The National Chairman of the opposition Liberty Party (LP), Benjamin Sanvee, has stepped aside following preliminary audit report on the Private Sector Development Initiative (PSDI), which implicated his company, Sanvee Holdings, for not paying the US$45,000 loan he took out. Sanvee said he has taken a leave of absence as LP chairman to have some time to work with relevant authorities to restructure the loan and make it right. Although he is the third chairman of the Liberty Party to be named in corruption allegations, Sanvee’s decision is also meant to set the party apart from his personal activities to avoid stigmatization.
His decision to take a leave of absence is also meant to portray high ethical standards and best practice among public servants. This is what people in any civilized society do to set good examples for others to follow. Make no mistake: his ‘sabbatical’, as he calls it, though it is a welcome move, is also forced upon him since the mention of his name in the report potentially casts a dark shadow on the party he chairs, which is seeking election to the highest seat in the land. Be that as it may, small shame better than big shame, let him go find the people’s money and pay it back.
Unfortunately for Liberia, many public servants including National Elections Commission (NEC) Chairman, Jerome G. Korkoya, see controversial behavior as a badge of honor, even without the conscience to defend their integrity. It is now more than three months since information started to emerge that the NEC Chairman lied under oath at his Senate confirmation hearing, that he is a Liberian citizen. Some documentary evidence has been displayed on social media and in local dailies including the Daily Observer, indicating that a Jerome George Korkoya voted in a federal election in the United States of America, a right reserved only for citizens of that country.
Since the accusations started emerge, Cllr. Korkoya has made two statements reflecting his arrogance and intransigence: 1) that he is a Liberian and 2) that anyone who has evidence of his American citizenship status should take him to court. Although our court system has not established whether or not Korkoya is an American citizen, it is common knowledge that he has lived in America and that he is quite familiar American culture of governance.
In the US, and most western countries, whenever a public or private official is accused of acts legally or ethically questionable – especially with damning evidence – that official, without clinging onto the position, immediately resigns or steps aside in some way. He/she will not wait on the Attorney General or certain groups to take him/her to court, as demanded by the NEC chairman.
It mystifies anyone in this critical time of election when a cloud of doubt surrounds the head of such an institution that needs a person of integrity to handle, in order to avoid conflict. What happens if any of the numerous political parties contesting the elections feels discontented with the election results? How credible, Cllr. Korkoya, do you think you can be in the midst of such glaring evidence against you? Are you relying on Liberia’s flawed legal system to wiggle your way out and perpetuate yourself in the NEC chairmanship? Do you want people to take your role in the elections process seriously and abide by your ruling when your own disregard for the law and ethics is far from your imagination?
It is simple for anyone to reclaim Liberian citizenship; just go to the court and renounce your foreign citizenship and make a public declaration of Liberian citizenship. That’s what the citizenship law in Liberia requires. Yet the President sits and watches Korkoya defy the Constitution without any action in this crucial time of election in Liberia.
What remains most frustrating is that President Sirleaf, who vowed to uphold and defend the Constitution of the Republic of Liberia, has failed to call on Korkoya to relinquish his post to respond to such glaring evidence that he violated the very Constitution.
It may not be surprising for the President to back Korkoya’s blatant behavior. President Sirleaf is the same person who brought into her administration another US citizen, Ellen Cockrum, who ended up misappropriating huge sums of money at the Liberia Airport Authority (LAA) and later absconded to the United States. From her safe haven there, Cockrum released a series of secretly recorded conversations that brought utter embarrassment to the Sirleaf administration.
The President also stood by and let her son Robert Sirleaf run the lucrative National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL) into the ground. Eventually, she claimed responsibility for her son’s deeds without any effort to correct the matter and restitute the lost money. On the one hand, we see that one who condones such behavior, gets bitten in return. On the other hand, we can’t help but ask, are hidden hands maneuvering the presidency or are these the President’s very own decisions? For they are every bit tactically treacherous and tantamount to the greatest threat to our hard-earned peace.
Whether Ben Sanvee will return to the helm of the LP during this election cycle – if and when he pays off his debt – remains to be seen. However, he has chosen the appropriate course of action, which is rare among Liberian politicians, and history will judge him favorably for that. We hope Cllr. Jerome George Korkoya of the NEC will also act appropriately and defeat the devilish conscience overtaking his personality to adhere to ethical standards.