The Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) has come under heavy criticism lately, ever since it issued its October 23 indictment of several prominent citizens for “corruption.”
Last Thursday, October 24, 2014 several media houses, including the Daily Observer, carried a front-page story announcing LACC’s indictment of several current and former officials of the Liberian Government for alleged corruption.
They included the Managing Director of the Liberia Petroleum Refining Company (LPRC), Mr. T. Nelson Williams, II, former Commerce and Industry Minister Miata Beysolow, former Board Chairman of the National Oil Company (NOCAL), Mr. Clemenceau Urey, and Sinoe County Superintendent Milton Teahjay.
Making the announcement last Thursday, October 23, LACC Executive Chairman, Counselor James Verdier, said the “indicted” individuals’ names would be forwarded to the Ministry of Justice for prosecution.
But no sooner had Mr. Verdier made his announcement than some of the indicted officials reacted. The first was Clemenceau Urey, who wondered why the LACC Chair had, among all the nine members of the NOCAL Board, singled out only him (Urey) and Cllr. Bill Dunbar. Urey explained that seven members of the Board voted in favor of paying out to the Members of the National Legislature the so-called “lobbying fees.” This was to ensure the ratification of oil contracts to various petroleum companies interested in exploring for oil in Liberia.
Mr. Urey told the media in a prepared statement that the Board had specifically consulted with the Ministry of Justice (MOJ), which is also a member of the Board, and MOJ had officially stated that paying out lobbying fees was “standard business practice in Liberia.”
We have no idea as to how LACC undertakes its investigations and how it comes to its conclusions. Due to the lateness of the hour last Thursday, we were unable to obtain the reactions of those indicted. The following day, the phones of most of the accused were off, nor could we contact them personally for their reactions.
Fortunately, Mr. Urey furnished us at the weekend with a written reaction, which we as well as other media houses published the following Monday. The Daily Observer felt free to publish this reaction since the matter was not yet sub judice—meaning not yet in court. Mr. Urey asked what it would cost to publish his statement and we told him it would cost nothing, since it was news, not advertisement. Besides, we told him the newspaper owed it to him to publish his reaction, something which we were ethically required (obliged) to do.
Among Mr. Urey’s concerns listed was why had LACC not also indicted members of the Legislature which, he said, “received the bribes” for the ratification of the petroleum agreements. For it is an ancient and enduring principle in law that “The receiver is just as bad as the felon.”
It could also be asked whether LACC knows what transpired between the Liberian Government and the Legislature when the ExxonMobil agreement was up for ratification. We pray that LACC will get to that one day.
We also wonder further whether LACC has any idea of what transpired within the Legislature itself in 2006 when its members were jockeying for elected positions.
No one, most certainly not the Daily Observer, is trying to prevent “corrupt” officials or former officials from being held accountable for their alleged misdeeds. But surely LACC must realize that even the accused have the right to defend themselves, or even to ask questions. And the media has the obligation and responsibility to get and publish the accused’s side of the story.
However, LACC has issued a press release accusing the media of being “paid agents,” some of whom “met on the Robertsfield highway with some of the accused” to receive money to “discredit the LACC.”
We submit that LACC, as the GOL’s pit bull on corruption, is itself under sacred obligation to be fair and just in its accusations; and also to prove its allegations against anyone, including any accusation it has made against the media.