ICRC, IFRC Support Red Cross Shutdown

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The head of delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Julien Lerison, and the acting head of country office of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), Youcef Ait Chelloucheon, have thrown their support behind President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s recent decision to dissolve the Liberian National Red Cross Society (LNRCS) and have praised her for doing so.

According to an Executive Mansion release, the two international Red Cross officials over the weekend held consultations with President Sirleaf on the current situation at the LNRCS.

They expressed their concern about the credibility and transparency of the LNRCS operations and declared support for the president’s actions apparently aimed at restoring the image of the society.

President Sirleaf who is Chief Patron and Board Chair of the LNRCS, last Thursday dissolved the Board and ordered a halt to the operations of the entity. Armed officers of the Emergency Response Unit evicted the bewildered staff and locked up their building. The ERU officers told senior staff, including LNRCS president Emmanuel Kparh who was chairing a senior staff meeting, to leave the building.

After being unceremoniously evicted from his office, the LNRCS president told reporters that President Sirleaf’s action was unconstitutional and would be challenged in court, adding that the President was acting against international law.

In a statement released to the press, Mr. Kparh contended that “members of the Board 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.”

The Executive Mansion release on Friday however states that leading Red Cross societies that support the work of the LNRCS, including the German, Canadian, American, Swedish, and Norwegian Red Cross organizations, have also raised issues about the credibility and transparency of the LNRCS in handling its operations.

“We are also concerned about the interest of the staff of the LNRCS, who have not been paid for months due to the current state of affairs; but with your latest actions Madam President, we can now move to set up an interim Board and complete the interim Management Team so as to start active work again,” the ICRC and ICRC delegations told President Sirleaf during their meeting with her.

The two delegations assured President Sirleaf that they stand ready to fully support her actions and will work with the interim management team to make the LNRCS work again for the good of the country and its people.
They also announced the arrival yesterday of a high-level delegation of the IFRC and RCS. The delegation is in the country for a 3-day visit.

In her response, President Sirleaf reflected on the history and importance of the Red Cross and acquainted the visiting Red Cross officials with the current situation confronting the entity and the actions she took to protect the institution and the reputation of the country.

“We are very surprised at what is unfolding at the LNRCS and are open to working with you to save the entity and redirect focus on its humanitarian goals. You are aware of the Moore Stephens Audit Report and the reactions from the international partners, which has hampered the smooth functions of the LNRCS. We need your advice and cooperation on how to move the process forward,” the President pointed out.

She thanked the ICRC and IFRC for endorsing her actions to protect the LNRCS and assured the two groups of the government’s commitment to see the entity working again.

“I am glad to know that you will support the interim management team at the LNRCS and we look forward to working with you,” said President Sirleaf.

President Sirleaf has meanwhile named J. Ebenezer Kolliegbo, a volunteer member of the dissolved Board of the LNRCS, as interim head of the society.

The decision followed consultations with members of the dissolved Board and partners on Thursday, March 10.

President Sirleaf will also reconstitute the LNRCS Board shortly following consultations with stakeholders and international partners.

It can be recalled that an audit of the operations of the LNRCS by Moore Stevens, particularly during the Ebola crisis, unearthed the misapplication of over US$1.8 million by the management team.

The unfolding events have since drawn the attention of international partners and donors of the Red Cross, with the recent suspension of support from the British Red Cross.

Meanwhile, the Under Secretary General for Programs and Operations of the IFRC and RCS, Garry Conille, arrived in the country yesterday to sort out the issues affecting the LNRCS.

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