Every Fire Starts with a Spark
By: Joe Bartuah
The recent death, in Monrovia, of Counselor Michael Allison is not only alarming, but also portends danger for all peace-loving Liberians, due to relevant circumstances preceding his suspicious death. Allison had been identified as a whistleblower in an ongoing corruption investigation by the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) involving Mr. Alex Tyler, the Speaker of the House of Representatives and another lawmaker, who was reportedly acting on Tyler’s behest. Evidently, Tyler is one of the increasingly powerful government officials in Liberia nowadays. As Speaker, his socio-political tentacles cut across every spectrum of the Liberian society; at the Capitol, he leads a group comprising 103 men and women who virtually do whatever they wish, including increasing their salaries, even as 99 percent of the people they represent groan in abject poverty.
Moreover, since it was announced several years ago that some petroleum resources had been discovered off the coast of Liberia, the country has been bracing for the “resource curse”, which pathetically plagues the likes of petro-rich Angola, powerful Nigeria and other natural resources-rich countries. Most frequently these days when one surfs the web about Liberia, rather our lawmakers introducing some brilliant pieces of legislation that will transform the lives of their poverty-stricken constituents, it is most often about certain lawmakers, certain leading government officials bickering about this petroleum block or that petro block; obsession about wealth at the expense of national development seems to be menacingly escalating to the detriment of the stability of our nation-state.
It is against this backdrop that Mr. Alex Tyler, Speaker of a struggling third world country, which still heavily relies on external aid to cope with the exigency of life would appropriate $1.2 million—yes, you got it right--$1.2 million solid American dollars to hold consultation before enacting one piece of petrol law. Even though the 2014 budget for New York City (don’t confuse that with New York State) Fire Department was $1.71 billion, I don’t think the Speaker of the City Council of New York would be foolhardy to squander $1.2 million of taxpayers’ money on bogus consultation.
Liberia currently occupies an unenviable 23rd place along with North Korea on the global Failed State listing, on which countries are dismally rated based on the percentage of their violations of human rights and the rule of law; severe poverty and economic decline; performance of the security system and the rise of factionalized elites among others. On that index of global repute, our patrimony has a 95.1 aggregate points of negativity on a maximum of 120. World Bank’s data puts our gross national income (GNI) at $750 based on its 2013 report; comparatively, Guinea’s GNI is recorded at $1,160 and Sierra Leone’s is $1,690. Moreover, Liberia’s infant mortality rate currently stands at 75 per 1,000 live births and we are ranked 175th among 187 nations on the United Nations Development Program’s Human Development Report, based on its 2014 assessment, with 81.9 percent of Liberia’s 4.2 million people being labeled as “multidimensionally poor”, yet Speaker Tyler singularly elects to spend $1.2 million in order ambulate within a 38,000-mile parameter and hold consultations, basically with himself before enacting a petrol law, as if such law would be the panacea for all of Liberia’s endemic problems, which are actually rooted in unbridled corruption.
Not only that our Most Honorable lawmakers had consultations in selected parts of the country, but they also decided to drink from the fountain of knowledge of an expatriate as well as a local expert. I don’t know how the experts came into the picture. Was there an open bidding process in order to select the lowest bid? Speaker Tyler can best answer that question. Multiple media accounts have it that Counselor Allison was one of the local experts; it seems that at Alex Tyler’s Capitol, experts’ input is not an equal opportunity process, because Cllr. Allison was paid far less than the Ghanaian “expert.” You can call that Tyler’s brand of Liberianization, if you can; instead of a Liberian expert being hired so that he/she can sub-contract a foreign expert, it is the other way around in an inverted public policy scenario. Allison was earmarked for $25,000 while Tyler’s Ghanaian expert had a lion’s share of $75,000 attached to his name. Did that include the foreign expert’s hotel bills, his travel allowance and other emoluments? Only Speaker Tyler can best answer such questions.
Poor Allison! He, too, had learned his petroleum law and he was probably a consummate patriot; he had a right, which he passionately tried to defend until his shocking, questionable death a few days ago. It is not clear whether this was a part, or final payment, but instead of preparing a $12,000 check for Allison, Speaker Tyler and his cohorts decided to write a $25,000 check, an excess of $15,000 of Liberian taxpayers’ money. For whom was the excess $15,000 intended? Only Tyler can best answer that question. Now, what I am hearing is that Alex Tyler, who was not a super-rich man before he became Speaker, decided to do for Liberia what Bill Gate, the honestly richest man in the world is yet to do for his country. The incredible tale is that Tyler pre-financed the whole process “with his own money.”
However, when time came for the encashment of the check, something happened; yes, something captivating and memorable happened, which, as fate would have it, had a lasting effect on Counselor Michael Allison’s life until his shocking death. He displayed a penchant for principle; he might not have had any special connections at the Capitol to be considered as a lead expert in this opulent petrol consultation, but he insisted on taking a stance against endemic, pervasive corruption; he opted to expose some shady deeds in contemporary Liberian officialdom, thus leading to strong allegation by the LACC against Tyler. In fact, LACC recommended that the Speaker be prosecuted for corrupt practices.
Unfortunately, this is Liberia, where a privileged few men and women can even be much more powerful than the nation state. In the fantasy of the privileged few, they are the state; they are the law and so, the idea of everyone—including the few super-rich and all-powerful—being under the law is unthinkable. Yes, this is Liberia, where the richest and most powerful few do as they wish with utter impunity. It is therefore not surprising that up to this hour, Mr. Alex Jenekai Tyler is still the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Republic of Liberia, bubbling with enormous power, period!! Who dares question the apparent impropriety of Speaker Tyler? Who has the political, legal muscle to question the all-powerful guy—the Manja—from Bomi?
So far, besides the late Counselor Allison who exposed Tyler and his cohorts, the lone voice on record has been that of Counselor James Verdier, the Executive Director of the LACC, a brilliant young man who actually means well for his country. But does Verdier have the support of the most powerful in the Liberian society? Will Speaker Tyler have his days in court? Are folks at the seemingly timid Justice Ministry prepared to prosecute the Most Worshipful Speaker of the House of Representatives?
Yes, under the principles of our laws, one is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court law with the requisite, competent jurisdiction. In what appears to be characteristic of Liberia’s political idiosyncrasy, Tyler has not humbled himself to resign the Speakership and prove his innocence in a court of law; his extraordinarily powerful socio-economic, political tentacles remain intact as the principled lawyer who dared to expose him is found dead under questionable circumstances! This is horrific!! There is no doubt that Counselor Allison was a potential witness in the corruption allegation against the Speaker. Interestingly, Mr. Tyler remains unperturbed; he’s busy organizing a political party in support of his ambition to become the next president of Liberia in 2017, perhaps to institute a sort of Bomi dynasty at the level of presidency.
As I looked at the dead photo of Cllr. Allison on the Internet and read the terrifying story about his death a few days ago, I was reminded of the Rat Trap parable, which is familiar to many Liberians. As the story goes, on one occasion, Mr. Cat was on a hunting errand in his meek and humble demeanor when he shockingly encountered a trap, ostensibly set for a rat. Cat cautiously avoided the trap, but he reasoned that the trap portended danger for everyone in town. Because he was concerned, because he cared, Mr. Cat scurried to Goat, Sheep and Cow to quickly alert them. “This trap is dangerous for us all”, Mr. Cat cautioned. However, the elite cattle were cynical and dismissive because they are not hunting animals. “What do I have to do with a rat trap?”, some of them were quoted as saying.
As it turned out, the trap caught a venomous black snake, which in turn fatally bit the Town Chief’s daughter, plunging the royal family of the town in a spiral of mourning. Now, based on the dictates of tradition, the Chief planned an elaborate feast in memory of his late daughter and the result was that Goat, Sheep and Cow soon found themselves on death roll. As the elite cattle nervously awaited their fate, Mr. Cat sneakily strolled by and said, “I told you that a rat trap is not for rat alone.” Can I get a witness!! Are any remnants of civil society organizations still in Liberia? Where are the opposition political parties? Can I get a witness? I hear someone says “Silent means consent.” No, I’m not being silent.
I say that the questionable death of Counselor Michael Allison is highly ominous, considering the relevant circumstances preceding his death. This questionable death portends danger for mother Liberia, because I have lived long enough to know that every fire begins with a spark. This is a menace because a citizen’s suspicious death following his involvement in a robust allegation against an all-powerful politician is like the proverbial Rat Trap; in the end, it is usually not for a rat alone. This is not an issue to sweep under the carpet; to do it “the Liberian way.”
I’m not too sure whether the Government has issued a formal statement regarding the questionable death of Counselor Allison, as it is usually done in the case of most civilized societies, but whatever the case might be, the image of our Government and the reputation of nation state are at stake. I’m therefore humbly asking the Government of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf to immediately ask the United States Government for help in investigating this homicide, so that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) can help in unraveling the cause of death of Counselor Allison. This is imperative, due to the circumstances surrounding his death. Whatever the Liberian Government’s response might be to my humble suggestion, let us all rest assured that Allison’s questionable death is a dangerous spark, which could possibly escalate into a real fire, if not effectively contained.
About the Author: Joe Bartuah studied English (BA) and Political Science (BA) at the University of Massachusetts Boston. He also studied Conflict Resolution, Public Policy and International Relations (MSPA.) at the McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies, all in Boston, Massachusetts. He’s electronically accessible at: 857-269-9011, or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.