By John H. T. Stewart Jr
According to some Legislators, embattled House Speaker Alex Tyler’s fight to remain as Speaker is right and just because, in their eyes Speaker Tyler is fighting against Presidential excesses and tyranny. By their logic, the Speaker is protecting the gains of democracy acquired through decades of unrelenting struggle against minority rule in Liberia and is therefore justified in his actions.
But according to pundits, such logic sounds hollow because, on closer scrutiny, it appears that Speaker Tyler’s last ditch stand is driven by fear of mafia elements suspected to be involved with the Russian State owned company, GAZPROM, who are alleged to have dished out lavish sums of cash some time ago to some GOL officials including Speaker Tyler but without no returns so far. The money was said to have been given to Tyler, Neyor and others in an attempt by GAZPROM to acquire an oil block during the bidding process some time ago.
And despite assurances allegedly given them by former NOCAL Chief Executive, Christopher Neyor and Speaker Tyler in the main, the deal was never consummated and the oil blocks were said to have been awarded to CHEVRON instead. But both men are said to have benefitted immensely, although illegally, and the onus to deliver on the promises has now rested squarely on the shoulders of embattled House Speaker Alex Tyler who is allegedly being pursued by the Russians.
And there are those who argue, amongst them members of the Legislature standing in support of Speaker Tyler, that the anti-Tyler bloc is proceeding wrongly in attempting to either remove him or have himself recused from presiding over the House while a criminal indictment hangs over his head. And they have threatened to ensure that Tyler hangs on until elections in 2017, irrespective of the fact that he may be facing trial soon.
How such tactics on the part of Tyler and his band of loyalists are going to save his hide from being removed or how is it going to land GAZPROM the sweetheart oil deal for which they allegedly paid huge sums in bribes remain unclear. What remains clear is the fact GAZPROM has not gotten the deal, his hold on the Speakership has been seriously eroded by the turn of events, is weakening by the day and that Speaker Tyler’s bid for the Presidency in 2017 is taking repeated blows from which he may not easily recover. Such may eventually truncate the fulfillment of his ambition to become the next President of Liberia and thus effectively shut the door perhaps forever to GAZPROM.
And perhaps, just the mere thought of the possibility of Russian mafia assassins, notorious for their deadly and ruthless efficiency, coming after him to exact tribute for failing to deliver on promises, well paid for in advance, was sufficiently chilling and frightening enough to have spurred him into declaring that his life was in danger. And rather than from the Russian mafia as would have been expected, the danger posed to his life, he declared, was coming from President Sirleaf who he inferred was the mastermind behind the mysterious killing of Harry Greaves.
What Speaker Tyler however did not disclose according to sources at the Capitol was that he had been deeply involved in failed attempts to secure a sweetheart deal for the state owned Russian oil company, GAZPROM, from which he had allegedly received large amounts of cash and that a payback would certainly be in the cards, more certainly than not, from the Russian mafia in the event of his failure to deliver on promises.
And apparently Speaker Tyler had forgotten that he too was also accused of being the mastermind behind the mysterious death or killing in similar fashion of the NOCAL whistleblower, Michael Allison who had pointed accusing fingers at the Speaker for alleged involvement in unsavory deals concerning the sale of Liberia’s oil blocks. Whether it was Allison’s threatened exposure of Speaker Tyler’s alleged involvement in secret deals behind the intended but unsuccessful sale of the oil blocks to GAZPROM that led to his untimely death may perhaps never be known since Michael Allison has taken those secrets to his grave.
At the time then, Speaker Tyler and former Speaker Snowe were reported to have been on the best of terms and it is alleged that former Speaker Snowe played a key role, on behalf of Speaker Tyler, in funneling cash obtained from illicit deals to members of the House in order to ensure their acquiescence to the signing of several shady deals. And to be sure, there were many of such illicit deals that were struck under the gavel of House Speaker Alex Tyler allegedly with the close involvement of former Speaker Snowe. But by a strange twist of fate, both men are now known to be openly at loggerheads and have been engaged in verbal spats recently.
Apparently something must have gone wrong somewhere down their road of conviviality to have engendered such mutual suspicion and hostility. Tyler it is said, is known as the “Eat All Man”, meaning that he always end up eating the lion’s share of proceeds obtaining from illicit deals. According to transparency watchdog Global Witness, nearly all of the concession agreements save a few numbering not more than five (5) were all illegal and did not meet the tests of transparency and accountability.
In other words, for eleven (11) long years Speaker Tyler has presided over the signing of illegal concession agreements mortgaging the future of generations unborn. So how he can now justifiably claim that he is fighting to protect the gains of democracy when it is apparent to all and sundry his is a fight for gravy and nothing more. Just recently according to media reports, it has been revealed that Speaker Tyler and the head of the Liberia Opportunities Industrialization --- had allegedly been illegally expropriating funds allocated as subsidy to that institution.
And lest we forget that it was under Speaker Tyler’s gavel of authority that thousands of dollars are dished out to members of the House each year under the guise of what is called Legislative Impact Project. It simply means that large amounts of money are being set aside for the use of members of the House to buy favors in their respective constituencies under the cloak of development. And as if this is not enough they are asking for financial autonomy which would give them ultimate power to squander scarce national resources without accountability.
That power of autonomy which they seek is to some extent restricted by the law which requires Presidential warrant for the expenditure of public funds. The fact that members of the National Legislature has so far kept themselves immune from probity and accountability suggests that the exercise of that financial autonomy which they so desperately seek will be subject to no accountability regime such as audits by the General Auditing Commission (GAC). Perhaps the uncertainties associated with the possible loss of perks and privileges due to an imminent change in leadership is the rallying concern of pro-Tyler loyalists.
And concerns about the possible loss of perks and privileges is not farfetched if one considers the fact that the Speaker of the House, rather than being first among equals “primus inter pares” is in fact a virtual dictator dispensing out favors, perks and favorable appointments to those Representatives who support him. Unlike the House of Senate where Committee heads are elected by their colleagues, in the House of Representatives, it is the Speaker who has the sole discretion to appoint or dismiss Committee heads based on no defined criteria.
And it is Speaker Tyler who perhaps stands the most to lose. For example for the past eleven (11) years, the budget allocated to the running of the Office of Speaker has reportedly stood at not less than 3m US dollars annually. Total budgetary allocation to the Office of Speaker over the same period will amount to about 33 million US dollars if we get the math right. So how has Speaker Tyler actually been spending such funds intended for the running of his office? We may never know since the Legislature is immune to GAC audits.
But we know, for example, when Representative Alex Tyler became Speaker, following the ouster of Representative Edwin Snowe as Speaker, he appointed Representative Emmanuel Nuquay as head of the House’s Ways and Means Committee, a very powerful committee indeed. Soon the legislative pair became almost inseparable, like “shirt tail and butt hole” in common speak, managing the finances of the House of Representatives.
And together, according to sources, emboldened by such power, they plotted the formation of a new political party, initially dubbed “Native Peoples Party” to oust the ruling Unity Party from office in the 2017 elections and catapult Alex Tyler to the high office of President. But such relationships based on mutually acceptable greed are not made to last especially when one partner has or displays, in excess of his partner, a very strong sense of inordinate greed and ambition.
Apparently such was the case of the Tyler-Nuquay love affair when the partnership fell apart for unexplained but apparently ostensible reasons. Nuquay was sacked from his post as head of the Committee on Ways and Means by Speaker Tyler and reassigned to another far less powerful Committee and Tyler, in the wake of the demise of their jointly proposed idea of a Native People Party, went on to form his Liberian People Democratic Party (LPDP) in preparation for 2017 much to the chagrin of Nuquay,
The Party was launched with great fanfare in Kakata City, capital of Margibi County, a County where Tyler has a huge investment in real estate sporting a lavish restaurant, bar, and luxurious hotel dubbed Jandy’s Paradise. On the day of the launch, scores of brand new white painted Nissan pickup trucks could be seen driving at top speed through the city of Kakata with horns and sirens blaring. And such a lavish display of pomp and wealth may have angered Representative Nuqua who Tyler had earlier given the boot.
Nuquay, according to sources had then vowed to settle scores with Tyler at the opportune moment which apparently is now. It is not surprising therefore to see him (Representative Emmanuel Nuquay) featuring prominently in the lineup calling for Speaker Alex Tyler to recuse himself or step down as Speaker. But Tyler has stubbornly refused to recuse himself or step down as Speaker. Sources at the Legislature say that Speaker Tyler has been spending big to maintain his support and standing among his colleagues.
And he appears determined to do so even if it means that the affairs of the nation be stalled and ordinary people suffer needlessly. For these so called “Honorables” then, so be it if the people suffer because, in their ill-conceived idea, the gains of democracy must be protected by Speaker Tyler, an individual whose very hands are dripping with the blood of the Liberian people for having shoehorned into legal existence, so many bad and illegal concession agreements that have virtually mortgaged the future of this country.
And sources further say that the dispensing of huge amounts of cash to drum up support to hang on was or is being made possible by his unfettered access to funding allocated to the running of his office. At last review, the amount stood in excess of 3 million United States dollars annually. Now with the most recent decision by his colleagues with the support of the Executive to order the freezing of accounts of the House of Representatives until the dust is settled, it remains to be seen whether Speaker Tyler will be able to sustain this fight without such access to funds provided for the running of his office.
But truth be told, Speaker Tyler needs to realize the futility of his “fight to the death” campaign and step aside forthwith as Speaker because in the finally analysis, he will have to do just that. And let him be informed that his is no just fight to protect the gains of democracy or whatever. His recalcitrance even when it has become clear that he can no longer effectively preside over the House as he has lost the confidence of his colleagues reflects a strong lack of any modicum of honor and self-respect on his part. But the question may be asked, is there any honor among thieves?
In our eyes, the eyes of the Liberian people, Speaker Tyler has come to equity with hands soiled with blood just as all those of his colleagues who may have received bribes to pass laws and approve agreements hostile to the interests of the Liberian nation and people. They should and must be held to account and it does not matter whether it is President Sirleaf or President Lazaquellie leading the charge. And the sooner Speaker Tyler realizes that his gravy train has gotten stuck in a pile of “deep shit” from which there is no way out, the better it will be for us all.
MAY GOD HELP US ALL AND SAVE THE STATE!
About the Author: Mr. John H.T. Stewart, Jr. is a Freelance Journalist and Former Commissioner of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Liberia.