Barely two weeks after taking office, Liberia’s new Information Minister, Ledgerhood Rennie, has told the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) that while government regrets the mysterious deaths of four of its employees, there is no truth that the deceased were auditors.
It may be recalled that four financial professionals of the Liberia Revenue Authority died mysteriously in recent days with the most recent death, the Director-General of the Internal Audit Agency, found at his residence on Saturday, October 10.
Mr. Rennie who served as the Director-General for the Liberia Broadcasting System for several years, spanning from the administration of former Presidents Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and George Weah, said that Victoria Lamah, Albert Peters, and George F. Fahnboto all of the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA), and Emmanuel Barten Nyeswa, head of the Internal Audit Agency (IAA) were in no way auditors but merely a team of professional people.
“Whenever one of our citizens fall in such a calamitous way, we are saddened and worried by that, but it is good to clarify that the people who are being referred to as auditors were actually not auditors,” he said.
“They were professional Liberians working within the government at various agencies. But because of the level of their work, there has been speculation in the media about them being auditors. But actually, their remits were very different,” Rennie told the BBC.
Albert Peters, who was also a professional auditor at the Ministry of Finance, transitioned to the LRA in the same capacity when the LRA became autonomous. At the time of his death, Peters served at the LRA as Assistant Commissioner for Internal Audit, Thomas Doe Nah, the LRA’s Commissioner General, told the Daily Observer.
An unnamed source told the Daily Observer that, because Lamah (though not an auditor) exhibited mastery of the software platforms on which the LRA runs, she was made Manager for Tax Payer Services Division, with the responsibility to monitor the inflow of taxes, which she reportedly performed meticulously.
“The Taxpayer services division is the face of the LRA,” the source said. “They generate the bill in all LRA systems for the payer to take to the bank for Deposit. They input all manual receipts from all LRA collectors in the various counties.”
Prior to moving to the TPSD a few months ago, Lamah worked in the office of the LRA Commissioner-General, in the policy division. She was involved with the compilation of all the revenue figures from all across the country, which would then be analyzed and published on the LRA’s website.
George F. Fahnboto was a professional auditor, who previously worked in this capacity at the General Auditing Commission and at the Ministry of Finance before joining the LRA in the large tax division. Emmanuel Barten Nyeswa, a certified fraud examiner, was head of the Internal Audit Agency.
The deaths of these four in just eight days have impressed a sense of caution in people in and out of government whose job it is to investigate corruption in government and expose it. Many believe that the four were killed in an attempt to destroy evidence that these financial experts might have found to be undermining the country’s Domestic Resource Mobilization efforts.
That Minister Rennie went to great lengths to try to convince the BBC that the deceased were not auditors, is a strong indication that the government aims to change the narrative surrounding these deaths. By dressing down the deceased as mere professionals working in various agencies, Rennie is rhetorically dismissing the common thread connecting the deaths and perhaps rendering them as coincidental.
In a similar, and perhaps more flippant response to the first two deaths (Peters and Lamah), President George Weah took to the pulpit of his Forky Klon Jlaleh Family Fellowship Church on October 4, 2020, and claimed the deaths were a result of a “boyfriend and girlfriend” issue and should therefore not be politicized.
Perhaps in an attempt to redeem the President’s callous remarks, Minister Rennie expressed that the government is equally hurt by the mysterious deaths and that it is unnecessary for anyone to insinuate that the Weah administration does not care to know the actual root causes of the deaths of those officials and citizens who died in such a strange sequence.
“The circumstances under which these people have passed may be very unclear for the moment, but when we say dubious, it would seem to mean that somebody is trying to impugn something other than sinister motive,” Rennie said.
The government has asked the United States Government to conduct an investigation into the deaths of these people after all of the crime scenes have already been contaminated, by the lack of due diligence on the part of the Liberia National Police.
“We ourselves as a government do not know exactly what has happened. That is why we have launched a full-scale investigation,” Rennie claims. “In fact, President George Weah has gone a step further by inviting our international partners, especially the Americans through their Embassy here in Monrovia to form a part of an independent investigation that will include also the family members of those who have passed so that we can all derive a conclusion to what really happened to these people that caused their deaths,” he said.
Meanwhile, a source told the Daily Observer that unless one of the deceased is a citizen of the United States, the investigators that would be sent to assist the Liberian government would not be US Government investigators, but independent contractors from that country, selected from the private sector.
When asked whether the Liberian government has already launched a murder investigation before inviting international partners, mainly the US government, Rennie said that has not happened because preliminary investigative reports are yet to be made.
“It will be foolhardy for me to say that the murder investigation has been launched, because, first things first, we have to have some preliminary reports. Remember the investigators have to do their work and come out with the first findings to be able to know exactly whether they can launch any other investigation, criminal or non-criminal,” he said.
He added: “We just want to be a little more open and transparent and provide Liberians an opportunity. We live in a very strange society in Liberia. People come up with all these kinds of conspiracy theories and speculations about things when they happened.”