It is just one and a half years away from the next presidential and general elections in 2017. As we move toward that eventful year, the political fever is building up with one new political party, All Liberian Party (ALP), recently certificated by the National Elections Commission (NEC). The party is led by Benoni Urey, businessman and stalwart of convicted former Liberian President Charles Taylor.
During the certification on August 7, Mr. Urey assured Liberians that the party belongs to every Liberian regardless of tribe, section, sex and religion. He also stated that his government will not condone nepotism, emphasizing that no member of his family will be a part of his government. Those are just two pledges of Urey’s platform.
However, such promises are no longer strange to Liberians as others have made those identical promises and acted contrary to their vows. To mention a few, a politician is on record as saying: “I have a vision that every Liberian student will afford an umbrella to protect him/her from the rain or sunshine. I have a vision that the capital, Monrovia, will be filled with skyscrapers, brightened by lights ever seen in the history of Liberia, and Gbarnga will be a city of glass buildings.” Another politician once said, “I need only one term to straighten Liberia and set a legacy that Liberians can follow. Corruption will be public enemy number 1, and I will ensure that during my second term all roads in Liberia be paved to enable farmers to have access to markets.”
Well, whether those promises were fulfilled or not, it is left with Liberians to judge. Mr. Benoni Urey has come out with his share of visions in addition to many other visions, which raises the question about how realistic is he and what confidence can Liberians repose in him, knowing that they are the same promises others made yesterday and failed to fulfill? In order to be convinced as to whether Mr. Urey can deliver on his promises tomorrow, let us look at his yesterday.
During Charles Taylor’s regime Mr. Urey presided over the lucrative Bureau of Maritime Affairs as a commissioner. As the late Vice President Moses Blah stated during Taylor’s trial in The Hague, Mr. Urey styled himself as the Prime Minister of Liberia because of the wealth he accumulated from the country while serving as a commissioner, which many now believe is the source of his prosperous business he boasts of today. Urey could only give account to Mr. Taylor who would pay him for his services while Mr. President would take the money to buy weapons to give the country’s boys and girls to go to war.
The United Nations, seeing such accumulation of wealth during this period of hostilities in the country, placed Urey and others on traveling restriction for committing economic crimes.
Mr. Urey also brought into the country the first most popular GSM Company, the LoneStar Cell Corporation. As the government itself was dictatorial so was this company that enjoyed years of monopoly in Liberia. The company charged US$65 for a SIM card, US$15 and above for scratch cards, US$175 for a Motorola walkie talkie and a time limit to use a scratch card or be blocked to pay US$10 to reconnect. This Urey business climate prevailed until 2005 when CellCom GSM broke the monopoly, giving rise to the proliferation of phones and enabling ordinary Liberians to own mobile phones.
The Liberian government up to the present is still a tenant in its own country, renting buildings for almost all of its ministries and agencies, including the family house of Mr. Urey which is hosting the prosperous Bureau of Maritime Affairs. Although he claims this government led by his social classmate is corrupt and does not mean well for the Liberian people, he has not asked the government to build its own office and turn his building over. Instead, he and his family continue to benefit from taxpayers’ money through rental fees from their building.
When his presidential ambition was rising, Mr. Urey took the initiative to rebury the bones of the late Vice President Enoch Dogolea in his home county of Nimba. There is no doubt about his good gesture because he knows Nimba to be a vote rich county and if he receives support from there, he would stand the chance to win in the first round or even in a run-off. Though this gesture was a welcome one, Mr. Dogolea’s family and other Nimbaians always attribute the death of their son to the flogging allegedly ordered by Prime Minister Urey’s boss, Charles Taylor.
When the late Moses Blah in his testimony in The Hague made reference to Benoni Urey as a Prime Minister, his reaction on Star Radio was this: “I advised Taylor not to bring these native people in high positions, but he refused and this is the pay he is getting from that foolish man.” This reaction touched Wilmot Paye, Secretary General of the ruling Unity Party, who so sternly rebuked Urey that he could not be heard from again. I do not know whether the native people constitute the “All Liberian” or they are in another category as Urey seeks the votes of Liberians in his bid for the presidency.
Again, what becomes of the market system in the regime of the businessman turned politician, who placed such a stranglehold on the economy in the GSM industry during the regime he so cherishes? Will the same monopoly not surface to exploit Liberians? Will government not lease his building near Congo Town to draw the money of this country?
Well, he is a Liberian and has the right to run for the highest seat or any position in the country. However, viewing his yesterday and knowing who he is, how realistic is it to trust him? Liberians are now like lost sheep seeking a shepherd that will deliver them from their economic vulnerability. Can Benoni Urey who once enjoyed a monopoly in the GSM business in this country allow an open and competitive market when he takes over as President? Let Liberians decide.
About the author: Joaquin Sendolo is a senior student studying Mass Communication at the University of Liberia. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Management and attended several workshops both in Liberia and abroad. He has also covered key international events, including the 49th annual meeting of the African Development Bank in Kigali, Rwanda and the US-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, D.C. He has also reported on tourism in the United States and the People’s Republic of China and serves as Daily Observer’s diplomatic and business correspondent. He can be reached at 0886838535/0777463853. Email: [email protected]