Kofi Woods and the Delusion of Innocence

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We have been all but fascinated by the hearty exchange between President Sirleaf and former Public Works Minister Atty. Samuel Kofi Woods. Having jumped ship in 2013, Woods is convinced he has afforded himself ample distance from the current administration to assume the bully pulpit and berate his former boss for the culture of impunity she continues to uphold. In response to her allusion to his complicity to corruption, he has challenged Sirleaf to take the argument to court and prove his guilt.

And he is right about the culture of impunity. It must stop, and the government should “take a page out of his playbook” and subject themselves to an annual audit – which is a statutory requirement for public officials and entities anyway.
But something is amiss here.

Certainly, as a renowned human rights lawyer, he seems to have all his bases covered – having subjected himself to two audits, and come up clean. Good for him. Audits are harrowing processes, especially when one must account for every transaction conducted on behalf of an entire ministry.

But then again, he is a lawyer, trained to find and exploit loopholes the size of a pinprick. How else was he able to distance himself from the MPW’s illegal authorization of road works without contracts, on his watch? As a lawyer, he is no doubt aware that goods and services valued above the

Public Procurement and Concessions Commission’s US$250,000 threshold must be procured through contractual agreements signed by the head of entity (not a proxy) and the Minister of Finance & Development Planning; and then attested to by the Minister of Justice.

He is also fully aware that any given road contract must have exceeded that threshold, based on the nature of the work, the expertise and equipment required to complete it.

And right after that, he resigned, leaving in his wake a government illegally indebted to contractors; contractors heavily indebted to commercial banks, based on Government’s authorization to proceed; and commercial banks in crisis mode, direly needing the repayment of substantial loans. To top that off, he left with a bang, issuing a public statement blaming the government for not investing enough in road infrastructure.

Having pulled all that off, he should offer his legal services to every other public official; they sure could use it. Given his sharp legal mind and vast experience, this great escape from culpability separates him from some other amateur managers who have meant well, but still got swept up in their subordinates’ malpractice.

But, while no court may be able to convict Mr. Woods for a crime, there being no material evidence, there is such a thing as intangible guilt. This, of course, is not a legal term; it is a spiritual concept that speaks to one’s conscience.

How does he feel about the livelihoods he has jeopardized by allowing businesses to suffer from the irresponsible act of allowing them to work without a contract? How does he feel about the effect of that action (on his watch) on the liquidity of our commercial banks? Does any of this matter to him?

Whether it does or not, the damage has been done, and he must at least be accountable to the public.

We are, however, compelled to consider the flip side of this coin. It is widely speculated that officials of the Sirleaf administration are subject to demands from “higher up” that straddle the bounds of legality. Whether during election cycles or mid-administration, constant pressure is placed on cabinet and sub-cabinet officials to manipulate the mechanics of fiscal management in order to fund one operation or another.

Perhaps Mr. Woods was subject to such demands. Wanting no part in that rigmarole, perhaps he devised a successful strategy to accommodate the demands of that unseen hand, without being seen to hold it. Following that thought experiment, it follows that Mr. Woods may have thrown his colleagues under the bus (they have all been disgraced and fired, after all), to save his own hide. Or, perhaps his deputies were more inclined than he was to succumb to those unsavory demands; in which case, he should have acted much, much sooner, distancing himself from their misdeeds.

Either way, Woods, being a human rights lawyer, must answer for his silent complicity. But to steer his crew into an iceberg, jump ship and then wait two years before speaking out, is an act of plunging the dagger and then hiding his hand. These maneuvers are ingenious, but sinister, and not very different from what many have accused the current president of. So, yes, he may be beating her at her own game; he has clearly “taken a page out of her playbook”, it turns out, by undermining this administration to gain political advantage. In the end, he could find himself wallowing in the same pit
that he has dug for her.

In this instance, one should remember the biblical warning against gaining the whole world and losing one’s soul.

Leading up to the 2017 presidential and general elections, if he has any ambition to contest, Mr. Woods must demonstrate that he is more interested in the welfare of the people than he is in power as an end in itself. Only time will tell.

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