The Daily Observer’s Presidential correspondent, William Harmon, among several journalists on assignment with the President, said the presidential convoy arrived at the Greenville City Hall around 6 p.m. and not 9 p.m. or thereabout as had been reported.
“It was still daylight when the presidential convoy left the City Hall,”, Harmon reported, “and came to a sign board welcoming visitors to the residence of Dr. Mills Jones.”
When the distinctly located signboard caught her attention, she said she informed her convoy that she must go and visit the house and if possible meet with Dr. Jones and congratulate him for such a development.
This newspaper contacted Presidential Press Secretary, Jerolinmek M. Piah, who said that President Sirleaf was impressed with Dr. Jones’ house, since it was in line with her repeated calls for prominent Liberians to return to their counties of origin and build homes to help in county development.
“She was very much impressed with Dr. Jones’ initiative and therefore she decided to pay him a visit, though it was not on her itinerary,” Piah said yesterday.
Correspondent Harmon reported, “When the President decided to make a diversion to visit Dr. Jones’ house, protocol told the journalists that we were not invited.”
President Sirleaf later said during a press briefing that she arrived at Dr. Jones’ house and security there allowed her convoy to enter his compound.
“President Sirleaf made an attempt to [contact] Dr. Jones,” Piah said, but he was not sure that she was able to get him on the phone.”
In her press briefing on Friday, May 15 at the Greenville Presidential Palace, President Sirleaf appeared highly impressed with Dr. Jones’ residence, saying he had done what she had all along encouraged Liberian officials to do in their counties.
Before the President’s briefing our correspondent said journalists accompanying her were shocked to hear enquiries from Monrovia about the President’s “9 p.m. visit” to Governor Jones’ residence.
Harmon reported that when President Sirleaf was told about the information from Monrovia, she described it as “rubbish.”
Harmon reported that some media people, including himself, later found their way to Dr. Jones’ house. There, a security officer who identified himself only as “Bobby”, said excitedly that President Sirleaf gave at least five security officers an undisclosed amount of money.
Mr. Piah told the Daily Observer in a telephone interview that President Sirleaf did not get down from her car, although our reporter said President Sirleaf informed them that she looked around the compound.
“President Sirleaf’s response could indicate that she might have disembarked from her car and looked around Dr. Jones’ house,” Harmon said.
The Daily Observer contacted a Liberian who has had many years of experience in national and international protocol, but who asked not to be named. This protocol expert was asked whether President Sirleaf’s decision to breach protocol was necessary.
“There are three things that are wrong here,” he told this newspaper yesterday evening: “First of all, it was inappropriate for the President to have diverted her course, since in fact it was not part of her itinerary and it was probably against security advice.
“Secondly, her unannounced visit could have legal implications, since the owner, while especially absent, was not informed prior to the visit.
Thirdly, the source suggested, the President giving money to the security guards might suggest a sinister motive, given the already existing political tension between the two people.
An expert on security matters told this newspaper that the President has a habit of “breaching security protocols” to attend to matters of her choice. “I think from this experience, she should take a cue and better govern her movements,” said the expert.
Another presidential source said that the objective of President Sirleaf’s visit to the southeast was to inspect preparations for the July 26th celebrations.
“President Sirleaf did not go to Greenville, Sinoe county because she wanted to see Dr. Jones’ or anybody’s house,” the source said. “Dr. Jones is a prominent figure and he has done what the president has always called on Liberians to do, and I don’t think there is anything wrong with it.”
Since the information filtered on Thursday morning in Monrovia, there have been different reactions, but Governor Jones is yet to speak to the issue. The Daily Observer contacted the CBL Governor on Sunday evening, but he declined to comment on the matter.
Social pundits suggest that the President’s visit might simply be harmless, because it is “typical Liberian practice” to visit people unannounced. However, others believe that she is still the President, and must follow protocol, especially in the case of apparent or perceived political tensions between them.
The real reason behind the President’s unannounced and uninvited visit to the home of the Central Bank Governor remains a mystery.
This visit brings into sharper focus a report that has not yet appeared in the media, because most people connected with it have remained tightlipped about it. (See companion story).