No Genuine Commitment to Accountability and Transparency in NTGL

By Dusty Wolokolie
Member, Contracts & Monopolies Commission

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

June 16, 2004

Quoting Chairman Bryant’s final remarks in his June 3rd Address to the UN Security Council in which he failed to convince the Council members to lift sanctions on timber and diamonds, one can readily rationalize that the failure to convince is due to the fact that the arguments advanced are bereft of any evidence of the NTGL attempting to comply with an essential precondition by the international community – accountability and transparency in development of sound fiscal policies and adoption of proper and acceptable financial management practices.

Mr. Bryant states: “Finally, let me assure all of you that through your support and assistance, Liberia is breaking through:

A failed state is being transformed in to an emerging democracy; a lawless state is being transformed into a nation that respects human values and is committed to the rule of law; a pariah state is being accepted into the comity of decent nations and; and a conflict prone state is being transformed into a nation at peace with herself; at peace with her neighbors; at peace with the international community. Liberia is counting on you for your continuous understanding and support.”

Four laudable points of progress, but conspicuously missing is what I believe is the key factor that contributed to the suffering of our people and the death and destruction of valuable lives and properties, and that is doing business as usual through shameless corruption and graft, abuse and misuse of public offices and resources. Going by what is reported to have been personally ordered by Bryant himself on taking away the award of the contract of the purchase of buses from the legitimate winner of the bid and giving same to the notorious Lebanese merchant who was one of the kin pins supporting the criminal activities of indicted former President Taylor and who did not even participate in the bid, one wonders whether we are not doing business more than usual.

Let us briefly examine the track record of the NTGL with respect to this vital issue of accountability and transparency since its induction into office in October 2003. Firstly, the body assigned the responsibility by the Accra Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA) to do monitoring and provide oversight in ensuring accountability and transparency in public financial and budgetary commitments, the Contract and Monopolies Commission (CMC), along with other autonomous and independent Commissions did not get started as other structures and bodies of Government were hurriedly put to work until late January 2004, nearly four (4) months after the seating of the NTGL. Notwithstanding the mandate and responsibilities prescribed by the CPA for the CMC, viz:

· Ensuring that all public financial and budgetary commitments entered into by the NTGL are transparent, non-monopolistic and in accordance with the laws of Liberia and internationally accepted norms of commercial practice;
· Ensuring that public officers will not use their positions to benefit from and contract financed from public funds;
· Publishing all tenders in the media and on its own website to ensure maximum competition and transparency. The Commission shall also publish on its own website the result of tenders as well as a record of all commercial entities that have participated and succeeded in reviewing contracts;
· Ensuring the formulation of effective implementation of sound macro-economic policies that will support sustainable development goals; and
· Collaborate with the international institutions to provide finance to Liberia in carrying out its functions;

several agencies of Government have initiated or already entered into contracts, concessions, grants, treaties, etc. with the direct/indirect and open involvement and/or approval of the Chairman of the NTGL with no reference whatsoever to the CMC. Some of the initiatives being undertaken or contracts already entered into unilaterally by officers of Government agencies without any reference to the CMC include: the review of concession agreements in the forestry sector in which 24 out of 30 companies have been granted clearances “and will be re-certificated to recommence operations following their settlement of financial obligations to the Authority (FDA) and to the government”; oil exploration agreements and requests for bids for Liberia’s Offshore Oil Exploration Licensing by the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL); the prohibitive guidelines for the importation of petroleum products promulgated by the management and Board of Directors of LPRC and approved by Chairman Bryant, which virtually leaves the monopoly intact contrary to Bryant’s pledge of liberalization of the market; contract to purchase buses to ease the acute transportation problem which has now been undermined and compromised by the architect of “no business as usual”; and there might be more that I am not aware of. These are clear violations of the provisions of the CPA and deliberate acts of bad faith in implementing stipulations of the Accord with specific respect to accountability and transparency.

It is not surprising to see business going more than usual to the increasing detriment of the Liberian people, for when one examines closely the Results-Focused Transition Framework (RFTF) of the NTGL, developed on the basis of the Joint Needs Assessment done by the NTGL in collaboration with the United Nations and the World Bank/IMF, it is easily discernable that no serious commitment was intended to be demonstrated on policies and practices of accountability and transparency during this period of reconstruction. The RFTF, which is referred to in some circles as the gospel book of the NTGL is at worst silent on the issue of accountability and transparency and at best negligibly mentions the CMC in the 9th Cluster & Sector of Economic Policy and Development Strategy under sub-section 9.6 “Forestry, Extractive Industries and Management of Natural Resources” with Results June 2004, as far as the CMC is concerned, to be merely “Preparatory work initiated for the CPA-prescribed Contracts and Monopolies Commission”. It is as if the inclusion of the CMC was an after-thought, as out of the nine (9) clusters & sectors of priority and out of the six (6) sub-sections of the 9th cluster & sector, the CMC is infinitesimally mentioned in the last sub-section of the last cluster & sector.

I am at a loss on why the international community gave credence to the RFTF with the blatantly conspicuous absence of anything substantively concrete on policies and practices of accountability and transparency. Rather than incessantly merely making precondition of accountability and transparency as the basis for regularization of Liberia’s financial and economic relations with the international community, the stick must be used more than the carrot in interaction with the NTGL leadership. At least they could have insisted on inclusion of specific program policies and practices in the framework as was done for other major sectors. However, it is better late than never because the international community still has the leverage to insist that the NTGL demonstrate good faith in commitment to genuine accountability and transparency by lending duty-bound and obligatory support to the autonomous and independent bodies established by our laws and by the CPA.

For while Mr. Bryant relishes in the perfunctory issuance of Executive Order Number Two (2) as the best evidence that the NTGL is taking measures to ensure that resources are being utilized for the benefit of the people, the UN Panel of Experts observed that: in direct violation of Executive Order No. 2, revenue to the Forestry Development Authority has not been deposited at the Central Bank of Liberia.”

According to the Analyst Newspaper, the Panel further observed that: “a December 22, 2003 Carlton Resources Inc. 15,000 cubic meter abandoned log processing contract that was supposed to yield US$480,000 in revenue to Government netted only US$1,500 by May 2004. Carlton Resources and its sub-contractor, Center Timber Company claimed the processing was less efficient and therefore less profitable forcing FDA to suspend the contract. But it goes on “Surprisingly, even the US$1,500 was never deposited at the CBL as Executive Order No.2 said it would; instead, it was deposited at the Ecobank on argument by FDA management that ‘the Central Bank of Liberia did not have an account dedicated to forestry revenue’”. Yet Chairman Bryant authorized the disbursement of USD350,000 to the FDA over a month ago, but not yet a dime to the CMC and some other Commissions.

Disappointingly, no other than one international actor in the person of the UN Secretary-General Special Representative and Coordinator of UN Operations in Liberia, Jacques Paul Klien, a man held in high repute by many Liberians, would condescend to level of complicity in the cunning scheme intended to deceive the international community in lifting the sanctions on timber and diamonds. Why has lifting the sanctions on timber and diamonds become a priority policy of this transitional government when the CPA is very clear and succinct on the mandate of NTGL as follows:

1. “The primary responsibility of the NTGL shall be to ensure the scrupulous implementation of this Peace Agreement.

2. In addition to normal State functions, its mandate shall include the following
a. Implementation of the provisions of the Ceasefire Agreement;
b. Overseeing and coordinating implementation of the political and rehabilitation programs enunciated in this Peace Agreement;
c. Promotion of reconciliation to ensure the restoration of peace and stability to the country and its people;
d. Contribution to the preparation and conduct of internationally supervised elections in October 2005, for the inauguration of an elected Government for Liberia in January 2006.”

For the carrying out of this mandate, the international community has pledged the USD520 Million with the proviso to make good on their pledges if and when this government demonstrates concretely compliance to accountability and transparency in the management and expenditure of public resources. Nowhere in the RFTF are the proceeds from the sale of timber and diamonds mention as sources of income for the Reconstruction Program in this transitional period. So it beats the imagination on why all this rush and energies are being expended by Bryant et all on lifting sanctions on timber and diamonds. It is very obvious that all this Government needs to do is to demonstrate good faith in compliance with the conditions set by the international donors – accountability and transparency in the management and expenditure of the scarce revenues we get from the areas we have access to thus far – and the donor contributions will begin flowing. Mr. Bryant must engender strategic thinking sessions with his cabinet, notwithstanding their factional derivations; after all Bryant knew fully well the nature of the composition of the cabinet he aspired to preside over in implementing the prescribed mandate of the CPA. From my information, no more than 3 or 4 cabinet meetings have been held since this Government came to power; so, one may wonder, in which forum are policies being formulated? Or is it that no policy issues are being considered in any coherent or consistent manner?

As a reminder to political parties and civil society organizations, reflection must be made on the consequences of cowardly silence in the face of alarming insipid corruption and insatiable greed in the management and expenditure of public resources. In addition to putting pressure on the NTLA to hold itself and the Executive Branch accountable in implementing all provisions of the CPA, mounting campaigns must be launched to ensure that our resources are expended on productive endeavors rather than on some of the unscrupulous and frivolous activities and undertakings of this government so far.

Expressing frustrations with the impressions he gathered about the attitude of senior NTGL officials with respect to the operations of the CMC, a key actor of a major donor partner had these comments to write:

“Under the current circumstances, and without the necessary strong commitment of the NTGL leadership, the ball is in the court of the international donors; without external pressures, CMC will function as a simple halftime drafting commission, preparing sound amendments and laws aimed at replacing the identified and inappropriate ones, and waiting for the elected government to approve or reject;

But, the EC could also exercise firm pressures and require a quick CMC implementation, as a formal pre-condition, before any new financial supports are considered. This policy could be considerably re-enforced if other donors would align themselves with the EU. After all, why should international taxpayers’ contributions be made available to people practicing deliberately bad governance and misuse of public money?”

This government must not be allowed to flaunt any aspect of the CPA; it is the duty of every and all Liberians to hold the NTGL leadership accountable and responsible to implement every tenet of the Agreement as all the warring factions, civil society organizations and political parties (including Bryant’s LAP) are signatories to the document and therefore under unconditional obligation to unwaveringly respect all elements contained therein, for I will not continue to serve on a Commission that will be a “simple halftime drafting commission, preparing sound amendments and laws aimed at replacing the identified and inappropriate ones, and waiting for the elected government to approve or reject”.