Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A LETTER FROM THE EDITOR: ‘Homeland’ Liberia Does Not Belong To Richard Tolbert

- Rodney D. Sieh
Source: FrontPage Africa

Dear Readers,

RICHARD TOLBERT, the head of the National Investment Commission in Liberia has always taken the personal route in responses to investigative stories undertaken by FrontPageAfrica. His latest, in response to our Thursday, August 19, 2010 Cover story entitled: Selling of Liberia - Billions For Less: Investors Get Resources For Cheap?

A CASE in point: When FPA sought, in 2008 to investigate assets and wealth pile up of officials two years after President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf declared that all officials in her administration would be required to declare their assets, Mr. Tolbert took offense to FPA inquiry asking him to address the issue.

SAID TOLBERT: “I FIND your stories and questions by and large trivial, unprofessional, and based on false rumors , lies , gossip and nothing but negative. While some of us are doing everything possible to rebuild our beloved homeland people like you seem to take pleasure in throwing stones from a distance and tearing down everything others are trying to rebuild. Thank goodness the majority of Liberians back home are basically good people who understand, support and appreciate the work we are doing. Try coming home one day to gather facts instead of just writing nonsense and printing every vicious lie someone writes to you. Even better, try putting down your poison pen and come home and pick up a tool to do some rebuilding or farming. - Richard Tolbert

TOLBERT, the son of Frank Tolbert, former President Pro Tempore of the Senate, who was one of thirteen officials of the William R. Tolbert government, executed on April 12, 1980, went to great length in dismissing FPA’s quest for answers about his assets.

SAID TOLBERT: “It's none of your business, but I did get a $50,000 mortgage from IB Bank in Liberia to buy my own home despite having deeds for over 20 pieces of property in my Late Father's name.......the same bank called International Trust Company in 1980 that some idiots went into and "confiscated in the cause of the struggle" $650,000 of my 70 year old father's hard earned life savings before executing him in cold blood . If I did not build a house some of you would be writing as some of your colleagues have already falsely written that those of us who returned home are just here for the short term and are not concerned with the welfare of our people over the long-term because we have no vested interest here. Well I can tell you one thing, I for one am here for the duration. I hope that satisfies your morbid curiousity.

IN FACT, since Mr. Tolbert threw his challenge to FrontPageAfrica, we have made a successful transition from a well-read online news organ to a print edition while keeping our web base components in tact.

SINCE THE LAUNCH of its print edition last November, it has sought to continue its investigative trend in raising issues and stories affecting the lives of ordinary Liberians.

THUS, OUR LATEST INVESTIGATIVE analysis, “Billions for Less”, sought to highlight some of the problems associated with numerous investment pronouncements by Mr. Tolbert especially in the wake of the ongoing debate and discussion regarding yet another concession agreement that promises to provide at least 35,000 direct jobs for Liberians. The BHP Biliton deal follows China Union's US$2.6 billion he signing of the ArcelorMittal's US$1.6billion, Buchanan Renewable's US$140 million and the Sime Darby's US$800 million deals which also promised to provide jobs and improve the lives of Liberians.

THE STORY sought to decipher many of the hidden flaws associated with investments and investors and the recurring issue regarding the lack of background checks and vetting of potential investors in Liberia, raising a number of unanswered questions ranging from what is the initial investments of these firms to how many jobs will be created right away.

IN HIS RESPONSE, Dr. Tolbert fails to explain or offer evidence over his claims of thousands of jobs created as a result of his investment initiatives when he states the following:

“Fortunately for some of us our work can be measured in concrete terms of dollars, jobs, mines, factories, plantations, schools, housing, hospitals, roads, ports, infrastructure etc and the vast majority of Liberian people on the ground tell us every day they appreciate what we are doing as they are the ones who will reap the benefits for generations to come . I could go on and on about the $ 10 - $ 15 billion of investment we have attracted to Liberia over the past 5 years including China Union, Arcelor Mittal, Putu Severstal, BHP Billiton, Vale, Buchanan Renewables, SIFCA, Bob Johnson, Sime Darby, Golden Veroleum, APM Meask, etc etc which will create not only tens of thousands of desperately needed jobs and income but also bring health, education, housing, electricity, sanitation, roads, ports, rails, infrastructure etc etc but I doubt anything we say will make any difference. Please Rodney Shine your eyes.” This is after all still your homeland.”

FOR THOUSANDS of Liberians, interpretations of investment pronouncements have been difficult to decipher and in most cases tough to understand.

FOR EXAMPLE, The riddle that comes resolved is while Mr. Tolbert shows off the size of the investment, most knowledgeable experts question the sheer magnitude due to Liberia’s lack of absorptive capacity, meaning the country’s economy cannot adequately accommodate the investment because it lacks the skills training, economic infrastructure and supportive environment. But even more, it is the disingenuity and dishonesty inherent in remarks which say that a company will invest billions over the “life” of the project. The statement does not indicate the initial investment size, and how many jobs will be created from it. If a company initially invests 50 million dollars in a project and reinvests its profits over 30 years into the same project, which are billions of dollars, then the underlying assumption that a 50 million dollar investment raking in billions over time should reap more benefits for the country which gave out the concession in the first place. If the company will use free cash flows from the project to reinvest without additional equity contribution, you cannot say company X will invest billions. That is a bold faced lie and intended only to score political points.

FRONTPAGEAFRICA WISHES to inform Mr. Tolbert that it welcomes positive efforts the Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf administration is making and has gone to great lengths to highlight those development efforts in and around Liberia.

WE ASSURE MR. TOLBERT, that whatever “spate of good news” on the investment front coming out of Liberia over the past few days”, would be a welcome relief for the people of Liberia. Tolbert’s task now is to explain how it trickles down to those at the bottom of the economic ladder.

MR. TOLBERT would also do himself well to research and understand that there are problems with many of the investments he has heralded. Amlib, for example is currently at odds with villagers over the fact that it has not delivered on its community outreach to the areas it now mines, Buchanan Renewables which had to be bailed out by John Mc Bain and Opic is still far off its delivery date to provide sustainable bio-electricity at less than half of the current cost 40 cent – 50 cent per kilowatt hour for diesel fuel which Liberia currently imports.

ONLY A FEW months ago, Amlib came under scrutiny after being accused of conducting exploration in Kokoya for over seven years without applying for mining license, AmLib entered into agreement with the Liberian government for additional two mining areas in Grand Gedeh and Rivercess, while the citizens of Kokoya still crying foul over the operation of the company in their communities.

OVER THE PAST few years, a number of conflict of interest issues have also dogged Tolbert since he accepted a post in the Sirleaf administration. When FrontPageAfrica sought inquiry from Tolbert in November 2008 regarding his purported interest in the Buchanan Renewable Energies, Tolbert flatly denied that he had any shares or interest in BRE.

Said Tolbert:

“BRE has not given $100,000 to any Charity of mine nor do I have any share in BRE.BRE made a loan of $100k to the Loan Star Mobilization Committee of the National Football Team when they did not have money to travel to Senegal for a match (which was well publicized in the local papers). In fact, they have only got back half of the money. BRE made a paltry contribution of $1,500 to the Clara Tay Foundation, a charity I founded almost 10 years ago which has this year paid the school fees of almost 100 refugee children who returned to Liberia from the Buduburam Refugee Camp in Ghana.

Tolbert continued: “And finally, NO I do not have any share in BRE....but I can tell you frankly I wish I did. This is one of the most innovative investments we have attracted to Liberia which in addition to creating hundreds of jobs in a very short period of time is revolutionizing our rubber sector by creating a whole new business out of exporting waste rubber wood chips. And now , we are in the process of concluding a separate $150 million deal with them by which this company could be producing 35 megawatts of power to electrify the entire environs of Monrovia at LESS THAN HALF THE CURRENT COST OF ELECTRICITY BY 2010!.”

Tolbert said at the time that Liberians need to have an equity stake in some of these ventures that are coming to Liberia and furthered that although it is not required for Liberians to own shares in any foreign business in Liberia, the National Investment Commission do encourage foreign companies to look at including Liberians not only in the management but also in ownership of these businesses for the mutual long term benefit of both the investors and the country. “Under the charter creating the Investment Commission, I am not barred from owning shares in businesses but would have to disclose my ownership in any business that came before the Commission for incentives and recued myself from any deliberations concerning that business.”

That was two years ago. More recently, new revelations have surfaced that Tolbert was a major shareholder in Mano Resources Corporation, an exploration company on the Toronto Stock Exchange whose firm African Aura own 30 percent of the Putu Mining deal in Liberia.

Tolbert recently told FrontPageAfrica that he has recused himself from all dealings regarding the Mano deal in Liberia. “I should as a Liberian have a share but I do not have any now but I still maintain relations with the company. Tolbert said in keeping with the charter of the NIC he disclosed his ties to Mano before he took on the post. “I have recused myself from the proceedings. Advisor to the company, I had options.”

Tolbert said he was very proud that to be associated with Mano and Putu and was instrumental in keeping them in Liberia even after war and destruction.

“They’re not only involved in minerals but also gold and I feel very proud to have a multi-million dollar company doing business in Grand Gedeh which will help to bring jobs and other benefits to Liberia.” Tolbert added that he will work to make sure that Liberia reaps all of the financial benefits it deserves from the Mano-Putu operations.

FrontPageAfrica had earlier gathered that both Tolbert and House Speaker Alex Tyler had been heavily involved in pushing the interests and ratification of the Putu mining deal and were spotted in Russia recently discussing a deal with some investment firms. Tolbert admitted that he was in Russia but was there to attend an investment forum while Speaker Tyler was attending a parliamentarian forum.

THE IRONY of it all remains why does Liberia have a law in place that allows the chairman of an investment commission to have shares in a company or companies investing in Liberia? The ties that bind no doubt suggests that the interest of Liberia is second to that of Mr. Tolbert. Whether Mr. Tolbert is a former shareholder or a present shareholder is difficult for anyone to understand but, according to Mr. Tolbert, he is protected by the laws and guidelines of the National Investment Commission which makes his shares or interest right, as long as he declared prior to accepting the position as Chairman of the NIC. The question becomes: Who is protecting the average Liberian residing at the bottom of the economic barrel?

CONTRARY TO WHAT Mr. Tolbert believes, investment initiative – from any source would make a world of difference if they were explained and deciphered properly. FrontPageAfrica is not against the policies of the Sirleaf administration but as a member of the Fourth Estate, we are obligated to raise issues, analyze and scrutinize concession deals, contracts and anything that doesn’t make sense for the average eye or the millions of our readers who rely on us for objective news, information and analysis. We hold these truths to be self evident that public officials are accountable to the people of Liberia and no one is above reproach or questions especially when it involves issues affecting people’s lives and livelihoods.

Liberia, after all, Mr. Tolbert, is FrontPageAfrica’s “homeland” too.

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Inside Liberia with Bernard Gbayee Goah

Everyone is a genius

Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid. – A Einstein

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Crimes sponsored, committed, or masterminded by handful of individuals cannot be blamed upon an entire nationality. In this case, Liberians! The need for post-war justice is a step toward lasting peace, stability and prosperity for Liberia. Liberia needs a war crimes tribunal or some credible legal forum that is capable of dealing with atrocities perpetrated against defenseless men, women and children during the country's brutal war. Without justice, peace shall remain elusive and investment in Liberia will not produce the intended results. - Bernard Gbayee Goah

Men with unhealthy characters should not champion any noble cause

They pretend to advocate the cause of the people when their deeds in the dark mirror nothing else but EVIL!!
When evil and corrupt men try to champion a cause that is so noble … such cause, how noble it may be, becomes meaningless in the eyes of the people - Bernard Gbayee Goah.

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Liberia needs a workable but uncompromising system that will make the country an asylum free from abuse, and other forms of corruption.
Any attempt to institute the system mentioned above in the absence of rule of law is meaningless, and more detrimental to Liberia as a whole - Bernard Gbayee Goah

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Solving problems in the absence of war talks

As political instability continues to increase in Africa, it has become abundantly clear that military intervention as a primary remedy to peace is not a durable solution. Such intervention only increases insecurity and massive economic hardship. An existing example which could be a valuable lesson for Liberia is Great Britain, and the US war on terror for the purpose of global security. The use of arms whether in peace keeping, occupation, or invasion as a primary means of solving problem has yield only little results. Military intervention by any country as the only solution to problem solving will result into massive military spending, economic hardship, more fear, and animosity as well as increase insecurity. The alternative is learning how to solve problems in the absence of war talks. The objective of such alternative must be to provide real sustainable human security which cannot be achieved through military arm intervention, or aggression. In order to achieve results that will make the peaceful coexistence of all mankind possible, there must be a common ground for the stories of all sides to be heard. I believe there are always three sides to every story: Their side of the story, Our side of the story, and The truthBernard Gbayee Goah


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