Chairman C. Gyude Bryant On Corruption And Other Isssues Affecting Liberia

By Lamini Warrity
Media Advisor to Chairman Bryant

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

September 18, 2004

Chairman C. Gyude Bryant
The visit to the United States to attend the 47th United Nations General Assembly:
It's the first such Assembly the National Transitional Government is going to attend. It's an opportunity to brief the international community on Liberia's on-going peace process including disarmament. The international community is to be called on to stay the course on Liberia in terms of our Disarmament, Resettlement, Reintegration programs and our mandate to create the enabling environment for the timely holding of free and fair elections.

Meetings in the U.S. are also meant to remind donors of the need to speed up the transformation of pledges made at the United Nations/USA sponsored Donor Conference early this year into firm commitment and provide the government with the means to provide basic services to the people of Liberia. This includes electricity, safe drinking water, basic health and education.

Another objective of this trip is to ensure that Liberia is not put on the back burner of international crises.

On Corruption
The government has been fighting and will continue to fight corruption in ways possible. This is not something that would happen overnight. There is a culture of corruption in our body politics. The government has asked and continues to ask citizens to come out with evidences of corruption in the government. There is little one can do when faced with mere newspaper allegations that cannot stand the test of truth, and people end up apologizing for their errors.

Like any other country in the world, Liberia is not free of corruption. However it is the degree that raises questions and in the past the very fabric of our nation was jeopardized by corruption. It is an extremely grave social vice that we must continue to speak out against and fight, as a nation. This is the first test of democracy and free speech. Liberians must come up and speak against this cancer that is embedded in our society long before the advent of the NTGL. But in order for this government to effectively fight this social, political and economic disease, it will need the support and advocacy of all Liberians, beyond allegations that cannot be proven. Unsubstantiated statements uttered to willfully tarnish people's character, discourage some competent and sincere Liberians from honestly participating in public service, and deface our country's image to the outside world are not the way to combat corruption.

This government will ensure that public servants and private individuals alike never misuse public resources for selfish purposes.

The transitional government will deal drastically with anyone that will be properly determined to have been involved in acts of corruption.

Liberia has been so badly managed by previous governments that our people now are extremely suspicious about every one and everything. This is the result of generations of bad governance. It is time to open a new chapter in our history book, where corruption is brought under control and this can only be done when citizens start to exercise their basic freedom of speech.

If corruption was as prevalent as rumored, this government, with its meager resources, would have never been able to make salary payment current, as we keep on doing, but also to pay years of salary arrears that we inherited from a government that had all the resources they needed at their disposal, but did nothing.

The Iron Ore deal:
If people have been reading and listening to what the Minister of Mines, Jonathan Mason, has been writing or saying about this Iron Ore business in Buchanan, they will not be shouting all over the place about deals, corruption and kickbacks. Some of those newspapers that have hurriedly come out with basically inaccurate and half-truth stories on the matter have since retracted their allegations after finding out the truth of the matter.

The sale contract of the Iron Ore thing was published recently in the local newspaper--which confirms clearly what the Government has been saying all along in this regard. It is a completely open, legitimate, transparent and accountable transaction entered into with the best of intentions for the benefit of the country as a whole.

This Iron Ore has been there for many many years and was almost going to waste. Facing serious financial constraints, we had no choice but to sell it off and use the proceeds to keep the government operational, pay salaries, and rehabilitate some of our social services that will benefit the people as a whole, including workers of Liberia Mining Company.

The frustration of the people of Buchanan regarding lack of information on the issue is understandable. However, resources of the nation are for the entire nation, not just for one group of people, one county or one town. The Iron Ore was brought from Nimba, and was being taken out of the Port of Buchanan. This does not make it the property of either the people of Nimba or Bassa. It belongs to the whole nation of Liberia and the whole nation should benefit from it, and they certainly will. So please let's us don't unnecessarily politicize such a very clear national issue.

Liberians should never allow themselves to be used or incited by individuals and groups for their own selfish interests. Liberians must focus on the real issues before the nation and look for workable solutions. The time for electoral arguments and competition will soon come, after we have taken the guns from our society and resettled all of our people in time for elections in October 2005.

The transitional government will remain accountable, and will not be allowed to descend into a free for all situation, notwithstanding the condition under which it was founded and its structure.

The Government:
This Government is made up of people from various orientations and political persuasions. It has been put together to end the war and bring everybody on board. Its primary role has been to bring sanity to our nation through peace. So far, notwithstanding some hic-ups, it has held together and there has been no major breakdown in the peace process. All warring factions have overwhelmingly adhered to the process and we are now turning the corned after one year of peace.

There have been cases of incompetence in the government and we must recognize this. Again, this transitional government was put together with three warring parties and 18 political parties. Parties appointed their members to the government. Very few of the appointments were rejected by the transitional legislative assembly but in most instances, appointees, no matter what the past records and competence, were confirmed in their positions. This is clearly a very difficult situation that a government such as ours has to deal with. The capacity to nominate functionaries is vested in the parties.

The positive aspect of this type of governance has been the fact that the three branches of government have been independent and this is an important exercise in democracy. There is a real separation of powers between the legislature, the judiciary and the legislature. This will become an important and positive aspect of democratic governance in the future.

The Purchase of Vehicles:
The transitional government has been accused of spending money to purchase cars. No Government can operate effectively without automobiles. Vehicles in question were purchased based on allotments provided in the budgets of various government ministries and agencies by the General Services Agency (GSA). And we have made it mandatory for all these vehicles to be marked as government property, so that when the NTGL leaves office, they will be passed on to the new government., unlike what happened in the past when those leaving government took away vehicles that were assigned to them.

There have been some arguments over the vehicle issue--whether for the NTLA or for other government officials. In some cases, and again because of the nature of our government, some undue pressures were exerted on the Finance Minister to deliver these vehicles.

The NTLA argued that there was no way they could serve as lawmakers of the land if they did not have vehicles to facilitate their work, and they had their way.

Regarding the other consignment of vehicles that came in recently, the GSA Director went around and had allotments for vehicles in budgets prepared by the various Government ministries and agencies in all transparency. He went ahead to bulk purchase the vehicles in questions and distributed them. The GSA operated basically on the allotments made for such purchases.

PUBLIC BUSES Transportation:
Efforts are being made to speed up the bringing in of the public buses needed to alleviate the transportation of our people from one place to another, especially in the overcrowded city of Monrovia. The delay in doing this on time was partly due to the fact that the first arrangement government entered into with a Liberian businessman fell through. The process is back on course. Another reason is that the buses were not in store; they needed to be manufactured in South Korea, which took time.

All 25 buses are due in the country soon, probably at the end of September.

People talk about lack of transparency and accountability. One cannot but disagree with our critics. The government has been doing well despite the serious constraints we are facing and the big mess we inherited from the past Government.

The government has ordered the auditing exercise to strategic Ministries and agencies across all three branches of Government with the specific instruction that the reports will be made public, especially those relating to foreign travels. External agencies will conduct the audit of the Central Bank, the Maritime Bureau, the Forestry Development Agency, and the Roberts international Airport, among others.

No public expenditure is made without the requisite allotments from the various institutions. The government is working closely with the IMF in this regard. All Government revenues are now consolidated in the Ministry of Finance.

Government's commitment to transparency and accountability is also being reflected in the appointment of Superintendents - over which there has been so much misinformation. Here we had a situation where extensive consultations were held with all relevant County officials and caucuses. At the end of these, those caucuses concerned were invited to send in a short list of three persons. Out of this agreed list, the Chairman had to choose one person and send the relevant nomination to the NTLA for confirmation.

Currently, in pursuit of our transparent profile, a Committee made up of mostly representatives of international institutions, including the ECOWAS, World Bank, IMF, and USAID, has since been set up to interview and recruit the most suitable Liberian for the position of Executive Governor of the Central Bank. We will accept the outcome of this vetting exercise.

A similar transparent system of recruitment was put in place to recruit the most qualified Liberian from anywhere in the world for the position of President of the University of Liberia. In this regard, a Search Committee of eminent Liberians was appointed to recruit a new President of UL. Again, three names were short listed, out of which the Chairman chose one person and sent the name to the UL Board of Trustees who, after a vetting process, unanimously approved the nominee. The new UL President is a highly qualified Liberian who has the capacity to mobilize resources for the reconstruction of the University.

Cost of Living:
Things are not easy with our people. Coming after nearly 14 years of self-destruction, our people deserve some relief. Government took some measures to stabilize the cost of living. We endeavored to bring down the sky rocketing prices of such commodities as Petroleum products and rice.

Unfortunately, as time passed, internationally inspired efforts came into place; factors that are beyond government control. We have however taken some actions in cushioning the recent price increases for our staple food, rice, by waiving customs duty on the product, and also significantly reducing the stabilization price on the commodity.

We have also tried to appeal to importers of building materials to exercise restraint in their mark ups, so that our people will carry out their reconstruction programs.

Provision of Social services:
The destruction done to such social services as Electricity and Water as a result of the senseless destruction of properties in 14 years of war is too huge to expect this transitional government to solve automatically. According to estimates, it would cost over 30 million dollars to rehabilitate these services. Serious efforts in getting some of these services rehabilitated started at some point. We are now working with the European Union and the United States to see how we can make progress in these sectors.

This very important exercise, which forms the cornerstone of the peace process, is near completion. According to the UN Military Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), close to 60,000 young men and women have turned in their weapons. UNMIL has set the end of October 2004 as the cut-off date for the end of disarmament process. Those young men and women who have been disarmed will go through demobilization and rehabilitation.

Other Aspects of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement:
The Accra Peace Accord called for the setting up a number of commissions, among them are the Good Governance Commission and the Commission on Monopolies have been functioning quite well and have come up very recommendations that will be inserted in our governance process following broad based consultation.
The third and important such commission is the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The role of this commission is critical in moving the country forward, and healing the wounds. As the peace process enters its second year and that disarmament comes to a completion, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission will soon kick-off its work. Members of the Commission have already been nominated and will soon go before the Transitional Legislative Assembly for confirmation.

In conclusion:
My message to all Liberians (at home and in the Diaspora) is that we must exercise some patience. Let's not forget where we all were a year ago - when all hope for a free and peaceful Liberia had almost been lost. This government, by its very nature, is not, and cannot be perfect. All we can do is to exert our very best to hold the country together, reconcile and move toward holding free and fair elections on schedule. And God willing, we will achieve this end without any more violence and bloodletting.

One thing we are determined to uphold throughout our administration is to allow people to criticize us and do so constructively - without fear of being harassed, detained, tortured, or killed as happened not too long ago. In doing so, however, we must be careful not to throw out the baby along with the bathwater.

The NTGL is based on a pact between civil society, warring factions, and the international community to bring about peace in our country and hold elections for democratically elected government next year. In return for stopping the war, we gave power to elements of the former factions - who are our brothers and sisters anyway.

Today, thanks to the Almighty, the guns have gone completely silent; the rule of law is now the norm, rather than the exception, and we now have one of the freest press systems anywhere in the world, despite the lack of professional experience among certain section of the media and their penchant for sensationalism and character assassination, and mercenary tendency.

With this new outlook for our country, and with our key external partners still manifesting confidence in our leadership, we as a people must now work together, do away with this Pull Him Down syndrome and focus instead on reconciling our people and bringing lasting peace and stability to our country. That way, we can spare our people further violence and our country any more instability. I will do my sincere best to stay this course, and leave the rest to history to assess.

The Views and claims expressed in here are those of the Liberian Government and not necessarily those of The Perspective