Ruling from exile - Is the UN complacent in Taylor’s Continued Control of Key Economic Sectors of Liberia?
By S. Olu Adams
August 19, 2004
It has been several months now since the disgraced and shameless ex-president Taylor boarded a Nigerian aircraft for exile. With his exit, many were hopeful that at last the twenty years of demise, decay and deprivation of a people would begin to subside. Finally, it appeared that the international community, in the guise of the United Nations, had ushered in an era of rebirth for our depraved and disenfranchised population. Liberia would now begin to emerge from the abyss. With about 20,000 blue hats slated for Liberia, and the hawkish Jacques Klein managing the UN affairs in the country, all but the most pessimistic would have garnered strength and hope for the country.
Shockingly, and to the amazement of a bewildered population, the deposed Taylor is still in complete control of almost all lucrative enterprises in the country. Mr. Taylor’s cronies have begun to enforce license rights obtained during his regime in every sector. From the looks of things, the Taylorites continue to influence key sectors of government. This concerted drive by Mr. Taylor and his proxies to systematically rape the country - with impunity and the full backing of some individuals in the interim government - is sickening. Their many shell companies (i.e., LISCR, the company Taylor selected to manage Maritime - despite unknown shareholders) and their ill-gotten licenses are stifling and precluding well-meaning Liberian and foreign investors from investing in the country. Mr. Taylor’s enforcers are working feverishly to turn sanctioned and blocked money into legal enterprises. Their quests are to secure the highly liquid business sectors and use the proceeds from those businesses to circumvent the UN’s sanctions on their ill-gotten wealth.
To add insult to injury, the enforcers from the Taylor "criminal enterprise” are engaging in systematic lies, deceptions, double-talk and outright robbery of Liberians and investors attempting business ventures in the country. Particularly, the under bosses running the Telecommunication sector which manages Cellular licensing have been deliberately taking fees from unsuspecting investors and assigning frequencies that have already been allotted to others. They have encouraged Taylor and his cronies’ shell companies (LISCR, AWLI/LIBERCell and Lone Star) to build a series of GSM networks in the country which will serve as a spin-off for each other should the freeze of assets by the United Nations be enforced and implemented against any of them. They are skirting UN sanctions and assets restrictions mandates while continuing to raid the meager coffers of our beloved Liberia.
As I would not like to make multiple accusations void of merits, I would devote the rest of my article to the state of the Telecommunication Industry in Liberia. Specifically, let’s focus on the cellular companies that are currently operating or are in the final stages of standup. Let us begin with the Lone Star GSM cellular company. This company obtained its license during the Taylor regime. It is a well known fact that the structure of the company was such that Mr. Taylor owned a significant percentage (although a minority owner) of the business. In addition, many of Mr. Taylor’s cronies received small financial interest thereby giving the appearance of a Liberian minority owned business. One needs only to ask how those in government positions can receive shares in companies they did not put a dime into. For this generous allotment, Lone Star was granted almost the entire Spectrum in the GSM space of the country without competition. This adhoc assignment of public property without competition robbed the Liberian treasury of millions of dollars. The denial of revenue to the public coffers continues today because of the lack of proper regulation and control over the uses of this very lucrative cash generating business sector of the economy. The current government has either intentionally or unintentionally turned a blind eye on the raw exploitation, thereby allowing Taylor’s cronies to continue their quest to massively loot the resources of Liberia.
The perpetuation of this massive exploitation has now been exacerbated by the Taylor cronies exercising additional ill-gotten claim to the rest of the unassigned spectrum in the GSM space. The interim government of Gyude Bryant has to intervene to stop Taylor’s cronies from facilitating this monopoly and shutting out all competition from coming into the country. This behavior of non-intervention by the interim government of Gyude Bryant is inadvertently creating an atmosphere for these foreign entities to disregard Liberian laws, allowing the current GSM carriers in the country to be contemptuous of the population they serve. The current cellular service is extremely bad and because of the lack of regulation, customers lose 45 percent of their prepaid cards to dropped calls that cannot be readjusted. The outright thievery of consumers’ money in a depressed economy by the "Mr. Taylor Lone Star Corporation” and his Lebanese buddies does not stop there. They have totally ignored the PTSN in the country, by passing all intracountry connectors for call terminations in foreign lands. This condescending attitude toward the Liberian population is denying the people of Liberia legitimate revenue stream.
Adding insult to injury, the Taylor cartel and its lieutenants operating the various agencies and ministries are insuring the complete demise of what little is left of the Liberian National telephone exchange. This, in my estimation, is a national security nightmare. I am not aware of any country in the world that has 100% of its telecommunication infrastructure in the hands of foreign companies. This is a national security disaster if we as a nation allow this to continue. There has to be Liberian participation (legitimate majority owned Liberian companies) to maintain this important national security space. To date, they have refused to require the Cellular operators to interface with the PTSN. Contracts awarded under Taylor are continually referenced, when well meaning individuals offer to repair the dilapidated switching system currently deployed at Telecom. These despicable behaviors gave credence to those who say this is part of a grand scheme to insure the continuous looting of revenue from the telecommunication sector by eliminating all control of the government. This in itself is a travesty that must be addressed by serious patriotic Liberians, especially the interim government.
The greedy Taylorites are spreading their evil tentacles even deeper into the telecommunication space. Over the last several weeks they have begun to build out two more GSM systems in the country (AWLI/LIBERCell and the folks that managed LISCR). These systems are intended as fall back for a possible UN sanction on the Corrupt Lone Star Cellular Corporation. These hollow companies are serving two purposes: (1) They want to skirt the UN Sanction and continue to funnel monies to the criminal Taylor (2) They will be in the position to shut down Lone Star, or send it bankrupt while the other shell takes over operation of the customer base with negligible financial loss to the criminal cartel.
The Liberian people must reject these corrupt ways. They must insist that well-meaning Liberians be given the right to develop a high quality infrastructure in the telecommunication sector. Moreover, Liberians who have invested huge amounts of money into acquiring licenses for spectrum in the GSM space must be allowed to own the Spectrum as outlined in the agreement by the Postal and Telegraph Ministry. It is about time that we begin to appreciate the value of highly skilled and qualified Liberians. Our motto, without being xenophobic, should have a patriotic theme. For me it is, "By Liberians for Liberia." It is only with this air of patriotism that we will have any hope of emerging from the abyss.
This article is not meant to discourage foreign investors, but to encourage legitimate well meaning Liberian and foreign investors who have our country at heart. There are too many Liberian entrepreneurs with experience that cannot be matched by the current corrupt companies in Liberia. Incentives for Liberians to invest should be encouraged instead of making it almost impossible for a Liberian to start a business. Liberians will develop Liberia, as usual. Liberians are looking for a fair playing field where they can compete equally and be assured that the survival of one business is based on quality of service, price of product and quality of the management team.