Liberia: Weah Pleads for Mercy?

 

….Tells President-Elect Boakai, ‘We didn’t hunt you, don’t hunt us…’

Outgoing President George Weah has called on President-Elect Joseph Boakai to refrain from pursuing any of his officials on allegations of corruption, stating that it would be a "witch hunt." 

Addressing a jam-packed audience at his congregation yesterday, the President noted that he expects Boakai not to pursue officials from his administration, just as he “did not prosecute anyone” from the first Unity Party government when the President-elect served as Vice President.

“We must prioritize the welfare of our people and the development of the country,” Weah said less than hours after conceding defeat to Boakai. “By pursuing witch hunts against my officials and me, we risk derailing the peace we have worked towards.”

“Going after officials from his government would only hinder the progress made toward achieving lasting peace and stability in the country,” the President stated at his Forky Klon Church on November 19.

According to the President, it is important that the President-elect focuses on his agenda and avoids being distracted by investigations and prosecutions, which would significantly negatively impact the country's peace. 

He noted that Boakai should focus on healing the nation and addressing the divisions that have plagued it "due to the elections," saying “his government” kept the peace by not prosecuting officials from the then Unity Party government under Sirleaf.

“The unity and peace of this country are paramount. It’s because of the peace of this country that our government did not go after them, past officials,” the President said. “Boakai needs to keep the peace. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf turned over power to us, and we maintained the peace, and Boakai needs to do the same.”

Weah's remarks come after Boakai promised during the campaign to audit his predecessor's administration and prosecute anyone found guilty of corruption. 

Boakai did not say whether he could audit the Unity Party government of his former boss, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who was heavily accused of corruption with limited prosecution and conviction taking place.

However, the President-elect, who has witnessed the detrimental effects corruption can have on a nation’s progress firsthand, had promised to establish a team of renowned anti-corruption czars to recover stolen funds and ill-gotten properties from officials of the Weah administration.

“Liberians, one of the primary objectives of my administration, starting from day one as the President of Liberia, will be to tackle corruption head-on,” Boakai said while campaigning for the Presidency. “

This cancer is eating up the country and it must be faced with utmost brutality. I will establish and fully empower renowned anti-corruption czars, entrusting them with the critical responsibility of recovering stolen funds and ill-gotten properties from officials of the Weah Government,” he added. 

His government, he asserted then, would demand a thorough examination of government contracts, appropriation, and execution of the national budgets, existing audit reports, as well as other related financial records and would extend it directly and indirectly to those involved in questionable transactions.

Meanwhile, the President has “expressed gratitude to the Liberian people for the opportunity afforded him and his family to serve in the nation’s highest seat,” saying that Liberians have exemplified what the “world calls free, fair, credible, and transparent election” and hopes that future leaders will follow suit.

The President's position against the audit comes as he leaves the government with accusations of not doing much to tackle corruption. Weah, during his six years, refused to publicly disclose his assets, saying then that he had children's interests to protect after coming under heavy criticism for building luxury condominiums and reconstructing his 9th Street home while in power. Several of his officials have also been accused of looting the public coffer and owning luxury homes, among other allegations.

Nathaniel McGill, his former Chief of Staff, who is now a Senator-elect for Margibi County, was sanctioned by the U.S Department of Treasury in August last year for bribing “business owners” and “receiving bribes from potential investors, and accepting kickbacks for steering contracts to companies in which he has an interest.” 

McGill “manipulated public procurement processes to award multi-million dollar contracts to companies in which he has ownership” and used government funds allocated to other Liberian government institutions to run his projects. He also made off-the-books payments in cash to senior government leaders and organized warlords to threaten political rivals, the Treasury said.

Also, Bill Twehway, the former Managing Director of the National Port Authority, and a close confidant of the President, was similarly sanctioned for corruption. Twehway, who is Senator-elect for Rivercess County, was
“sanctioned for orchestrating the diversion of $1.5m in vessel storage fee funds from the NPA into a private account and formed a private company to which he later unilaterally awarded a contract for loading and unloading cargo at the Port of Buchanan,” the Treasury Department said. 

Twehway and others used family members to obfuscate their own involvement in the company while still benefiting financially from the company, it added.

As for Sayma Syrenius Cephus, a former Solicitor General of the Country, he was sanctioned for receiving “bribes from people in exchange for having their court cases dropped and has also shielded money launderers and helped clear them through the court system,” the Treasury Department said. 

He was accused of intimidating prosecutors in an attempt to quash probes and has been accused of tampering with evidence in cases that involved members of opposition political parties, according to the Treasury.