This is the question lingering on the minds of the public in the wake of a spate of allegations by Montserrado County District #10 Representative Yekeh Kolubah, accusing President George Manneh Weah of involvement in corruption.
Appearing on a local talk show on Sky FM recently, Representative Kolubah accused President Weah of complicity in the alleged missing billions of Liberian dollars, as well as in the alleged misapplication of the US$25 million said to have been infused into the economy by Finance Minister Samuel Tweah.
Representative Kolubah maintains that President Weah’s string of ongoing construction projects around Monrovia are being financed by money illegally sourced from state coffers. Defending his claim about the huge sums of money being spent on the President’s various construction projects, Representative Kolubah challenged President Weah to prove him wrong by publicly displaying his (Weah’s) bank statements since January 2018 and declared he would resign his post as lawmaker, should President Weah prove him wrong.
Continuing, he declared that information available to him shows that President Weah’s combined bank accounts at the Ecobank and the United Bank of Africa (UBA) did not exceed US$10,000 while his Chase Manhattan Bank account in the US was in the red.
He noted that President Weah, when serving as Senator for Montserrado, told a US court in a child support case brought against him by Meapeh Kou Gono, that he was earning a monthly salary of US$1,000 which was not enough to provide him the ability to pay child support claims.
Stopping just short of declaring that President Weah was untruthful in his deposition before the US court, Representative Kolubah wondered how come President Weah would now be spending huge sums on personal construction projects when he had made a sworn statement declaring that he was virtually broke.
The lawmaker maintains that attempts are being made to silence him by threats of expulsion from the House of Representatives, which he insists will not work. According to him, some of his colleagues, having taken on to themselves lawyer roles, are suggesting that they should organize their law firms and place them at the disposal of the President.
He reminded House Speaker Bhofal Chambers of what he termed as gross disrespect shown to former President Sirleaf by then Representative Chambers who, according to Representative Kolubah, called the former President the worst names and even refused to shake her hand when she extended it.
In a related development, and in what appeared to be an attempt to heel Representative Kolubah into line, some of his colleagues have called for the House to also invite Hot Pepper publisher, Philpbert Browne, to provide explanations or reasons for accusing President Weah and some legislators of having received, for their personal use, portions of the alleged missing billions.
Publisher Browne, appearing on a local talk show on November 14, 2018, claimed that he had evidence to show that about 50 legislators had received bribes for authorizing the printing of L$15.5 billion banknotes, stating that they received the money at two separate locations in Monrovia.
One of such locations, according to Browne, was at the parking lot of the Central Bank and the other at the T-Five Academy, a school said to be owned by Montserrado District #5 Representative Thomas Fallah. Browne and Rep. Kolubah have both been accused of defaming the President by falsely accusing him of connections to the alleged missing billions.
Meanwhile, a phone call placed to the Executive Mansion to get reaction to Rep. Kolubah’s public comments was met with a rather curt response from Mr. Orlind Cooper, who declared that in the absence of a Press Secretary, all such queries should instead be directed to Information Minister Eugene Nagbe.
When contacted for reaction to Representative Yekeh Kolubah’s claims, the Information Minister simply responded with a text message which read: “Those comments by the representative are completely ludicrous; they deserve no further response from the Government at this time”.
But aside from Representative Kolubah, many other Liberians have expressed concern about what they say is a sudden but high increase in corruption since President Weah assumed office. A recent Afrobarometer survey reports that almost half of Liberians say the level of corruption in the country has increased.
The government institutions that are most widely perceived as corrupt, according to the Afrobarometer survey respondents, are the Liberia National Police (62%), the National Elections Commission (49%) and the National Legislature (49%). Rather interestingly, a large majority (83%) of Liberians say the rich are more likely than ordinary persons to get away with paying a bribe or using personal connection to avoid taxes; avoid going to court (89%) or register land that is not theirs (87%).
It can be recalled that President Weah, in his inaugural address to the nation, promised to fight corruption and warned his officials that now was the time to work in the interest of the Liberian people and not for themselves, stressing that those found in corrupt acts will face the full weight of the law.
“It will be my task to lead this nation from division to unity. I will not let you down. It is my belief that the most effective way to directly impact the poor, and to narrow the gap between the rich and the poor is to make sure that public resources do not end up in the pockets of government officials.” Those promises, according to observers, have since fizzled out as government officials appear to be making sure that public resources end up in their pockets.
They cite as examples, his failure to act on the recommendations of the Special Presidential Committee set up by him to probe into allegations of bribery against former officials involved in the crafting of the ExxonMobil concession agreement; his laissez faire approach to the alleged infusion of US$25 million into the economy; the case of the missing billions and the failure of President Weah to make public his assets declaration as required by law.
Meanwhile, the probe into the alleged missing billions continues with no end yet in sight. The Liberian Senate had, on November 20, invited to public hearings, Central Bank of Liberia Executive Governor, Nathaniel Patray, Deputy Executive Governor Charles Sirleaf and the co-chairman of the Technical Economic Management Team(TEMT) to provide explanations on the missing billions, the US$25m infusion into the economy and the general sate of the economy.
The hearings were however cancelled as presiding officer Senator Albert Chie informed the TEMT that Senators would instead submit written questions to them for their response.
“We expect that you will give written answers to whatever the senators present to you, plus a written presentation that we expect you will also give in return. Because of that, we will not entertain a discussion with you today, but we will postpone this hearing to a later date to be decided by plenary, during which you will come up with a written report on the questions we give you.
“This will include issues that may be on your mind, and in addressing the state of the economy; the alleged missing Liberian dollars and the infusion of approximately US$25 million in the economy. So that is the decision of plenary, and you are hereby discharged, but we will call upon you another day,” Pro Tempore Chie told the CBL Executives.
Whether the matter will be laid to rest soon remains a matter of conjecture. And although the President’s men appear to be fast losing the support and confidence of the public, President Weah, however surprisingly enjoys the trust of over half of Liberians (55%) according to the recent Afrobarometer survey.
But judging from preliminary polling results from the just concluded by-elections President Weah’s appealing image could soon lose its appeal and luster.