“Consolidate, Strategize and Win”

By John S. Morlu, CPA
Keynote Speaker: CDC USA
September 26, 2015
Minneapolis, MN

Mr. Isaac Vah Tukpah, National Chairman, CDC USA
The National Leadership of CDC USA
Mr. Mulbah K. Morlu, Vice Chairman, CDC
Mr. Raymond Ogunti, Chairman CDC Minnesota
Members of the Mighty CDC USA and Liberia
Members of Representatives of various organizations
Fellow Liberians and all well-wishers of the CDC present here.

Mr. Chairman, this is my first time in this great city of Minneapolis. I have passed through here couple of times on my way to Amsterdam and San Francisco. But I never had a chance to stay in for a day. It is a beautiful city.

I appreciate your invitation and it is my honor to keynote this event, an event that is going to set a pace that will bring about a new leadership in 2018. I am not one known for mincing my words. I like to keep it simple and straight to the issues. The theme for this event is to “Consolidate, Strategize and Win.” I am going to do my best to stay within the context of the theme.

So let me begin. First, before I go into a more discussion of what I want, to you wonderful Liberians and CDCians, I want to say up front that you have a great party with a great people who deeply care about Liberia and its people. Your heart is in the right place for Liberia. Many CDCians are more competent than the current set of people who are holding public office today. You can prove me incorrect by looking at the character and credentials of each of the current political appointees in Government.

CDCians are truly blessed to have a greater leadership, headed by Mr. Tukpah, a man I have known for more than 20 years and who is very principled minded and who does not hold anything against people who disagreed with him.

I received numerous calls and occasional visitations at my office from Liberians who want to talk about their frustrations with corruption. Most of them want me to reconfirm to them whether the current administration is still 3x more corrupt. I simply ask them for their own position and they say immediately it is 10x more corrupt. And so I say to them, “You have your own answer.” So I do not want to bore you talking about the level of corruption, because as far as I am concerned that issue is a lost cause with respect to the current administration. It is too late for the president and the members of her administration to intensely build the political will to do anything about corruption. We have to cut our losses on this President and prepare today for a more challenging future.

As Mr. Harry Greaves wrote on FrontPage Africa, this is now “injury time” and so all bets are off. Let me add, this is “injury and stoppage time.” The stoppage time is January 16, 2018. Between the “injury and stoppage time,” unfortunately for impoverished Liberians, the stealing and looting by officials of Government will increase at an astronomical height. That is a grim projection but that is the reality and the fact of life in Ellen Sirleaf’s Liberia. The good thing is that the John Morlus of the world do not have to say much about corruption: the Council of Churches and former officials of the Sirleaf led Government like Attorney Samuel Kofi Woods are now carrying on the battle against rampant corruption in her administration.

Did anyone read the interview by Sirleaf-appointed former minister of economic planning and economic affairs, Sirleaf-appointed World Bank board member, and Sirleaf-appointed ECOWAS Vice President? If you have not read the interview conducted by one of Liberia’s strongest journalists Rodney Sieh, you should go and read it. Dr. Toga Mackintosh says that Ellen Sirleaf and her Government are stealing and mismanaging the economic affairs of the country to the point that the next government will inherit a bankrupt and cashless government that is on the brink of collapse. NOCAL is just the tip of the iceberg. Here are a few issues for you to ponder as you gear up to take on the challenge of running the affairs of Liberia.

This administration has sold and mortgaged all your resources for cheap. More than 100 concessions re-negotiated, negotiated, signed and ratified by this administration and Legislature over the past 10 years and there is nothing much to show for the so-called $18 billion that was promised by all of the concessions. The next government will have no concessions to sign to get that infamous signing bonus. And if you try to cancel or re-negotiate these concessions, you will get clobber by the international business community. This is like De Ja Vu when Russia’s aging president, Boris Yeltsin, oversaw the stripping of Russian assets and sold them cheap to seven crooked capitalists. Now it is taking President Putin years to undo the damage. For those presidential candidates and their supporters who are hoping that 2018 is the panacea, I can tell you it will be unwise to blindly cancel concessions.

The current president put us in $4.9 billion debt, most of it being accumulated interest arrears from the OAU celebration when she served as the Minister of Finance. The international community took pity and waived most of the debt. Since 2010, more debt has been accumulated to the tune of $750 million and it is estimated that by the time she leaves power in 2018, we will have a debt stock of over a $1 billion dollars.

Where will the money come from to fix the “education mess,” the broken healthcare system and the $2.2 billion that the Government says it needs to build roads? IMF estimates that it will cost Liberia $460 million per year over the next decade to build the infrastructure on par with others in the sub-region. How are you going to do that in the midst of corruption and a meager government budget averaging about $550 million per year.

Mr. Chairman, the next government is facing a fiscal time bond, especially at a time of escalating debt and its resulting debt burden. The current Liberian Government has refused to listen to the current American Ambassador to Liberia when she said “do not spend” what you do not have. But again, the goal of the current government is simple: Borrow, steal part of the borrowed money, mismanage the rest and then leave the treasury empty for the next government to deal with it.

The next government could be forced to take President Samuel Doe’s approach of saying that it is not his government’s responsibility since it was the prior governments that took on the loans, but when Mr. Doe was squeezed by the international community to take on the debt under the argument that government is a continuity, Mr. Doe called on all Liberians to give him a dollar to pay of the national debt to those “foreigners.” But Liberians did not trust that Mr. Doe would use the money for that purpose, so we did not see a ground swell of Liberian nationalists running to pay $1 to assist Mr. Doe pay off the national debt he inherited from Ellen Sirleaf’s Minisstry of Finance. If the next Government is not prepared today, the Doe scenario will be repeated.

Mr. Chairman, let assume that America and Europe woke up tomorrow and said here is $10 billion to fix your education, health, infrastructure and job creation problems. “What will Liberia do with that money?” I can bet that it will all be stolen and the people of Liberia will not benefit. Today, the current administration, because of having the first woman president in Africa at the top, has received the most international good will in our history but the country is still stuck in poverty and despair, all because of high level official corruption.

And some of the opposition parties that are supposed to be speaking against corruption and all forms of financial malpractices in the current administration have lifted up high the White Flag and said to the President that “we are with you” as long as you are giving us some of the stolen money or paving the way for us to “eat our own.” Look into Liberia and you will see the Chairman of one of the political parties boasting that he has made millions because he is the “legal counsel for the President of Liberia.” Today, some of the opposition political party leaders make the Unity Party and its leader look like the opposition party. I can safely say that the Unity Party looks more like the opposition and some of the opposition parties are more like the Ruling Party. But then they want to tell the Liberian people that they are better than Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

These opposition politicians know they have sold themselves and tried to make us believe they are still opposition. They manufactured various names to suit themselves: “Constructive Engagement”; “Royal Opposition”; “Partnership with the Government”; and “Collaboration with the Government”. They are quick to remind us with this argument: “just because we are in opposition does not that mean we should be an enemy to the President or we should criticize the President.”

Who told these politicians to be enemies or to criticize the President? Liberians just want them to take a side either with the corrupt system or be against the corrupt system. Being lukewarm and straddling the fence just to eat on both sides of the fence is not a mark of integrity and demonstration of being a serious opposition. Some of them say Hilary Clinton joined Barrack Obama after the election when both were competitors in the primary. Well, Hilary Clinton and Barrack Obama are from the Democratic Party. Liberty Party, NUDP, NPP, UP and all other parties are distinct entities. It is like the Chairman of the Republican Party saying he is the legal counsel for President Barrack Obama.

But we cannot be mad at some of these politicians, because they have to feed their families; they have got to have a job, and a place to live. So they believe they have to kowtow and pimp themselves out to whoever is in power for them to live. But for a Liberian voter, it is very hard to trust these people who are running for president and other public offices. On one hand, these politicians and their parties are telling the Liberian people that Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and her government are corrupt, and if elected, they themselves will bring change. But on the order hand, they are Nicodemus politicians at night. They appear to differ with Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, but at the same time, they are working with her in the background, taking patronage jobs, contracts and in some cases, outright cash handouts.

The truth is the Liberian people are not stupid. They know what these politicians are doing in the darkness. Liberians are not naïve or gullible as people claim. They are the smartest voters, and they have no faith in nearly all of the people who want to replace Ellen Sirleaf. So they will demand cash and bag of rice during elections, because they know when elected these people are going to appoint friends, colleagues and family members who are going to continue stealing from the government.

There are also thousands of Liberians who can give money from $500 to $1,000 to finance a political party. But they also do not trust lot of the current politicians who are dining with the current corrupt system, while promising to reform the system when they are elected.

Liberians usually ask me who is different amongst these people. “What do they stand for?” I, too, asked a political leader (not CDC) who had called me to say we should collaborate in 2017. I simply said no, and then he asked “Why?” I said plainly, “You cannot be trusted to do what you say you will do. You lied to me in 2011 after getting my support and you jumped behind Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in the second round in exchange for a job and cash.” Others have reached out to me and I always ask these questions:
•Are you going to go after people who have stolen public money and recover those assets for the Liberian people like President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria did, Paul Kagame of Rwanda did, and now President Muhammadu Buhari is trying doing? We cannot have people stealing and building mansions in Liberia, America, Europe and other parts of the world and then we say to them “Let bygones be bygones.” The United States and Europe will help any government that is willing to chase down corrupt criminals and recover assets.

•Are you going to implement all those in audit reports, economic crimes section of the TRC, PPCC Reports, Anti-Corruption Reports and all the mounting Presidential Commission Reports?
•Are you going to fully and categorically implement all sections of the TRC Report, including asking the United Nations to establish a War Crimes Court in Liberia to end impunity once and for all? I am glad that Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is now asking the Legislature to establish a War Crimes Court in Liberia. It’s never too late. The opposition has been afraid to call for it and now that Sirleaf is taking the lead, perhaps the so-called opposition will stand up and say no to impunity. To his credit, CDC Mulbah Morlu has been on the frontline fighting for War Crimes Court. And Prince Johnson refused to support CDC in 2011 because he said Cllr. Winston Tubman would bring War Crimes Court in Liberia and so Ellen Johnson was the lesser of the two evils.

Mr. Chairman, if CDC is ever going to win an election in Liberia, and raise money to mount an effective campaign, it has to distinguish itself from the current government. CDC has to take on a clear and definite position on some of the big ticket items, with the two being corruption and ending impunity. A party cannot be wishy-washy and hope to raise money.

From UN Secretary General Moon, US President Barrack Obama, World Bank President Kim to Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, all say corruption is PUBLIC ENEMY NUMBER ONE. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has the best plan for Liberia: Interim Poverty Reduction Strategy, Poverty Reduction Strategy, Vision 2030 and Agenda for Transformation. Corruption has undermined the execution of all of them, leaving, yet still, a Liberia that is at the bottom of all poverty indexes, with its people being the third poorest in the world. This is a national travesty and a visible economic injustice to the Liberian people, especially in a country with an abundance of resources.

Essentially, instead of all the never ending talk of partnership, collaboration and coalition, CDC should seek out individuals with impeccable reputations and track records, and people who will do what they say they will do. Liberia is not a parliamentary system where coalition government is possible.

I read about people comparing the victory of President Buhari in Nigeria as a good example of opposition coalition in Liberia. But what Liberian political parties failed to say is that others joined Buhari because he came in second to Goodluck Jonathan in the 2011 elections. So those political parties who see Buhari as an example should fold in their parties with the CDC. This must be on the basis of shared principles, not just coming together to win so that the Ellen Sirleaf bunch can be replaced with another bunch of corrupt people, whose only purpose for a coalition government is winning and looting the state coffers.

I propose that instead of a coalition in 2017, I see this election as an historic opportunity to realign Liberian politics on the basis of shared principles as Thomas Jefferson did for America in 1800, Andrew Jackson 1828, Abraham Lincoln 1860, William McKinley 1896, and Franklin D. Roosevelt 1832. Undoubtedly 2017 should not just be about REPLACING the administration of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. It should realign Liberians on the basis of shared principles. If CDC can take the lead in doing that, raising money and winning elections in 2017 should be a cake walk.

CDC must not be distracted by coalition talk. Winning is important but governing after winning is the hardest part. Liberian political parties want jobs and contracts in government. They will join the winning party in a second anyway. So why waste your time discussing political coalition at this time. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf formed what is effectively a coalition government in 2006 and 2012. Just look at the composition of her government. But many of those who joined her did not believe in her and so instead of working for her, they just worked for themselves and lined their pockets, with the Unity Party and the president taking all the blame for corruption and the incompetence of her government.

Mr. Chairman, let CDC be definite on national issues and do not surrender yourself with uncertainty. CDC is apparently the only party in Liberia where Liberians are playing the guessing game of who going to be Standard bearer or Vice Standard Bearer. Because of this uncertainty, some political leaders of other parties try to ride on this uncertainty to gain political relevance either directly or indirectly at the expense of CDC. What is wrong with ending this speculation and getting more adequate timely preparation, focus, planning and winning strategy? In politics, time is of essence and no room for unwarranted speculation that will continue to delay and divert the overall focus point of a party. Certainty is strength and it defines the oneness of timely executing goals with much greater impart.

Again, we can learn from the mistakes of the current president…No Great plan is possible and no reform is possible in the midst of rampant and escalating corruption. Corruption makes all plans to fix the infrastructure, education system and healthcare system all useless. It is difficult to build an opportunity society in the midst of corruption; and no democracy has been built and sustained on a corrupt foundation.

Many Liberians are fed up with the corruption in Monrovia. Although not a Liberian, even President Barrack Obama is fed up to the point that when Sirleaf visited him last, he offered two things:
1. America’s to help fight corruption and 2. To assist in expanding economic opportunities to Liberians outside of small Monrovia, reminding our president that Monrovia is not Liberia, and corruption caused some of the problems for the expansion of the Ebola virus. We know some Liberians believed that the government could not be trusted and was only promoting Ebola to get more donor money to “eat.”

Demonstrate complete Moral Clarity on the big issues facing us and take a stand, CDC, against corruption and fight for TRC implementation, and you will see Liberians with impeccable credentials, know-how, good track records, and cash joining you. Money is not a problem for a party like CDC. Instead it is the perception that you have not differentiated yourselves from the current administration. Let your political leaders – members of the legislature – begin to take a bold stand on issues and all will follow. Until then, it is hard to see how you will navigate your way amongst the noise of political parties, numbering 18 and which will be likely 30 parties by 2017.

Thank you for inviting me. God bless Liberians in Minnesota. God bless all Liberians. God bless Liberia, and God bless the mighty CDC.

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