Defense Minister Brownie J. Samuakai yesterday assured Liberians and partners of government’s preparedness to take control of the security sector after the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) completes its drawdown next year.
Though Mr. Samukai did not admit it, his remarks clearly sounded like a reaction to Finance and Development Planning Minister Amara Konneh’s alleged warning of a recurrence of April 14, 1979 if GOL did not change the way it spends taxpayers’ money, as reported by a local newspaper.
The Defense Minister assured Liberians and the nation’s international partners that a recurrence of April 14 could not take place because the country’s security apparatus was ready to take over come June 2016 when UNMIL departs.
The Defense Minister gave this assurance when he addressed a gathering organized by the 15th graduating class of the Roman Catholic-run Stella Maris Polytechnic.
Minutes following his clearly articulated, extemporaneous remarks as he departed the school’s Capitol Hill campus, the press asked him whether he had been reacting to an article published in The News that same morning, Wednesday April 29, quoting Finance Minister Konneh as stating that GOL had generated US$3.1 billion during his tenure as MOF. But 60% of that amount had been spent on administration, representing only 40,000 of Liberia’s 4.1 million people.
If the government did not change its way of spending the country’s finances, Konneh was quoted as having said when addressing a town hall meeting of Liberians in Philadelphia, USA, Liberia could have a recurrence of the Rice Riots of April 14, 1979.
Over 100 were killed in that riot that swept Monrovia, resulting in losses of over US$100 million following looting and destruction of government offices and business houses throughout the capital city.
Asked by pressmen whether his remarks in the Stella Maris auditorium were in reaction to Finance Minister Konneh’s alleged utterances in Philadelphia, Minister Samukai replied, “No.” He said he was only trying to reassure Liberians and the international community that they had nothing to worry about upon UNMIL’s departure, because the Armed Forces of Liberia, the Liberia National Police and other security agencies were quite capable of defending the peace.
The Daily Observer last night attempted to contact Minister Konneh for his reaction to The News’ story. His mobile phone rang but he did not pick up. It was later understood that he and his media team had issued and disseminated to the press a rebuttal to The News report, but up to press time last night the Daily Observer had not received it.
The statement attributed to Minister Konneh is tantamount to a direct rebuke of the administration of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, of which he is a key player, and the chief disburser of government funds. In 2012 President Sirleaf suddenly transferred then Finance Minister Augustine Ngafuan to Foreign Affairs and replaced him with Konneh, who was heading the Ministry of Planning and Economic Affairs.
Mr. Samuaka’s impromptu statement was delivered yesterday during an intellectual discourse and fundraising rally held by the 15th graduating class of the Stella Maris Polytechnic on Capitol Hill in Monrovia.
The event was a pre-graduation activity of the school’s commencement convocation scheduled to take place tomorrow, May 1.
Wednesday’s event was held under the theme, “Where Next from Here?” echoed from the graduating class name, Atina! or “This is Our Time,” which pulsated across the auditorium.
Minister Samukai’s assurance came as an apparent reaction to speculations in some quarters that there would be a break-down of law and order when UNMIL departs. The News’ story yesterday quoting Amara Konneh tended to corroborate those doomsday speculations.
But Minister Samukai told the Stella Maris audience, “If for any reason Liberians are angry, one thing for sure is that they have a great deal of respect for President Sirleaf and her officials.”
He cautioned that no one should try to threaten the citizens by giving a dim scenario, “because this country is above all individual actions, so we must work hard even if there are signs of failure, to ensure that the future becomes better for all of us and our children.”
He challenged the graduates as well as those in government to be prepared to face the consequences of whatever decisions the government takes, “because we officials are part of the process, and not just the President.”
“If they want to run away from the government’s decisions that probably someone did not like, let them do so without putting false fear in the minds of ordinary citizens. But as for me, I am part and will forever remain a part of government’s decisions, no matter the consequences. But to make others look like boogieman, that is their business, but not me,” Samukai chided.
He admonished the prospective graduates to be aware that the world is full of challenges and they must be prepared to face them, not run away and shift blame, because the answer for the theme of the discourse, “What Next?” requires going through stages in life.
“If you are part of the team, accept the moral responsibility of that team. Do not go out and castigate the team as though you are the ‘Mr. Clean’ within the system,” the Defense Minister declared. “There will be no repeat of any ugly past events under this regime,” he insisted.
However, Samukai said his comments were not a direct response to Finance Minister Konneh’s alleged perception about the country’s future. Mr. Samukai repeated that Liberia’s security forces, including soldiers of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) “are in control of every security situation throughout the length and breadth of the country.”
“Therefore, no one should panic as there will be no repeat of ugly events that brought about the April 12, 1980 coup d’état precipitated by the April 14 Rice Riot,” assured Mr. Samukai.
He reaffirmed his commitment to whatever challenges the Unity Party-led Government would face, “because we are prepared and will not run away from any consequence.”
Both Minister Samukai and the Speaker of the 53rd National Legislature, J. Alex Tyler, presented a purse of US$1000 each as their contributions to the fundraising rally of the graduating class.