-MoFDP Deputy Minister Wolokollie testifies
Defense lawyers’ expert witness in the ongoing US$1.9 million case involving Defense Minister Brownie Samukai and two other co-defendants at Criminal Court ‘C,’ Deputy Finance Minister for Fiscal Affairs, Samora Wolokollie, says the government was compelled to payback US$460,000 of the money that is at the center of criminal litigation.
In his testimony on Friday, March 13, 2020, Wolokollie told the court that the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning made the US$460,000 payment into the AFL’s Compulsory Contributory Funds at Ecobank-Liberia Limited account of the Ministry of Defense (MoD), and it was done in line with MFDP’s budget execution process with advice from the Government’s National Security Council.
The account was established in 2009 as a compulsory contributory savings fund, which deducted salaries from all ranks of the AFL to serve as a supplementary pension benefit to provide assistance to wounded soldiers and to families of deceased soldiers, that the prosecution claimed was used outside of the purpose for which it was established.
“We, MFDP, out of fear and potential unrest from officers of the Armed Forces of Liberia, the [money] was paid back into the AFL’s Compulsory Contributory Funds US$460,000 at Ecobank-Liberia Limited,” witness Wolokollie openly told the court.
The minster added that the money was also paid in line with the Public Financial Management Law (PFM), noting, “vouchers were prepared by the Ministry of Defense because they have received an allotment. So, approved cheques were printed and payments were made and a release was signed.”
Minister Wolokollie also said that for purposes of evidence, the MoFDP ensured that the Deputy Comptroller at the Ministry of Defense, T. Edward Andrew, was asked to sign on the US$460,000 cheque. Minister Wolokollie, however, could not produce the original copies of the transaction, the reason for which he was cited to testify.
Later, the court decided to accept the photocopies of the transaction document.
Wolokollie further said that the money was used prior to his ascendency as a Deputy Minister, but the government was under intense pressure to pay due to threats from the soldiers to stage a demonstration in protest of their money.
During his testimony earlier, former Minister Samukai claimed that the decision reached between former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and President George Manneh Weah during a series of meetings held between January 13 and 17, 2018, with the leadership of the AFL, was that the incoming government would refund all funds spent from the AFL Welfare Fund.
Samukai also argues that on January 17, 2018, President George Weah, then President-elect, had a meeting with him (Samukai) at his (President Weah) residence in Rehab, Paynesville along with senior leadership of the AFL, and there they discussed the outstanding issue of refund of the AFL Welfare Fund.
President Weah confirmed and reiterated in that meeting that he and Madam Sirleaf had met and discussed the situation and he agreed to refund all the money spent on the AFL from the Welfare Fund in the 2018 budget.
Despite Samukai’s explanation and documentary evidence establishing that the discussion between former President Sirleaf and President Weah agreed that from the 2018 budget the government would refund the money, the defense expert witness said they were under intense pressure from the soldiers and therefore they had to pay the US$460,000.