By S. Karweaye
During a recent political engagement with citizens in Bong County, Minister of States for Presidential Affairs Nathaniel McGill lauded corrupt officials from the ruling establishment who were stealing public resources and investing the same in Liberia.
In Bong County, Minister Mcgill celebrated with much pomp and pageantry. According to him, looting the government’s coffers and investing the proceeds in personal infrastructural development is “a good thing” as long as those infrastructures are built here in Liberia. He argues that “even if I was stealing the money and giving it to the Liberian people, that’s a good thing I’m doing because at least I’m not stealing it and carrying it to Europe… We take the small money we get, we go to our people and build a house there.” He elaborated by saying “So, I get the money, should I take it to Ghana? But if Bong County has the house, will I take it from here and carry it? The day God takes me, I’ll carry the house with me? Our grandchildren will come and say Bong County is looking fine.”
Corruption has persisted throughout the government in Liberia, and the World Bank’s most recent Worldwide Governance Indicators reflect that corruption is still a serious problem. Liberia’s score on the 2021 Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index dropped from 29 to 28. On the Ibrahim Index, Liberia ranks 27 out of 54 countries, with a score of 47 for the year 2020. In the World Justice Project’s 2021 report on the Rule of Law, Liberia ranked 110 out of 139 with a score of 0.44. In terms of the absence of corruption in government, Liberia ranked 121 out of 139 countries with a score of 0.21. Corruption and national development are mutually exclusive. But I’ll get back to that.
On the International Anti-Corruption Day of 2021, the United States Treasury Department under its Global Magnitsky Act imposed economic sanctions on a key supporter of President George Manneh Weah, Senator Prince Yormie Johnson (Nimba County). According to the report “as a senator, Johnson has been involved in pay-for-play funding with government ministries and organizations for personal enrichment,”
In 2020, the U.S. The Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctioned Liberia’s Senator, Varney Sherman, for corruption and bribery and blocking his assets. OFAC noted that Senator Sherman, who chairs the Liberian Senate Judiciary Committee, offered bribes to multiple judges associated with his trial for a 2010 bribery scheme during the former Sirleaf administration, and he had an undisclosed conflict of interest with the judge who ultimately returned a not guilty verdict in July 2019.
On September 10, 2020, the United States Government barred former Liberian passport director Andrew Wonplo and his entire family from traveling to America “due to his involvement in significant corruption.”
Earlier this year in February, the head of the U.S. delegation at the celebration of Liberia’s Bicentennial – Special Assistant to the U.S. President Madam Dana Banks told President Weah and his officials to their faces that, “Like many democracies, Liberia still has work to do to seriously address and root out corruption. We bring this up as your friends who are eager to help. Corruption is an act of robbery. It robs Liberia’s citizens of access to health care, to public safety, to education. It robs you of the healthy business environment we all know Liberia could have, which would lift countless Liberians out of poverty.It subverts economic opportunity, exacerbates inequality, and erodes integrity. It eats away at the democracy you have worked so hard to build.Liberia has a host of anti-corruption institutions. But while these institutions are nominally and legally independent from the Government of Liberia, the truth is that the government fails to adequately fund them and exerts its influence upon them. Too many of Liberia’s leaders have chosen their own personal short-term gain over the long-term benefit of their country.”
With all the reports and sanctions coming from the United States government, and local and international organizations, one would think the Chief of Staff to President Weah wouldn’t have said what he said. Mr. Mcgill’s statement is a determined attempt to legitimize corruption, which, in truth, should be taken very seriously by every Liberian. This is why we were not surprised when the US U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated Nathaniel McGill, Sayma Syrenius Cephus, and Bill Twehway for their involvement in ongoing public corruption in Liberia. According to OFAC “through their corruption these officials have undermined democracy in Liberia for their own personal benefit,” Specifically, the reported stated “Nathaniel McGill (McGill) is Minister of State for Presidential Affairs and Chief of Staff to President George Weah. During his tenure in government, McGill has bribed business owners, received bribes from potential investors, and accepted kickbacks for steering contracts to companies in which he has an interest. McGill has manipulated public procurement processes in order to award multi-million-dollar contracts to companies in which he has ownership, including by abusing emergency procurement processes to rig contract bids. McGill is credibly accused of involvement in a wide range of other corrupt schemes including soliciting bribes from government office seekers and misappropriating government assets for his personal gain. He has used government funds allocated to other Liberian government institutions to run his own projects, made off-the-books payments in cash to senior government leaders, and organized warlords to threaten political rivals. McGill has received an unjustified stipend from various Liberian government institutions and used his position to prevent his misappropriation from being discovered. McGill regularly distributes thousands of dollars in undocumented cash to other government officials for government and non-government activities.”
As I said in my opening line of the 3rd paragraph, corruption and national development are mutually exclusive. We have witnessed the 16 billion missing sagas, the US$25 million dollars mopped saga, the US$25 million food stimulus saga, US$300, 000 Buchanan Port Saga, etc. under the watch of President George Weah since he ascended the presidency. Liberians wouldn’t have been as worried as we are if there had been any effort to bring the culprits of the earth-shattering criminality to book. The Weah-led government is carrying on as if all is well, while Liberians, who have become victims of over four decades of state-promoted roguery, languish under grinding poverty and unemployment, unable to afford even the most basic needs of life in a country so blessed by God.
Since stealing from the people does not matter, once the money is not transferred abroad, but invested in Liberia, according to Mr. Mcgill, let’s look at housing for the poor. instead of government officials stealing from the Liberian people and building their personal properties in Liberia.
The Liberian government hasn’t shown that it understands the need for housing for our growing urban population, that’s why slums abound in Monrovia with the slumlords boldly ripping helpless citizens off. With US 50 million mismanaged or stolen under Weah’s watch ($25 million Mopped UP & 25 million Food Stimulus), and through direct labor involvement, we can build exactly 10,000 units of 2-bedroom flats at US$5,000 per flat. The houses do not need sophisticated designs or exquisite materials: just simple designs with simple, but durable building materials. My interaction with builders has assured me that US5000 can build a 2-bedroom apartment through the direct labor of Liberians. Do note that we will not need to buy land because the land belongs to the government. The government will simply make land available. We will not also need to include the cost of contractors because we will be using the direct labor of Liberians. The staff of the National Housing Authority can, in conjunction with the staff of the Ministry of public and the environmental agency can supervise the project. The houses will be spread across major cities in the geo-political zones with huge populations. This will help provide accommodation for people, lessen the pressure on the badly built and poorly maintained houses, and help clean our cities of slums. So the opportunity cost of US 50 million mismanaged or stolen under President Weah’s watch is 10,0000 units of low-cost housing for the urban poor.
But that is if we choose to invest the money in housing. We could choose to concentrate on electricity. With US$50 million, we can build more power stations to significantly increase our electricity generation. If we had done that within the period, we watched the privileged ones steal or mismanage the money, by today we will not be gloating over low megawatts (98) of electricity. We will be talking about 200 megawatts or more, generated and distributed in urban areas to revive businesses and productive activities. The opportunity cost of our stolen or mismanaged $50 million under the President is constant electric supply.
We may also choose not to face any of the mentioned opportunity costs in absolute terms. We may combine them in a certain proportion, building a portion of this and a portion of that with the US$50 million. Even at that, the impact of each would have been so visible that it would be impossible for even the president’s enemies to deny him the deserved credit. If we chose to build just 5,0000 housing units with US$25 million and used the remaining US$25 million for power stations, then the opportunity cost of the US$50 million stolen or mismanaged under President Weah would have given us 5,000 units of 2-bedroom flats and say, about 200 megawatts of electricity.
We could, instead, choose to focus on health care. Instead of bearing the shame of having Privileged Liberians jet out in droves, every day, to Ghana, India, and the West to treat minor and major ailments, we could build world-class hospitals with state-of-the-art equipment for the treatment of all kinds of ailments. In such cases, we will not need to take emergency health cases off the shores of our country. The opportunity cost of the US$ 50 stolen or mismanaged under the watch, and official inaction, of President Weah, is the needless deaths of millions of Liberians who cannot afford the cost of foreign medical treatments, the loss of money we incur from those who can afford it, and the loss of jobs we would have created for our people if we had built quality hospitals that can treat ailments qualitatively.
But it is not just about the stolen funds that Mcgill proudly boasts of. There’s also the opportunity cost of profligacy and waste in government. For instance, in one very shameful demonstration of insensitivity, the president and our mediocre legislators approved US$3.6 million for Legislative Engagement and Public Accessibility. Mr. Mcgill’s Ministry of States for Presidential Affairs budget was increased from US$18 million in 2020/2021 to US$ 20 million. No serious president with about 5.3 million people in his country living in squalor will dare tolerate a mere mention of increasing the budget of himself, the legislature, and his cronies like Mcgill. Every serious leader runs his country like a family. Responsible families do not stretch their expenses beyond their means. Our rulers are both irresponsible and mischievous, that’s why an issue such as massive waste in spending by Weah and his cronies will not even become a subject of discourse. But the opportunity cost of the president and the legislative branch increasing their spending is well-funded tertiary institutions that can compete with the very best in, at least, Africa, or well-paved roads in some distant lands forgotten by the federal government.
There are even more.
The opportunity cost of paying a Liberian legislature more than the British Prime Minister is the pipe-borne water that should run through our houses or a well-funded and reformed police force or thousands of good jobs that we would have created for our teeming youths.
Because money is stolen or mismanaged in Liberia – legally and illegally – with impunity, we have lost the opportunity to develop our country, and compete with the rest of the world. Corruption and national development are mutually exclusive, that’s why you shouldn’t ignore government officials like President Weah’s Chief of Staff Mcgill who comes on national TV and Radio stations to boast of stealing public funds but building houses in the country. The money for our development is the same money they have stolen.
We will only commence our journey into national rebirth the moment we take the stealing of government funds seriously. We can’t watch people empty our treasury and then still pretend we will build infrastructure. It is the money for infrastructure that has been stolen.
Corruption and infrastructural development are mutually exclusive.