Amid the mysterious deaths of public officials
Four leading civil society organizations in advocacy for democracy, governance, accountability, and the promotion of rule of law, have registered their concerns and expressed fear over the mysterious death of two public officials of the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA) and another one whose death is attributed to an accident but heavily disputed based on the wounds that led to this death.
The four organizations; Center for Transparency and Accountability in Liberia (CENTAL), the Institute for Research and Democratic Development (IREDD), Naymote Partners for Democratic Development, and the Accountability Lab Liberia, in a release issued October 8, 2020, emphasized that: “The unexplained deaths of public servants including Albert K. Peters, Gifty Asmah Lama, and George F. Fahnboto at the LRA, claim our attention. All of these are happening months after Matthew Innis, a senior at the Central Bank of Liberia was killed in a purported hit-and-run accident on March 1, 2019 without any conclusive outcome since an investigation was launched by the Liberia National Police.
The four civil society organizations themselves have been in the vanguard of criticizing the George Weah Administration for corruption, counting on the unaccounted US$25 million meant for mop-up exercise, the alleged missing L$16 billion, and circumstances of the food distribution under the COVID-19 stimulus package. With these, the CSOs fear that if public officials in strategic positions can die under mysterious circumstances, it is highly possible their heads advocating for democratic governance and at times criticizing the government can be targeted for elimination similarly.
Besides, the CSOs are also concerned that such mysterious deaths of public officials are instilling fear in citizens and have the propensity to undermine investors’ confidence in the country. Also, the groups claim such deaths tend to undermine democratic gains made over the years through collective efforts by Liberians and development partners.
“Hence, we call on the Government of Liberia, especially President George M. Weah to take serious action by initiating timely, credible and comprehensive investigations into these matters, with timely reports to the public about their outcomes.”
In what sounds like speculations, the civil society organizations in their release issued on October 8, 2020 further indicate that, “We are equally terrified by reports of key political actors reportedly being tailed daily by unknown men and reported assassins to eliminate key political actors. We fear that the country is gradually slipping into anarchy and therefore call on the government and international community, particularly the Embassy of the United States of America, the European Union and other international partners, to intervene.”
The groups also expressed their concerns that Liberia already in a struggling economy needs competent and credible people to manage the country’s resources for equitable distribution and accountability, but the deaths of strategically placed officials, especially individuals somehow linked to efforts aimed at protecting and safeguarding and assets, do not augur well for peace and security of the country as well as stakeholders’ confidence in its governance process.
“We strongly encourage the Government to do more to protect the fundamental human rights of all citizens and residents of Liberia, especially their rights to life and free movement,” the release said.
The civil society organizations are also drawing attention to the impunity that they believe is the basis for the mysterious killing in the country.
“Importantly, also, we call on the US Government and other partners to closely follow these investigations and support government, in whatever means possible, to timely conclude them ensuring that the outcomes are published and fully implemented. Impunity for economic, financial and other crimes committed have been a long-standing issue in Liberia, and we believe that the country cannot continue on this path whereby innocent lives are lost under mysterious circumstances and with little or no accountability,” they claim.
The groups are also raising concern that the transfer of Professor Wilson Tarpeh from the Commerce Ministry where he stayed and served as a chairperson on the Steering Committee for the COVID-19 stimulus package to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), without accountability, is unfair to the country and its people.
“We strongly believe that nominating former Minister Tarpeh without accounting for the Stimulus Package and Household Food Support Program, as head of the Committee, undermines the good governance and public accountability, thereby sending a very bad message to the public and our partners about Government’s commitment to fight against corruption and ensure that public assets are properly managed and accounted for at all times,” the groups said.
“Unfortunately, after over five (5) months, the over 30 million United States Dollars allocated for the Stimulus Package and Household Food Support Program is yet to be properly utilized and accounted for, as the contract between the World Food Program (WFP) and the Government of Liberia that contains details of the food distribution exercise and other pertinent information is still a top secret, as sad and disappointing reality.”
With no reference to any individual, the groups in their release noted: “It must be noted that emergency is one of the periods during which unscrupulous individuals and groups collude to misdirect public resources and assets. And from all indications, the limited transparency and accountability associated with the Household Food Program/Stimulus Package leave more questions than answers in terms of the Liberian WFP’s proper handling of the process.”
“Simply put, we call President Weah to withdraw the nomination of Professor Tarpeh until he fully and properly accounts for the Stimulus Package and Household Food Support Program. Furthermore, we are calling for a timely and comprehensive audit to be conducted by the General Audit Commission to validate any account from the Professor. Equally, we call on the Government of Liberia and WFP to release the contract and all associated documents for the Stimulus Package to the public, as there should be nothing secret about the process, especially so, that the money in question has been borrowed to be repaid by Liberians through their taxes and other resources. We call on the Office of the United Nations Secretary-General to institute a full audit of the WFP handling of the Covid-19 food support program in Liberia,” said the CSOs.