Chairman Bryant Missed a Golden Opportunity in Eradicating Corruption

By James B. Freeman
Former Ambassador

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

June 22, 2004


Mr. Editor,

Please allow me to comment on three articles that The Perspective carried on 18 June 2004... The three articles are: "Liberian Diplomatic Passports in Wrong Hands-European Countries Raise Concern; NTGL Orders Probe" [published by The Inquirer in Monrovia and distributed by The Perspective], We Welcome Probe Into Passport Scam [also published by The Inquirer in Monrovia and distributed by The Perspective] and Liberian Officials sell Ambassador's Residence at 52 Whatley Avenue, London SW20 published by The Perspective.

I am very familiar with all of the above problems. First of all let me say that I feel that Chairman Bryant missed a golden opportunity in eradicating corruption in his Government when the passport corruption matter was first revealed. I recall when he was elected Chairman one of the first appointments he made was that of Fred Bass as Advisor of International Affairs. I remember that immediately after that appointment Sekou Kromah wrote an article in The Perspective and alleged that Bass was involved in Passport scandal. His allegations seemed to have credibility when he indicated that a committee was appointed in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to investigate the matter. If I remember him correctly, I think he said that he served on that committee, and the committee established that indeed Bass did engage in Passport corruption. Yet he was confirmed without an investigation as far as I know.

I have nothing against Bass. I have known him since the 1970's when I served at the Liberian Embassy in Washington as Counselor. He has always given me optimum respect, and I like him. However, I feel that he should have been investigated to clear his name before he was confirmed. To wait until European Countries raise concerns before the Government takes action is like waiting for somebody to tell you to clean your house. It reminds me of another article I read in the Perspective in which it was stated that the American Ambassador in Monrovia held a press conference and announced that the Embassy would no longer issue visas to corrupt Government officials to come to the States.

The Europeans have always raised concerns about the issuance of Liberian Diplomatic Passports to unscrupulous Europeans. We received several letters from European Governments on this matter, but we put them under the rug. I suffered embarrassments when I traveled because under our system, Foreigners who were appointed Ambassadors-at-Large, carried the same title as Liberian Ambassadors who returned home and were given that title. Diplomacy is based on quid pro quo. We are now vulnerable. We need the Europeans for our reconstruction .So, they will give us what we want when we give them what they are asking for.

But let me say that the passport scandal goes far beyond that. The American Embassy in Monrovia also expressed alarm when members of the Legislature and their staff, officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Executive Mansion became involved. There were Legislators who were charging five hundred US Dollars to apply for passports for people whom they claimed to be relatives when they were no relatives. Their staff members also got in the act and began to write letters in the names of the Legislators they were working for and charged them equally. Because the Legislators had immunity, their letters were not subject to scrutiny when they applied for their presumed family members. But since requests for visas for Diplomatic passports are given upon a note verbale from the Foreign Ministry, the American Embassy became suspicious of the scheme and brought it to the Ministry's attention. The matter was sent to me to investigate. However, the war aborted the investigations.

Europeans like titles and nobility and Diplomatic passports legitimize such positions. They would therefore pay any thing to buy a Consular or Diplomatic position. It becomes a family inheritance once they are appointed. The father passes it on to his son or daughter or a relative to keep it in the family. We discovered this and capitalized on it. It spread like wild fire. They were very gracious, and we enjoyed their courtesies and gratuities when we visited them.

I did some research and discovered that we had 115 Honorary Consuls, Consuls General and Ambassadors-at-Large. Each person and his wife were given diplomatic passports and in some cases their children and relatives. There was a Lebanese man who lived in Liberia although he was Consul General in Lebanon. He had ten diplomatic passports for himself, his wife, his children, his brother-in-law, etc. There are thousands of Liberian Diplomatic Passports floating around. These people were so powerful and have such lobbyists that they got whatever they wanted and nobody dare challenge them.

Let us talk about ordinary passports as well. I was told that during the war in Liberian there were people who carried suitcases of passports between Sierra Leone, Guinea and the Ivory Coast selling them openly. They made a living out of this. The outside world does not care or may not even know who the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Liberia is not to mention who signs a passport as Acting Foreign Minister. As long as the passport has issuance and expiration dates and a proper visa they are accepted. This practice came to a peak when the war got close to Monrovia. Foreign Minister Johnson had left the country for the United Nations. George Wallace who was Acting was at the Mansion most of the time. The machinery broke down. Anybody who was somebody began to sign passports at exorbitant prices. A gentleman came to my office one day with two Diplomatic Passports and asked me to sign them. He promised to give me four thousand dollars for each passport if I signed them. I told him to go to George Wallace, but he said George Wallace was at the Mansion and he could not wait for him, because he had to leave for the Far East that evening to deliver the passports. Somebody probably ended up signing them.

I learned that since the war passports have been changed two or three times, but the problem still continues. The reason is that those who are committing the crimes are still at large and nothing is done to them. I read that there was a lady who was issuing passports from her home.

Incidentally I have just published my Memoirs which I entitled "My Country Tis of Thee'. I have a chapter devoted to the Passport Scandal, the Scandal on the appointment of Honorary Consuls and
Ambassadors-at-Large, which I describe as the gold mine, and Excessive Executive Power. I also expressed my frustration and disappointment over the sale of diplomatic properties without proper procedure and accountability. Unfortunately I discovered some printing mistakes in the book which the printers have promised to reprint. However, a limited number of the books are in circulation with the mistakes for which I apologize.

I do not think that we should hold the officers at the Embassy responsible for the sale of the Ambassador's residence at 52 Whatley Avenue, London, if at all it is true. They could not have made a decision of that magnitude. The decision must have come from higher sources. Since we are supposed to have a transparent and open Government, why should there be any secrecy about the sale of the property. Let the press do their work. The same thing happened at our Embassy in Paris. In fact in that case the Foreign Ministry was completely kept in the dark, and the Ambassador refused to deal with us and instead dealt with the Mansion directly. I dealt with that case as well.

Sincerely yours,

James B. Freeman
Former Ambassador

About the Author: Ambassador Freeman served in the Department of State/Ministry of Foreign Affairs for a period of thirty-two years. He served as Counselor of the Liberian Embassy in Washington, DC and subsequently as Ambassador to France and the Swiss Confederation concurrently, to Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania. Zambia and the Kingdom of Lesotho concurrently, to Italy and the former Yugoslavia and Guinea and Cape Verde concurrently. His last post was Senior Ambassador-at Large.