By Rodney Sieh
MONROVIA—- There appears to be a lull in the implementation of Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s directives regarding possible action emanating from the recent findings of the Liberian Anti-Corruption Commission(LACC) alleging “grand corruption scheme at the National Port Authority (NPA). Last week, President Sirleaf suspended the Managing Director of the National Port Authority (NPA), Mrs. Matilda W. Parker, and the Comptroller, Mrs. Christina K. Paelay, stating that her actions were based on the findings of an investigation by the LACC.
The President also suspended all members of the NPA Board, except for statutory members of the Board of Directors of the NPA and the Chairperson who was recently named and instructed Presidential Affairs Minister Edward McClain to immediately liaise with all chairpersons of Boards of all State-owned Enterprises to collate, and report to her, all resolutions which have been passed by these Boards, especially on board fees, benefits and other compensations.
The President went on to declare that where it is established that Boards have assigned emoluments to chairpersons and members that are inconsistent with established policies of her administration, she would reverse all such resolutions. A statement from the executive mansion quoted the President as saying that she would “not hesitate” to direct additional remedies, should they be required, to cure such unacceptable actions, wherever they are found to be practiced.” But less than a week after the President’s directive, the Ministry of Justice is yet to enforce the President’s directives.
Justice Minister, SG Back to Press Case
FrontPageAfrica has learned that the main reason for the delay is that the LACC had not officially submitted the full report to the Justice Ministry. Both Justice Minister Benedict Sannoh and Solicitor General Betty Lamin Blamo were reportedly out of the country last week when the directive by the President was announced. A Justice Ministry official confirmed to FPA late Monday that his report had finally been submitted and processing of the case is underway.
The LACC report recommended “Managing Director Parker, her comptroller, Pealay and a key who blew the whistle on the NPA hierarchy, be charged for violation of Fraud on the Internal Revenue of Liberia 15.80(a,b and c) for knowingly, intentionally and purposely creating the opportunity to deprive government of Liberia of its just revenue in the amount of fifty thousand United States Dollars (US$50,000) by not withholding the 10% service tax on the Wreck Removal Contract Valued at five hundred thousand (US$500,000) and also failing to withhold thirty thousand (US$30,000) on the IPS Consultancy contract valued at US$300,000.”
A Justice official, speaking on condition of anonymity Monday, told FrontPageAfrica that even in the absence of receiving the report from the LACC, efforts are in the works to begin preparing for possible prosecution proceedings.
LACC boss James Verdier did not respond to inquiries seeking clarity over why the report has not been submitted to the MoJ but he did tell the VoA’s Daybreak Africa Monday that his commission began the investigation after it was tipped off by a whistleblower. “The case has to do with the management of NPA, specifically the comptroller and the managing director paying out sums of money to an expert contractor to remove wreckage from the Port of Greenville (Sino County) and to conduct security assessment into all seaports of Liberia,” he said.
Verdier said his commission found out that the memorandum of understanding for the contract was bogus. As a result, a certain sum of money was allegedly being paid out to an unqualified person not to remove the wreckage, but for other reasons.
LACC ‘Closing Loopholed’
“Our finding shows that this money of more than $800,000 over a period of less than six months was actually converted for private uses. And so, based on the findings, we recommended to the president that a strong action be taken to remedy the situation,” Verdier said. The LACC has been criticized in the past for failing to prosecute individuals accused of corruption and who had been suspended by Sirleaf.
Verdier told the VOA that the LACC will pursue the legal process going forward, stating: “The law establishing the LACC provides that, after an investigation, the LACC submits its report to the Ministry of Justice and the ministry, along with LACC, or alone, can decide what do with that report. And so, at this point, this report has been forward to the Ministry of Justice and we’re hoping and waiting to see that our two institutions can collaborate in terms of pursuing prosecution.”.
The LACC boss also revealed that his commission has brought charges against some members of the Board of Directors of the National Oil Company of Liberia, who allegedly bribed some members of the legislature last year to pass favorable oil laws. “We understand that the LACC was kind of slow before or did not pursue cases, but this LACC under our administration is determined to pursue matters that it investigates to their logical and legal conclusion,” he said.
Verdier said the LACC is also in the process of closing a loophole whereby government officials who are being paid their regular salaries are also being paid for serving on the boards of parastatals. “The issue of statutory members and chairpersons of different boards for SOE’s, that’s the state-owned enterprises, receiving double payment or double emoluments is something we are looking into. We have already advised government officials to desist from receiving double emoluments for serving on these different boards,” Verdier said.
He said the constitution prevents public officials from receiving double emoluments. Verdier also said a national code of conduct passed last year prohibits receiving double emoluments by government officials.
Parker Back but Yet to Comment
Parker, who reportedly returned to Monrovia last Saturday on a Kenya Airways flight from Accra, Ghana, has not yet addressed the report or the findings with some sources suggesting that the embattled and suspended NPA boss may be awaiting an official submission of the report to the Justice Ministry by the LACC. FrontPageAfrica has also been informed that the Justice Ministry is in the process of setting up blocks at the various travel points to prevent those named in the LACC findings from taking flight in a bid to avoid an Ellen Corkrum scenario.
Corkrum, a former Managing Director of the Roberts International Airport(RIA) and her fiancé Melvin Johnson were accused of embezzling US$ half a million before taking flight to the U.S. Both are said to be U.S. citizens. Ms. Corkrum, a reserved US Air force officer, who currently resides in the US, fled to the US shortly after news of the scandal allegedly involving her and Johnson.
In the NPA saga, a key witness, who, according to reports, agreed to turn state witness to help the Government of Liberia prosecute officials of the NPA told LACC investigators that he was escorted by the Comptroller of the NPA to withdraw several checks written in his name. The first, a US$250,000 was encashed at Eco Bank where Comptroller Christiana Kpabar Paelay took delivery of the money.
“I along with the comptroller (Christiana Kpabar Pealay) went to Ecobank, Vai Town Branch and encashed the check and the cash (US$250,000.00 turned over to her. Afterwards, she gave me US$3,000.00 which she constitutes the value of the stationery I had earlier supplied the NPA”, the whistle blower narrated. The witness revealed that the Comptroller at the NPA, Pealay contributed to the establishment of a business to be used in getting a contract from the NPA.
The witness continued: “Based upon the transaction, the Comptroller (Christiana Kpabar Pealay) asked me to register a business for supplying stationery. In this direction, she gave me the amount of US$500.00 and I registered Denmar Enterprise with the Liberian Business Registry. Thereafter, I was called at different times by the comptroller to receive and encashed checks bearing my name and the cash of those checks turned over to her, I made to the NPA. I was promised by the Comptroller that I will be given contracts to supply stationery if I continue to enchash their checks and return the monies to her. During one of the times, I was invited by the Comptroller to the NPA, I was asked to sign huge volume of documents. I did not read the documents and did not know what they were about, but I did sign.”
GoL Shifting Tone?
Eyebrows are also being raised over the government’s purported change of tone regarding President Sirleaf’s initial directives. Presidential spokesman Jerolinmek Piah clarified last week that the suspension of the NPA boss, her comptroller and others by President Sirleaf does not in any way suggest that they are guilty of committing any crime.
Piah said the suspension of Parker was based on the findings of an LACC investigation and as such Liberians must follow the subsequent probe as has been instructed by the President. Piah made the clarification at the Ministry of Information regular press conference last Thursday held at the Ministry in Monrovia.
Piah stressed that if Parker and the other suspended officials were found guilty of committing any acts of corruption, it would have been unnecessary for President Sirleaf to instruct the Ministry of Justice to collaborate with the LACC and all accused persons associated with the investigation, to inform additional actions, should they be required.
According to Piah, although the President recognizes the fact that the suspended NPA Managing Director is “a very talented and astute personality under whose stewardship great progress has been made at the NPA, she has no other option but to act appropriately in the midst of reports emanating from the LACC.