As a human rights defender, I want to publicly and officially celebrate, and appreciate the U.S. Treasury for its stance in the fight against corruption in Liberia.
Politicians, who collect monies from the government and manipulate the political system, will be deterred. However, my attention has been drawn to the official statement from the U.S. Treasury justifying its reasons for the sanction against Senator Prince Yomie Johnson of Nimba County.
“As a Senator, Johnson has been involved in pay-for-play funding with government ministries and organizations for personal enrichment. As part of the scheme, upon receiving funding from the Government of Liberia (GOL), the involved government ministries and organizations launder a portion of the funding for the return to the involved participants. The pay-for-play funding scheme involves millions of U.S. dollars. Johnson has also offered the sale of votes in multiple Liberian elections in exchange for money."
These are undisputed facts, because the senator is noted for doing exactly what the U.S. Treasury mentioned, but is he the only person that does that during general and presidential elections in Liberia? I say a resounding no! We must be completely honest and clear in taking action against those who have looted state resources and used them for their personal gains.
Since I am a rights activist, I will feel incredibly guilty celebrating the sanction of Senator Johnson, knowing he is not alone in this syndicate, yet the Treasury has not gone as far as to catch the true perpetrators of the political polygamy. In this regard, I would suggest that this sanction on Senator Johnson goes beyond political targets since the very statement mentions other ministers who facilitate the act. In Liberia, it is a crime to bribe, and it is a crime to receive a bribe. So, those who the U.S. Treasury unclaimed often provide money to Senator Johnson to carry on the operations should also be sanctioned to reflect a collective fight against corruption in Liberia.
The U.S. Treasury mentioned that as part of the scheme, some government ministries provide Senator Johnson funding to carry on said operations in return for votes. It is a mystery as to why the U.S. Treasury is not also considering sanctions against the heads of those ministries and agencies as a means of dissuading public officials from dishing out millions of dollars to individuals to rally the votes for them at the expense of the poor, and suffering Liberians. We encourage the U.S. Treasury to go beyond sanctioning legislators, and include ALL those involved in government, because corruption such as this does not only occur at the National Legislature.
Several sitting senators endorsed Joseph Nuyma Boakai's presidential bid in 2017, but it was not a free vote. Cabinet ministers who presided over the Unity Party government paid those 19 senators a large amount to campaign for their presidential candidate, Amb. Joseph Nyman Boakai. This also justifies the same reasons for sanctioning Senator Prince Johnson of Nimba County, but why are these people (cabinet ministers) not held accountable?
Also, I do not see any clear-cut penalties or restrictions involved in the sanction against Senator Johnson. The U.S. Treasury sanctioned Senator Varney Sherman in the past, ordered the freezing of his account and restricted his ability to obtain a visa to the United States, as well as requesting the public not to do business with his law firm, Sherman and Sherman Law Firm. That action has crippled him economically, and politically.
However, what are the specifics of Senator Johnson's sanction? That needs to be clarified, because it might look like a political ploy to prevent the senator from supporting the candidate of his choice during the 2023 general and presidential elections in an effort to create a level playing field in Nimba. It's a well-known fact that Sen. Johnson has contributed to Nimba County's election victories since 2005.
My role as a critical thinker and social activist would be enhanced if this action went beyond, and did not target someone inside the National Legislature, especially since corruption has been entrenched in the three branches of government for decades. Is there a political interests the U.S. wants in 2023, and they see Sen. Johnson as a threat to the ascendency of that individual, and that the only way to do so, is to give RED CARD to the political striker of Nimba, Sen. Johnson? This referee should give similar red cards to other players that committed the same infringement. It's obvious that Senator Johnson will decide who wins Nimba County come 2023.
Judging from his tricks, this sanction has increased his political base, because he now has reasons to cajole his people and indict individuals wanting to go for re-election in Nimba and those running for the presidency of being responsible for the sanction against him. The people of Nimba will fall for this, and I am sorry for those running for the presidency, and going for re-election. They will have more to explain to the people of Nimba on why they should give them their votes should Senator Johnson amplifies this.
Opposition leaders have also pledged supports to political interests during past elections and demanded huge sums of money to rally votes for them. No action has been taken in that regard. Corruption cannot be fought alone, since the opposition (broken ones), as well as those in the three branches of government, are always involved in this scheme. Without an inclusive punishment for those involved in this scheme, it will definitely undermine the collective fight against corruption in Liberia.
About the author: Vandalark Patricks is a graduate of the Harvard Kennedy School of Governance