I read with bemusement the article captioned, "Graduation spree or State visit?", in the June 1st edition of The Analyst newspaper, asserting that I and a number of other members of the Bryant administration are merrymaking in the United States instead of attending to matters of state.
The first correction to be made is that our current mission is not a state visit. A state visit is a very special type of event, with a specific agenda and protocol. Ours is a business visit, with a number of agenda items, one of which happens to be a briefing to the United Nations Security Council that was given by Chairman Bryant and Special Representative of the Secretary General Jacques Klein on June 3rd.
The second point to be made is that Counselor Varney Sherman is not an employee of the Government of Liberia and is not a member of this delegation. He traveled to the United States on a private visit, financed out of his own resources. Therefore, what he does or doesn't do while in the United States is no business of the government.
On a more general note, I want to dispel this false notion making the rounds that Varney Sherman has been hanging around just waiting for handouts from the government. This is a canard. It's a disgraceful disservice to the man. Varney Sherman, a Harvard trained lawyer, is a corporate attorney who has built a very successful legal practice in this town over the past 15 years. And prior to that he spent 10 years with the Maxwell & Maxwell firm honing his legal skills. With some 8 attorneys on its roster, the Sherman & Sherman law firm is one of the largest in the nation, and anybody who knows anything about anything knows that corporate lawyers are well compensated by their business clients. Varney Sherman is a man of not inconsequential financial means.
For my part, let me say now that I am immensely proud of my daughters and
make no apologies for so being. Yuku, my middle daughter, graduated on the
Dean's list from Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service
two Saturdays ago (Georgetown admits less than 10 percent of those who apply,
and as a National Honor Society student throughout high school, she received
advanced placement). A week later, Madia, my next to youngest daughter,
graduated from St. Margaret's, a top flight Episcopal school for girls
nestled on the banks of the Rappahannock River in southern Virginia, and
is headed to Savannah College of Art and Design in the state of Georgia
to pursue her lifelong passion for fashion design. Emem, my youngest, although
only 10 years old, already exhibits all the signs of following in the illustrious
footsteps of her senior sisters. Yes, I am indeed proud of my girls and
will feast with them for as long as they will permit me.
Now I will deal with the insinuations. I want to make it crystal clear that not one penny of public money was expended on my attending the graduation ceremonies of my daughters. The Government of Liberia gave me per diem for 14 days to cover the cost of my visit to the United States. When I return to Monrovia next week, I shall have been away from Liberia for more than 14 days. I spent a grand total of 3 days attending graduation ceremonies, and those days were on Saturdays and Sundays, at the weekend in other words, when I am free to use my time as I think fit.
I arrived in the United States on Saturday, May 22nd. I was in my first meeting bright and early on Monday morning, May 24th and I have been in meetings since then with the World Bank, IMF, State Department, and the list goes on---all in the cause of the people. Yesterday, we were in a marathon session with the United Nations Security Council pleading the case for lifting sanctions on Liberia's diamond and timber exports. Next week, we have a grueling schedule of meetings with US Congressional leaders, US Treasury, the Pentagon, State Department, Justice Department, National Security Council, USAID, IMF, World Bank, business leaders, etc., etc…
The fact of the matter is that, in today's world, those of us who are technology enabled know that place of work is not a fixed location. It is wherever there is a telephone line and access to the Internet. On mission, I rise at around 4:00 am and, between the telephone, Internet and face-to-face meetings, average some 15 hours of work a day. The Liberian taxpayer is getting its money's worth out of me. Trust me!
Prior to returning to Liberia in 2002 to participate in bringing about political change, I spent 10 years in the newspaper publishing industry in the United States, working for such marquee organizations as the Washington Post. My last posting was as vice president of finance of The Dallas Morning News, then the largest newspaper in the United States in terms of advertising linage (No. 2 wasn't even close) and eighth in terms of circulation, with daily circulation of 500,000 and Sunday circulation of 800,000, and annual revenues in excess of US$500 million.
One thing I have noticed is that the fledgling reporters running around Monrovia masquerading as journalists fail to observe even the most elementary tenet of good journalism: they don't do research, won't check their facts, and are prone to simply regurgitating the assertions of their sources without corroborating the evidence. The Liberian public deserves better from those parading themselves as guardians of the public conscience, pristine watchdogs of the Fourth Estate.