Bewildered staff of the Liberia National Red Cross Society (LNRCS) were yesterday powerless to prevent armed police officers of the elite Emergency Response Unit (ERU) from shutting down their offices.
The staff were ordered out of their offices because the officers said they were instructed to ensure that they evacuated and locked up the building.
The ERU officers told senior staff, including LNRCS President Emmanuel Kparh, who was chairing a senior staff meeting, to leave the building.
Speaking to reporters after being put out of his office, Mr. Kparh said that President Sirleaf’s action is unconstitutional and will be challenged in court.
The President is acting against international law, he argued.
“This is shocking to me that a democratic government would do such a thing that could have never been done during Charles Taylor’s administration,”Kparh said in disbelief.
Although only three officers entered the LNRCS premises, eyewitnesses told the Daily Observer that a pick-up full of officers was stationed at the headquarters of the General Services Agency as back up in case of any resistance from the occupants.
“Three ERU officers entered the building. They ordered us to get out of our offices because they were there to lock the building,” a stunned employee told the Daily Observer.
This action comes barely hours after President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf announced she had dissolved the LNRCS Executive Board and called for a halt to the operations of the management with immediate effect.
An Executive Mansion release on Wednesday said the President, who is Chief Patron of the Red Cross, had also halted the activities and operations of the entity’s current management team.
After putting them out of their offices President Sirleaf cited all members of the disbanded Board and the Management Team to a meeting “to look deeper into the current situation of the entity.”
But the LNRCS authorities swiftly reacted to the President’s action terming the decision as unlawful. A release quoting president Kparh indicated that the President, who is also the Board Chair of the LNRCS, will not and cannot appoint or dismiss or dissolve the National Executive Board because it contravenes the Red Cross Constitution.
“Members of the Board are constitutionally elected for a period of four years by members of the National Society from the 15 political subdivisions of the country,” the release said.
“They can only be suspended, expelled or impeached for any violation or integrity issue after being investigated by an ad hoc committee and not by presidential or patronage pronouncement,” it further stated.
The release further said that the Board and management team did not receive any official communication from the office of President Sirleaf, and as such would go ahead with its normal official businesses.
“This action is in complete error, and has grossly violated Article 1 Count 4 of the LNRCS Constitution which talks about interference with the independence of the LNRCS.
“The Board and Management would like to inform all staff, volunteers, partners and the public that the LNRCS remains operational with normal activities going on,” it said.
The President’s action was provoked by an audit report by international auditing firm Moore Stephens, which indicated that officials of the LNRCS misapplied over US$1.8 million donated to fight the outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus in Liberia.
The auditors found that LNRCS officials inflated the price of 30,000 buckets purchased for the fight against Ebola. “30,000 buckets with lids and faucets were supplied at US$8.75 each by M2 Logistics. The Local Purchase Order was issued to a company, M2 Logistics, which is reportedly owned by one of the senior staff.
“Following a ‘competitive Bid Analysis summarized in exhibit 2, we have confirmed that the buckets were manufactured by Duraplast (Monrovia, Liberia) and supplied to M2 Logistics. We covertly contacted Duraplast and received a quotation for the procurement of 7,500 buckets (22, 500 less than supplied by M2 Logistics). Duraplast quoted US$3.45 per unit. The price was inflated by US$5.3 per unit or US$159,000 for the 30,000 buckets,” the report said.