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|Recording Technique: Are Liberians Going a Bit Too Far in Taping Conversations?||| Print ||
|Written by Rodney D. Sieh, firstname.lastname@example.org|
|Monday, 18 February 2013 22:10|
Monrovia – What does Edwin Melvin Snowe, Harry A Greaves, Mills Jones, Saah Gbollie, Ellen Corkrum and Grace Kpaan have in common? They all have been in some way or the other, drawn into a new phenomenon in post –war Liberia: The art of secretly recording a conversation to prove a point or falling prey to entrapment by an opposing figure or foe.
The practice was born at the onset of post-war nation’s democratic sojourn in January 2007, just one year after the inauguration of the Unity Party government and the first post-war legislative seating.
Act I: The Speaker Snowe Show
Rep. Snowe, embroiled in a heated wrangle by his peers to unseat him as speaker, revealed that he had secret recordings of two of his peers trying to solicit bribes, the trend was born.
At the time, Rep. Snowe made available as evidence several documents, including secretly-taped recordings just as some forty six members of the House of Representatives affixed and accepted a resolution to vote out Rep. Snowe from office.
Rep. Snowe provided a Compact Disc to the media with the voices of lawmakers Monserrado County Representative Kettehkummey Murray, former Margibi lawmaker Saah Gbollie and Bong County Representative Samuel Bono who admitted receiving US$5,000 as evidence.
Rep. Snowe stated at the time that the conversation on the audio CD was recorded through a cell phone conversation with him and some other lawmakers where the two lawmakers informed him that they received the US$5,000 to sign the resolution to remove Snowe from office.
When the audio was played to verify the voices, the voice of Monserrado County Representative Murray could be heard in conversation with Bong County Representative Edwin Juah admitting receiving the US$5,000.
Gbollie pointed out at the time that in the absence of a specialist to determine whether the voice on the tape was actually his, any judgment rendered against him by the committee will be incredible.
In a nation without a voice specialist, experts or laws on the books regarding secret recordings, the trend appears to be gaining traction even among not so public figures.
A few years ago, a young woman’s privacy was violated when a male companion made public a sex encounter which went viral on the worldwide web and as favorite view among cell-phone users. It was never clear whether both parties agreed to have the recording made but it was clear that the woman did not appreciate or give her green light for the recording to be made public.
Legal experts in Liberia however say there may be no private right of action in the civil code of Liberia entitling a party to sue another. When Liberian law is silent on an issue, this jurisdiction reverts to US common law.
Under US common law, this may be a privacy issue. Whether or not one has a reasonable expectation of privacy when they engage in such a conversation. In that case, an invasion of privacy action may lie.
Most US jurisdictions are moving from the common law approach to a more statutory approach. In most US state statutes, recording a conversation with the consent of at least one of the parties to the conversation is per se illegal.
In a public policy context, officials may not be candid in giving advice or counsel if they believe that the informal discussions and debates leading to policy issues will be made public.
Everyone will be performing for the tape. What the public should be concerned about is the poiicies are emanate from informal debates or discussions and not the process of arriving there. A law governing official secrets which ban such recording would be in order, because, such recordings by pass the Freedom of information Act. If the public is interested in government documents and media, then there is a law governing how they obtain it. "
Act II: The Harry Greaves Show
In 2009, the controversial Harry Greaves a former Economic Advisor to NTGL chair Gyude Bryant and Managing Director, Liberia Petroleum Refining Company from 2006-2009, embarrassed Morris Saytumah, then Minister of State for Finance, Economic and Legal Affairs, by leaking voice recordings which showed that the supposed investigator, Aloysius Jappah, had in fact been sent to Greaves to demand $300,000 in extortion money.
A long-time confidante of President Johnson-SIrleaf, Greaves was fired in 2009 shortly after the scandal broke.
The recordings were revealed shortly after the CBL took a decision to dismissed two employees, Joseph Dwana, Director of Administration and Onikeh Bowen, a teller, recently after allegedly accusing the pair of leaking to some media institutions documents suggesting a number of inside information about the CBL.
Act IIl: The Mills Jones Show
More recently, the recording trend took another turn when Mills Jones, the governor of the Central Bank of Liberia was secretly-recorded speaking down to a former employee about his work ethic, speculations about his rumored presidential quest and his extravagant and wealthy lifestyle.
On the recording, Governor Jones could be heard saying that he is just as qualified as those who have sought the office of the presidency and even more qualified.
Said Governor Jones: “Everybody who has been president of this country, I am as qualified as they are anybody. I am. So people talking, there are few people on a radio station people can’t hear?"
"That’s what will stop me to do what? People know me, I’ve never told anybody I want to be president, that’s the Liberian people who see what I’m doing, they’re going around talking, the Liberian people."
"If I want to be president of this country I am a citizen and I am qualified; more qualified than most of the people who been running, and equally qualified as anybody who has held that position and can do better than most who have held this position, can get this country further than many people have gotten it today, if I am president of this country.”
Both Bowen and Dwanu have reportedly denied being the source of the leak and are said to be seeking legal recourse in a bid to get their jobs back or at least benefits for wrongful dismissals. Since the leak of the document which has been read on Hot FM 107.9 Radio Talk Show and a couple of print media, tension is said to have been high at the bank.
Act IV: The Corkrum Show
More recently, the saga involving a major financial scandal at the Roberts International Airport was heightened with the release of an audio recording by the former Managing Director Ellen Corkrum who secretly-recorded both the board Chairman Musa Bility and board Secretary Cecelia Sio in a bid to vindicate her from allegations she misused thousands of dollars of Airport Authority money and awarded a contract to refurbish the RIA, to a ghost company with no track record in the aviation industry.
On the recording, Corkrum went to great lengths to prove her case and force board chair Bility to corroborate much of her contentions that she alone was not authorized to sign checks or vouchers.
During the recording which Corkrum and her fiancé distributed to the media, Bility can be heard blaming Minister Amara Konneh for the false story and leaks to the media regarding allegations dogging her short tenure at the LAA.
Billity’s voice is heard saying on the audio recording: “Amara wrote the president … That is the problem. It was the Minister of Finance who wrote the president. I am going to tell the President that she must control Amara because if I come out as the chairman to do or say anything, the next thing Amara will do is to indict me and I know he’s careless enough to do it. Everybody’ got problem with Amara. He’s the president’s son…".
Bility continued: “It was the Minister of Finance who wrote the President to say that the MD attempted to defraud the government of a half a million dollars. That’s the problem, there’s no other problem."
"When he (Konneh) called me he never told me all of that, he just told me I have a complaint against your MD. I can understand why the president did that. Amara is very crafty. When the Minister of Finance writes that letter, it forces the hand of the president and of course that letter will be leaked. If the government dilly dallys then she (the president) has to come out and tell the public where all this thing is coming from.”
On a separate recording, of the board secretary Sio, appears to suggest that Bility coerced her into falsifying the letter for Corkrum’s dismissal. Corkrum alluded to the recording during her news conference Tuesday when she lamented: “Not only did Musa Bility lie and make this up; he committed a crime when he threatened, our board secretary, responsible for taking the minutes, a Mrs. Cecilia Sio to falsify this letter that he has leaked to the media.”
Sio at one point during the recording breaks down in tears as she explained that Bility called for a board meeting when some of the board members were not in town. “He already knew that Dawn is in the country; Massaquoi Kamara is bereaved (he lost his wife). Only he, Amy, is Weefur and Nagbe.”
Act V: The Grace Kpaan Show
In what some are describing as a reversal of bad trending, another allegation of bribery has popped up again in the national legislature this time pitting Representative Edward Forh (CDC-District #16 Montserrado County) against the Superintendent of Montserrado County Grace Kpaan.
Rep. Forh has challenged Montserrado County superintendent Kpaan to produce alleged voice recording of Forh soliciting bribe by portioning into their personal account some of the County Social Development Fund.
Forh has described Kpaan’s allegations as false, malicious, criminal and part of her many smear campaign to smear the county caucus. Said Forh:
“We want to use this forum to encourage Superintendent Kpaan and all her surrogates to come forth and play that tape recording where members of the Caucus solicited bribe from her, six weeks ago we asked the superintendent to go ahead and play the tape but up to presence she has not but she is rather using the allegation to blackmail members of the caucus the caucus cannot be black mail.” Kpaan has concurred and has released the recording to several newspapers and have been played on local radio stations.
On the recording Kpaan alleges is the voice of Rep. Forh, the speaker can be heard saying: “The money in question must be divided amongst us; you eat some, I eat some, the minister eats some.” A voice purported to be Superintendent Kpaan is heard asking Forh why the money should be divided.
Kpaan’s action is already drawing angry response from some members of the caucus who have called for an investigation while labeling Kpaan’s action as a criminal act.
Representative Munah Pelham (CDC- District #9, Montserrado County) called for a speedy investigation among members of the Caucus into the incident.
Rep. Pelham told FrontPageAfrica via phone Monday that although there was nothing to prove that the voice in the recording was that of Representative Forh, there is a need for an investigation. The CDC district #9 lawmaker also described the Superintendent’s action to secretly record her colleague as criminal.
“The Superintendent is in error to have recorded Rep. Forh secretly without his consent. We think that was very ugly on the part of the superintendent but we are not still convinced because we do not have sufficient evidence to prove that the voice in the recording was that of Rep. Forh,” she said.
Redux: The Dog Days of the ‘80s
While many are divided over the onslaught of secret recordings in Monrovia today, historians say the practice is not new but has only been modified from previous years.
Back in the days, during the Samuel Doe years, the government used to pay a lot of money to get information but nowadays everybody has a phone and can record and Liberians love to talk so the information is flowing freely, cheaply,” says Emmanuel Bowier, host of the Emmanuel Bowier Hour on Radio Monrovia.
Bowier, a former Minister of Information, Cultural Affairs and Tourism under Doe recalls an incident a number of past incidents which went under the radar over the years that few took noticed of. One in particular involved former Minister of Foreign Affairs Rochforte Weeks.
Weeks, was reportedly in the U.S. visiting when he told some friends that he would resign upon return to Liberia. Someone reportedly played the recording for Tolbert who pre-empted Weeks by appointing C. Cecil Dennis as Foreign Minister.
In 1981, Another Foreign Minister Gabriel Baccus Matthews, during a visit to the U.S. also lost his position when he reportedly made a comment after being asked about the prospects of a civilian rule under Doe.
Matthews reportedly remarked that Doe lacked the experience to lead the country and could not possibly consider a run. Seward Boons, an officer at the Liberian mission in N York reported recorded Baccus’ remarks and returned home to Monrovia to play it for Doe who give Matthews the ax.
“During the PRC (People’s Redemption Council) era, a lot people got in trouble for secret recordings. Girls were used to recording people using pins, earrings and other gadgets. There were all kinds of recording tools then but it was limited. Today, the cell-phone has become a dangerous tool.”
One of those tools was instrumental in a wave of dismissals at the Ministry of Labor under the reign of Moses Duopu when Bong Mines Bong mines’ workers accused the ministry of bribery. Workers reportedly tape recorded Labor ministry senior staffers soliciting bribes and could be heard counting Doe coins on the recording which was later presented to Doe in 1982.
Bowier says much of the coups Doe was able to prevent may have been the result of secret recordings. “Recordings came ahead before people like Podier and Quiwonkpa could arrive. The same people from those meetings took the recordings to Doe.”
Perhaps one of the most popular moments during the Doe years was a remark by former Justice Minister Chea Cheapoo that he was not part of a Krahn government and he was not going to be easily corrupted. The statement reportedly recorded by Judge Harper S. Bailey, is said to have led to Cheapoo’s impeachment as Chief Justice in 1987.
Cheapoo was appointed by Doe as Chief Justice but ran into trouble shortly afterwards when he was accused of illegally ordering the arrest of Bailey, a probate judge and Muna Stubblefield, whom Cheapoo stated had tried to bribe him with $US2,000. Amid the resulting controversy, he accused President Doe of unconstitutionally releasing the couple in question and subsequently submitted his resignation on November 10, 1987.
Doe rejected Cheapoo’s resignation. Cheapoo made history as the first government official to be impeached in Liberia’s history when the House of Representatives and the Senate removed him from office on December 2, on charges of violating the Constitution while in office.
However, Cheapoo was removed from his position as Justice Minister and arrested in September 1981 after being accused of stockpiling arms without permission of the PRC.
Cheapoo was later arrested on a charge of defaming President Doe. With the court of public opinion and the Montserrado County Bar Association on his side, Cheapoo rode on a wave of popularity as the bar voted to boycott Judge Bailey's courtroom until his removal.
Liberia catching up to global trends
Legal experts say Liberia does not have a written law for or against secret recordings but many countries around the world do. Germany requires two parties to agree prior to recording while the practice is illegal in India.
In the United Kingdom, a recording made by one party to a phone call or e-mail without notifying the other is not prohibited provided that the recording is for their own use; recording without notification is prohibited where some of the contents of the communication—a phone conversation or an e-mail—are made available to a third party.
U.S. Federal law requires that at least one party taking part in the call must be notified of the recording. For example, it would be illegal to record the phone calls of people who come into one's place of business and ask to use the phone, unless they are notified.
Several states (e.g., California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Oregon and Washington) require that all parties consent when one party wants to record a telephone conversation. Many businesses and other organizations record their telephone calls so that they can prove what was said, train their staff, or monitor performance.
This activity may not be considered telephone tapping in some, but not all, jurisdictions because it is done with the knowledge of at least one of the parties to the telephone conversation.
The Telephone recording laws in some U.S. states require only one party to be aware of the recording, while other states require both parties to be aware. It is considered better practice to announce at the beginning of a call that the conversation is being recorded.
When a secret recording surfaced last year during the heat of the U.S. Presidential campaign, featuring Republican candidate Mitt Romney expressing his real beliefs about “his America” and what he perceives as the 47% of the country that are freeloading, lazy, handout-addicted citizens with whom he not only cannot relate but for whom he has no time, many were quick to take Romney to task. While others questioned the legality of such recordings.
Media mogul Rubert Murdoch has also run into trouble after his reporters were accused of tapping into voic-emails and text messages in violation of UK statutes.
Then there was the famous 1999 incident which landed former U.S President Bill Clinton into trouble when Linda Tripp, a friend to White House intern Monica Lewinsky, secretly a conversation relating to an affair with President Clinton. Tripp was subsequently prosecuted in Maryland for violating the state’s recording statute 10-401, which requires both parties to a conversation to consent.
It’s illegal in twelve states to record covertly at least the audio portion of a conversation where all parties have not consented. And one of those states is Florida where the Romney incident took place.
Precaution ‘best medicine’
The U.S.-based Citizens Media Project explains from a legal that the most important question in the recording context is “whether you must get consent from one or all of the parties to a phone call or conversation before recording it. Federal law and many state wiretapping statutes permit recording if one party (including you) to the phone call or conversation consents. Other states require that all parties to the communication consent.”
Legal or illegal, many countries institute measures to keep tabs on privacy. In Liberia, it appears the practice is gaining steam at a high cost and is unlikely to slowdown any time soon.
Enter any public figure office in post-war Liberia today and you would more than likely be asked to leave your phone, communications gadget or anything capable of recording a voice or video at the door. But is it legal? Admissible in court or just, to knowingly record a person in their home or office?
What do the laws of Liberia say? How are lawyers and judges weighing in? And what are the ramifications of a new trend buzzing Monrovia and forcing public officials to take extra precautions?
One Cabinet minister told FrontPageAfrica recently in the wake of the Corkrum recording of Bility, on condition of anonymity, that precaution is the best medicine but even that may not be enough.
“I will never allow anybody in my office with phones or any gadgets. But with gadgets coming in all forms, shapes and sizes like pens, pins, hats and other portable accessories, many are growing increasingly suspicious about everything, preferring to hold sensitive topics off the phone lines.”