In the past 24 hours, both the Liberia Executive Mansion and the Liberia News Agency have taken turns responding to our Tuesday, April 14, 2015 banner headline: Shielding The Corrupt? President Comes to the Aid of GAC Auditees
Branding our publication as “unpatriotic”; “Unnationalistic” and “Reckless”, the Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf-led government appears to be running around in circles in trying to justify the President’s comments to media managers Monday during which she acknowledged that she had not read the recent findings of the General Auditing Commission’s Ebola fund audit but came to the following conclusion: “I have not read the audit report but I got a briefing on it, and I know that there may have been procedural errors but I believe that if someone says they had to go and buy a bus to carry people when a hundred people are dying on the streets and they did not go through a bidding process, I will leave it to you, to say which was better for them to have bought the buses to save the lives or for them to have taken two weeks to go through the bidding process”.
Presidential press secretary Jerolinmek Piah, in a statement late Tuesday strongly rejected media reports that the President is “shielding corruption” when she asked leaders of the Liberian media to analyze the recent audit Report of the Ebola Trust Fund by the General Auditing Commission (GAC) in the context of the extreme emergency with which the nation was confronted.
Describing the media reports on the GAC audit as “wrong and misleading”, the Executive Mansion suggests our citing of the concerns of “political observers”, is intended to dent ongoing efforts by the Government to deepen programs of transparency and accountability.
The Presidential Press Secretary also slammed what he described as “mean-spirited and unpatriotic”, because he claims such reportage is an attack on the President while she is on a foreign mission to represent the collective best interests of the nation. “To advocate against Liberia’s much-needed international support for its Post-Ebola Recovery, as the FrontPage attempts to do, is mean-spirited and unpatriotic and may have the effect of hurting the well being of the very people in country the paper claims it’s advocating for,” Piah argued.
The Government-run Liberia News Agency (LINA), in a commentary Tuesday said “It is inconceivable and preposterous for a Liberian publication to maliciously unleash such a negative article which coincides with the visit to Washington D.C of the Liberian leader to participate in a Regional Post-Ebola Recovery Conference hosted by the World Bank for the three hardest-hit Ebola countries.”
LINA questioned the timing of the article which it says demonstrates the lack of nationalism on the part of the FrontPage. “Throwing a spook into the wheel of international goodwill to settle whatever scores by publishing a negative article about a national leader cannot be justified, especially when it has a negative impact on efforts to reposition the country after a devastating health crisis. At this juncture, we pause to ask: Where lies the FrontPage newspaper’s nationalism? What will it benefit at the detriment and expense of its patrimony? Who gets severely hurt? President Sirleaf or the Liberian people?”
The argument from the Executive Mansion that the President of Liberia is relying on the media to help analyze audit reports is a lazy attempt at avoiding the crux of the problem.
In 2011, former Solicitor General Wilkins Wright and Justice Minister Christiana nicely put together an analysis of multiple audits conducted by the GAC and submitted the report to the president. Prior to the election in 2011, in an interview with FrontPageAfrica, the president promised to prosecute all those that the Solicitor General and the Minister of Justice had indicated violated the public trust by engaging in corrupt practices.
In a memorandum addressed to Justice Minister Tah on August 15, 2011, then Solicitor general, Cllr. M. Wilkins Wright categorized audit reports from the General Auditing Commission of Liberia into four categories in which the Solicitor general recommended that some of the cases needed immediate prosecution and further investigation for others. Cllr. Wright indicated that after reviewing the reports, they were categorized in summary form for easy categorization to enable the Ministry of Justice either prosecutes, conduct further investigation or drop further proceedings against some individuals.
Stated Cllr. Wright: “The report has been categorized for the purpose of easy categorization in terms of those actions proposed. The name of an entity may appear in more than one category of the summary because of the nature of the conduct complained of and the recommended action to be taken against them; as such, to be able to know what offense was committed, one would have to refer to the detailed report to find the cause and the specific person affected”. The solicitor general expressed his willingness as a government lawyer to pursue the case.
In contrast, what we and other media have been doing in the fight against official corruption since 2006 is to simply assist Madam Sirleaf in fighting graft, analyzing reports and highlighting wrongs in the public sector.
The media has been gathering, analyzing public audits and reports to support the President’s election-day pledge that Corruption would be public enemy number one. “Throughout the campaign, I assured our people that, if elected, we would wage war against corruption regardless of where it exists, or by whom it is practiced. Today, I renew this pledge. Corruption, under my Administration, will be the major public enemy. We will confront it. We will fight it. Any member of my Administration who sees this affirmation as mere posturing or yet another attempt by another Liberian leader to play to the gallery on this grave issue should think twice.”
To say that we are unpatriotic, unnationalistic and reckless because the timing of our report coincides with this week’s World Bank spring meetings is far from the truth and it is intended to purchase sympathy and sidestep the issue of official corruption, which has strangled development, undermined the well-being of Liberians and further sending millions into excruciating poverty.
We have seen in recent past how government officials named in the findings of integrity institutions like the GAC, the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission and the Public Procurement Concessions Commission, have taken the airways to blast those institutions to the dismay of many and the silence of the government. The current Unity Party Chairman, Cllr. H. Varney G. Sherman, highlighted this very same obstructive behavior on the part of officials named in audit reports, when he served as the 2013 independent day Orator.
No one Liberian is more patriotic or nationalistic than the other. If holding the government accountable and pressing the Sirleaf administration to tackle graft and end the sugarcoating of those named in audit reports means that we are unpatriotic, unnationalistic and reckless; then so be it. Our job is to report the news objectively and analyze reports for our readers, not the government. This is what makes us journalists, not patriots, not nationalists but journalists, guarded in pursuit of the truth.
LINA’s commentary and the Executive Mansion’s press statement clearly demonstrate what the UN Panel of Experts stated in their June 2007 Report that the war on corruption was a “lip service.”
It seems rather clear that LINA and the Executive Mansion are more interested in protecting the image of the president than a search for the truth and the promotion of the well-being of the Liberian people. Corruption kills millions and the attempt to intimidate, mudsling and muscle a media institution like FrontPageAfrica is showing that there is no political will to solve this age-old menace that the president has labeled as a ‘cabal, ‘a vampire,’ and the ‘public enemy number one.”
LINA and the Executive Mansion should answer this simple question for the Liberian people: What good is begging for money from international institutions and donor countries only to turn around and allow corrupt officials to steal or mismanage it under the guise of “procedural errors”?
How can LINA and Executive Mansion assure Liberians that any money begged for by the President and given by the international community is not going to, yet again, lend into the private pockets of officials in government? Or at best, mismanaged?
LINA and the Executive Mansion must realize that it is no longer about the issue of begging for more money from the international community. Millions of dollars have poured into Liberia in the past ten year but how much of that have helped ordinary Liberians, who are still living in conditions that are appropriate for the Dark Ages and lingering at the bottom of the economic ladder.
U.S. President Barack Obama even frowned on the deplorable social and economic of Liberians, especially those living outside of Monrovia when he told the Liberian president at the White House recently that he wants to see shared prosperity expanded beyond the confines of Monrovia, a U.S. President letting a sitting Liberian president to know that Monrovia is not Liberia.
For a reasonable minded person, engaging in official corruption is the most unpatriotic and unnationalistic thing to do. Reporting on corruption, abuse of power, waste, and affront to the law and mismanagement of public resources is the most patriotic and nationalistic thing a man or woman can choose.
Promoting and protecting the image of any individual is not bigger than the well-being of the whole nation. Corruption kills and FrontPageAfrica will objectively analyze official government reports, and expose official corruption by anyone, anywhere and anything. That is what makes us Journalist, not mere blind “nationalists.”
During the era of John Morlu as Auditor General, the President laid her neck on the line for officials implicated in audit reports and blamed corruption and the missing millions documented in audits on the “system,” as though it was the system, and not individuals that was stealing the money. With a new Auditor General, now the President is blaming corruption and the unaccounted for Ebola funds on “procedural errors.”
Where is personal responsibility in all of this? Instead, though, the Executive Mansion and LINA wants to appeal to public emotion to say FrontPageAfrica is preventing the President from getting money for Liberia, money that is likely to end up in private pockets. When and where will the buck stop?