Dr. George Weah and President Sirleaf’s Legacy of 66 Flawed Concession Agreements

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By J. Yanqui Zaza

A consultant of the South-South Professional Inc. informed me that the Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development has asserted that former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and her lieutenants did not award 66 fraudulent concessionary agreements to private investors during the last twelve years. Well, yes, President Dr. George Weah has rejected the findings of a foreign Audit Firm that former President Sirleaf administration awarded 66 fraudulent agreements and replaced it with African Peer Review Mechanism’s conclusion that 66 agreements “met internationally observed best practices,” the consultant added.

Predictably, the real motive of this action along with previous efforts on the part of Dr. Weah’s government is to reduce the possibility of prosecuting former President Sirleaf and her lieutenants, if any, stated the consultant.

Further, the consultant stated that although the Draft PAPD had stated that concessionary agreements were short on benefits and that “…affected communities should be consulted, and significant benefits should accrue to the communities,” the Final PAPD changed such statements. The first sentence of the last paragraph on page # 14, PAPD states that the 2018 APRM (African Peer Review Mechanism) concluded that “…these concessionary agreements in Liberia met internationally observed best practices and brought benefits…nevertheless, implementation of the business and investment policies have been deeply flawed due to a combination of limited capacity to effectively monitor compliance with agreements and a lack of political will for enforcement.”

Interestingly, how did APRM reach the conclusion that the concessionary agreements brought benefits, but at the same time concluded that “…implementation of business and investment policies have been deeply flawed due to… the lack of political will…” to enforce policies? How did private investors bring benefits to the communities, if the same private investors did not implement business and investment policies because government bureaucrats failed to enforce policies? In any case, does APRM have the requisite technical personnel to conduct an audit?

I do not know if the African Peer Review Mechanism hires specialists, including auditors, investigators, lawyers, etc., to perform quality audits. However, it was established in 2003 as a self-monitoring initiative to promote good governance in Africa and contributes to the goals of the Millennium Development Corporation. (www.africaportal.org).

On the other hand, the report of the Audit Firm (Tim Woodward Partner-Moore Stephens LLP) was completed on May 10, 2013: (www.leiti.org.lr).

The Audit Firm Concluded: Concession agreements contained invalid clauses;  66 agreements:

  1. Legal requirement for private use permit applications not met; 18 agreements
  2. Lack of social agreements between land owners and investors; 10 agreements
  3. Lack of Public Procurement and concession commission approval; 18 agreements
  4. Inconsistent Private Use Permit contract; 2 agreements
  5. Private Use Permit over Community Forest land; 19 agreements

Without testing the consultant’s assumption that President Weah government is searching for ways to shield the former President and her subordinates from prosecution, if any, let us look at previous efforts? And, yes records of this administrations indicate that the idea to shield former President Sirleaf and her advisers from prosecution is not new. For instance, the CDC administration is silent about the Wologizi Mountain corruption case (Big Boy # 1 and Big Boy # 2); and Global Witness May 29, 2018 report, which shows ExxonMobil’s 2013 purchase of Liberia’s Block 13 oil leases. In fact, the Minister of Finance, Planning and Development, Mr. Samuel Tweah laid out the vision of Dr. George Weah on the prosecution of individuals during the July 26, 2018 Independence Day Speech.

He stated that President Weah government would not institute any audit or investigation of his predecessor. Dr. Weah’s government prefers reconciliation rather than prosecuting people, the Minister added. For example, government will not implement recommendations from the KPMG forensic audit findings, which demanded that individuals should account for the US $19 million Central Bank of Liberia paid on behalf of First International Bank (Liberia) Limited. (developingmarkets.com).

Further, he stated that there was no need to rush with the process of prosecution since a government could commence prosecution any time in the future. Was the Minister assuming, wrongly, that Liberia does not have a statute of limitation law? Or is delaying the process of investigation another way to prevent prosecution since the statute of limitation law might set in? The statute of limitation law states that no one (defendant or plaintiff) can initiate an investigation or prosecution of an issue that has been open for more than three or five years.

Will the process of investigating the L$16 billion saga go beyond three years? Again, why is the CDC administration taking such inordinate amount of time to determine if the Central Bank of Liberia and the Ministry of Finance received and recorded L$16 billion? These two institutions are required to have recorded and kept business transactions, especially so since the Central Bank of Liberia printed more banknotes than the initial approved amount. Where are the documents exchanged between former President Sirleaf and her lieutenants pertaining to the printing and receipts of the banknotes in 2016 and 2017?  Who authorized the printing of banknotes in one country (i.e., according to the former President) or the three countries as asserted by the current Minister of Information Cultural Affairs and Tourism?

Delaying an investigation, for example, the L$16 billion saga, is one thing; however, changing the findings of an investigation is quite different. It is interesting because asserting that the 66 agreements were not fraudulent, replacing the audit findings that 66 agreements were fraudulent might go beyond the mission to prevent prosecution of former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaaf and her advisers. This is because the audit findings imply that multinational corporations gave bribes in exchange for the 66 fraudulent concessionary agreements.

The 66 fraudulent agreements finding does not only indicate that President Sirleaf failed and did not fight corruption, but it also undermines the propaganda that big business is by nature transparent and efficient. Also, it adds on to other corruption findings  that multinational corporations are corrupt, according to the African Union Committee on financial illicit flows from Africa. The former President of South Africa, Mr. Thabo Mbeki’s Committee on illicit financial flows out of Africa concluded that multinational corporations siphon 95% of the US $60 billion out of Africa every year. Further, the African Union Committee stated that local government bureaucrats are responsible for only 3% to 5%, a statement that does not support the views of private investors who continue to assert that poor countries are failing because of the failures of local bureaucrats.

Multinational corporations did not only expose their corrupt actions in Africa says Transparency International. The international nongovernmental agency stated that multinational corporations are always offering bribes across the world in order to make more money. They (private investors) initiate bribes because they use bribes to grease the wheel of business, proponents of private investors argue. Well, globally, multinational corporations are not only perceived as corrupt, but they have challenges in trickling down a reasonable share of the dividends of the wealth of countries.

Additionally, many countries that limit the involvement of private investors countries such as Germany, Japan, South Korea, Botswana, etc. are wining against big business. Germany, Japan, Botswana continue to generate more revenue because the state is involved in the management of profit-making activities. Accordingly, more findings showing that big business is corrupt might have a negative impact on the propaganda that big business is transparent, honest and not corrupt.

Therefore, not surprisingly, former President Sirleaf and many private investors appear to be  encouraging friendly governments to push corruption charges against big business under the rug. Given this situation, it appears Dr. Weah and the Ruling Party (CDC) might be under the influence of former President Sirleaf and big business.

Like everyone else, former President Sirleaf wants a good legacy. And I guess, that is part of the reason here critics say she is encouraging her international friends to arrange countless recognitions and awards. Seeking her President’s (Dr. Weah) support  against possible prosecution is understandable, except that Liberians might find it difficult to protect the country’s resources from unscrupulous investors.

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