Now that Saleeby is Gone, Who’s Next?

By Paul O. Smith

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

May 13, 2004

At long last, Elie Saleeby, the Lebanese-Liberian who has been at the center-stage of corruption allegations at the Central Bank of Liberia, has caved in to pressure and resigned the post of Executive Governor of the nation’s monetary agency. On the face of it, this seems to be a positive development because whether or not the allegations against him are solid or spurious, the mere allegations had put a dent in his character, thereby undermining his ability to earn the respect and support of the international community, especially such institutions as the IMF, the World Bank, and the EU, whose respect and support are very critical to the effective operation of the Central Bank of Liberia. His resignation also should serve as a glorious opportunity to pump fresh blood into the withering veins of the Central Bank of Liberia. It also serves as an opportunity to launch a full-scale independent audit of his activities since he will no longer be around to “doctor” the Central Bank books in a bid to hide his skeletons. If indeed he had some skeletons, his resignation has created the stage for them to come into the full glare of the public.

But now that Elie Saleeby no longer controls the key to the nation’s purse, the question that naturally comes to mind is, in whose hands will the key be entrusted? Are we essentially going to make the age-old mistake of replacing a one-star thief with a five-star robber? Are we going to surrender to the wishes of the factions- LURD and MODEL- by entrusting that vital key to the nation’s purse to one of their representatives as they have been vehemently demanding lately? Or are we going to allow Charles Gyude Bryant to exercise his whims and caprices in appointing anybody of his choosing? What mechanisms can be put into motion to ensure the appointment of a credible and independent personality to that vital post?

These are my thoughts. First, the suggestion of a rebel-appointee to the position of Executive Governor should be thrown in the trash can, for to allow a faction to get the post is to allow for the transformation of the CBL into a mini-base of such faction. We know how the National Port Authority, headed by the LURD-appointed Cheyee Doe, and countless other agencies allotted to the factions have now been flooded with scores of unqualified dummies and loyalists. We also know how shameless these factions can be in appointing quacks to any position they are allotted – the appointment of a nurse from a mental home in America to the position of Foreign Minister of Liberia is a case in point. While Saleeby might have had his failings, he endeavored to transform the CBL into an oasis of professionalism in the Liberian society. His recruitment of honor-roll students from the University of Liberia, Cuttington, and other universities and his institution of a foreign scholarship program under which eight meritorious staff of the Bank are presently undergoing studies at reputable American universities are positive developments that will be quickly undone by the factions if they prevail.

How about allowing Bryant to have his will in appointing anybody of his choosing? While this option seems to be better than the first, it is fraught with serious dangers. Through his appointments of individuals to government posts thus far, Mr. Bryant has exposed how deeply partisan he can be. He has surrounded himself with a cabal of LAP partisans and sympathizers and is intent on making the LAP-anointed presidential-hopeful, Varney Sherman, the next President of Liberia. He seems to be predisposed to doing whatever is possible to ensure the continuation of the LAP dynasty. Bryant, being a loyal and crafty partisan, has overwhelming incentives to appoint someone as Governor who will then be used to channel funds to the campaign of LAP, thereby putting the other parties at a competitive disadvantage.

So, how should the next EG be appointed? My suggestion is that the international community should be allowed to play a significant role in the process. Governorship of the Central Bank of Liberia is critical not only to the rejuvenation of the Liberian economy but also to the hosting of free-fair presidential and general elections. I suggest that the position of the Executive Governor be advertised and qualified Liberian professionals at home and abroad be allowed to apply. The list of applicants should be made available to the media both at home and abroad and Liberians should be encouraged to make comments about the moral, financial, and professional probity of the applicants.

A vetting committing comprising major international stakeholders can then sift through all the information and derive a shortlist of three professionals to be submitted to Mr. Bryant who will then nominate one of them to the National Transitional Assembly for confirmation. Although this process does not completely rule out the possibility of Bryant appointing someone who will do his bidding at the CBL, it significantly reduces such possibility. Besides playing a role in the appointment of the next Executive Governor, the IMF and the World Bank should be asked to second advisors and experts to the Central Bank to assist the new Governor in the revitalization of the Bank and to serve as watchdogs on the his activities.

These are my thoughts, I hope they will land on sympathetic ears.