Inauguration Threatened

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Police were prepared for the protesters early last Thursday morning

-But Chief of Staff Ziankahn calls for calm

Wives of officers of the Armed Forces of Liberia have vowed to repeat their strike action again until the government settles its financial obligations to their husbands. This puts under grave threat, the much anticipated and heralded peaceful transition from one democratically elected government to another. “We will ensure that this pending inauguration will not go on as planned until our plights are addressed by the Ministry of Defense and President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf,” the women who have been protesting at the Edward Binyan Kesselly Barracks (EBK) told the Daily Observer last week

The women, who converged at the EBK on the RIA highway came from the four major AFL Barracks in the country and were attired in red T-Shirts, which they said is a sign of DANGER. “We all know red means danger, so we want to tell the Liberian people that there is danger hanging over this country until this government satisfies our demand,” one of the women told this reporter.

The women, who are reportedly  backed by their husbands, have planned to take their protest actions to Monrovia early this week if their demands are not met. They have vowed to ensure that the pending inauguration, even if it is held, will not be done in a peaceful atmosphere.

The women have been staging protests at the entrance to the EBK barracks in demand for their husbands’ benefits. The women are afraid that their benefits might never come if President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, whose tenure elapses in a little over a week, leaves office.

AFL Officers’ wives protest at the EBK as their husbands look on

The threat of the AFL Officers’ spouses means that the smooth transition that is poised to be sealed officially on January 22 when President elect, George Manneh Weah, is inaugurated, is now threatened.

“If we don’t get our money, there will be no inauguration in this town. So the best Weah can do for himself is to prevail upon this government to settle us before they leave office or else he will be putting himself in a very bad situation,” an officer told the Daily Observer in a telephone conversation last week—warning the President Elect not to dare take on this problem which he claims  has been created by the Ellen Sirleaf administration.

The AFL officers and their spouses are demanding millions of dollars deducted from the soldiers’ monthly income allegedly with the provision that the money will be refunded before President Sirleaf leaves office although Minister of Defense insists  that such was not the agreement for the deduction.

Defense Minister, Brownie Samukai, confirmed to the Daily Observer that the compulsory savings scheme began in 2009, noting  that the deduction ranging between 20- 30 U.S. dollars was applied across the board according to rank.

The EBK, Thursday and Friday, witnessed its second and third day of protest which the aggrieved women said was allegedly provoked by the wife of the Brigade Commander, who was reportedly raining insults on them. In anticipation of trouble, the Liberia National Police (LNP) dispatched officers to EBK.  The officers were deployed at the Boys Town Junction on the Robertsfield Highway to deter protesters from blocking the highway leading to the Roberts International Airport(RIA).

“We will continue to protest until this wicked government and its officials see reasons to improve the lives of its servicemen, especially the AFL officers. We are living disgraceful lives here and it is a shame that we are referred to as First Class Citizens.”

The Brigade Commander’s wife was insulting us today saying how we are foolish and not educated. She threatened that her husband will not send any of our husbands on peace mission to Mali, said a protester.

“We will allow no guest in this country for the inauguration if this government does not pay our money. We are prepared to go on the rampage to ensure that we get what duly belongs to us. Some of us are no longer interested in being in the Army because of the level of maltreatment we are receiving from this government,” another officer told the Daily Observer in a telephone conversation late last week.

AFL personnel wives from the Camp-Ware in Todee, Gbarnga and Coast Guard Barracks joined their colleagues at EBK for Thursday’s protest. They have returned to their various Barracks after being assured by the  Chief of Staff (COS), Daniel Ziankahn, that their concerns will be addressed as he is ably handling the situation.  The women promised to be back, and even stronger, to begin the protest on a larger scale if the COS failed to get back to them sooner.

The Chief of Staff of the AFL, Daniel Ziankahn, has also called for calm indicating that the officers and their beneficiaries have genuine claims and that he is working assiduously to  resolve the problem.

He told the women on Friday that investigation into the situation has been completed and reports have been forwarded to President Sirleaf and President elect, George Manneh Weah for prompt action.

In a telephone chat, Brigadier General Ziankahn said “I met them and told them that they have a genuine claim and so their situation will be addressed but they need to be a little patient and give us time. Our findings are now before the Commander-In-Chief (CIC) and the incoming CIC. This means that we are progressing and they need to give us little time.”

During the investigation, he said, the team wanted to know what was the total  collected and how much was expended. “We have done all of that and submitted our report–this we took to President Sirleaf and President elect Weah on Friday and they promised to get back to us,” he said.

He also said though their concerns are legitimate it does not call for violent protest that would impede people’s movements or endanger lives .

He however said that he could not disclose the contents of the report, but told the Observer that a copy could be obtained subsequently at his office.

An AFL officer who asked to remain unnamed told the Daily Observer that his colleague will continue to push until the government addresses this situation. We are not taking this for joke—it is not the normal Liberian “Your leave it” thing we are doing. This is our hard-earned money and we must get–this is why we are supporting our wives 100 percent,” he said.

The officer further noted, “We are backing our women 100 percent. So no one should play fool out of us. We will ensure that we get what is due us. We work for our money and we must get it,” the officer, who asked not to be named, said.

US$2.5 Million Allegedly Missing from Welfare Fund

Though the Chief of Staff did not disclose the content of the investigative report, the AFL officers, according to sources,  may have genuine reasons for concern reasons against the backdrop of unconfirmed reports  that over US$2.5 million has allegedly gone missing from the account established at the ECOBANK in Monrovia.

According to the Defense Ministry sources, the investigation team which comprises members from the security apparatuses, ECOWAS and others, there were 160 deposits made by Minister Samukai, which amounted to a total of US$3.6 million.

A bank statement obtained from ECOBANK headquarters on 11th street indicated that there is a balance of a mere US$600,000 in the AFL Welfare account. “This is unacceptable and the Minister and his people must account for the money,” an officer (name withheld) said on the phone. “We are not foolish people who will be working while others are enjoying our sweat,” he said.

The officer noted that the ECOWAS representative on the investigation team said that the soldiers should not be given the money and the funds should be kept until their service tenures come to an end.

“We want to make this clear to the ECOWAS team that they should not create tension here. If we don’t get our money there will be no rest here,” another offcer said.

“We heard that they are going to pay each officer US$300. This is an insult to us and we are not going to accept that little amount. This simply means there will be no inauguration in this country. The best Weah can do is to prevail on President Sirleaf and her Defense Minister to settle us if he (Weah) wants to take power and govern smoothly

“Our women from Camp Ware are already in town while those from Gbarnga Coast Guard Base and Gbarnga will be joining their friends shortly. When the people don’t pay that money; If we don’t see the e-alert from the bank on our phones there will be no peace in this town,” he said.

“Our women are not alone in this protest; we are with them 100 percent. This is why we have told the LNP to leave this place. If they don’t want any disaster they should pack and leave this place or they will feel our full weight in due time,” he said

However speaking to the Observer over the weekend, Defense Minister Samukai confirmed that an investigation into the status of the funds has been conducted and its findings are expected to be released to the public this week  He disclosed that he has had nothing to do with the investigation and that he had recused himself at the request of  President Sirleaf.

He said although he could not disclose what the findings are, he however said it is acknowledged that the Government of Liberia (GOL) generally accepts responsibility since the money was used to partly underwrite AFL operational costs which should have rightly been the responsibility of Government. He submitted that Government’s resolve to refund the amount is the right step in the right direction since the deductions were actually meant to cater to soldiers’ welfare.

The Defense Minister comments appear to confirm statements by Army Chief of Staff Ziahnkahn that the investigation has been concluded; both President Sirleaf and President elect George Weah have been apprised of the situation and that their reaction to the report is still pending.

Meanwhile Minister Samukai has appealed to the soldiers to maintain calm and exercise restraint as the matter will be handled to the satisfaction of all and sundry. He warned against lawless behavior which he said can only lead to chaos that will benefit no one including the soldiers. He furthered that the patient and calm demeanor exhibited by Liberians during the electoral period was clear evidence of the wish of most Liberians to never again use war, violence  and conflict to settle disputes.

He praised the soldiers for their services and sacrifice but he cautioned that the issuance of threats of violence to accomplish their aims is extremely provocative and will not be supported by Liberians and the international community particularly  ECOWAS whose sacrifice in precious lives to restore peace in Liberia must not be ignored nor forgotten he said, warning that trouble makers will be dealt with decisively.

8 COMMENTS

  1. First of all, Soldiers’ welfare should be undertaken by the Nation; not by the Soldiers-themselves. Military people put up their lives in defense of a Nation.They should not be responsible for their[own] welfare. That’s the responsibility of the Nation; in this case, Liberia. The Soldiers’ welfare should be incorporated within the Ministry Of Defence; BUDGET. If need be, for additional, policy(s), it should have been voluntary; not mandatory. As it is now, “The Government Of Liberia Owes” the Soldiers; whatever amount of money was taken from their Salaries plus interest. Pay up! After all, the money was suppose to be deposited into a BANK ACCOUNT. It should be available. *The SOLDIERS should have been kept up to about their DEPOSITS.

  2. NB. The SOLDIERS should have been kept up to date about their DEPOSITS. Why not? What have EcoBank got to say? The SOLDIERS’ MONEY was/is in their care. If any of the MONEY is missing; EcoBank ought to know who made DEPOSITS/WITHDRAWALS.

  3. AH! EHN GEORGE WEAH DEH NAH! ALL DAT TING HE WILL TAKE CARE OF-O! YOUR WAIT-SMOR-NAH!

    IN THE MEAN TIME, GET YOUR-SEH IN GOOD PHYSICAL CONDITION-O!

    COMING SOON! A NEW DAY IN SPORTS IN LIBERIA: COMING SOON . . JOSEPH J. F. CHESSON, SR. 10 MILES BICYCLE RACE, IN CAREYSBURG, LIBERIA! WINNING PRIZE US$5,000.00! LIMITED NUMBER OF ATHLETES TO REGISTER! BE IN REASONABLY GOOD PHYSICAL CONDITION(OBSTACLE COURSE)! HANDICAP AND OTHER RACES TO FOLLOW!

  4. Liberians with little understanding of their government continue to call for the collection of toll bridges and toll roads . Example of what will happen to the toll money is what taking place right before the eyes of the military. The government and its corrupt officials will never received revenues and do the right thing . Always doing things ” shithole ” nations will do , even if it theartens the stability of the state . Corrupt to the bones . That is the reason why that nation can not put in place a national savings bonds that citizens can invest in . Money will again disappeared. Sick of these so-called smart people .

  5. James Davis,
    Come on, gentleman! Toll plazas are needed in Liberia. If the toll plazas are properly built, 4 important things will happen:
    (1) Money will be collected from every motorist except the following:
    A. Presidential motor pool,
    B. Fire brigade,
    C. Police or military activity and
    D. Ambulance drivers.

    (2) Permanent jobs will be created and

    (3) Harassment by immigration and customers employees will be minimized if not eradicated.

    Davis, if the tolls are built by a developed country, it will not be easy to steal money.

    There’s a bridge in Northern California called Bay Bridge. In order to go to Oakland or San Francisco, you must pay a toll fee if you are a motorist. Unless you travel by the train (called Bart) every driver pays a fee. The Bay Bridge is great. As such, there is no way to steal toll fees.

    Davis, I did the research for you. But if there is any doubt or if anyone doubts this, I’d say check it out.
    On a daily basis from M-F, 270,000 cars go through the bay bridge from San Francisco to the east bay or vice versa. Each motorist pays 6.00. Let’s do the math: 270,000 ×6.00 = $1,620,000 per day.
    That’s good money.

    Davis, back to Liberia.
    There are 15 counties in Liberia as you know. Therefore, 15 inter-county tool booths are needed. Let’s concentrate on one for the moment. Road construction is quickly becoming a top priority in Liberia. So, a toll plaza is needed at the junction of Margibi and Montserrado counties. The freeway from Red Light to Kakata will be referred to as Margibi-Montserrado freeway, depending on where a motorist is coming from or going. At this bridge, .50 is required of all motorists with the exception of my earlier illustration above.
    If 200 cars go either way every day, the government will earn: 200 cars × .50 = $100 per day. It will help. That’s only one toll plaza.

    Davis, there’s corruption in Liberia. We know this and we are not dimwits. But there’s high unemployment in Liberia also. Shall we not fine a way to create jobs when our young men and women are looking for jobs? Because theft will occur, should we just sit idly by and do nothing? If our young girls cannot find jobs, they’ll do what they can to get by. That is not good. Our young boys will go through the agony and do silly things. That’s not good either.

    Davis, Liberia needs smart men and women in order to make a difference.

    • Why do you think the ideas listed by you have not been realized when all those in influential positions travelling up and down USA have not done that ? Since you understand that young man, what will it cost to do that ? As compared to just deducting payroll money from government employees and asking citizens to buy into some financial tricks called national savings bonds for development . So think about the reason why they lack those ideas and went for the very easy ones as to deduct money ? So first , let them carried out your ideas with the construction . But for now it is all about extortions . Just like the soldiers got caught in that financial tricks, others citizens got caught in the same tricks of the so-called savings bonds. If you say government should privatized your ideas, perhaps, then it worth looking into . But thanks for the research though , they over there can use it. Right now the soldiers need their money to feel their families . They are not up for any financial tricks from the government or anyone .

  6. Okay Mr. James Davis,
    It seems that you’re talking about two different things. So, let’s deal with one particular issue at a time. But before I proceed, I am glad because it seems that you are well aware about gross negligence and excess malfeasance in Liberia. Corruption runs amok in the naked streets of Liberia. You are right Davis, there is graft in Liberia.

    I am a kind of a pundit.
    I offered my opinion on an earlier blog as it relates to the messy deal at the Ministry of defense. What I said is this….
    The Ministry of Defense was wrong to go solo. A proposal of that kind should have been done across the board. In fact, the Minister of Defense shouldn’t have involved himself with such a project. He got into an area where he blundered big time. In the US, the Secretary of any Department does not handle such matters. A completely different Department is responsible for employees’ retirement fund. Period! As he leaves office, Samukai has got his succeesor’s hands tied. The bottom line is he should not be left off the hook until the mess is cleared. That doesn’t mean he should continue to serve, no way.

    The tricks of profiteers or money grabbers in Liberia is simple. Davis, the problem is that they know there is no consequence for wrongdoing in Liberia. You may have heard that some “brand name” individuals received bribes in Liberia a while back. Did those individuals ever get punished? Or did anyone, particularly Johnson-Sirleaf tell any of those bribe recipients to step down until after an in-depth investigation was done? Never! Here is the truth……if Mr. X commits a crime, and no action is taken, the next criminal who embezzles money becomes defensive. That’s to say, if Mr. X didn’t get punished, why should Mr. Y be bothered if he embezzles money. As long as there is no consequence, crime rate festers. That’s what happens in Liberia. It is bad. You know it and I know it. Everybody knows it.

    The toll plaza issue I am proposing is a little different. Jobs are scarce in Liberia and unemployment is chronic. The top brass and the erudite men and women get jobs. Yet the poor, the unskilled and semi-skill cannot find something to do. Guess what? The poor people have an appetite too. Who’s going to look out for them? That’s why I am pushing the idea of building sophisticated toll plazas. When the toll plazas are well built, the employees will be unable to steal a dime. They will have a job tbough.

    Davis, I used to live in Northern California! My experience is that when the money is collected, the money goes to the bank. In Liberia’s situation, when money is collected from toll plazas, (assuming that toll plazas will be built) the money will go to the National Bank of Liberia. Roads need to be repaired. Where will money come from if money is not raised? Definitely, the toll plazas must fill in the void so that we don’t go to China to borrow more money.

    Davis, you are concerned about theft. I agree with you 100%. But, because of theft, should we not try at all? Jokingly, if you ask a beautiful girl (maybe from Maryland) to go out with you, she might say no the very first time. Try her again. But if she insists on turning you down, will that discourage you from checking out another beautiful girl? Again, there’s corruption in Liberia. The USAID denounced Johnson-Sirleaf last year about corruption in her government. But should that stop us from finding ways to help the least amongst us?

    Davis, you’ve got my drift? Come on gentleman. Let’s try.

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