…starring former President Sirleaf in the face of millions spent under her watch renovating the yet unrenovated Executive Mansion
It remains a sore eye perched atop Capitol Hill, abandoned to its fate and it does appear like a relic of the past condemned to bear a burden of neglect just as other public structures around the country.
At a point in time, it was heavily contested by opposing armed groups bent on seizing it as a prize of glory, as attestation of the capture of the seat of power which it indeed proved to be. But its defenders, the remnants of what once was a 7,000 strong army, proved dogged resisting all attempts to overrun it at least until the arrival of the West African Peacekeeping Force, (ECOMOG).
At the height of the civil war in 1990, following several failed attempts by the US government to convince then President Samuel Kanyon Doe to step down and leave the country, while besieged on all sides by belligerent NPFL and INPFL forces, the BBC’s Robin White, in an interview with Mrs. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, asked what she made of Taylor’s threat to flatten the Executive Mansion if Doe failed to leave, she replied that Taylor should indeed flatten the Mansion to get Doe out and it (the Executive Mansion) shall be rebuilt.
For Sirleaf, eyeing herself coming so close to the seat of power, she could apparently not resist the temptation to be upbeat about Taylor’s military prowess, naively believing that, as some political analysts put it, Taylor, once installed in power, would eventually turn over power to her or the Liberia Action Party. But that was not to be as the intervention of ECOMOG put paid to Taylor’s ambitions to seize the Executive Mansion. The Executive Mansion, at least the physical structure, remained intact although the Presidential quarters had been ransacked by loyal troops following ‘Doe’s capture at the Freeport on September 9, 1990.
When Charles Taylor finally became President following elections in 1997, he took up offices at the Executive Mansion and, to his credit, he did undertake some renovation work. It should however be remembered that prior to Taylor’s ascension to the Presidency, the Executive Mansion had played host to the Sawyer led Interim Government of National Unity (IGNU), as well as succeeding transitional governments.
It also played host to the Government of President Sirleaf up to July 2006 when, hosting visiting guests during the country’s Independence celebrations, a fire broke out at the Executive Mansion forcing President Sirleaf to abandon the festivities. Soon after she transferred her offices to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs where she remained throughout her 12-year tenure.
From available records, millions of dollars (US$33,492,101) were spent on renovation works at the Executive Mansion, yet the building remains uncompleted. And shamefully, to admit, this happened under the watch of President Sirleaf who, at one time, had urged the flattening of the Mansion by Taylor’s forces, boasting that it would have been rebuilt in record time. But when the lot did eventually fall upon her, she buckled and the renovation project became swallowed up by greed — inordinate greed.
As the 7-member House Committee observed, “the Executive Mansion renovation project is a complex web of apparent collusion by individual actors at practically all levels of governance”. The Committee in its report observed that several companies, contractors and individuals associated with the ongoing renovation are yet to be identified.
Additionally, the House Committee noted, “No one has been held accountable for his or her conduct in the misapplication of the national resources expended, to date for the 13-year-old ongoing project of the Executive Mansion”. According to available records, between April 2011 and January 2015, a total of US$24,788,101.18 had been spent on renovation work at the Executive Mansion undertaken by an array of contractors, sub-contractors and other individuals.
A Special Presidential Taskforce commissioned by former President Sirleaf to probe the affair completed its works and submitted its findings and recommendations on June 21, 2017 in the run-up period to the November
2017 elections, but President Sirleaf failed to act on them, according to the House Committee. Noting that the renovation was contracted out in three (3) phases, the Taskforce observed that “CNQC Quinlian (LIB) was the first major contractor hired to renovate the Executive Mansion, despite the fact that the company had no extensive work experience in Liberia. Other contractors included Milton & Richards, Pan African Engineering Group, Cape Resources and Vax”.
The CNQC contract was however terminated on July 1, 2015 because it had used substandard materials according to the Presidential Taskforce. On review of the records, the House Committee observed that “Most of everyone associated with the first and second CNQC contract did not do justice to the government as per the findings of the report of the Special Presidential Task Force established by President Sirleaf. Those companies are yet to account for their respective roles in the renovation of the Executive Mansion”.
This is indeed a stinking indictment of former President Sirleaf and a telltale sign of how she soft-pedalled on corruption during her tenure of office. Thirteen years later, the mess she left behind is President Weah’s and why not? After all, she trumpeted the charge for transition to a “new generation” trusting that all would have been well.
But alas, all is not well and those fateful words, “flatten the Mansion” continue to reverberate and now the shame stalks — over US$32 million spent in the breeze under the watch of President Sirleaf to renovate the yet unrenovated Executive Mansion. If this is not a stinking shame we must then ask, what else is it?