Report by Rodney D. Sieh
Monrovia, FPA – Dr. Fred van der Kraaij, a retired career Dutch diplomat and author says the world must pay keen attention to Liberia following the elevation last week of Mr. Charles Bright to a full Cabinet-level position in the George Weah-led government. The world must watch closely what’s happening in Liberia, former European Union diplomat issues caution after elevation of former Charles Taylor’s ally to cabinet-level post A letter from President Weah dated March 8, 2018 bestowed unlimited power and access to the former Finance Minister in the Taylor government, who was a strong member of both Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia and Prince Johnson’s Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia.
President Weah wrote: “I George Manneh Weah, Sr. President of the Republic of Liberia by virtue of the power in me vested do hereby acknowledge that Hon. Charles R. G. Bright, my advisor for Economic Affairs, has the status of a Cabinet Minister, with full courtesies and benefits appertaining thereto and commission him as follows: To visit all Ministries and Autonomies Agencies, Government Commissions, Public Corporations and State-owned enterprises(wholly and or partially-owned) to obtain information and advise me on current policies, practices as it relates to the operations of the Entity in General, and its personnel in particular; To be an Ex-Officio participant in all meetings at said Entities, Board or otherwise, regarding matters with an economic impact on revenue, expenditure, personnel and other assets; To ensure, as practical as possible that personnel actions, employment salaries, other benefits, dismissals, retirement and work schedule are in keeping with approved government guidelines; To Monitor, Generally, all activities of appointed officials and with written approval of the Minister of State for Presidential Affairs, utilize the expertise of other Liberians as resource personnel.”
Bright Ruffling International Feathers
The President then mandated all heads of autonomous agencies of government, public corporations and state-owned enterprises are mandated to fully cooperate with my above-named advisor and provide him with any and all information, documents and support requested. The elevation of Bright is said to be ruffling feathers in the international community after millions of dollars have been spent on not just ending the long-bloody civil war but also steering Africa’s oldest republic on the right trajectory toward completing its transition from war to peace. Last week, a senior United Nations official urged Liberia to implement the recommendations of a truth commission, dating back to 2009, which included prosecuting eight ex-warlords for alleged crimes against humanity. “Liberia is at a turning point”, Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed told a conference in Monrovia, adding that a lasting peace “will only be possible if we ensure full and true reconciliation.”
Mohammed said it was “critical to implement the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and for the legislature to pass key bills that will support local inclusion and reconciliation.” The diplomat further warned that peace would “remain fragile as long as people feel excluded from the economic and political life of the country, and as long as corruption undermines confidence in institutions”. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) set up by former president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to probe war crimes and rights abuses linked to Liberia’s 1989-2003 conflict has said a compensation scheme should be created alongside a dedicated war crimes court.
TRC Implementation Appears Unlikely
To date Liberia has failed to implement the TRC’s findings. Quite recently a group of twenty Human Rights organizations wrote President Weah making a similar case for implementation of the TRC report but those groups are yet to respond. But the President did tell participants at the close of a two-day National Peace and Reconciliation Conference last week that true reconciliation is far from being achieved and that division continues to exist in all sectors of the Liberian society.
True reconciliation is still illusive.
Throughout this time, there has been numerous reconciliation conferences producing so many roadmaps to peace and so many policy documents and programs but the problem of political, economic and culture divisions still exist.” The elevation of Bright and inclusion of many figures from the Taylor era appears to suggest that the Weah administration may not make the reconciliation issue a top priority, drawing concerns from internationals like Dr. Van Der Krajj, who tweeted this week: “Is President #Weah naive or calculated? Why did he pick Charles Bright? He already signed this on March 8! We have to closely watch what happens in #Liberia. I have an easy feeling that predators are around. President Weah has made former Charles Taylor’s ally virtually the new Prime Minister of Liberia, with unrestricted access to ministers, meetings, and documents. Charles Bright is his name.” Bright’s elevation to a Cabinet-level position has heightened fears from international stakeholders concerned about the resurgence of several former fighters of Mr. Taylor’s NPFL in the security sectors including the Executive Protective Service (EPS), the National Security Agency (NSA) and other areas. Bright played a crucial role in both Taylor and Johnson’s rebel movements and was described by Taylor during an open session hearing of his trial on February 15, 2010 a very good friend. “I first met Charles Bright I would say about 1991 going into ’92 in Gbarnga. He was a part of the INPFL, the Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia that was headed by Prince Johnson.”
“At some point in ’91 there were attempts on my part to mend fence with the INPFL and bring the combatants back together. Charles Bright was one of the representatives sent by the INPFL to Gbarnga for the negotiations and he was selected to come up for those negotiations.” Despite his caution, Dr. Van Der Krajj told FrontPageAfrica Monday that early condemnation of President Weah may be premature. However he added: “As I tweeted today, we should not run too fast and immediately condemn President Weah’s actions – instead we need to closely monitor and analyse his decisions, his appointments, and the way he governs: looking at important yardsticks such as impunity, the TRC, foreign investments, job creation, fighting corruption, public sector management a.s.o.”
Van Der Krajj: ‘’I find it worrisome’
Nevertheless, the professor added: “In light of these angles, I find it worrisome that he appoints people who – to say the least – do not have the record that inspires confidence in attaining these goals: fighting corruption, ending impunity, promoting national reconciliation, transparency in public management. Charles Bright is one of them – and there are others as well. What I understand from the May 8 (!) communiqué from the President’s Office, Charles Bright has been given a blank check by President Weah. Bright’s powers are thus open-ended and create the possibility of abuse.” Dr. Van Der Krajj says in his opinion, the Legislature should play a role, but considering the number of seats that the CDC (including the NPP) hold and the extra-ordinary powers that the President holds in Liberia – in conformity with the Constitution, he has very little hope that the Legislature will play a decisive role. “True democracy is based on the Trias Politica, the separation of powers, with an independently working legislature, executive and judiciary.”
Dr. Van Der Krajj added: “Without this separation of powers, without the rule of law, and with the wrong people appointed, Liberia under President Weah risks going down a slippery slope. And we know where a slippery slope may lead us…. Liberia has paid the price with two civil wars, a persistent underdevelopment and hundreds of thousands Liberians in the Diaspora.” He added: “I wonder what explains the selection of Charles Bright as Weah’s Super Advisor. Did George Weah have contact with him before? Of course the question of his capacity to judge imposes itself. If not, who else is behind the steering wheel, behind the scenes? I wouldn’t be surprised if you know this better than I do…..” During his 40-year span in public service, Dr. Van Der Krajj worked as an evaluator in the Dutch Foreign Ministry’s independent evaluation unit and also worked for the Government of Liberia, the World Bank and the European Commission.
Dr. Van Der Krajj holds a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Tilburg (with honors, 1983) and wrote a dissertation on the role of foreign investments in the development of Liberia 1900-1977 which was published as “The Open Door Policy of Liberia – An Economic History of Modern Liberia” (Bremen, 1983). He has written extensively on West Africa where he lived for over 16 years.