Competence and Integrity—Which Comes First?


Why do we raise a question whose answer is quite obvious, making it a purely academic (moot, abstract) question?

It is because that is the issue that suddenly arose in the Liberian Senate last week. It involved the Senate’s Judiciary Committee Chair, Grand Cape Mount Senator Varney Sherman, who maintained a brilliant, unmatched record all through school, went on to graduate from Cuttington, topped his class at the Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law, participated in the Moot Court in India and later graduated from Harvard Law School. He is clearly one of Africa’s most competent lawyers.

Sherman is also Liberia’s leading and unquestionably most successful corporate lawyer. His law firm, Sherman and Sherman, has a fully staffed legal team headed by a Managing Partner, operating from its own building.

So much for competency. Here comes the other matter—the matter of integrity.

Senator Sherman has been indicted by the Civil Law Court over an alleged bribery scandal revealed by the London-based transparency watchdog, Global Witness. He, House Speaker Alex Tyler and others have been implicated in the alleged scandal in which they were all alleged to have attempted to change the Liberian law governing the Public Procurement Concessions Commission (PPCC) in favor of the United Kingdom-based Sable Mining, which was interested in Lofa County’s Wologizi Mines.

The indictment places Senator Sherman at the epicenter of the alleged scandal, for it was allegedly through him that money was passed to be shared among all the others indicted.

Senator Sherman has, of course, like all the other indicted, denied the allegations and their lawyers have all demanded the evidence that a crime has been committed. This, according to legal experts, has not been established.

This newspaper is on record as having suggested that Speaker Tyler and Senator Sherman should recuse themselves from their lofty positions until they can clear their names through a court decision. But neither Speaker Tyler nor Senator Sherman had the honor to do that. The Speaker was forced into that after the House became split into two over the issue, resulting in the stalling of the most urgent government business, especially the still mired 2016/17 National Budget.

Is it true that Senator Sherman received Sable Mining money to change Liberian laws to fulfil its devious intentions? Only the court can decide that.

Suppose it were true? The question immediately arises, why would Senator Sherman, already a wealthy corporate lawyer, want to do that?

The Daily Observer as recently as last week welcomed to its new office a distinguished visitor who indicated that he intends running for the House of Representatives. His reason, he said, stems from his “desire to change the system from within.”

But is that not what all seekers of public office have said? Even Senator Sherman once told the Daily Observer in an exclusive interview that he felt strongly that having failed in his presidential bid in 2005 he believed he could make a difference for good by entering the Senate.

Alas, Varney, who since childhood has spoken—and written—fluent Vai, one of the nation’s most difficult languages, won by a landslide the Senate race against Dr. Foday Kromah. Now that Sherman has achieved his Senate dream to “make a difference for good,” why would he engage in an act such as Global Witnesses alleges?

What difference would that have made to the bank account of this already wealthy corporate lawyer—so wealthy and powerful that this newcomer ran unopposed in his bid for the Senate Judiciary Chairmanship?

We have seen this in history many times before. Remember Ken Lay, the graduate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), who started a highly successful company and ended up stealing from his shareholders and his own staff. He was convicted of fraud and ended up in jail where, to cut short the shame and disgrace that he had caused himself and his family, died there. Why then did he do it? Was he not rich and successful enough?

Here lies the ancient clash between competence and integrity.

Senator Sherman has asked the Senate for a vote of confidence in him. If it is not in his favor, he pledged, he will quietly go.

We suggest that the Senator not wait for the vote, but honorably and quietly, if even belatedly, bow out until the Civil Law Court hopefully declares him “not guilty.”


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