Liberia: Boakai, Koung under Scrutiny over Recent Trips

House Summons Ministers of State, Finance to provide Financial reports of the President and VP’s recent travels amid chartered private jet claims

Members of the House of Representatives have begun a process of seeking clarifications into recent trips out of the country by President Joseph Nyuma Boakai and Vice President Jeremiah Kpan Koung. Among other things, the lawmakers, through the exercise of their oversight responsibility, want to know who bore the financial burdens or travel expenses of the two statesmen, while also wishing to be abreast with the outcomes of those travels.

The Executive Mansion announced President Boakai’s working visit to Ghana on February 13, 2024. The initial communication stated the President would meet with Ghanaian President Akufo-Ado to discuss mutual interests and regional issues. Upon his return on the 14th, the official release mentioned a meeting with the Vice President of Ghana, instead of the President, with no details on the discussed topics. The Ghanaian presidency’s official website did not mention President Boakai’s visit, leading to confusion about the trip’s outcomes and the lack of official communication. Prior to his departure, President Boakai told the Legislature in a communication that his trip was meant to hold consultations with his friend and brother, Nana Akufo-Addo, President of Ghana. 

Though the Executive mansion did not shed much light on the President’s trip, reports have since emerged that he traveled on a chartered private plane to Ghana.

Also out for criticism is VP Koung, whose office shared photos of him, boarding a private jet bound for Accra, en route to Nigeria to represent President Joseph Boakai at the Bayelsa State Governor’s Inauguration.

Koung has since denied that he chartered a private jet, which reportedly belongs to a Ghanaian businessman — indicating that he was given a free ride by the businessman, who, according to the report, is the founder of Engineers and Planners and Dzata Cement Limited.

The use of private jets by public officials, a contentious issue during former President George Weah’s administration, has sparked debate over the appropriateness of such expenditures in governance.

Article 90(b) of Liberia’s 1986 Constitution and the National Code of Conduct law prohibit public officials from seeking or accepting special privileges or benefits related to their duties, highlighting the importance of ethical conduct by government personnel. 

The controversies around these travels have, however, claimed the attention of the Members of the House of Representatives who have instituted an investigation into these matters.

The lawmakers unanimously voted on Thursday to summon Sylvester M. Grisgby, the Minister of State and Presidential Affairs, who is also the Chief of Staff in the Office of the President, as well as Finance and Development Planning Minister Boimah S. Kamara, to provide comprehensive and financial reports of the President’s two-day visit to Ghana.

The comprehensive report, according to Plenary, should specify whether or not the private jet charter flights were paid for by the Government of Liberia as well as pictorial evidence of the President’s visit to Ghana, including the list of those who accompanied the President on the two-day working visit.
Further, the financial report should include the allowances of those who accompanied the President, among others.

The House of Representatives also agreed that a comprehensive financial report of Vice President Jeremiah K. Koung should also be formed as part of the President’s report.

The plenary’s decision to have the ministers summoned was triggered by a communication from Montserrado County District #10 Representative Yekeh Y. Kolubah, who emphasized the importance of transparency and accountability in government expenditures.

Rep. Kolubah, in his communication, stated that his intention is in the fight against corruption and the promotion of accountability and transparency, which are among the issues that led to the failure of the Weah-led Government, especially the failure of its re-election.

The Montserrado County lawmaker argued that the President of Liberia wrote the Legislature about his two-working days visit to Ghana; to hold consultations with his friend and brother, Nana Akufo-Addo, President of Ghana; while the Vice President also went to Nigeria and Morocco, respectively.

“We believe such trips require the government’s sponsorship. And if it is not the government-sponsored trips, we need to know as the people’s deputies. Besides, it became a concern when it was stated that the President and Vice President travel on private jet planes,” Rep. Kolubah said.

“Considering that we don’t want to do business as usual, we crave the indulgence of this August Body to invite the Minister of Finance and Minister of State for Presidential Affairs to appear before the plenary of the House to provide detailed information as stated below: The Travel cost of the various travels by the President and Vice President as stated above: The owner of the private plane used by Vice President Jeremiah K. Koung, since it is being speculated that the owner of the plane is the Vice President’s friend; and details about the expenditures of the respective trips.”

Several representatives supported the summons to ensure thorough oversight and transparency in the handling of official trips. Those in support were Representatives Clarence Gahr, Frank Saah Foko, Taa Wongbe, Musa Bility Thomas Goshua, Edward Flomo, Alex Noah, Jacob Debbie, Priscilla Cooper, and Robert Womba.

Rep. Dorwon Twain Gleekia and Foday Fahnbulleh opposed the summoning and said the House of Representatives was treading wrongfully.

The motion to summon the ministers, however, received support from a majority of representatives, with some expressing concerns about the need for clarity and accountability in governmental travel expenses.

Following the motion proffered by Rep. Thomas Romeo Quiah, 35 Representatives voted in favor, while four voted against and five abstained. Those who voted against the motion were Reps. Emmanuel Dahn, Dorwon Twain Gleekia, Ernest Manseah and Foday Fahnbulleh.