LET’S LECTURE: Dealing With Corruption, From NOCAL On Down

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Following the publication on June 24th of the first of my two columns on NOCAL, I was interviewed by a local reporter and I said that President Sirleaf should take responsibility for the mess at the company because she was the one who appointed the board of directors and senior management there. Some people felt I was too harsh.

Well, President Sirleaf has accepted responsibility, as well she should. But I am intrigued by her comment that NOCAL had a board and management that were “able”. How can she say that with a straight face? If NOCAL’s board and management were so “able”, then how in the world did they run the company into the ground? Marie Parker, it seems, was the only thing between the company and disaster. After she retired from the company (and later died), things went to hell in a hand basket. The tens of millions of dollars that she left in NOCAL’s bank accounts were subsequently frittered away. Now the company is virtually bankrupt. And the reasons have nothing to do with the drop in the price of oil. They have everything to do with massive overspending.

The debacle that we now see at NOCAL did not happen overnight. The seeds of disaster were sown some time ago. And much of the present mess has to be laid at the feet of President Sirleaf’s favourite son, Rob Sirleaf, the Wall Street savant. My information is that Rob worked for Wachovia Bank. Someone needs to tell me when Wachovia migrated to Wall Street.

Rob was chairman of NOCAL’s board from early 2012 till his resignation in August 2013. Before that, he was on NOCAL’s board, directing traffic from the back benches. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence that, even though he is no longer on the company’s board, he is still calling the shots there.

He was chairman when NOCAL’s board was spending US$1.5 million a year. On what, you may well ask? I too wanted to know. I sent NOCAL a data request on December 9, 2014 requesting, amongst other things, information on what NOCAL was paying its board members as board fees; and on the board projects NOCAL was spending money on for 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014. I never got an answer, even though our Freedom of Information Act obliges the company, a public entity, to provide me, a citizen of the Republic, with such information.

I asked because I had reliably learned that NOCAL was spending lavishly on Rob’s pet projects. Unconfirmed reports suggest, for instance, that NOCAL gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to Rob’s BYC football team.

Rob was also on the board when the bloat in the payroll took flight. NOCAL went from a headcount of 20-30 people to one of 170 highly paid management and staff, from a payroll of US$360,000 per annum to one of more than US$7 million.

Till this day, NOCAL has not honoured my request for information about its operations. An audit, by one of the Big 4 international accounting firms, not that shower at GAC, should be done on NOCAL (in one of his more delirious moments Rob offered to succumb to such an audit) so the Liberian people can know what has really been going on there.

And if any criminal wrongdoing is discovered, President Sirleaf should strike the first blow to slay the vampire by instituting criminal proceedings against anyone found culpable, without fear or favour. People should go to jail. Then we will know that she is really serious about combating corruption.

I will return to a position that I have long held: that the only way to effectively combat corruption in our public service is to put people in jail. I don’t believe for a moment that Liberians are born with more corruption genes in their DNA than, say, Americans or Germans or the British. Why corruptions thrives here is because there are no consequences. People steal public money and go scot free. No sanctions. No serious punishment.

A couple of personal examples will illustrate how I believe a Liberian leader can effectively combat corruption. In 1973, a very close relative of mine was involved in theft of ticket receipts from a football tournament that we, the Big H Committee, had organized. His accomplices perhaps believed that because he was a close relative of mine, they would just get a slap on the wrist if they were caught. Well, they misjudged me. I grabbed my close relative first before anyone else and slammed him into South Beach prison.

Currently, I am embarked on a crusade that stretches back three years to have the former superintendent of our Kokoyah Statutory District prosecuted for eating US$60,000 of monies we had negotiated with a logging company to pay the district for use of our facilities. He was indicted by a grand jury in Gbarnga in November 2013. His trial started a few weeks ago. I will not rest until he is put behind bars, should he be found guilty. No begging.

Since President Sirleaf does not know what to do with corrupt government officials, we, the citizens of Kokoyah, will give her a good civics lesson.

The writer is a certified public accountant and a businessman. He can be reached at .

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