Will Verdier Finish the Fight against Corruption in Liberia?

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LACC Chairman, Cllr. James N. Verdier, Jr.

Following his confirmation by the Liberian Senate, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has appointed Cllr. James N. Verdier, Jr., as Executive Chairperson of the Liberian Anti-Corruption Commission.

His appointment took effect February 24.

In her letter of appointment to Cllr. Verdier, dated February 24, President Sirleaf said: “Please accept my congratulations and expression of trust in your ability to make a meaningful contribution in your area of responsibility as we strive to move our country forward in a process aimed at enhancing peace, reconciliation and development.”

“President Sirleaf in November last year appointed Cllr. Verdier as Acting Executive Chairperson of the LACC pending confirmation by the Liberian Senate,” a press release by Public Relations Officer Ben Kolako said yesterday.

Verdier replaces Cllr. Frances Johnson Allison, whose five-year tenure expired in September 2013.

At a turning over ceremony last November after Verdier's appointment as Acting Executive Chair of the LACC, Cllr. Allison described her tenure at the LACC as "challenging". During her time in service, she said, the LACC developed into an institution. She leaves behind a legacy of having investigated and prosecuted several corruption cases including that of former Police Chief Muna Sieh. 

Accepting the mantle of responsibility for the controversial Anti-Corruption Commission, Verdier pledged his collaboration with the Ministry of Justice and other related institutions to ensure the institution's progress.

The LACC was created on May 8, 2008 by an Act of the Legislature. Said Act defined corruption as:

"Any act or acts, decision or decisions or use of public resource or resources by a public or private official in the discharge of official duties and/or responsibilities which, in order to satisfy the selfish desire or interest of the said official or other person or persons, natural or legal, ignore the established laws, regulations, and thereby, denies, deprives, and prevents, the State or person or persons natural or legal from receiving entitlement, consideration, and/or treatment."

It also described as acts of corruption bribery, embezzlement, extortion, fraud, influence peddling, insider trading, misuse of entrusted public property and vested authority, and any economic and financial crimes, which are now provided for under the Penal Code of Liberia, or may, hereafter, be defined and enacted.

The Act also gives the LACC the mandate to create anti-corruption strategies. One such strategy involves the declaration of assets by all public officials.

In its first report on Asset Declaration, published on May 20, 2013, the LACC said the Asset Declaration strategy had the full backing of the President of Liberia, Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. From March to May 2013, however, the LACC conducted an assessment of the Asset Declarations submitted by 63 randomly selected public officials from the Ministries of Finance, Public Works, Internal Affairs and Health & Social Welfare; the National Port Authority, the Liberia Maritime Affairs and the LACC itself.

Of the 63, four (4) were found to be misrepresented, their accumulated wealth unexplained: 

1. ORETHA ZEON (NPA Port of Buchanan Operations Manager)
(Intentional and material misrepresentation; unexplained wealth accumulation)

CASE: Mrs. Oretha Zeon works as Operations Manager at the Buchanan Port. Mrs Zeon is on a net salary of USD 840. She declared no other source of income. Mrs. Zeon declared [i.e., under oath] the value of a story building [under construction] at US$15,000. However, when the LACC’s AD Verification Team doubted that a concrete storey building could be valued at US$15,000, a revaluation was ordered and funded by Mrs. Zeon and the self-same house was revalued at US$51,200. This is a clear indication of a glaring and intentional misrepresentation of the facts while under oath, which is in violation of the Laws of Liberia.

When asked for the source of income to fund the construction project, since her NPA salary clearly cannot cover the project, Mrs. Zeon claimed that her children in the USA assist in the process by sending her money regularly to finance the construction. When asked further to provide evidence of banks transfer documents to substantiate her claims, Mrs. Zeon failed to present the documents to the Team, noting that she started working long before members of the LACC’s AD Verification Team were born. This failure of Mrs. Oretha Zeon, NPA Operations Manager/Port of Buchanan, left the AD Verification Team with no other conclusion but to find INTENTIONAL AND MATERIAL MISREPRESENTATION [while under oath] and UNEXPLAINED WEALTH ACCUMULATION.

Mrs. Zeon no longer holds the management position at the Port of Buchanan and now resides in the USA.

 

2. MATILDA PARKER (NPA Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer)
(Intentional and material misrepresentation)

CASE : Ms. Matilda Parker is the Managing Director (CEO) of the National Port Authority (NPA). Ms Parker embarked on a campaign of misrepresentation from the beginning of the process to the end of the process. Ms Parker purchased a house in the Sophie Community for US$65,000. However, when the LACC’s AD Verification Team asked about the means of payment, Ms. Parker said cash downpayment. After the Team expressed surprise by a US$65,000 cash downpayment, Ms Parker later changed the story and said she made the purchase in installments. Ms Parker was given 2 weeks to bring the receipts of the installment payments. She later wrote back that the receipts were missing. The AD Verification Team asserts categorically, that both of the above statements cannot be true at the same time – a cash downpayment of US$65,000 vs installment payment of US$65,000. One of the two assertions is definitely false and Ms Parker knows exactly which one is false.

Ms. Parker was also asked to disclose the seller of the aforementioned Sophie Community Property and the contact details of the seller. Ms Parker disclosed the name of the seller, but declined to give any contact details (telephone, residential address and/or other means of contact). This again is blatantly false information given to the LACC Team. No reasonable person will pay a hefty US$65,000 for a property, but claims not to have any contact information on the seller. This is clearly intentional and material misrepresentation and Ms Parker must be held to account.

Ms. Parker's USA House: Ms Parker USA house was put at US$750,000 (2012) on her declaration. When asked for documents on the mortgage, the house was discovered to be valued only US$300,000 (2012). When asked to explain the gross disparity, Ms Parker said it was an error. LACC AD Team wonders how a US$300,000 house can be erroneously valued at US$750,000. Another one of Ms Parker’s intentional and material misrepresentations, even up to the very end of the process. Ms Parker multiple misrepresentations [while under oath] left the Team with no other option but to find intentional and material misrepresentation of the facts.

Nearly one year later, Ms. Parker still holds the position of NPA Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer.

 

3. BLAYON BROWN SARLEE (Comptroller, Ministry of Internal Affairs)
(Intentional and material misrepresentation; unexplained wealth accumulation)

CASE – Mr. Blayon Brown Sarlee works as Comptroller, Ministry of Internal Affairs. He disclosed a Gross salary of US$1,350. He disclosed no additional source of income, including the fact that he has been a civil servant at MIA for more than a decade. Mr Brown Sarlee, as an accountant, declined to disclose the value of his house(s) – in the space for value he wrote N/A. The LACC AD Verification Team then requested an independent and objective appraisal from Mr. Sarlee. He then disclosed his “objective” appraisal of the house (picture below) to be US$45,000. LACC AD Team, suspicious of the appraisal, contacted the engineer. Mr. Sarlee’s [contracted] engineer disclaimed the appraisal at LACC’s Office – noting that the appraisal was done for banking purposes but NOT acceptable at all for LACC purpose.

Notwithstanding the aforesaid, Mr. Sarlee knows or should know that the house picture aside cannot under normal circumstances cost US$45,000. This is a deliberate effort by Mr. Sarlee to understate his assets so as to have his assets commensurate with his declared gross income of US$1,350. This property is clearly 3-4X the value declared by Mr. Sarlee. AD Verification Team’s only logical conclusion on Mr. Brown Sarlee’s AD is intentional and material misrepresentation of the facts [under oath]; unexplained wealth accumulation.

An Observer investigation also uncovered a 2010 audit of the Grand Kru County Administration by the General Auditing Commission (GAC), covering the 2007/2008 fiscal period, during which Sarlee held the post of MIA Comptroller. According to the report, Sarlee withdrew US$10,950 on an unsealed and unnumbered voucher that was signed by then MIA Minister Ambullai Johnson, who was finally dismissed for graft. The amount withdrawn by Sarlee was accounted for by Sarlee as a "quarterly disbursement of non-taxable income" for nine (9) county development staff personnel's salaries. The report notes that "for the period under audit, Superintendents and other county administration did not follow the Budget Law and the procedures established by MIA through CDSS". Sarlee is also mentioned in the same regard in a 2010 GAC audit of the Grand Gedeh County Administration.

4. ATTY. CHARLES GONO (Deputy Commissioner, Marine Safety and Environment)
(Unexplained wealth accumulation)

CASE – Atty. Charles Gono, made a declaration on his cash position. He also disclosed several concurrent work-in-progress construction projects, which necessarily restricts his ability to save. Atty. Gono was asked to explain the cash deposit of US$34,000 (in 3 installments) over a period of 2 months (June – August 2011) which deposit is within the period under verification. Mr. Gono responded in writing that (1) My salary being paid at ECOBANK and the bank workers were allegedly stealing from customers accounts; hence I withdrew my salary and took it home…. (2) also I noticed my son was stealing my money so I took it to International Bank Liberia Ltd.

The AD Verification Team reviewed the above-mentioned ECOBANK salary account of Atty. Gono and found that that account was never used to accumulate savings. It was basically used as a conduit for the deposit of salary and the gradual withdrawal of salary. Accordingly, this account, most certainly, could never have been the base from which Atty. Gono accumulated the savings, from which he claimed the three-installment deposit of US$34,000 in only 2 months in the IBLL account was made. This invalid and incorrect explanation led the AD Verification Team to reasonably conclude unexplained wealth accumulation.

 

Second Phase Asset Declaration Assessment

In its second phase Asset Declaration assessment report, published October 7, 2013, the LACC named the following as first-category offenders cited for material and intentional misrepresentation of the facts on the Asset Declaration forms:

T. Nelson Williams (LPRC Managing Director),

Pete Norman,

Chris Massaquoi (Police Chief),

Brownie Samukai (Minister of Defense),

St. Jerome Larbalee,

Joseph Johnson,

Robert E. Cooper,

Danny B.B. Sarte (BIN Deputy)

Henry D. Moore

Samuel T. Nimely

Miekee S. Gray

Darlington George

Freddie Robert Taylor

Oretha Snyder Davis

Daniel Warner

Benedict F. Sannoh

Hilary Siakor-Sirleaf

Henrietta Badio

Abraham Siafa Fahnbulleh 

This second phase booked 19 of the 77 officials assessed. The first phase listed only four.

In the first phase of AD assessments, eighteen (18) officials simply refused to cooperate, and as such, their Asset Declarations were unverified:

1. Sebastian Muah, Deputy Minister MOF (cleared in second phase)

2. Christian G. Herbert, Deputy Minister MPW

3. Etweda Cooper, Supt. Grand Bassa Co MIA

4. Victor Boye Smith, Deputy Minister MPW

5. Abraham B. Samukai, Comptroller MPW

6. Toagoe Karzon, Comptroller MOH

7. Ernest Z. Coleman, Finance Officer/Ganta Hosp MOH

8. Magaret Ansumana, Deputy Commissioner LiMA

9. Emmanuel N. Reeves, Deputy Commissioner LiMA

10. Jefferson ES Witherspoon, Accounts Payable Manager LiMA

11. J. Tiah Nagbe, Deputy Minister MIA

12. Ernest Gray Davis, Asst Supt Dev/Bomi Co. MIA

13. John Z. Buway, Supt. Margibi Co. MIA

14. Enson J. Amara, Accountant LiMA

15. Florence Dukuly, Deputy Minister MIA

16. Victoria W. Duncan, Asst Supt Dev/Margibi Co. MIA

17. Nathaniel Gbaba, Deputy Managing Director NPA

18. Ernest Omaboe, Director of Security, LiMA

 

Eight could not be verified due to "outstanding issues".

1. Sam Foday Brown, Supt. Bomi Co., MIA

2. Samuel Kofi Woods, Minister MPW

3. Stephen M. Yekeson, Jr., Deputy Minister, MPW

4. Boom M. Wilson, Comptroller General, MOF (Cleared in second phase)

5. Matthew TK Flomo, Deputy Minister, MOH

6. Varney Sirleaf, Deputy Minister, MIA

7. Blamo Nelson, Minister, MIA

8. Vivian T. Cherue, Deputy Minister, MOH (cleared in second phase)

Three (3) officials asked to be exused and were so granted:

1. Ranney B Jackson, Deputy Minister, MIA
2. Neneh Kroyahn, Finance Manager, LiMA
3. Amara B. Konneh, Minister, MOF (cleared in second phase)

Of the 63 Asset Declarations assessed, 30 were verified as accurate:

1. Z. Adonie Greaves, Asst. Supt for Development, MIA
2. Binyan Kessely, Commissioner, LiMA
3. Desire S. Satia, Finance Director, LiMA
4. Alexander Mitchell, Procurement Manager, LiMA
5. Christiana K. Pawlay, Comptroller, NPA

6. Patrick M. Konneh, Port Manager/Buchanan NPA
7. Joseph D. Wiles, Port Manager/Harper, NPA
8. Patrick B. Dunor, Port Manager/Greenville, NPA
9. Wheazor Mulbah, NPA
10. Christopher B. Gray, Procurement Manager, NPA

11. Nyekeh Forkpah, Deputy Managing Director, NPA
12. William L. Slour, Assistant Minister, MPW
13. Andrew K. Kear, Assistant Minister, MPW
14. B. Wion Kanteah, Sr., Procurement Director, MPW
15. Bonar Kerkula, Chief Accountant, MPW

16. Joseph Y. Forkpah, Assistant Comptroller, MPW
17. Decontee King Sackie, Assistant Minister, MOF
18. James F. Kollie, Deputy Minister, MOF
19. Angela Cassell-Bush, Deputy Minister, MOF
20. Dede D. Sandiman, Assistant Comptroller, MOF

21. Juah K. Feika, Commissioner, MOF
22. Sebastian Weah, Director, MOF
23. Jerry Taylor, Director, MOF
24. Frances Johnson Allison, Chairperson, LACC
25. Walter T. Gwenigale, Minister, MOH
26. Bernice Dahn, Chief Medical Officer, MOH

27. Ka-Rufus Morris, Procurement Director, MOH
28. Annette Dennis Doe ,Chief Accountant, MOH
29. Daniel D. Young, Hospital Administrator, MOH
30. Zolia Y. Martor, Assistant Minister/Planning, MOH

"It is a maxim amongst corruption fighters that ill-gotten wealth is going to show up somewhere – in bank accounts, in lifestyles, in personal property collections and in real estate investments etc," the LACC Asset Declaration report stated. "In an open and transparent society, ill-gotten wealth must not have hiding place(s)… In the fight against corruption there has to be examples – good examples made of those who lied on their AD forms, those who failed to file, and those who are caught spending well above their declared means. Without good examples made of violators of the public trust, the fight against corruption is doomed."

Six months to one year later, many of the officials listed, whose asset declarations were found wanting (not to mention those who have yet to declare their assets) still hold their positions. Most notable among them is NPA Director, Matilda Parker. These findings give solid evidence to the local and international outcries against unpunished corruption in the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf administration. It remains to to determined whether the incoming LACC boss will make good examples of these violators of public trust or soft-peddle the fight against corruption.

 

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