President Ellen Sirleaf’s inauguration speech in January 2006 is best remembered for her declaration of war on public sector corruption. In her exact words at the time, “corruption will be public enemy number”.
Over six years later and after winning reelection as president in October/November 2011, little evidence exists that there was any real or concerted effort to wage war against all forms of corruption in the country except a few instances of lower level civil servants being fired and roughly three halfhearted attempts at prosecuting senior level people.
In spite of numerous reports of graft involving high level government officials including audit findings from the government’s own auditing arm, the General Auditing Commission (GAC), little evidence exists of this “war” she declared. The president is even on record for advocating against the implementation of damaging audit findings on grounds that they needed to be substantiated.
While this argument may have some substance, it makes little sense to steadfastly maintain those accused of stealing from the public coffers by the audit reports in the high offices they occupy or just move them around to other portfolios.
Around 2008, the Ministry of Public Works spent a huge amount of money to fix about two miles of road in the Jallah Town area. The result was a total shambles with the money largely lost. People in the neighborhood paid a pittance to buy the cement which was to be used for the road construction to build or complete their houses.
What did the president do about this? She replaced her friends at the ministry with other people and moved them to other positions.
When the president’s Minister of State was linked to corruption with business people in America and Israel which also directly linked the president to underhand business deals, she steadfastly refused to fire him or pressure him to resign. It took an unrelated sex scandal for him to be relieved of his position.
The Ambassador Saga
In recent months, very serious and high ranking people in the president’s government and political party have been linked to taking money from a Danish investigative journalist and film maker to sell diplomatic privileges.
When the film “The Ambassador” was first release by Mr. Mads Bruggers Cortzen, Cllr. Varney Sherman who is the chairman of the president’s political party, admitted to taking US$30,000 from Mr. Cortzen as success fees in order to get him a diplomatic appointment to Liberia’s consular corps.
To give Cllr. Sherman the benefit of the doubt, it is best to assume that he did nothing wrong and was genuinely working as a lawyer for a client who was willing to pay him a fee for a professional service.
When one is a lawyer, you are allowed to charge for legal services rendered, but in the instant case, the question that needs to be answered is whether a lawyer’s fee will apply to helping someone get a diplomatic appointment? Another pertinent question is whether the process of giving diplomatic appointments usually involves third parties taking financial inducements in order to influence such appointments with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and presidency?
As the government has failed to provide explanations to these pertinent questions, it is only safe to assume that the laid down procedure for such appointments do not require anyone paying a fee for any lobbying.
The story does not end with the apparent failure of Cllr. Sherman to influence the appointment of Mr. Cortzen to the country’s consular corps apparently because the Foreign Minister at the time was always taking extended medical leaves from her job.
When she was eventually replaced with Dr. Toga McIntosh, the process became rather clearer and a lot smooth for the Dane. Apparently the new minister was a lot more available than his predecessor and perhaps with a lot more penchant for monetary inducements.
According the Mr. Cortzen’s account in “The Ambassador” Minister McIntosh received US$150,000 dollars from him to provide him with his diplomatic cover to the Central African Republic. In the video, Dr. McIntosh is seen being very cozy with the Dane in Monrovia.
Promotion Even in the Face of Corruption
Recently, the Front Page Africa Newspaper published an exclusive interview with President Ellen Sirleaf. In this interview, the president stated her disgust at people peddling rumors of corruption in her family, government, and inner circle.
According to President Sirleaf, information about corruption in the country, especially regarding members of her family and government was really hurting the country and affecting the inflow of development aid. While this might be the case, President Sirleaf must have herself to blame for the apparent “misinformation” which she seems to be distressed by.
The presidency in Liberia holds nearly unbridled power especially over those that work in the executive branch of government. The office is also the custodian of the country’s foreign relations.
When the president reneges in her duty to exercise proper leadership over the country’s executive branch, she sends the wrong signal to both her subjects and international partners. There can be no more show of failure when it comes to this, than when the president allows her officials to go scot free when they are found wanting in their duties.
The allegation of bribe taken against Dr. McIntosh was well known to President Sirleaf before she nominated him to be Liberia’s representative to the ECOWAS Commission as Vice Chairman. In spite of these allegations, she put him forward instead of showing him the door.
The president, by actions like this tells everyone with some time to pay attention to her actions that she does not mind her people dragging the nation’s image through the mud. What then stops people from speculating that she benefits from the corrupt attitudes of her people?
For example, it will be difficult for President Sirleaf to claim that she has had no knowledge of bribes paid to political parties during and after the 2011 presidential elections in order to buy their allegiance or silence. How could she not know when it was the people closest to her that were paying out the cash?
Sending the Wrong Message by Killing the Messenger
In recent weeks, the government of Liberia has once more shown that it has little interest in raiding its ranks of corrupt officials. The Information Ministry, with the full acquiescence of the president is on record as indicating the government’s desire to prosecute Mr. Mads Bruggers Cortzenfor acquiring Liberian diplomatic status fraudulently.
While the government’s anger might be understandable surrounding the diplomatic passport saga, its anger is totally kneejerk, misdirected and speaks volumes for the government and president’s actual desire to truly redeem the country’s battered image.
How can the president claim that reports of corruption of state resources by her family and government is exaggerated, unfounded and outright lies when she instructs her government to go after someone who exposes corruption among her most trusted of advisers?
Why hasn’t she withdrawn Dr. McIntosh from ECOWAS and pressured Cllr. Sherman to resign from leadership of her political party? She ought to take it one step further and prosecute these two and all others that might have had a hand in the diplomatic status saga.
It is common knowledge in the country that people around the president are largely corrupt. In some instances, the corruption of these people even extend to taking kickbacks from people simply for arranging appointments with them and the president.
From her interview with FPA, President Sirleaf is clearly out of touch with reality. She claims that MadsBruggersCortzen used a false name to slip the Liberian NSA vetting and that he paid fraudulent group money to issue him a false diplomatic status. If one closely follows all sides of the narrative, it is clear that these assertions are wrong.
The issue the president fails to address is how her party’s chairman and Foreign Minister figured in the whole deal. Her party chairman is on record for taking thousands of dollars from the fellow to lobby on his behalf for the position. Is Cllr. Sherman a part of the fraudulent organization the president referred to?
Dr. McIntosh is also accused of taking thousands of dollars from the journalist to provide him the diplomatic cover. Is Dr. McIntosh also a part of this fraudulent group?
And more importantly, what seems to be the president’s signature appears on a commission posted online granting the fellow the diplomatic position. Is President Sirleaf herself a part of this fraudulent ring she refers to? Or is she claiming that her signature was forged?
Considering the chain of events that ended in getting Mr. Cortzen his desired diplomatic posting, one can only conclude that there is something fundamentally wrong with the way the Liberian Government’s bureaucracy functions.
Mr. Cortzen set out to prove that the system was rotten in many African countries. He has more than proven that at least one African country sells out diplomatic cover to criminals who inhabit the murky underworlds, while another harbors them and allows them commit crimes unchallenged.
The best Mrs. Sirleaf can do is to move from her current state of denial and rise to the occasion to raid her government of the vermin that continue to suck the life blood from Liberia.
Mr. Cortzen’s action should be viewed in the light as helping the Liberian Government fish out the undesirable elements within its own ranks, but instead of the president seizing the initiative handed to her, she’s shown that she prefers to protect her friends and cronies than stamp out corruption in the country.
Mrs. Sirleaf is being scammed by her people and is so blinded by their incompetence that she’s failing to see through the lies. If the Dane was given his diplomatic papers by fraudsters in Europe, why did her Foreign Minister invite Cortzen to Liberia to receive his commission? He is seen being very cozy with Cortzen in the film.
Madam President you have to wake up and rise up to the people around you. They are largely greedy people whose basic objective is to use their closeness to you to make money.
Joseph Wallace Gerringhas privately watched Liberian and African politics for decades. He resides in the United States. Emailjoewallaceg@hotmail.com