By J. Yanqui Zaza
The debate about the decision taken by the Liberty Party, Unity Party and the All Liberian Party to legally challenge the results of the October 10 elections was indeed a healthy exercise that captured the nation’s attention. Apparently the exercise was to the distaste of some of our foreign friends and development partners including the U.S. Ambassador who weighed in with disparaging comments about the parties decision to pursue legal redress.
Her comments drew the fire of many amongst them the Daily Observer, a Liberian local newspaper, whose editorial in effect stated that Liberia is not a colony of the U.S.; hence, the U.S. Ambassador has no right to state that Liberia should abandon the legal process and continue with the run-off. “If, after 300 years, “…the USA is still renewing and perfecting its democracy… that Liberia…should be left alone to…” strengthen its democracy” the Editorial concluded.
Perhaps the Daily Observer’s stance coincided with the view of many well-meaning Liberians who hold the opinion that successive U.S. governments have supported and continue to support anti-people’s policies in the country. And since it is the electoral process which must decide those who will craft national economic development policies, big business interests represented by U.S. officials, appear to be doing everything to manipulate the process.
More so, these 2017 elections are not just about instituting new policies, but how best to avoid or skirt around policies that have failed or have created adverse conditions in the country for real growth that uplifts people from poverty . It appears however there is a very strong but subtle determination by individuals in high places to have the elections produce an incapable, ineffective and corrupt leader who will present the outgoing President as a reformist whose example must be emulated.
Now let us review decisions taken President Sirleaf to help understand why crooked investors have continued and continue to prefer the President and want someone with similar character to replace her. The Sirleaf government awarded 62 sweetheart deals to big business; allowed 58 gold mining companies to report 9,000 ounces of gold in 2015; reduced real estate taxes and also allowed Monrovia-landlords to charge exorbitant rent for shelters; paid excessive salaries to a few advisers, while at the same time fired US $100 per month employees; committed the country to pay US $80 million to contractors for road projects without budgetary allocations; and misused money donated by ousted Libyan leader Moammar Qaddafi to produce rice in Lofa County.
In the world of business, profiteers make more money when bribery is rampant and when a country is either cash-strapped- a situation which requires government, consumers, etc. to pay high prices or when the leadership is weak, undisciplined, or liable to corruption. Therefore, when President Sirleaf awarded 62 sweetheart deals, her government borrowed money to replace lost revenue. This tended to convey a distinct message to subordinates, new profiteers and consumers alike, that bribery and sleaze was a better way to do business. And because these officials committed such acts with impunity, it tended to reinforce the impression that corruption was the normal way of doing business.
Moving forward, not prosecuting corrupt officials did not only allow investors to maximize their profits, but it also helped and continues to help President Sirleaf to cover up her suspected involvement in acts of corruption. For instance, was she must have been aware that her Unity Party received and spent USD $200,000 as bribes in exchange for awarding sweetheart deals to investors interested in the Wologisi Mountain,. This was part of the evidence her government filed with the Courts.
Also, she cannot justifiably claim to be unaware that state-owned entities are having financial difficulties, including the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL) that has not accounted for US $148 million, for which she openly took responsibility. Why, for example, did the National Social Security & Welfare Corporation (NASSCORP) invest US $11 million (63% of retirement investment fund) into real estate, but then rents the building to a bankrupt tenant (i.e., the Liberian government via the Liberia Revenue Authority)?
Bankruptcy has made it difficult for the NASSCORP to receive US $52.08 million from the government, which is retirement (pension) money government collected from its employees. Further, it is doubtful, as the curtain closes on this government, whether the Sirleaf led government can account for the US $400 million budgeted for each of the twelve years, since our International Partners also spent US $400 million per year?
More so, the Special Drawing Rights (SDR) balance is now US $22 million, all because her government borrowed US $677 million from the SDR, according to the 11/13/2017 International Monetary Report 17/348.
Additionally, it is also doubtful whether her government can account for US $79 million that it borrowed from the Central Bank of Liberia [CBL] (i.e., $79 million debt is equal to $245 million owed in 2016 minus $166 million owed in 2006)? It is little wonder therefore that the International Bank (IB), formerly International Trust Company (ITC) acquired by a consortium of shareholders led by Pan African Capital Group (PACG) in 2006 had received US $45 million (LD 4,531,817,079) deposits in 2016, while the Liberian Bank for Development and Investment (LBDI), being in existence since the early 70’s and still thriving as the only Liberian-owned commercial bank, received USD $21 Million (LD 2,139,519,344) deposits in 2016.
Interestingly, owners of PACG are Stephen Cashin, longtime American business partner of President Sirleaf, George Kofi-Atta, Finance Minister of Ghana and longtime business partner of President Sirleaf and Madame Ellen Johnson Sirleaf herself. PACG owns Data Bank of Ghana and boasts on its website of performing consulting services in Sub-Saharan Africa, including Liberia as a major client.
Common sense indicates that big business is obliged to protect profits. Therefore, since corrupt leaders will create the environment for profiteers to make huge profits, Liberians should understand that profiteers are not in the business of instituting democracy or electing leaders who will institute policies that will reduce the propensity for profits of investors because they have to maintain the status quo. And this is why every well-meaning Liberian should be concerned about President Sirleaf’s dogged determination to have footballer George Weah succeed her in office.
The author is a Certified Public Accountant with degrees from the University of Liberia and the New York New School University, formerly known as the New School for Social Research in New York City. Now retired, he worked for over 30 years as an auditor for the City of New York. He can be reached at [email protected]