By J. Yanqui Zaza
October 6, 2010
However, even before the Newsweek’s ink was dry, her government signed the mother of all sweet heart deals in exchange for kickbacks giving Chevron 70% ownership of the rights to explore and drill oil in Liberia. In similar oil deals in other African countries, Chevron received 39% from Nigeria; 40% from Angola; and 50% from the Democratic Republic of Congo. www.chevron.com.
Chevron’s sweet heart deal, largely, explains why Liberia received a mere $35 million in remittance from our natural resources in 2009. (www.LEITI.org) Interestingly, instead of our government developing the intellectual clarity and political will to accrue a reasonable remittance from our lucrative resources, President Sirleaf participated in the Unemployment conference held in Europe and Poverty conference held in the U.S. Is President Sirleaf unable to link the minimal payment of royalty fees, due largely to bribery, as the root cause of Unemployment, Poverty, etc? (Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei).
President Sirleaf is aware or should be aware that Liberia’s low literacy rate of 48%, a disincentive for good-paying jobs, might not catch up with President Robert Mugabe country, Zimbabwe’s 92% literacy rate if Liberia’s share of dividends continues to be minimal. Neither, will Liberia catch up with Botswana’s economic prosperity if our lucrative resources are bequeathed to de facto owners in exchange for Estrada Bernard, Clavandar Bright-Parker, Richard Tolbert, few Liberian lawmakers etc to become shareholders of those lucrative resources.
Why? The math explains the reason. Botswana’s share of the diamond profits alone financed 50% of its $2.6 billion dollar budget in 2009, while Liberia’s share of the earnings of its natural resources financed only 10% of its $347 million dollar budget in 2009.
What is bribery? "It is a business transaction defined by Black's Law Dictionary as the gift bestowed to influence the receiver’s conduct. It may be any money, good, right in action, property, preferment, privilege, emolument, object of value, advantage, or any promise or undertaking to induce or influence the action, vote, or influence of a person in an official or public capacity. It is a form of political corruption and is generally considered unethical. In most jurisdictions it is illegal, or at least cause for sanctions from one's employer or professional organization."
If President Sirleaf has not figured out that bribery is rampant in Liberia as evidenced by the mansions built by some of her advisers, then she should revisit the speech given by Father Dr. Robert Tikpor, the Keynote speaker of the 2010 July 26 Celebration. Warning the Sirleaf government against the danger in receiving penny revenue from sweet heart deals awarded to profiteers that have invested the so-called $16 billions, Father Tikpor narrated the Liberia's experience in the 70s'. He said that the operations of our resources in the 70s made Liberia the second richest country to Japan, except that Liberia did not build infrastructural, did not invest in education, etc because bribes were received in exchange of sweet heart deals. Another civil war is being bred, if our natural resources are exploited in exchange for bribes, Father Tikpor warned.
Bribery is an old age problem. And it has become a $1 trillion dollar business. www.oecd.com. Yet, it can be reduced. Had the administration developed a vision on how to combat bribery or corruption, and subsequently reduce the bribery virus, our Liberian negotiators, predictably, might not have awarded sweet hearts deals to the de facto owners of our resources.
Instead of instituting policy to reduce bribery, Ma Ellen herself set into motion the bribery syndrome. For instance, she orchestrated and influenced the arrangement for profiteers, through our international partners such as the World Bank, to pay some of her economic advisers at U.S. $10,000.00 to $15,000.00 per month. To co-opt Liberian lawmakers into the bribery scheme, Ma Ellen did not only award our gullible lawmakers with allowances by including them on the countless foreign trips, but she publicly encouraged Mittal Steel Company to donate a vehicle to each lawmaker.
Was it realistic for President Sirleaf to have believed that profiteers, through the World Bank, would give thousands of dollars per month for each adviser and not expect a favor in exchange for the salary allowance? Was Mittal Steel so generous to have given a vehicle to each of our lawmakers without expecting sweet heart deals in return?
Also, Ma Ellen should have recognized the inherent problem of disparity in any economic transaction, be it business ownership or compensation that creates an unfair advantage for one employee over another. The unprivileged employees, in the efforts to augment their meager earnings, would do anything such as accepting bribes. And since bribery is contagious, just like any other attitude, it usually expands and becomes unmanageable.
Obviously, employees who are financially disciplined, honest and committed to professional work ethics do reject bribes. Yet such employees end up being cut in the bribery conundrum because profiteers intimidate, or blackmail. Why? Profiteers as well as experts at the World Bank believe that bribe-giving greases the wheels of business. (firstname.lastname@example.org). In sports as well as in politics, bribery, most times, determines the winner. In business, Liberian investors as well as Wall Street set economic policies. Similarly, employees, managers, consultants or salespeople of business offer a bribe to a potential client in exchange for business.
Ironically, contrary to the myth that high salary or riches deter bribery, profitable businesses give more bribes than businesses that are not profitable, not-for profit entities or government entities according to Organization For Economic Corporation and Development. www.oecd.com. Founded in the 1990s to combat bribery, OECD, a 38 member countries, is conducting 280 ongoing investigations of its members as well as potential new recruits. Its 2009 preliminary report indicated that deep pocketed investors are not the only users of bribery to influence business transactions, but criminals who are involved in arms and human trafficking or the illegal drug trade, do use bribes. (www.oecd.com).
Even on Wall Street, legitimate profitable businesses are involved in bribery according to reports from the 2008 financial meltdown. Rating agencies, for example, do give good ratings to insolvent corporations in exchange for more businesses. In the case of Liberia, billion dollar investors were not the only bribe-givers, Lebanese merchants also use bribery to get things done quicker.
It is true that President Sirleaf and the World Bank do frown on bribery, but not the supply side, bribe-givers. Ma Ellen and profiteers do not frown at bribe-givers because they believe that bribe giving is a necessary evil. So, how on the one hand Ma Ellen and profiteers say bribe giving is a necessary evil, and on the other hand they warn government bureaucrats to reject bribes? Encouraging bribe-givers to give gifts to government bureaucrats is part of the reason why Ma Ellen has lost the war on corruption.
And as long as Liberia award lucrative resources to de facto owners, they (i.e., the de faco owners of our resources) will continue to offer bribes in order to maximize their profits. Alternatively, Liberia will have to employ the economic strategy of Botswana, as the United States Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton stated during her visit to Liberia, and invest in diamond, gold, timber-cutting, etc, which are lucrative businesses; and let profiteers manage ventures such as iron ore or oil drilling that need significant number of technicians and huge capital. However, the recent decision to import crush rocks from Norway rather than allowing the government to invest in such a low-capital venture demonstrates President Sirleaf’s emphasis on the belief that profitable ventures do not bribe.