Liberia: The Sanctuary of Local Corruption and Global Capital Outflow

By Jones Nhinson Williams

Jones Nhinson Williams

Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf may be personally and materially successful, but there are lingering questions, social paralysis and moral setbacks to her story as president of the Republic of Liberia, and the reason is as simple as this:  Liberia under her leadership is a sanctuary for widespread local corruption and global capital outflow.

This disconsolate cloud, despite every struggle she faced as a long-time advocate and revolutionary, and every noteworthy or undeserving personal achievements she may have acquired, will define the legacy and history she leaves behind as the first democratically elected woman president in Africa––a continent of 54 nations, a billion people and counting.

It is important to note that the election and peaceful inauguration of Mrs. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as president of Liberia in 2006 was received with incomparable enthusiasm, locally and internationally.  With this, came massive international support and goodwill, and the fullest cooperation and determination of Liberians to ensure her success.  Even then U.S. respected First Lady Laura Bush and then secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, attended the inauguration.  First time in Africa’s history for a reigning First Lady and a serving and accomplished U.S. secretary of state to jointly embrace the installation of an African leader.

Like the international community and Liberia’s global partners, no Liberian wished failure for President Sirleaf and her government, but the president and her administration blew it––they blew the trust and confidence bequeathed to them such that this missed opportunity has become far-fetched, with barely six months for her to leave office by January 2018 after the scheduled October 2017 presidential election.

The grim but derisory unanswered question is, how did this happen and why? The commonsense answer is, this happened not because President Sirleaf is unqualified, inexperienced, or uneducated for the position of head of state–––By the way, she is one of the most educated democratically elected presidents in Africa.  With a Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government’s graduate degree blended with executive level work experience that spins from the World Bank and Citi Bank to the United Nations systems, the resume can make one to jump for joy in the Cavalla River, or willingly fall from the peak of the Wologisi Mountain.

Besides, she also understands the inner workings of the international community, Washington, D.C., and knows the indisputable value of global public relations, the latter of which she managed to successfully use to her advantage to the extent of obtaining remarkable dividends, including a well-publicized Nobel Peace Prize.  But after a decade of repeat failures and unsurmountable corruption, even Washington DC is now thunderstruck with this chorus of being the ‘first democratically elected woman president in Africa.’

The twelve years’ drastic failure of President Sirleaf and her Unity Party’s administration occurred because the President and the ruling Unity Party started their governance crusade with an undesirable culture––economic exclusion, extreme political supremacy, and corruption.  These things are octopus, they can spread, and can lead to nepotism, favoritism, lack of transparency and accountability, excessive greed, the abuse of power, and political scapegoating.

This brings us to the factual issue at hand: the scapegoating of Dr. James Kollie, former deputy minister of finance for fiscal affairs and current head of the Liberia Maritime Authority of the Republic of Liberia.  From all indications, Dr. Kollie, the former chief administrator of the corruption-laden Private Sector Development Initiative (PSDI) loan program, is a victim like most ordinary Liberian-citizen victims are under the Unity Party’s government.  The only difference is, Kollie is both a beneficiary of the twelve years loot, and a scapegoat or postal child for why things fell apart.  This is why every oppressed Liberian is blaming him.  However, it is unfair to Dr. Kollie, especially when other people can walk away with millions of dollars, be praised and paraded as King David and the Prophet Moses, and when others are living in an unbelievable luxury in the midst of extreme and massive poverty.

Scapegoating can cause oppressed groups, of which majority of Liberians are, to lash out at another oppressed person.  Dr. Kollie worked at the finance ministry as a “yes man,’ he was never the ‘prince’ within the failed and falling Kingdom.

Instead of casting out Kollie, we all need to agree on one thing: the Unity Party administration began its tenure in Liberia by giving exclusive economic opportunities and control to a select few; by parading its leadership as the know-all, refusing to listen to the voices of the people being governed; and by approving or condoning corrupt practices, either by design, cover-up, protection of perpetrators, re-assigning them, or impending, tempering and obstructing the application of justice, and the rule of law.

So, here is where we are today.  From the Knuckles-gate in 2006 to the Kolliegate in 2017, it took the President and the Unity Party’s government twelve years to recognize that the path to national economic devastation and a repulsive legacy was inevitable if nothing was done to ensure transparency and accountability.  We can agree that never late than never, but in this case, it is very late to fix this failure.

So, instead blowing a trumpet for all the people of Judea to come out, sing kumbaya and worship the lord, let the Unity Party’s administration cut its losses and move on, just as how Liberia and its 4.5 million population have done after making a wrong choice in 2016 and 2011 by electing and re-electing the president and her regiment.  In the first place, more money and resources have been stolen and shipped out of Liberia than the meagre PSDI funds (which is less than US$5 million dollars) divided up by the ex-capital philanderers at the finance ministry.  This is precisely why in this circumstance, we advise the president and the Unity Party’s administration to leave sleeping dog to lie, because going after the PSDI scandal and portraying Kollie as the poster child means other skeletons need to come out of the closet too.

Already, the administration has successfully used Senator Varney Sherman and the infamous former House Speaker Alex Tyler as poster children for Liberia’s fight against graft when in fact, both Sherman and Tyler (while engaged in unbecoming and unpatriotic acts) never took money from the Liberian treasury as many others have done.

Going after Kollie is not enough. If we want real transparency and accountability in the palace, it means we need to audit the entire finance ministry from 2008 to present.  It also means we need to visit or revisit the audit reports of all government agencies including the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL), the ministries of agriculture, public works; foreign affairs, land and mines, defense as well as the Central Bank of Liberia, Forestry Development Authority, National Port Authority, Liberia Petroleum Refinery Company, and National Security Agency among others.

Even though some of these agencies cannot account for millions of dollars entrusted to them for functional purposes, what we know is that the banking community in Liberia can account for millions of dollars in global capital outflow from the country into personal accounts of the well-connected and some government officials, including those who ran our nation’s economy––from the central bank to the finance ministry.

Going forward though, every Liberian must learn from the mistakes we made as a nation through our votes.  We must resist any attempt or political leaders that will seek to invoke economic exclusion, political supremacy and corruption as we have witnessed in the last twelve years because the consequences we have seen, especially in the case of corruption.

According to Transparency Ethiopia, “the effect of corruption has many dimensions related to political, economic, social and environmental effects. In political sphere, corruption impedes democracy and the rule of law. In a democratic system, public institutions and offices may lose their legitimacy when they misuse their power for private interest.”  Doesn’t this sound like a litany for Liberia?

In order words, corruption in Liberia has led to the lack of justice and the proper application of the rule of law, hence the victims of offenses suffer continuously. Corruption has also provided a direct opening for massive and unending unemployment; it facilitated poor health and hygiene conditions as is the case throughout most parts of the country where there are no fresh drinking water, proper roads, quality food grains supply, milk adulteration, etc.  Corruption in the country has caused severe pollution and/or a neglect of environmental concerns.  This is one reason why our tributaries, ocean fronts, swamps and streets are pollutants caged.  International partners’ support to clean our pollutants in the country failed.

More importantly, corruption has delayed, if not strangled, or economic growth, decreased foreign investments and caused the lack of nation’s development. The most troubling aspect about corruption in Liberia is, in all its forms and shapes, it has made the citizens to disregard their officials, such that they lack respect for them; and have no faith and trust in their government. Lastly, in a system with corruption just like Liberia, there can be no quality service.  The country is so corrupt that when people get sick their chances of surviving is far higher when they stay home than if they are taken to the largest medical facility in the country––the John F. Kennedy Medical Center.

Liberians have long expressed confidence in the president’s call to fight to fight graft and corruption when said, “It was public enemy number one” on her governance agenda.  We still trust it is and we urge the president that the best way to skin the corruption elephant is not be selective, but inclusive and comprehensive.  Let us audit all actual, suspected and perceive places where corruption show face.

Unless we agree that every sector of the Unity Party’s administration undergoes a comprehensive audit to, somehow, exonerate the legacy of the president––a legacy that we want as part of our rich history––the Kolliegate spree is a scapegoating charade.  Until then, we know one thing: Liberia is a sanctuary of local corruption and global capital outflow.

About the Author:
Jones Nhinson Williams is a Liberian philosopher (born in Pleebo, Maryland County but hailed from River Gee County) firmly educated by the Catholic Church. He is an American trained public policy, labor market information, strategic management, and workforce development professional with accomplished global experience in job creation and institutional governance.

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