By Siahyonkron Nyanseor
In a July 12, 2012 article that was published under the title: “Liberia leader denies nepotism charges;” Jerolinmek Piah, Sirleaf’s spokesman told Reuters: “Out of 3.5 million Liberians, only three close relatives of the president are working in the government. Besides that, are they not qualified Liberians? Robert Sirleaf has 27 years of experience working in Wall Street.”
Regarding her step-son appointment as chief spy, Piah provided the justification that Fumba was appointed as chief spy because of his past experience at the agency before his mother came to power. He went on to say, “We are waiting for those who accused the president of having 17 family members to prove it. The burden of proof rest on them.”
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has been accused in the past of corruptions in her administration and nepotism; the recent accusation by her party is what Liberians refer to as: “John’s palm oil waste on John’s rice.” This time, it was not members of the opposition. The criticism came from the Unity Party’s chairman on youth policies, Patrick S. Tiah. He accused the president of having 17 close family members and relatives in senior government positions, which the president denied. To put all jokes aside, as we say in Liberia, how can this be denied? Aren’t her sons, Robert Sirleaf, a senior adviser, Charles Sirleaf, deputy governor of the Liberian central bank and Fumba Sirleaf, head of the National Security Agency, and a number of relatives and friends in her administration? The problem with President Sirleaf is that most of the issues she accused previous Liberian leaders of, she is doing with impunity. It is the classic case of “The chicken coming home to roost.” The Liberian people are also fond of saying, “When you dig hole for someone, make sure, you dig one for yourself.”
This brings us to the definition of Nepotism. Nepotism derived from the French word ‘nipote’ or ‘nepote.’ It is defined as “favoritism shown to ‘nephews,’ other relatives and friends; such as giving them positions because of their RELATIONSHIP. The Oxford Dictionary defines nepotism as a practice among those with power or influence of favoring relatives or friends, especially by giving them jobs. While writing this article, I came across a post on Facebook by Rem Gray. It reads: One of her remarkable moments in history, was when Madam Sirleaf accused President William R. Tolbert of nepotism. According to her, President Tolbert appointed his biological relatives and friends to high places in government. Well, now history has fast forwarded to the accuser. Many are crying nepotism against President Sirleaf because of the simple fact that she continues to appoint her sons and relatives to key positions. Below are some of known appointments and relationships to the president:
- Robert Sirleaf (son) – serves as Senior Advisor to President Sirleaf and recently named Chairman of the Board of the National Oil Company – some would say the lucrative oil company.
- Charles Sirleaf (son) – formerly Director of Finance and recently appointed Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Liberia.
- Fomba [sp. Fumba] Sirleaf (step son) – Director of the National Security Agency.
- Carney Johnson (brother) – represent Amlib and other mining companies.
- Jennie Bernard (sister) – key behind-the-scene advisor to the said to be responsible for most of the policy decisions and appointment.
- Estrada Bernard (brother –in-law) – Legal Advisor to the President.
- Varney Sirleaf (nephew) – Deputy Minister, Ministry of Internal Affairs.
- A. B Johnson (cousin) former Minister of Internal Affairs)
However, in the President’s defense, one Royal Ice from Monrovia disagreed with the definition, and wrote:
Out of a nation of almost 3.6 million people, the president of that nation only have 8 of her relatives to positions in and out of government. Not one of them is a Minister or an ambassador representing that nation. We should be happy that this president who has the constitutional power to appoint anyone to major positions of government is not appointing family members as one would have thought. This is no damn nepotism.
In the article by J. Yanqui Zaza titled: “President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s Corruption Tree,” published November 18, 2009, Zaza wrote: In discussing President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s business interest, an article on Equatorial Guinea (NY Times, 11/17/09) caught my attention. Mr. Urbina, reporting for the NY Times, stated that Teodoro Nguema Obiang, the son of Equatorial Guinea’s president, owns a fleet of luxury cars and bought a $35 million dollar real estate in Malibu, California. The Equatorial Guinea’s President uses phony business practices, extortion, theft, etc to amass wealth according to U.S. Justice Department Memorandum dated September 4, 2004. Yet U.S. officials and reputable institutions such as Wachovia Bank, Riggs Bank, Bank of America which are preaching the philosophy of privatization, are not only facilitating corruption, but are also undermining the campaign of genuine economic prosperity. Zaza added: As for Liberia, our international partners such as the World Bank, etc and U.S. officials are not only silent on Sirleaf’s business deals, as in the case of Equatorial Guinea, but they are also praising President Sirleaf’s efforts to fight corruption. The latest Report of the World Bank called President Sirleaf the “Global Reformer,” referring to Sirleaf’s war on corruption. Well yes, in less than four years, the “Global Reformer” and her cronies are seizing businesses ranging from banks, to mining gold, mining diamond, logging, consulting, importing rice, serving public corporations, etc as depicted by the diagram below.
Sirleaf’s Corruption Tree
No wonder Tarjue Mountain that is situated between Tarjuewon and Gbarzohn Districts “vanished in thin air, leaving many persons in Sinoe County in a state of bewilderment.” (Heritage – Liberia: Mountain Disappears in Sinoe County? July 10, 2012). My personal opinion in the disappearance of Tarjue Mountain takes me back to what happened to Mount Nimba and Bomi Hills (became Bomi Holes) when the Liberian government partnered with foreign mining companies. Both Mount Nimba and Bomi Hills were exploited with no sustainable benefits to the inhabitants of the areas, much more the Liberian people. So, I am not surprised of Tarjue Mountain that is believed to be rich in the mineral resource of bauxite for which the Valley Exploration Company is contemplating to exploit, might have caused the mountain to disappeared (either by an act of God or something else!) because the mountain does not want the inhabitants in the area, to suffer similar fate that previous mining companies in collaboration with the government did in the case of Mount Nimba and Bomi Hills.
Zaza’s article: “President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s Corruption Tree” (November 18, 2009) and Ramses K. Nah’s article, “Ethics in Government: The Lack Thereof Breeds Corruption, Nepotism and Malfeasance – A Reminder to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf” (April 13, 2012) for more details on the subject. Both articles can be accessed on the Internet. Unquestionably, since Liberia copied almost everything from America, it will do us good to copy the good aspects of American democracy and governing practices; and to do so without adding our own interpretation — like what my friend Dennis Jah refer to as, “The Liberian Way.” A classic example of “The Liberian Way” is the recess appointment of the Mayor of Monrovia, Mary Broh who has been acting for over 6 years. Recess appointment does not last that long, but anyway; it is “The Liberian Way” Dennis Jah writes about on his blog. Moreover, since Liberia photocopy whatever is done in America, I suggest we take a closer look at the Act on Ethics and Nepotism (5 CFR, Part 310 (1/1/99).
Subpart A–Restrictions on the Employment of Relatives reads:
- 310.101 Coverage
This subpart applies to appointment, employment, promotion, or advancement in (a) the competitive service; and (b) the excepted service in the executive branch.
- 310.102 Definitions
In this subpart:
(a) Relative means father, mother, son, daughter, brother, sister, uncle, aunt, first cousin, nephew, niece, husband, wife, father-in-law, mother-in-law, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, stepfather, stepmother, stepson, stepdaughter, stepbrother, stepsister, half brother, or half sister.
(b) Public official means an officer, a member of the uniformed services, an employee, and any other individual, in whom is vested the authority by law, rule, or regulation, or to whom the authority has been delegated, to appoint, employ, promote, or advance individuals, or to recommend individuals for appointment, employment, promotion, or advancement.
(c) Chain of Command is the line of supervisory personnel that runs from a public official to the head of his agency.
- 310.103 Restrictions
(a) A public official shall not advocate one of his relatives for appointment, employment, promotion, or advancement to a position in his agency or in an agency over which he exercises jurisdiction or control.
(b) A public official shall not appoint, employ, promote, or advance to a position in his agency or in an agency over which he exercises jurisdiction or control:
(1) One of his relatives; or
(2) The relative of a public official of his agency, or of a public official who exercises jurisdiction or control over his agency, if the public official has advocated the appointment, employment, promotion, or advancement of that relative.
(c) For the purpose of this section, a public official who recommends a relative, or refers a relative for consideration by a public official standing lower in the chain of command, for appointment, employment, promotion, or advancement is deemed to have advocated the appointment, employment, promotion, or advancement of the relative.
(d) This section does not prohibit the appointment in the competitive service of a preference eligible if (1) his name is within reach for selection from an appropriate certificate of eligibles and (2) an alternative selection cannot be made from the certificate without passing over the preference eligible and selecting an individual who is not a preference eligible.
Subpart B–Emergency Exceptions
- 310.201 Coverage
This subpart applies to an office, agency, or other establishment in the executive, legislative, or judicial branch of the Federal Government, and in the government of the District of Columbia.
(5 U.S.C. 3110)
- 310.202 Exceptions
When necessary to meet urgent needs resulting from an emergency posing an immediate threat to life or property, or a national emergency as defined in §230.402(a)(1) of this title, a public official may employ relatives to meet those needs without regard to the restrictions in section 3110 of title 5, United States Code, and this part. Appointments under these conditions are temporary not to exceed 1 month, but may be extended for a 2nd month if the emergency need still exists (the emphasis is mine). According to Barksdale Service on (Employment of Relatives): Nepotism occurs when relatives are in the same chain-of-command. Managers and supervisors cannot select their relatives for positions anywhere in an organization under their jurisdiction or control. Additionally, management officials having the authority to appoint, employ, promote, or advance persons or recommend such actions may not advocate or recommend a relative for any position in the Department of Defense. As defined in 5 USC 3110, a relative with respect to a public official, is an individual who is related to the public official as a father, mother, son, daughter, brother, sister, uncle, aunt, first cousin, nephew, niece, husband, wife, father-in-law, mother-in-law, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, stepfather, stepmother, stepson, stepdaughter, stepbrother, stepsister, half brother, or half sister. All management officials must avoid conflicts of interest and situations that create even the appearance of preferential treatment. (barksdaleservices.com/clientuploads/Civilian…/Nepotism.doc)
The Liberianist (a scholar who specialized in Liberian studies), the late J. Gus Liebenow wrote in the 1960s about the business practices between international corporations and the Liberian government. In the book titled: Liberia, The Evolution of Privilege, Liebenow explained the practice of a handful of Americo-Liberian families that includes, the Tubmans, Tolberts, Coopers, and Dennis’ and their cousins owning more than sixty percent of the wealth of the country. According to him, these families were the “Monrovia-landlords, minority shareholders of Liberia’s natural resources such as NIOC, Bong Mines and the lawyers of foreign companies.”
And then, in the 1970s, there was Albert Porte, the “a one-man crusader” who took the Americo-Liberian oligarchy and the True Whig Party (TWP) government to task for what he called the “unconstitutional arrogation of power to the presidency.” Mr. Porte who was also known as “Mr. Constitution” wrote a pamphlet he titled: “Liberianization or Gobbling Business.” In the pamphlet he exposed how Stephen Tolbert, the brother of President William R. Tolbert, used his family connection to acquire business. Somehow Stephen Tolbert took over the Sinoe Rubber Plantation; 600,000 acres of land by deedebah (hook and crook).
Also as indicated by Zaza, Stephen Allen Tolbert “…Encouraged other Liberians to take the Company from a German group. And then, he, his wife and his brother took over and kicked out the Liberians. The newly acquired land was in addition to the 4000 acres of land they owned in Bong County and half of the real estate of their Township of Bensonville, Montserrado County.”
The one-man crusader for accountability, old man Porte accused President Tolbert’s brother, Stephen Allen Tolbert, who at the time was the Finance Minister of Liberia, and co-founder of the first Liberian-owned multimillion-dollar conglomerate, the Mesurado Group of Companies, with interests in fishing, frozen food, detergent, animal feed, and commercial agriculture. In “Liberianization or Gobbling Business,” Porte showed how Finance Minister Tolbert used his public office to advance his business interests. Porte’s pamphlet was widely circulated; it became the daily topic on the lips of many Liberians, especially the progressives and students. Due to the embarrassment it caused the Tolbert family, Finance Minister Tolbert filed a lawsuit against Porte for alleged libel. The case was presided over by the plaintiff’s father-in-law, Supreme Court Justice James A.A. Pierre, Sr., who should have excused himself from presiding due to his relationship to the plaintiff. Yet, he presided and awarded his son-in-law $250,000 in the libel case.
The decision brought an outpouring of public support for Albert Porte. As a result, a citizen group called Citizens of Liberia in Defense of Albert Porte (COLIDAP) was established. The lawsuit was never finalized due to the death of Stephen Tolbert, who died in an airplane crash in 1975. So, you see the threats to sue journalists for libel is not something new in Liberia.
President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, who makes flowery speeches against corruptions, while she and her family, friends and relatives are drowning in corruption, was one of the critics of the Tolbert family. Some of her criticisms can be found in her book: The Child will be Great.
As a matter of fact, corruption leads to wide-spread poverty! It enriches a few at the expense of the vast majority of the people. This is why the Liberian people came up with the expression, “Monkey work, baboon draw.” While this statement might not make sense to an outsider, the meaning is crystal clear to Liberians. The nepotism practiced by Tubman and Tolbert is what Sirleaf is NOW practicing with impunity. While in the 1960s, nepotism produced “Growth without Development,” today under Sirleaf, nepotism coupled with corruption have made Liberia to become the #1 and #3 corrupt country in 2010 and 2011 respectfully in Transparency International (TI) Reports; only God knows what our next honor will be.
Fellow Liberians for the future of our country, we need to hold the President’s “feet to the fire.” I have provided the letter and the content of her campaign flyer below to illustrate how Madam Sirleaf is doing the exact opposite of what she promised in her first campaign literature:
P. O. BOX 23 9028 ROUEN LANE
MONROVIA, LIBERIA POTOMAC, MD 20854
(231) 225-238 1 (800) 261-4410 ACCESS #90
My fellow Liberians:
As you may have heard, on the Unity Party ticket and with Peter Bemah, of Bong County as a running mate, I will be a Presidential Candidate in the forthcoming elections.
I have taken this stance because I am convinced that the integrity and
prosperity, indeed the very future of our country is at stake and I believe that all Liberians committed to the restoration of peace and stability, national unity and economic reconstruction will take a similar position consistent with their own circumstances.
I ask for your support in this endeavor. You can do so by sharing your
ideas on election and post election reconstruction strategies; by joining one of the Committees being established in your state of residence; by providing financial support. Please call 1 (800) 261-4410 ACCESS # 90 to advise or obtain information on how you can join this effort to save our country. Let us together look forward to joining family, friends and colleagues at home in rebuilding our country with the objective of ensuring equal opportunity for all.
Signed: Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf
Standard Bearer, Unity Party
The flyer reads: Elect Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf as President Of Liberia
“Institute Democracy in Liberia”
“Build A Nation Which Gives Liberians A Chance To Live Out Their Dreams”
“Opportunity To Every Liberian, And Responsibility From Every Liberian”
“Reawaken The Great Sense Of Community In Liberia”
The National Committee To Elect Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf As President Of Liberia, USA
- Mamadee Woah-tee, Sr., Chairman
1251 E. Belvedere Avenue
Baltimore, Maryland 21239
(410) 435-1066~ ~Fax: (410) 532-3577
The promise above has been deferred. Despite the investments and resources ranging from iron ore to fertile agricultural land; “The Liberian people are catching more hell under President Sirleaf and her corrupt officials,” says one Liberian social advocate. Equally important, under the President’s watch, Liberia took the 182nd place on the UN Human Development Index, a measure of, among other things, life expectancy and poverty in UN member countries. Liberia ranked as the 6th least developed country in the world, and the 2010 Transparency International (TI) Report found Liberia to be the world’s most corrupt country. Also, Liberia took 3rd Place in the 2011 Report (www.transparency.org). In addition, under President Sirleaf’s leadership, the laws and Constitution of the country are violated with impunity; and she has refused to honor and implement the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) Report; instead, she and her 1% elites are prepared to mortgage the country’s resources and/or put the country up for sale. WE BETTER WAKE UP OR OUR PEOPLE WILL BECOME WARDS TO FOREIGNERS.
It is worth observing that unlike Jay Carney, President Obama’s White House Press Secretary, who comes prepared to answer an array of questions from the press, Jerolinmick Piah, Sirleaf’s spokesman, did not do his homework when he was interviewed by Reuters on July 12, 2012. Had Piah done his homework, he wouldn’t have made such statement as, “…Only three close relatives of the president are working in the government;” her sons Robert Sirleaf, a senior adviser, Charles Sirleaf, deputy governor of the Liberian central bank and Fumba Sirleaf, head of the National Security Agency. To make matter worse, he stated, “Besides that, are they not qualified Liberians? Robert Sirleaf has 27 years of experience working in Wall Street.” What a poor defense!
The practice of nepotism that the president is being accused of has nothing to do with qualification. It is not whether her children are qualified or not qualified. The definition of nepotism is simple as former Labor Minister Tiawan Saye Gongloe puts it: “…Favoritism shown by somebody in power to relatives and friends especially in appointing them to higher position… is currently taking place in the Unity Party (UP) led government of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.” Since many of President Sirleaf’s supporters are pointing to Robert Sirleaf’s 27 years experience on Wall Street as the justification for his appointment, I am sorry to say, the Wall Street example is a very bad one. The American economy is in the mess today because of the shaded deals made by Wall Street bankers. This example should be thrown out of the window; it doesn’t fit!
Finally, I recommend that Liberians continue advocating aggressively for a better future of the country. It is in the people’s best interest to engage the President and her administration to live up to her promises so as to ensure the following:
- The Government should illustrate that it is committed to eradicating
corruption and must help to cultivate a strong culture of ethics.
- Independent watchdog bodies must assist Government in combating corruption.
- The Government must have strong support from public and private sector leaders to abide by the rules and the laws of the land.
- The Legislature should do its work without putting their individual interest first.
About The Author: Siahyonkron Nyanseor is the Chair of the ULAA Council of Eminent Persons (UCEP), Inc. He is a poet, Griot, journalist, and a cultural and political activist. He is an ordained Minister of the Gospel. He is Chairman of the Liberian Democratic Future (LDF), publisher of theperspective.org online newsmagazine and Senior Advisor to the Voice of Liberia newsmagazine. In 2012, he Co-authored Djogbachiachuwa: The Liberian Literature Anthology; his book of poems: TIPOSAH: Message from the Palava Hut is on the market. Nyanseor can be reached at: email@example.com