Bullet proof Cars: Chairman Bryant and the Politics of Insecurity


By John S. Morlu, II


The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
February 9, 2005

Chairman Bryant used the Liberian people’s money to purchase for himself two nice looking armored, bulletproof jeeps for a whopping US$366,000. Moses Gray of The Perspective reported that the Chairman relied on the historically discredited and bogus personal security threat argument to justify the armored vehicles; the Chairman is convinced that someone is chasing him in a dark room to kill him. Chairman Bryant also says that he is tired of looking over his shoulder. Surprise! Surprise! And more surprises! But wait a minute! The U.N. Expert Panel on Liberia reported that the Chairman is spending 15 percent of the budget on security even though UNMIL is responsible for providing security, while the people are living in darkness, are unemployed in record numbers, and are barely meeting basic necessities. Food and shelter are considered a luxury that only a few can afford.

What the heck? Charles Taylor did it. Samuel Doe did it. Tolbert did it. Tubman also did it. Why not Chairman Bryant? He is the head of government too. Undoubtedly, the Liberian leadership is very good at repeating past mistakes. Why should he, Chairman Bryant, break that trend? After all, each administration is just a reshuffling of the deck, with all the same crewmembers remaining on board the “Corruption and Incompetence Ship” going to hell. The only problem is that this ship has taken too long (157 years) to reach its destination where the crewmembers will disembark to meet Satan in hell. God’s willing, these people will reach hell on October 24, 2005. The Liberian people will replace them with a new set of reform minded individuals. I am optimistic of that.

So, it will be an abortive effort to debate the economy for such an investment in bulletproof vehicles. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and others are doing a pretty good job at the economic debate. It will also be futile to argue against Bryant and his associates’ obsession with expensive vehicles, and other luxury items. But I have a few questions that have been lingering in my mind since I learned that Bryant purchased bulletproof vehicles. Now let me focus on my observations.

First, I am just wondering who is going after our poor Chairman Bryant for him to go out of his way to purchase armored jeeps. Is it the Liberian people? We know that Chairman Bryant has deprived them of the opportunity to benefit from their country’s limited resources. Bryant’s actions have also further undermined public trust, and pushed the Liberian people further into poverty and despair. Does he think that these reasons will propel Liberians to go after him?

Or is it someone that Chairman Bryant has had problem with in the past? We know that he was promoted as a successful businessman at the Accra conference. The U.N. and United States have complained bitterly about the level of corruption in Bryant’s government. We know that they are not stealing chairs and uniforms, but money. It is alleged that Charles Taylor allowed Chairman Bryant to be the only supplier of parts to the National Port Authority, and that Chairman Bryant was a close business associate with some unscrupulous Lebanese merchants. No one could be a successful businessman in Liberia under Charles Taylor’s leadership without Taylor himself being a partner to the venture in some way. Lone Star is one example. We know that Taylor is in need of money badly in Nigeria. Could Taylor want a payback from Chairman Bryant that the Chairman cannot deliver in light of UNMIL scrutiny? Or does Chairman Bryant owe money to his Lebanese merchants? We know people will kill you for money. I am just wondering who is chasing after our poor Chairman Bryant.

Who is really after Chairman Bryant? Is it Chairman Bryant’s nemesis Speaker George Dweh? Who is it then? We know Chairman Bryant and Speaker Dweh don’t get along, and they have been at each other’s throats. Or is the Chairman running from Charles Bennie because he fired him for misbehavior. We know that Charles Bennie, Liberia’s former Revenue Chief, exposed the revenue leakage at the port in which Bryant’s administration was collecting $7 million a month and not reporting it. Is former Central Bank Governor Elias Saleeby trying to kill Chairman Bryant because he was let go and Chairman Bryant has not paid him back rent for his home? We know that Chairman Bryant was using Saleeby’s home as his private residence before he reportedly spent about $500,000 to repair his sister Camina Tolbert’s home. Well, the Chairman and his friend Harry Greaves denied spending that kind of money on Camina’s home. There was no disagreement on the fact that Bryant spent some money to repair Camina’s house, but Bryant and the public only disagreed on the amount. I am going to leave this one alone!

The Liberian people whose money Is being used to purchase these bulletproof vehicles want to know if it is the people in Grand Bassa County who are trying to get even with Chairman Bryant, because he sold the iron ore stockpile in Bassa and did not share the proceeds with them? Or does he have any part to play with the illegal move LAC made to remove the people from their land for which he is afraid? Or are the poor people of Grand Bassa County getting angry with the Chairman for appointing a Superintendent that some of them did not want? Or are any of the presidential candidates trying to kill Chairman Bryant because of his alleged indirect support of Varney Sherman? Who in LURD, MODEL or Taylor’s camp wants to kill Chairman Bryant? Some members in each of the warring factions feel they are under attack from Chairman Bryant since the end of the warring factions in October 2004; basically, they feel that their government jobs are at risk now. They think Bryant has a game plan to fire them one by one. I am not accusing anyone; I am just stating what is happening. I know that personal anger can sometimes lead people to act irrationally. And I am only a concerned Liberian wondering who that person is that wants to do harm to our poor beloved Chairman Bryant.

Or is it that the Chairman has gotten the paranoid flu? He could very well be afraid of his wife, Rosie-Lee Bryant? On January 25, The Analyst reported that lawmakers Mohammed Sheriff and Ruth Caesar boycotted Bryant’s annual address to the nation at the capitol because they claimed Bryant did not invite his estranged wife to attend. Instead Charles Taylor’s wife Jewel Howard Taylor was invited. What is going in Monrovia, my people? Anyway, it is none of my business what is going on in the Bryant household. But I was a little bothered when Assemblyman Sheriff asserted that he has information that someone is trying to harm Rosie-Lee Bryant.

Listen to what Assemblyman Sheriff told the Analyst, “And also, we have sensitive reports, as First Branch of Government, that even attempts are being made (I can say that on record) to even kidnap her and endanger her life. Yes, we have those sensitive reports that there is an attempt to eliminate her to quiet her forever and once and for all. And we want to bring this to the attention of the world.”

Fellow Liberians, we better buy another bulletproof jeep for the Chairman’s wife too. She is being threatened like the Chairman is. This is not my word. I am not privy to that kind of national security information. It has come from Assemblyman Mohammed Sheriff. But I would not be surprised to find out if Chairman Bryant used the money to purchase these bullet jeeps because he thinks his wife has got something in the purse for him. What role is Assemblyman Sheriff playing? Is he playing the role of Mr. James Bond? Or is Assembly Sheriff attempting to convince Chairman Bryant to purchase an armored vehicle for Rosie-Lee Bryant? I am just wondering! Take it for what it is worth.

Second, I am also a little confused about the security arrangement between UNMIL and the Chairman. We all know that UNMIL is providing all the necessary protection. Is the purchase of the bulletproof vehicles an indication of a larger problem between UNMIL security coverage and Chairman Bryant? Does the Chairman trust UNMIL? Or is UNMIL so fed up with the financial shenanigans in the Chairman’s government that it does not want to be associated with the Chairman anymore? Is Chairman Bryant’s purchase of these vehicles suggesting to the United Nations, the world community and the Liberian people that UNMIL has failed in its mission to provide security for all of Liberia, including the Chairman? Purchasing lots of vehicles for congressional members is one thing, but purchasing bulletproof vehicles is sending the message that the country is not safe. In finance, we call this a signaling effect. We can also conclude from the bulletproof vehicles that Bryant knows that no Liberian is safe in Liberia, but he and only he wants to be safe.

By the way, does anyone know why the Chairman decided to buy two bulletproof jeeps instead of one? Who is going to be riding in the other one. His wife? A girlfriend? I know that some government officials have no qualms about giving government issued generators to their girlfriends. The Police Chief in Monrovia did just that recently. Please read Siahyonkron Nyanseor’s commentary on this page, “Everyday for Rogue (Thief), One Day for Master”.

How about a bulletproof car for a girlfriend or wife? Go figure! I am just wondering. That’s all. But whatever the reasons for the two vehicles, Bryant has tacitly admitted that he is isolated from the people, and UNMIL has failed to live up to its promise to provide adequate security in Liberia for all Liberians. I am sure this will make some professional Liberians and business people stay away from the country. UNMIL and Chairman Bryant should be working to rebuild public confidence in the security situation in the country, and these bulletproof vehicles have not helped. You decide!

Can you believe this? Bryant claimed that the international security apparatus including UNMIL informed him that he was in danger. Why didn’t UNMIL arrest those people who are trying to kill poor Chairman Bryant? Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf would have asked UNMIL to arrest these assassins. I am sure most reasonable leaders would have as well. Did UNMIL advise the Chairman to use our limited resources to purchase those armored jeeps? Where is Jacques Klein? What does Jacques Klein say? What does Ambassador Blaney say? Is Chairman Bryant also going to bulletproof the windows at the Executive Mansion, his home, and every other building he will enter from now to Election Day? Is Chairman Bryant going to bulletproof the Capitol building, government ministries and the Episcopal churches he attends? I am an Episcopalian, and bulletproofing St. Stephens would be a good use of the Liberian people money. I am sure most reasonable people would disagree with me on this one.

Third, I am also wondering what role did Bryant’s security team play in the purchase of the armored vehicles? It would be nice to know what common interest was the driving force behind the decision. Chairman Bryant says that the only reason was the security threat on his life. Really? Let’s ponder a few things. We know that the United Nations Expert Panel seemed to have identified and attempted to close many of the revenue leakages that have careened through the back door…NPA, LPRC, FDA and spending outside of budgetary parameters are just a few examples that the U.N. Panel identified. While Charles Bennie was fired for misbehavior as Chief Revenue Agent, we are glad he informed us about the US$7 million that was not being reported by the Chairman and his associates from the NPA. The United Nations seemed to be closing every loophole through which government funds have careened into private hands. But as we know people are capable of opening new doors as one is shut in their faces. A man has to chop to support his expensive living abroad. A government salary alone won’t cut it. We know that. Ask Sam Wulu, Mr. Minister of Commerce! Ask Willie Belle, Chairman Bryant’s Advisor and the Board member of the Central Bank of Liberia! Or ask Harry Greaves, Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors and Economic Advisor to the Chairman! And before I forget, ask the security advisors?

So, could the purchase of the armored vehicles be just another moneymaking avenue for the security chiefs around Bryant? Yes, follow the 10 percent rule. I scratch your back, and you scratch my back. I give you a contract to purchase vehicles at inflated prices and you give me 10 percent in kickbacks. Wilfred Clarke is the Chief of Security for Bryant. Wilfred Clarke was Chief of Security for Tolbert. Wilfred Clarke knows that the national security threat argument works all the time. Is it possible that Clarke has convinced Chairman Bryant that he needs the vehicles for security reason or he needs his cut too?

I am just wondering if Clarke and his security team did not see the dollar sign on the bulletproof vehicles, and recommended to Bryant to allow them to remove the dollar sign. We know how much pain it is to look at the “almighty U.S. dollar,” and to be unable to reach it. And there is no easier way to get hold of the dollar than through the bogus security threat argument. After all, practically every president in the world has a bulletproof car. President George Bush even has one. So does Toni Blair. The only problem is that Bush and Blair can afford it, but we cannot without much suffering to our people. I am certain Security Chief Wilfred Clarke, who was driven out of his job by Samuel Doe and replaced with his Deputy Nelson, does not care about doing some cost benefit analysis. I am just wondering. I hope you understand.

Fourth, I am also wondering whether Chairman Bryant understands that bulletproof vehicles are not a panacea for his security problems. Samuel Doe purchased a bulletproof car after he was shot at in the Pajero Jeep in 1986 by Flamazaton through the use of a .50-caliber machine gun on the Executive Mansion grounds; Flamazaton was a Colonel in the Executive Mansion Guard. It is argued that Doe had himself shot at just to make the case for a bulletproof car. Who knows? And who cares? Doe was going to buy it whether we like it or not. Tolbert had a bulletproof car as well. Sadly, both Tolbert and Doe were killed outside of their bulletproof cars. Tolbert was killed in the Executive Mansion. Samuel Doe was killed at the Port. U.S. former President John F. Kennedy was killed in Texas ridding an expensive open top bulletproof car. U.S. President Abraham Lincoln was shot and killed not in a car. U.S. President Ronald Reagan was shot outside of a car. I don’t how many presidents or head of states have been killed in a car. I leave it up to you to figure it.

Any way, the moral of the story is that the armored vehicles did not do Samuel Doe or Willie Tolbert any good. Bryant should understand that being connected to your people, and taking care of them can save you from lot of troubles. Bulletproof cars are just short-term solutions. Again, Samuel Doe and Tolbert are good examples. Bryant does not have to go far back to know that you cannot mess with a whole country and just get away. Taylor, Doe and Tolbert are good examples again. Taylor is lucky to be alive for now. In due to time, Taylor will face justice from the people. Taylor cannot live hiding in Calabar, Nigeria forever.

Fifth, I am also wondering what Chairman Bryant would do after he leaves office on January 21, 2006. Is he planning to take with him the bulletproof jeeps? As far as I know, they belong to the government. The next President knows the government will be even more cash strapped by the time Bryant leaves office, and will not want to use limited funds to purchase other bulletproof cars. So, he or she is likely to demand that Bryant does not take the government car with him.

For far too long government officials have not made a distinction between personal properties and government properties. When they are fired or the government for which these officials’ work is overthrown, they take with them government properties. This has forced each new administration to make new investment in the purchase of vehicles and computers. It has to change next year after the election. Therefore, Bryant has approximately 11 months to enjoy the armored vehicles. He’s not going to take them with him!

It has not been a practice of our government to provide continued security coverage for our past heads of government. Moses Blah, Amos Sawyer, David Kpormakpor, Ruth Perry, Bennie Warner, and the late Harry Moniba did not receive any security protection when they left office. Ruth Perry bitterly complained several months ago about this lack of concern for past leaders. Rightfully so! In the United States, former presidents are given lifetime security protection. This is something the next government should fight for in the legislature. For now, Bryant has no guarantee or rights under the laws for continued protection. In the interest of fairness, we have not done it for any of the past leaders I have mentioned. We are not going to do it for Bryant, especially since he has not done anything substantial to merit such a generous reward. He is on his own post inauguration in January 2006. You can call me callous and insensitive. We will take back our bulletproof cars to be used by the next President. Bryant needs to know right now!

Chairman Bryant is not afraid of UNMIL’s Jacques Klein. He is not afraid of U.S. Ambassador John Blaney. So who wants to kill our Chairman? Chairman Bryant took his eyes off the ball, and has pursued his personal agenda. He is not afraid of the Liberian people, and the purchasing of bulletproof cars is an admission of categorical failure to lead with compassion for the people. He met the people in darkness. He met the people without safe drinking water. He met the people unemployed in astronomical numbers. He met them in a state of perpetual hopelessness. He met the people with mass illiteracy and abject poverty. Sadly, Bryant knows that he has done nothing to improve the lives of the people. That’s a sad fact. Chairman Bryant is living in denial when he claimed in his inaugural speech that his administration has done lot of great things for the country. No amount of money, or number of bulletproof cars can save him from fundamental justice. He will be out of office on January 21, 2006. He will join the Liberian people without the protection of government owned bulletproof cars. And hopefully, he will get his comeuppance. That’s my opinion - unsolicited, unadulterated, unafraid, free, fair, and balanced.

About the Author: Mr. John S. Morlu, II is the founder of the Liberian Institute for Public Integrity. He holds an MBA in Finance from Johns Hopkins University, MA in International Commerce and Policy from George Mason University, and BA in Economics and Foreign Affairs from the University of Virginia. Also, he is a Certified Management Accountant (CMA), Certified Internal Auditor (CIA), Certified Financial Manager (CFM), and Certified Masters in Business Administration (CMBA), Certified Government Auditing Professional (CGAP), and Level II Candidate in the CFA Program. He can be reached at: jmorlue@yahoo.com