By Morrison O.G. Sayon
Former Agriculture Minister, Dr. Christopher Toe has opened up on the Rodney Sieh issue saying that he is opened to reconciliation and has not yet closed the door on Mr. Sieh and his lawyers.
Addressing a well attended news conference yesterday at a local hotel in Monrovia, Dr. Toe said he is willing to negotiate with Mr. Sieh and his legal team to resolve the issue between him and the Publisher of Front Page Africa.
“This must be the first step in the process of reconciliation; if the two parties come together, we will put everything on the table and find an amicable solution,” Dr. Toe said.
In August, a judgment imposing US$ 1.5m libel damages forced the closure of the FrontPageAfrica Newspaper and landed the paper’s publisher and Managing Editor Rodney Sieh in jail.
Dr. Toe told journalists in Monrovia on Tuesday that he did not jail any journalist but a Liberian court did after Sieh refused to respect the ruling of the high Court in Liberia. “Mr. Sieh or his lawyer must meet so we can sit and negotiate and reconcile,” Chris Toe told a host of Liberian journalists in Monrovia.
Clarifying the issue of the caterpillar infestation in 2009, Dr. Toe said only US$76, 275 was received from the Government of Liberia(GOL) and the amount was in the form of a budgetary allocation from the Ministry of Agriculture FY 2008/9 budget. He said a detailed report including relevant documentation including receipts, on the use of government funds was sent by the Ministry to the Ministry of Finance on February 27, 2009.
Dr. Toe said US$1,000 was given his Ministry by the Chinese Embassy that additional US$1,000 in cash was collected by the cabinet and staff of the ministry and donated to the people of Bong County by President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.
“ECOWAS also donated a check of US$100,000 dated January 29, 2009 that was not cleared by the Central Bank and therefore unavailable for use and a dime was not spent by the ministry up until when I resigned as Minister on March 31, 2009,” he added.
Dr. Toe also clarified that the FAO appeal for international assistance, valued at US$1.2 million, never came to the Ministry of Agriculture during his tenure. He added that FAO only provided a couple of entomologists from Sierra Leone and Ghana but a dime of the money was not received while he was serving as Minister.
Commenting on the confidential report allegedly issued by Mr. Peter Kovah, Dr. Toe said President Sirleaf letter to former Auditor General, John Morlu said nothing about conducting an audit based on Mr. Kovah’s report and noted that an audit by the General Auditing Commission (GAC) was never conducted as a result of the false report adding, “I was ready and prepared to answer each and every false allegation by Korvah at the time and I remain so today.”
Commenting on the GAC report, Dr. Toe said the commission audit process and the resulting report are seriously flawed. He said the conduct of the audit was wholly unprofessional, characterized by misrepresentations and seemingly undertaken in a rush in order to tarnish his unblemished reputation and stellar record of service at home and abroad.
He said there is no evidence that attempts were made to search the Ministry of Agriculture or other public records adding, “Instead, the GAC expected me a private citizen, during the period of alleged audit, to do so; statements are made in the absence of facts or evidence throughout the report and there is non-recognition that expenditures in the fund of salaries and others were incurred throughout the period of the Lodean Teage Management team.”
He then called on the media to respect the rights of others describing same as the foundation of democracy. He added that press freedom does not in any way supersedes the rights of individuals. “I’m not against reconciliation but peace can only be achieved if another person is willing to face the other person,” he said.
Asked as to what next since he has been exonerated, Dr. Toe said Mr. Sieh has not fully complied with the court ruling and that the case is a civil matter which is beyond his limit. With Dr. Toe’s latest position many are wondering as to whether Mr. Sieh will ever be released from prison.
Dr. Toe has called for a dialogue with the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) and Sieh’s lawyers but want the PUL and the Sieh legal team to take the first step in resolving the matter.