Dealing with Another Image Problem: The Case Of The World Bank’s Bribery Claim

By Atty Philip N. Wesseh (PNW)

It is not a hyperbole that there might be issues between two citizens or institutions, but sometimes such situation does have an image problem on the country. One of such is the Toe-Sieh libel case that has landed journalist Rodney Sieh of the FRONTPAGE Newspaper in prison after his institution was found guilty of libel against Dr. Toe and has been ordered to pay over one million United States Dollars, something for which he has been imprisoned for his inability to settle such amount. Meanwhile, the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) has launched a massive campaign, with the catch-phrase, “Free Rodney Sieh; He Does Not Deserve to be in Jail,” whose imprisonment marks 43 days today in prison.

Since the enforcement of the court’s ruling against Mr. Sieh and the newspaper, there have been condemnations from some members of the international community, some of whom have called a reform of the country’s libel law, as the amount against the journalist was too excessive. The group, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and Global Witness said Liberia should promptly revise its libel laws to meet international standards for freedom of expression and the media. The group in a letter to President Sirleaf last month urged President Sirleaf to press for the reform of libel laws and procedure to prevent excessive judgments and restrictions on appeals from undermining free speech rights.

While it is true that this is a matter between two private citizens, it has caused an image problem for this country that has over the years been boasting of not having any journalist in jail, to an extent that international groups have spoken against this action and are calling for reform of the law that landed the journalist in jail. This is why it was not strange recently when President Sirleaf was confronted with the issue when she visited Canada and met with journalists. Reports said the issue dominated the President’s meeting with the media in that country. She was quoted as saying that this is a matter between two citizens and that this country enjoys press freedom and has a free environment that the media enjoys today. Whether we like it or not, or accept it or not, the situation does have an image problem.

As if it is like adding insult to injury or pouring water on a drowning person, the country is again faced with another image problem, with the latest claims by the World Bank that it has banned ZOOMLION, the Ghanaian company that won the sanitation contract for Monrovia for two years for acts contrary to acquiring such contract. Last week, the World Bank Group announced the debarment of Zoomlion Ghana Limited, a privately owned company headquartered in Ghana for a period of two years following the company’s acknowledgment of misconduct impacting the World Bank-financed the Emergency Monrovia Urban Sanitation Project in Liberia. It said the company paid bribes to facilitate contract execution and processing of invoices.

In a press release issued on the bank’s website: www.worldbank.org on September 25, 2013, in Washington DC, under the title,: World Bank Debars Ghanaian Company for Sanctionable Misconduct Relating to a Waste Management Project in Liberia,” the bank said the debarment is part of a Negotiated Resolution Agreement (NRA) which acknowledges the company’s cooperation and disciplinary measures against staff involved in the misconduct. The two-year debarment took effect on September 24, 2013.According to the bank, during this period, Zoomlion will not qualify for any contract financed by the World Bank Group. As part of the settlement, the company will also need to demonstrate full and satisfactory compliance with the World Bank Integrity standards.

The World Bank’s press release went on, “This is a case where a company under a World Bank investigation is demonstrating responsibility for wrongdoing by enforcing disciplinary action and committing to a new standard of integrity governing its operations,” said Leonard McCarthy, World Bank Integrity Vice President. “Promoting this type of corporate responsibility while holding companies accountable for wrongdoing is one of the strategic pillars of the World Bank’s anticorruption strategies,” the World Bank Integrity Vice President stated.

In its release, the Bank was very clear and succinct that the company did pay bribes to facilitate contract execution and processing of invoices. However, it did not say who received the brides and in what capacity. Under the law of this country bribery is a crime and that it is said that both the giver and receiver are guilty of the act.

In such a situation, regarding the awarding of contracts, it is unfair for bribery as this has the propensity to unduly influence the process and deprive others who have the capacity and have met the criteria, of not being accepting, as bribery serves as an ‘inducement,” and bottlenecks to justice and fairness in the process. Moreover, bribery is discouraged in such situation because they blind those responsible to following the actual rules and regulations, as well as procedures in the selection process for a winner for the contract.

The Black’s Law Dictionary (8th Edition) defines “inducement,” as “the act or process of enticing or persuading person to take a certain course of action.” It refers to bribery as “the corrupt payment, receipt or solicitation of a private favor for official action.”  Normally in these kinds of course of action, injustice is mostly the order of the day, as bribery precludes fairness and due diligence, thus promoting favoritism.

It should be noted that when the contract was awarded to the company during the administration of Madam Mary Taryonnoh Broh, as acting mayor of Monrovia, there were concerns that Liberian companies were denied this opportunity. But the defender of the contract at the time said Liberian companies did not have the capacity, for which they did not prevail.  But there were views of unfairness and biasness in awarding the contract to the Ghanaian company. Now that the principal source of funding has let the cat out of the bag, it is necessary that further investigation be done into this misconduct on the part of the Company.

It now behooves the media, which have appropriately carried the press release of the World Bank on the disbarment of ZOOMLION for misconduct, mainly for giving “bribes to facilitate contract execution and processing of invoices.” This matter which now borders on the image of the country that is facing problem of being a serious corrupt state should not be taken lightly. The media should follow up on this to its logical conclusion and those involved in this act be identified and prosecuted. This should not only end with the publication or broadcast of the press release on the matter, but by going down into the bottom of this matter.

As the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) celebrates another anniversary this weekend in Kakata, Margibi County, let this matter be an issue of concern to members of the inky fraternity. This country has suffered image problem for years. At one point, we were described as a, “rebel country,” “failed state” and or “rogue state.” Therefore, this issue of bribery should not be kept under the carpet.

Disappointingly, to date, since the issuance of the World Bank’s press release, the government of Liberia has said nothing on this embarrassing news. Let the government know that it has a greater responsibility in this matter. I REST MY CASE.

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