By Nathaniel Barnes
REACTION OF AMBASSADOR M. NATHANIEL BARNES TO THE INVESTIGATIVE REPORT OF GLOBAL WITNESS
Global Witness, an internationally renowned and reputable “Watchdog” organization recently released a comprehensive investigative report entitled “The Deceivers” which can, at best, be described as a provocative and damning account of corruption within the rank and file of our government. The findings and allegations of this investigative report have pushed my trust of the Unity Party-led government to an unprecedented low. I am appalled by our President’s response to this turn of events. Setting up yet another investigative committee does not allay my deep concerns over where we, as a nation, are going. The Global Witness report reveals and alleges in great detail, not only how our government continues to recklessly mortgage the future of Liberia by breaking and circumventing its laws and values to personally enrich themselves, but how those we entrust with power continue to do so with impunity and reckless abandon. Key findings and allegations of the report include:
• Significant payments of nearly one million United States Dollars in bribes to high level government officials in the Executive and Legislative branches of the Government of Liberia in order to change the laws, circumvent government policies and regulations to the benefit of a single investor. These acts were done at the incalculable expense of the Liberian people and further aggravates the severe state of poverty in Liberia.
• Direct interference in Liberia’s political process thus potentially impacting election outcomes.
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s response to this debacle has been disappointing (yet predictable) as it follows the time worn tradition of establishing yet another Investigative “Task Force” to look into the matter and submit its findings; upon which, those found culpable “will be dealt with to the extent of the law.”
My primary concerns about the President’s proposal are:
• The proposal means that the Executive branch of the government is being tasked to investigate itself. Obviously, in this instance, one must be concerned about the loss of objectivity, fairness and equity.
• Historically, Liberia has a poor track record of bringing the activities (processes, findings, implementation of the conclusions and recommendations, etc.) of these Special Task Force to reasonable, implementable and justifiable closure.
• We should seriously question the moral capacity of the Minister of State Without Portfolio, Counselor Jonathan Fonati Koffa, who President Sirleaf has appointed, to lead and spearhead the proposed task force through a fair, objective and transparent process and conclusion. According to court records in the United States of America, Counselor Koffa is a convicted felon who has been disbarred by the North Carolina State Bar Association for fraud, dishonesty and unethical practices unbecoming of the legal profession. This fact should immediately preclude the Minister’s participation in any capacity regarding this matter.
This affair is of such magnitude, that we, the people of Liberia, cannot afford to take it lightly; thus, it is our collective responsibility and right to demand that our government pursue options and choices that would reveal the hard facts which would lead to appropriate measures that would entail justice, equity and fairness.
In this light, I am strongly recommending the following:
• The Liberian Legislature establishes a Citizens Action Committee comprised of eminent members and leaders from Civil Society, Religious Institutions, Professional Organizations (the Liberian Bar Association, the Liberian Business Association, etc.), Trade Unions and other associations and Community Leaders, cloaked with all of the appropriate legal and institutional authority to investigate this matter.
• A key part of the Terms of Reference of the Committee would be to seek out, vet and contract a globally renowned auditing firm which will be tasked with conducting a thorough forensic audit which would clearly and indisputably establish the factual events and personalities involved.
• The Citizens Action Committee, upon receipt of the findings of the auditor, would carefully evaluate the results and findings and develop a comprehensive report which would include recommendations and appropriate actions to be taken. The report would be presented to all three branches of government and made public to the people of Liberia.
• The government should solicit financial assistance from its multilateral, bilateral and Global NGO Partners to underwrite the costs of this initiative. This would alleviate the potential of “dragging” the committee’s work due the absence of funding. This action will also ensure a certain amount of transparency in the work of the committee.
I am convinced that implementation of this proposal, or some other version of an independent, objective investigation would be an effective first step towards outcomes such as justice and fairness. We must not fail to establish a path upon which ALL Liberians can walk in the confidence that OUR government is in fact a government… “FOR THE PEOPLE…OF THE PEOPLE AND BY THE PEOPLE!”