Saturday, October 30, 2010

MOJ, Warner Committee on Collision Course

Since the release of the report of the Negbalee Warner Special Presidential Committee on the Carbon Credit Deal more than a fortnight ago, those accused of abusing public trust have been anything but taking the accusation lying down. The situation however turned melodramatic yesterday when just as the committee took to defend its findings and recommendations, the Justice Ministry issued a statement exonerating two of the nine accused, upholding the accusation against one, and promising to recuse itself from further investigation to avoid conflict of interest. Observers say that is tantamount to putting the ministry on collision course with the committee. The Analyst has been looking at the rising contentions.


The implementation of the recommendations of the Warner Committee is most likely to generate more controversy than combat corruption, unless the committee and the Justice Ministry or the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) established common criteria for guilt and innocence.

In separate press conferences yesterday, the Justice Ministry dismissed certain recommendations and questioned the validity of certain findings in the reports just as the Warner Committee was defending the authenticity of the report in its entirety.

The Justice Ministry organized the press conference to inform the public of what it made of the Warner report. President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf had turned the report over to the ministry with mandate to further investigate the findings and prepare indictments for the possible prosecution of those found of breaching public trust.

The Warner Committee’s defense of its report might have been triggered by objections from the accused persons, who claimed that the findings were mainly offhanded and wanting in legal bases.

But just what have been their contentions?

Justice Ministry: appreciative but apprehensive

In the same breath that the Justice Ministry thanked the Warner Committee for investigating the Carbon Credits Corruption allegations, it suggested that the committee’s reports lack legal basis for prosecution in certain instances.

President Sirleaf has mandated the ministry to determine whether specific procedures of the Public Procurement and Concession Commission Act were followed in the conduct of this alleged concession, to determine the basis upon which the deal was structured, and to verify the reasons for single-sourcing the proposed concession to the Carbon Harvesting Corporation (CHC).

The President also mandated the ministry to determine whether any act of impropriety, such as corruption, conflict of interests and payment of bribe, or any form of irregular payment, was made directly or indirectly by the accused.

The accused included officials of FDA, members of the Inter-Ministerial Concessions Committee (IMCC), the Board of Directors of the FDA or any official of the government of Liberia.

During the press conference yesterday, the ministry said it has exhausted the mandate and that it has found the evidence presented by the committee sufficient to bring charges for fraud and bribery against River Cess County Senator Jonathan Barney.

It did not say when government intends to strip the senator of his legislative immunity and indict him for prosecution, or if there is any intention to prosecute him after all.

But the ministry said it was preparing to institute extradition proceedings against Carbon Harvest Corporation CEO Michael Foester and George Antwi, both foreign nationals, so that they could answer to the allegations in Liberians courts.

This was how far the ministry went to concur with the committee, in appreciation, but before it became apprehensive of other aspects of the report.

“There is insufficient evidence to prosecute Minister Amara Konneh for allegedly signing a Certificate that was never produced by the Committee, especially when the Minister continues to maintain that he admitted to signing Forestry Management Certificate and not a Certificate for Carbon Credit,” the ministry said, corroborating the minister’s earlier denial.

Upon the rejection of the allegation last week, Minister Konneh challenged the Warner Committee to produce a copy of the concession certificate the committee alleged his ministry granted CHC, vowing to resign his post if the committee ever presented authentic certificate bearing his signature.

Not only did the minister question the authenticity of the allegation, he also marveled at the logic of accusing him of taking bribe – and instead of recommending his dismissal as in the case of Senator Barney – simply told the President to reprimand him.

The Warner Committee, to the surprise of many, ignored the challenge and the ‘whys’, without giving reasons for doing so, up to the release of the Justice Ministry’s findings yesterday in what many described as a dramatic twist of events in favor of the accused.

But the Konneh exoneration is not the only reason for surprise vis-à-vis the authenticity of the Warner report; the ministry also saw no breach of public trust in the action of the Executive Director of the Public Procurement and Concession Commission (PPCC).

“There is insufficient evidence to support the recommendation for prosecution against Peggy Meres for signing a letter in response to a request from FDA for the PPCC to consider sole sourcing, in, which she indicated that ‘the Commission takes note of the justification advanced for Single Sourcing’,” the ministry said.

The ministry said it was not impossible to convict the PPCC executive director of fraud and corruption in a court of law for signing a communication that ‘acknowledged’, but did not expressly grant a “no objection”, to the FDA request.

It however noted that it was ready to change its position on the matter if the committee provided additional information to warrant the review of the allegations against Minister Konneh and Director Meres and apply the full force of the law.

“As to Ambulai Johnson, John Woods, Augustine Johnson, Joseph Neufville, Edward Esiah, and Cllr. Benedict Sargbeh, we will recommend further investigation because of the strong allegations of the Committee, several unanswered inquiries, and the fact that the Committee has yet to produce additional evidence on these individuals, which it claims to have,” the Justice Ministry said.

As of yesterday, the ministry said, it was turning the remaining part of the preliminary investigation over to the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) as part of efforts to recuse itself, because two of the three Warner Committee members were personnel of the Justice Ministry. The two members are Mr. William Massaquoi and Ms. Rose Stryker

How that may affect its current findings, it did not say; but it said Liberia was at a critical stage of national economic recovery and that everything needed to be done to ensure transparency and accountability and uphold the rule of law as the nation utilizes its resources for the benefit of the people.

Warner Committee: holding its grounds

Whatever the Justice Ministry or the accused made of its report, the Warner Committee said it stood by its findings and recommendations as they were based in law and not in witch-hunting as some want the Liberian people to believe.

It said the spate of denial flooded the media by some accused persons in recent days were acts in retaliation for failed behind-the-scene efforts to have the committee fine-tune its findings and recommendations.

“We are particularly shocked that an allegation that the Government has no commissioned a prompt investigation into the serious allegation concerning how a senior advisor to President unlawfully compromised the work of a Presidential Commission established to investigate a serious fraud,” the committee, one of whose members dissented to the press conference, said yesterday.

The committee, which said its work has been motivated by the desire to contribute to efforts to fight corruption, hoped that the President would find some basis to act on its report.

Meanwhile, it said it was compelled by sustained “defamatory attacks” on the person of its members to go public.

It said rather than cruising for a fight as many of the accused have claimed, it conducted the investigations in keeping with the presidential mandate.

The mandate stated specifically that the committee determines whether the specific procedures of the PPCC Act were duly followed in the conduct of the CHC concession agreement; to determine the basis upon which the deal was structured, and to verify reasons for single-sourcing the proposed concession to CHC.

In addition, according to the committee, the mandate stated further that the committee determines whether any act of impropriety, such as corruption, conflict of interest, bribery or any form of irregular payment was made directly or indirectly to any official of FDA, members of the inter-ministerial concessions committee, the Board of Directors of FDA, or any official of Government.

With mandate in hand, the committee said, it set to work, meticulously collecting evidence, making conclusions based on the evidence adduced in record and interview, and finally assigning sanctions in keeping with the gravity of culpability.

“In light of the discussion we held with the President before, during and following submission of our Report, we believe that the recent pronouncement by the President suspending and dismissing some of those implicated in the Report constitutes acceptance and adoption of our recommendations,” the committee said, noting further that that should negate the need to comment on the denials.

But it said it shouldn’t because the issues associated with the issuance of a concession certificate for the CHC by the Minister of Planning and Economic Affairs (MPEA), and the granting of “no objection” to single-source the carbon credit concession to CHC were central to its findings.

The certificate question was central to the investigation, according to the committee, because the investment code of Liberia provides that “no concession activities shall commence until a concession certificate is requested by the concession entity and issued” by MPEA.

On the other hand, it said, the ‘no objection’ question was central because the law requires PPCC to undertake a bidding process prior to “interposing no objection” to FDA’s single-sourcing request.

The committee however, surprised observers when it insisted that the MPEA minister did issue a concession certificate to CHC because he agreed on tape to doing so during its meeting with him.

It is not clear why the committee was contented with the verbal confession from Minister Konneh when it should have simply demanded a copy of the certificate or required CHC to show proof of legal right to operate in Liberia.

“While we do not entirely disagree with the suggestion, we submit that the production of the certificate was not necessary to prove whether Minister Konneh had issued it. The best evidence on the issue of whether the certificate was issued was the words of the issuer and his emphatic admission to his issuance of the certificate is undeniable,” the committee said, prompting observers to wonder whether the presidential probe was a legal investigation to dig out evidence of corruption or a circus.

The committee however said that it chose to recommend the reprimanding of the minister despite mounting evidence of wrongdoing against him because suggestions that he might have solicited and received bribe was “inconclusive”.

Regarding PPCC’s granting of no objection to single-sourcing, the committee said PPCC failed to grant the “no objection letter” through competitive bidding as required by law.

It said further probe of PPCC’s handling of the issue revealed the decision not to have the CHC concession subjected to competitive bidding was made by the Executive Director of PPCC through a written “no objection” she gave in response to the request of FDA to single-source the concession.

The contention of the committee that PPCC has issued a ‘no objection letter’ has however since been debunked of any legal basis by the PPCC executive director, who showed documentary evidence to prove that her office issued an “acknowledgment”, not a “no objection letter”, due to FDA’s sworn claims that it had met all requirements to authorize a pilot project.

Observers say the upholding of the positions of Minister Konneh and Ms. Meres by the Justice Ministry in the wake of Cllr. Warner’s insistence that his report is legally grounded – even though its validity is subject to approval by that ministry, procedurally at least – does not only cast the report in doubt, but that it also raises questions about coordination in government.

Unless the committee is made to subordinate its comments, they say, it risks head-on collision with the Ministry of Justice to the discredit of the Sirleaf Administration.

Whether the administration will stomach the disgrace will be seeing in how President Sirleaf referee the situation in comings days.

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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

Drawing the line in Liberia

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.

If Liberia must move forward ...

If Liberia must move forward in order to claim its place as a civilized nation amongst world community of nations, come 2017 elections, Liberians must critically review the events of the past with honesty and objectivity. They must make a new commitment to seek lasting solutions. The track records of those who are presenting themselves as candidates for the position of "President of the Republic of Liberia" must be well examined. Liberians must be fair to themselves because results from the 2011 elections will determine the future of Liberia’s unborn generations to come - Bernard Gbayee Goah

Liberia's greatest problem!

While it is true that an individual may be held responsible for corruption and mismanagement of funds in government, the lack of proper system to work with may as well impede the process of ethical, managerial, and financial accountability - Bernard Gbayee Goah

What do I think should be done?

The situation in Liberia is Compound Complex and cannot be fixed unless the entire system of government is reinvented.
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

Liberia's Natural Resources
Besides land water and few other resources, most of Liberia’s dependable natural resources are not infinite, they are finite and therefore can be depleted.
Liberia’s gold, diamond, and other natural resources will not always be an available source of revenue generation for its people and its government. The need to invent a system in government that focuses on an alternative income generation method cannot be over emphasized at this point - Bernard Gbayee Goah

Liberia needs a proper system
If Liberians refuse to erect a proper system in place that promotes the minimization of corruption and mismanagement of public funds by government institutions, and individuals, there will come a time when the value of the entire country will be seen as a large valueless land suited on the west coast of Africa with some polluted bodies of waters and nothing else. To have no system in place in any country is to have no respect for rule of law. To have no respect for rule of law is to believe in lawlessness. And where there is lawlessness, there is always corruption - Bernard Gbayee Goah

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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