Liberia: U.S. records killings, corruption and media suppression
The 2021 Human Rights Report on Liberia released by the United States Department of State records significant human rights issues in the country, including arbitrary killings, cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by police.
The report also records harsh and life-threatening prison conditions across the country, including arbitrary arrest or detention; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; restrictions on freedom of the press as well as violence, intimidation and threats against journalists resulting in self-censorship and unjustified arrests.
It says while the law of Liberia provides criminal penalties for bribery, abuse of office, economic sabotage, and other corruption-related offenses committed by officials, the government here failed to implement the law effectively amidst numerous reports of government corruption during the year.
“Officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Corruption was a fact of daily life for citizens and businesses alike”, the report continues.
It notes that the Center for Transparency and Accountability in Liberia State of Corruption Report last September revealed that 90 percent of citizens thought corruption was high in the country and 76 percent had witnessed corruption. The report also labeled the national budget as a tool for corruption in which public resources end up in the pockets of public officials through direct payments, indirect payments, or backdoor deals.
The State Department also points to widespread corruption in the Liberian judiciary, in the form of bribery and extortion to obtain favorable decisions, including direct government influence over judicial decisions.
It records that on September 6, Criminal Court “C” Judge Ousman Feika dismissed a five-million-dollar case of economic sabotage, theft of property, forgery, and criminal conspiracy against Secretary of the Liberian Senate J. Nanborlor F. Singbeh Sr., who allegedly used his position to obtain a government investment incentive package that he used unlawfully to import vehicles and equipment for personal gain, and 12 codefendants.
Judge Feika, the report notes, dismissed the case on grounds that the private prosecutor for the government, Hans Armstrong, was also indicted for the crimes of theft of property and forgery in the Nimba County Court, including some of the same crimes that were part of the indictment against Singbeh and his codefendants.
It further details that on August 9, Assistant Minister for Litigation at the Ministry of Justice Wesseh Alphonsus Wesseh requested that Senate President Pro Tempore Albert Tugbe Chie relieve Singbeh of his duty on grounds that he was criminally indicted, but the Senate did not grant the request, while on July 16, the manager of the Port of Buchanan, Charles MacArthur D. Gull, and his chief statistician, Amara Kamara, were suspended for alleged financial impropriety amounting to more than $200,000. The two officials were allegedly involved in diverting monies intended for the government into their personal accounts both in the country and abroad.
According to reports, the funds were remittances paid by ArcelorMittal and Equatorial Palm Oil for the exportation of iron ore and palm oil through Buchanan seaport in Grand Bassa County, and subsequently, agents of the National Security Agency reportedly arrested the men.
In a press release, the port authority confirmed the pair were suspended without pay for alleged financial impropriety, and that after interrogation by the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission and the National Security Agency, Gull and Kamara conceded to diverting port funds.
But following that interrogation, Gull fled the country and subsequently provided substantial documentation, which was published by local media, that appeared to demonstrate the managing director of the National Port Authority, Bill Twehway, and other officials had colluded to illicitly award the loading contract for the port to a company they secretly co-owned via family members, Creative Developer Incorporated.
The State Department report on corruption continues that Gull claimed he had confessed in order to avoid physical harm and said his arrest was meant to make him a scapegoat for diversion of port funds by Twehway.
Director Twehway is said to be an uncle of President Weah.
It further records that on August 30, the LACC and other officials announced that its vice-chairperson Kanio Bai Gbala was under investigation for his alleged involvement as a beneficial co-owner of Creative Developer Incorporated, while, President George Weah on August 23, suspended Presidential Special Projects Coordinator Makenneh L. Keita for allegedly soliciting five million dollars from a businessman who was exploring investment opportunities.
“Keita was asked to report to the office of the Legal Advisor to the President for investigation. At year’s end the outcome of the investigation by the Office of the Legal Advisor was not made publicly known”, the State Department says.
The Liberian government is yet to comment on the report.https://www.state.gov/reports/2021-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/liberia/