According to the Analyst newspaper (The Analyst Liberia, February 7, 2014) the Liberia Maritime Authority Commissioner, Honorable Binyah Kesselley, “called reckless and irresponsible statement made by an official (of government) without checking the facts”. The Commissioner’s statement was in reaction to allegations made by Representative Bhofal Chambers (of Maryland County) that the Liberian government had spent over US $200 million on public relations.
The Analyst: Some Comments
In his reaction and decision to appear before the House Sub-Committee on Maritime Affairs to “clarify allegation of the use of US $263 million for Public Relations Services”, as reported in the media, the Maritime Commissioner, also, held that “people making reckless statements led to 1979 rice riot . . . it led to the 1980 coup . . . led to 1990 war and people died. So we, as Liberians, must remember where we came from before we make statements that could lead to another round of violence”.
We beg (the Honorable Commissioner) to differ. In that, we disagree that his analysis predicated on un-defined “reckless statements” did not lead to or gave rise to our devastating nightmare of the civil conflict. Indeed, the facts of our recent history show that the civil war was a calculated plan by the former, ruling class with support of ethnic/tribal bigots. This Plan, according to validated evidence, was financed, in part, with funds from our ship registry program, provided by the agent, LISCR, and LiMA, of large payments of US dollars (US $25,000.00 – $400,000.00) made to criminal syndicates for arms and ammunitions (LISCR’s reported admission to a UN Panel of investigators) used in killing hundreds of thousands of innocent Liberians, during the war. Therefore, as stated elsewhere, “it is reasonable for Liberians to cry ‘wolf’ and to be concerned when and where the names of LISCR and LiMA are mentioned regarding payments of large sums of US dollars to individuals or organizations without indication of the purposes for which such payments were or are made”.
Similarly, in an unpublished article entitled “Maritime Rubbishes Money Laundering Claims, Threatens Lawsuit”, dated July 31, 2013, arising from a major news break reported by an online, media outlet, The African Standardnews, that “funds generated globally by LISCR (Liberia’s shipping Registry Agent) for the Government of Liberia are being used for Money Laundering and Lobbying in the United States of America” (The New Dawn, July 8, 2013), while the New Democrat (New Democrat, July 15, 2013) reported that “The Maritime Authority of Liberia (LiMA) has threatened a lawsuit against the online African Standard news outlet . . .”, we asked, what are the facts”?
“Addressing a news conference”, according to the New Dawn, “LiMA Commissioner/CEO Binyah Kesselly described the ‘African Standard’ report as ‘categorically false and misleading’, adding that . . . there is nowhere in that particular report (by the US Attorney General) where it is suggested that any money laundering or lobbying has ever taken place . . .”
We observed, also, that “in the light of the past history of our government’s ship registry Agent, the ‘born-again’ and recently renamed ‘LISCR’; its erstwhile Liberian ‘firms’ and individuals reportedly involved in corrupt activities by diverting large sums of US dollar-payments ($25,000.00 – $400,000.000) made by LISCR to criminal syndicates (according to LISCR’s reported admission) from the Shipping Registry Program, it is reasonable for Liberians and their news organs to cry ‘wolf’ and to be concerned when the names LISCR and LiMA are mentioned about payments of huge sums of US dollars made to individuals/organizations, in which the ‘nature of services’ performed has come to be debatable or non-existent. Historical documents of such allegations are available (Red highlight mine)”.
In the case of the article by the African Standard online news, what are the facts?
First, The headline of the article by the African Standard news reads, “Money Laundering or Lobbying, US Attorney General’s Records on Liberia’s Oversea Millions”.
Second, Immediately below this headline is the note which, also, reads:
“Editor’s Note: This report from the Office of the U.S Attorney General shades (sheds) light on how the government of Liberia has been wasting thousands of millions of United States dollars generated via its flourishing maritime program and mineral resources on cloudy publicity and questionable lobby scheme. A critical review of this document portrays the act of money laundering on the part of officials in the West African nation. More than US$120 million sent oversea in the name of publicity and lobby. The U.S, Justice Department records these amounts as required under the Foreign Agent Registration Act of 1938. This report is self explanatory and as you will read does not suggests the US recognitions of the transaction as being legal or otherwise. The African Standard will subsequently update you on new figures” (highlight in red mine).
Third, from the headline and the Editor’s Note, there is no allegation of money laundering or lobbying made against LiMA and the Republic of Liberia. In fact, the headline, subject of the story told or to be told, simply asks a question or wondering about the “nature of services” – money laundering or lobbying – for which such large amounts of US dollars generated by our maritime program and mineral resources have been paid (wasted). Moreover, the Editor’s Note went further to explain that the US Attorney General’s Report sheds (shades) light on “how” and to whom the funds have been paid.
Fourth, “Money Laundering” was mentioned as the result of “a critical review of this document (the US Attorney General’s Report which) portrays the act of money laundering”, was and is an expression of an opinion, not a charge or accusation.
And fifth, regarding lobbying/public relations, the US Attorney General’s Report identified the “nature of Services provided” as “Lobbying/Public Relations”, throughout the Report, up to June 30, 2012. Perhaps this was the latest date on which the report (by LISCR) was made available to the office of the US Attorney General. Therefore, there were no direct charges/allegations made against LMA and Government.
LiMA’s Press Conference
In his press statement (The New Dawn, July 8, 2013), Honorable, Binyah Kesselly, LiMA CEO, confirmed that “at the time of LISCR’s FARA (Foreign Agents Registration Act) registration in 2000, the nature of services being provided (for which large sums of US dollars were and are being paid) was wrongly characterized as ‘lobbying’ and was never changed until it was brought to LMA’s attention in 2011 (some 11 years later!!). At that time (2011) I instructed my staff and LISCR to approach the US Department of Justice, and have the category corrected, since the services that were being provided were not ‘lobbying’ in nature . . . the correction were made . . . and the updated FARA Report of December, 2011, clearly reflects this change”.
From this press statement, it was LiMA’s agent, LISCR, that “characterized, Wrongly, as lobbying” the nature or category of services provided since 2000. The First crucial question, then, that remains unanswered and that which the LiMA must answer, among others, is why did this US Company paid, handsomely, for its services as an agent and, perhaps, based in Washington, D.C., failed to correct the nature of services provided for 11 years!!?
Moreover, the AfricanStandardnews article did not question our (LiMA/Government of Liberia’s) relationship with LISCR as an agent, so does the vast majority of the Liberian people, although they are concerned deeply and, in fact, extremely troubled by the many, large payments made by LISCR to several organizations without clear indication of “the nature of the services” that these organizations performed, since CEO Kesselly claims that no “Lobbying or Public Relations has ever taken place”.
Further, this vast majority of the Liberian people realizes and is aware that foreign relations or diplomacy and, indeed, national economic and political development depend, to a large extent, upon honest, objective Lobbying or Public Relations as the means of efficient/effective communication of policy goals and strategies to our foreign, friendly supporters/donors. This approach is a known, accepted and a practiced international convention, characterized by transparency and accountability.
The second question that the LiMA CEO must answer is double-barrelled: why is LISCR paying or has paid all of those enormous US dollar-payments to the conclave of firms on K Street and others in and around the City of Washington, D. C., USA, without (1), a clear indication of the services performed and (2), why is there an apparent absence of an aggressive public relations program?
Among the list of firms to which LISCR had made payments, for “Public Relations” includes an organization known as AmLib United Minerals, with no address or contact information.
According to the Former Deputy Speaker of the Liberian House of Representatives, of the 52nd Legislature, the Honorable Tokpah Mulbah (Africanstandardnews, July 3, 2013), “Amblib Mineral or AmLib United Minerals was operating (in Liberia) criminally and illegally. Amblib does not have a concession agreement. They are operating here illegally and we are calling on the national government to stop their operation . . . We are not the enforcement arm of government. We have told the Justice Ministry and the National Investment Commission that Amblib is a criminal company that is operating in our country”.
To this company, an outfit known as a “minerals company” with no known address or contact information, LISCR paid a total of US $181,933.00 in three payments for “Public Relations”.
And finally to recap, the LiMA/LISCR must provide answers to the following questions:
1. Why did LISCR failed to correct “the nature of service provided” for 11 years, 2000-December, 2011?
2. “Nature of Service Provided”
(a) Why there is not a clear indication of the services provided for which LISCR paid and continues to pay huge sum of money out of the nation’s ship registry program?
(b) Why is there an apparent absence of an aggressive, transparent and accountable PR Program?
3. The AmLib United Minrals
(a) Why did LISCR pay US $181,933.00 to this firm for “PR”, a minerals company, when “LiMA/LISCR was not, ever, involved in PR”, according to LiMA CEO, Honorable Binyah Kesselly?
(b) How was it possible to make the payment without a known address or contact information of AmLib United Minerals and, for what “nature of services” was this amount paid?
In the light of the facts known at this point in time, LiMA must provide credible, satisfactory answers to the questions, and that LiMA/LISCR must recover the US $181,933.00 paid to AmLib United Minerals, including the large sums paid to others for unknown services. Record of all of these payments is available.