Madam Gbowee and her fellow Nobel Laurette, ex-president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
Gbowee criticized Madam Sirleaf’s government of being corrupt and accused her of practicing nepotism; allegations which President Sirleaf staunchly denied.