Why Would The ICGL Want Sanctions Lifted At This Time?

By Gbe Sneh

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

September 27, 2004

Certain issues in this reconstruction process simply will not go away. The appropriate time to seek the lifting of Timber and Diamonds Sanctions is flush in the midst. Just when we thought that we had this issue tabled for the right conditions under which we would concert our efforts to appeal for a relief from the sanctions, we now have the International Contact Group for Liberia (ICGL) that is jumping the gun.

Whose "Pepper Bush" are we itching to cultivate now?
The ICGL made a very good presentation at the UN. It touched on key points such as urging all international donors to come forth with their pledges in order to facilitate the implementation of reconstruction programs for which such funds have been earmarked – Rehabilitation and Reintegration (RR), preparations for conducting free and fair elections in 2005, building capacity for government expansions outwards from Monrovia.

The one key point which the ICGL also noted, as quoted from the Analyst article…"It encouraged the NTGL to accelerate the implementation of internal reforms that will ensure the legitimate use of funds to benefit the people of Liberia.", is the very support for why the ICGL should not be tampering with the lifting of sanctions at this time.
Implied in the quoted statement is the slow pace at which internal reforms are being pursued. The mounting corruption allegations lead one to question whether such reform measures are in the works.

The Transitional Government has a long way to go when in comes to accountability and transparency. On the issue of transparency, for instance, the Kimberley Certification acquisition is a milestone, why is the Government keeping us in the dark regarding such an important achievement. After all, the Chairman told us that progress had been made in its acquisition. Don’t tell us that we don’t have it yet. Then, why should we be asking that sanctions on diamonds be lifted? Furthermore, have we reviewed the licenses of all those companies awarded concessions by all the corrupt governments spanning our entire national existence? Have we evaluated their remittances to the Government in the past, in order to give us any assurance that they will be in full compliance in this regard henceforth? Have we assessed their labor relations as to working conditions and worker benefits?

True, we need the jobs that the timber and diamond industries generate. Is it not equally true that we also need to account for government revenues generated form these same industries? Let us strive "to kill two birds with one stone". Foregoing the necessary steps is cutting corners, is "doing business as usual". Doing business as usual is also allowing the mining and logging companies to continue to "make a kill" amid blatant disregard for accountability and transparency, turning a blind eye to corrupt government agency officials lining their pockets in the process, all while the people are shafted.

Shall we not be true to ourselves that managing these important industries is beyond the scope of the NTGL? At least not at the rate things are moving. The Transitional Government has not convinced the people and the international community that it is ready to take on the huge responsibility of running these industries. NTGL is yet to score good grades at the School of Accountability and Transparency. We just heard the uproar that deafened the nation on the simple sale of a stockpile of iron ore. Until today, the contract terms of that sale are anybody’s guess. What was the value of the sale? For what government programs were the proceeds used?

How can we honestly give this administration added responsibilities if current ones are not yet met? Quite frankly, to lift Timber and Diamonds Sanctions now is to fuel the current state of corruption It certainly would create yet another avenue for the frenzy that is the scrambling for lucrative government positions. Keeping the lid on sanctions is aiding the reconstruction process.

In defense of the NTGL’s abilities to respond to the challenge of managing these sanctioned industries, and in all farness to Chairman Bryant’s sincerity to do well, given the current congressional makeup, some would argue that Mr. Bryant has an outlined vision as to where he wants to take us. The Chairman has demonstrated this in many of his speeches – the inaugural address, the Donors’ Conference, and recently the address at the Leon Sullivan Foundation, to name a few. The one argument unavailable to this position is the satisfaction of precursors to the vision.

As contained in this quote, "…Assuming the National Transitional Legislative Assembly first passes appropriate pending legislation, the Department of State intends to help finance Liberia's implementation of a Kimberley-compliant diamond certification regime."(allafrica.com, DOCUMENT, U.S. Government Supports Recovery and Transparency in Liberia with 'Zero Tolerance' for Corruption, September 21, 2004), this precursor to the lifting of the UN ban on Liberian diamonds, admittedly, is still underway.

Another precursor, this one involving the ban on Liberian timber, is nonexistent. Just read this, "To help Liberia overcome the economic effects of UN sanctions, we have begun working with the Forest Development Authority on a mutually agreed action plan that focuses on FDA transparency, sustainable development, and community participation by December. However, if the FDA does not cooperate, we will have no choice but to push for renewed timber sanctions in December." (allafrica.com, DOCUMENT, U.S. Government Supports Recovery and Transparency in Liberia with 'Zero Tolerance' for Corruption, September 21, 2004).

Every indication points to a Liberia working towards having sanctions removed. The plotted course to achieve this looks good on paper, and there appears to be some sound verbiage in support. Besides, our friends are speaking plainly regarding their commitment to help pull us through. It will require taking bold steps to honor our end of the bargain. The bottleneck enroute to having sanctions lifted evidently is created by ineptitude and corruption. Therefore, Mr. Chairman, just as you have the power to sign for paychecks, it is hard times you start exercising that same power to sign some "pink slips". It is time to act, Mr. Bryant.

The next time the ICGL goes before the UN to ask for sanctions removal, it is advisable that it takes along a "to-do list" of requirements necessary to make such a request, making sure all items are checked. Be a benefactor; do not sway into the realm of detractors to the cause.