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Electing a President: Examining Liberia’s 2017 Experience

WASHINGTON, DC–––The New York University (NYU) Washington, DC, Friends of Liberia (FOL), and the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) will on November 17, 2017, at 3 pm, welcome an expert panel to examine the ongoing Liberian Presidential Election.

Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield is the inaugural Distinguished Resident Fellow in African Studies at the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy at Georgetown University.

Liberia recently held both legislative and presidential elections.  While the results of the legislative elections throughout the country was peaceful, the presidential election was marred by fraud and irregularities which contesting political parties including the ruling Unity Party of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf attribute to interference from the Liberian leader and poor governance on the part of the Leadership of the country’s National Election Commission (NEC).

Two political parties and candidates, the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) led by former international soccer star, Montserrado County Senator George Manneh Weah and incumbent Vice President Joseph Nyumah Boakai of the ruling Unity Party (UP) were scheduled for a runoff on November 7, 2017 but a Stay Order by the Supreme Court emanating from a lawsuit filed by the Liberty Party and its standard bearer, veteran Liberian corporate lawyer Charles Walker Brumskine, regarding electoral fraud and irregularities have prevented the runoff from proceeding.

Brumskine, an accomplished legislator who served as president of the Liberian Senate in the late 1990s, maintains that a sound democratic process, one in which the people of Liberia will have confidence should not be marred by fraud and corruption.  It should, instead, represent the free will of the Liberian people.

Brumskine’s and the Liberty Party’s lawsuit at the Supreme Court has since been joined by former Coca-Cola senior executive and presidential candidate for the Alternative National Congress (ANC), Mr. Alexander B. Cummings Jr.; prominent Liberian businessman and one of the largest local private sector employer and presidential candidate for the All Liberian Party (ALP), Mr. Benoni Urey; and incumbent Vice President and presidential candidate for the ruling Unity Party (UP), Honorable Joseph Nyumah Boakai.

A cross-section of Liberians, as well as international election observers and regional political analysts all, agreed that the process was fraudulent.  Preceding and subsequent activities of the leadership of the election commission suggest weakness in certain areas and gross incompetence on the part of the electoral body’s chairman, Attorney Jerome Korkoya, who many prominent Liberians, including Dr. Togba Nah Tipoteh, Counsellor Tiawon Gongloe, and Miatta Fahnbulleh, have all accused of being a U.S. citizen, a designation which should disqualify him from heading the commission and administering the election in the first place.

Globe Afrique is conducting an ongoing fact-finding into the many issues and events associated with the October 10, 2017’s Liberian presidential election. So far and based on information gathered, it would appear that the conduct of the presidential election cannot be considered credible and the results do not seem to reflect a transparent process at every level.

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia. She leaves office January 18, 2018.

Moreover, Globe Afrique’s research and analysis team has been gathering information and seeking clarity from the Liberian National Security Agency and few Africa-based financial institutions operating in Liberia regarding certain financial transactions before, during and after the October 10, 2017, electoral process.

According to preliminary details gathered so far, Robert A. Sirleaf, the son of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, is allegedly providing financial and political support to the campaign of the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) headed by soccer star and Montserrado County Senator George Manneh Weah.  While Robert’s political support may be fair and legitimate, of concern to the other political parties, according to sources is the fact that President Sirleaf is alleged to be using state funds to buttress Robert’s activities which include his material support to political groups of his liking.

In addition, the contending political groups primarily led by the Liberty Party’s political leader, Counsellor Charles Walker Brumskine, believe the election and voting process was fixed by the Sirleaf administration in favor of whomever Robert is supporting. This assertion is also supported by President Sirleaf’s own ruling Unity Party and two other prominent Liberian political parties. Hence, this seems to establish maximum credibility for Brumskine’s argument legally and in the court of public opinion. In fact, the CDC also had complained initially that the electoral process was fraudulent before it realized that the polls had favored them.  So it means all key political parties in the process observed irregularities.

Reliable sources informed Globe Afrique that the funds used by President Sirleaf and her son Robert just to shore up Robert’s political ambition and protection after the Sirleafs leave power are from the operational and administrative budgets of the country’s National Security Agency (NSA) which is headed by Robert’s brother, Fumbah Sirleaf. Below is a detailed list of the transaction believed to be carried out by Robert Sirleaf from the NSA’s account:
1. Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) Launching Program $162,000 USD, from the United Bank of Africa’s branch headquarters on Broad Street, Monrovia.
2. Funds ($130,000 USD and $15 million Liberian dollars) given to former Liberian warlord Prince Y. Johnson so that he would endorse CDC was taken from Afriland Bank headquarters on Broad Street, Monrovia
3. Funds ($25,000 USD) to bribe the Elders of Nimba County who initially opposed and protested ex-warlord Prince Y. Johnson’s endorsement of the CDC.  This amount is said to have been taken from the International Bank.
4. Funds ($3 million USD) for the recurrent cost of the CDC campaign (buying fuel, paying DSA, purchasing lubricants, cars, motorcycles, etc.).  This amount is allegedly believed to have come from the government allocated budget or fund specified for the renovation of Executive Mansion, the official office, and residence of the Liberian presidency. This fund was allegedly wired through GT Bank headquarters on 12th Street, Monrovia and on also on Broad Street, Monrovia.

Coincidentally, President Sirleaf had and continues to have a host of family members in her government.  Apart from Fumbah Sirleaf, her son Charles Sirleaf is the deputy governor of the Central Bank of Liberia.  Her sister Janine Sirleaf Bernard is paid board chairperson of Liberia’s health sector (including the John F. Kennedy Medical Center).  Her son Robert Sirleaf basically ran the government and is regarded as the ‘prime minister’ of Liberia.  He is, however, famously known for his position as chairman of the country’s National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL) which went broke after acquiring half a billion dollars in revenue.  Her son James Sirleaf run the family private business enterprise which includes banks, insurance companies, real estates and more.  Her niece heads the country’s Public Procurement and Concession Commission and another relative serves as the deputy minister of Internal Affairs.  Her grand-nephew, a 12 grader in Anchorage, Alaska, USA was invited to serve as an expert on Liberia’s oil exploration evaluation process, leaving prominent Liberian professionals with knowledge and expertise in the field in the dark.  She also has several godchildren serving in her senior positions in her government as well as cronies.  The list of her family members, friends and business associates with lucrative positions in her administration is limitless.

The Sirleaf family is also allegedly believed to have majority ownership in the International Bank, formerly the International Trust Company (ITC), a financial offset established as part of the Liberian international maritime program and used for years as a mechanism to transfer the Liberian portion of proceeds gathered from the Liberian maritime program which is administered from Reston, Virginia, USA by a private entity known by the acronym LISCR.

Since becoming president in 2006, the ITC financial vehicle is one of the quasi ‘public’ benefit institutions converted into a personal family property by President Sirleaf and her crew.  From ITC, the name of the financial institution has been changed to International Bank (IB) and President Sirleaf’s brother in law, Estrada Bernard, is the chairman of the board.  In addition, the ITC has a prime real estate on Tubman Boulevard going towards Sinkor Old Road in the Liberian capital Monrovia.  Sources say the lease payment or rent from that ITC’s real estate is being collected by or paid to Mr. Estrada Bernard who is the husband of the president’s oldest sister, Madam Janine Bernard, chairperson of the country’s health sector, including the John F. Kennedy Medical Center, the largest public medical institution in the country.

L/R: Liberia’s main presidential candidates, Vice President Joseph Boakai (UP); Senator George Weah (CDC); Counselor Charles Brumskine (LP); Businessman Benoni Urey (ALP); former Central Bank of Liberia’s governor, Dr. Joseph Mills Jones (MOVEE); and former Coca-Cola corporate executive, Alexander B. Cummings, Jr. (ANC).

Recently, Mr. Alan White, the acclaimed former chief prosecutor of the United Nations Special War Crimes Court for Sierra Leone asserted on the Voice of America (VOA) Straight Talk program that he has credible information based on detailed investigation and “facts” that the Liberian leader is interfering in the presidential election to protect her corrupt pass and to also prevent the establishment of an economic and war crimes court for Liberia.

It is important to note that the National Security Agency in Liberia is synonymous with (though on a smaller scale) the CIA and FBI combined in the United States.  Under Liberian governance policy, the agency is not subject to financial and operational audits even though it receives an annual appropriation amounting to $15 to $25 million US dollars, and has a total staff of fewer than 150 employees.

Historically, it has become an avenue for organized, structured and systemic corruption at the executive level of the Liberian government, past and present. Other than intimidating, harassing and torturing perceived political foes to the presidency and the Liberian government as well as independent journalists, and courageous human rights and civil society advocates, it has untrained and unsophisticated staff who contribute nothing meaningful to regional and international security.  Not a single staffer at the agency is experienced in cybersecurity and/or forensic science.  Its capacity is extremely limited and its management is secretive, weak and terrorizing, according to Vandalark Patrick, a courageous young Liberian human rights advocate who faced inhumane treatment and unlawful imprisonment at the agency for speaking out against corruption and the treatment of children by the Sirleaf administration.

The agency is allegedly known as one of the most subjective and usually unprofessional institutions in the country where the staffers are only engaged in gossip-based intelligence operations, the fabrication of lies and blackmailing to ill-treat individuals perceived as opposed to the president of Liberia or critics of the government.   President William VS Tubman, President William R. Tubman, President Samuel K. Doe, Sr. President Charles Taylor and now Ellen Johnson Sirleaf have all misused the desired intent behind the establishment of the agency.  To her critic, President Sirleaf herself was once a victim of the agency.  However, now that she is in power, she relies heavily on the agency for clandestine activities.

While past Liberian leaders used the agency to protect their rule and instill fear in political foes, human rights activists, critics and the media, President Sirleaf, to her credit, uses it at the minimum level to hunt critics and members of the media.  However, she and her administration are accused of allegedly using the agency as a “guinea pig” for an illegal financial transaction and organized corrupt practices.

In short, Liberia is in a serious political stalemate, one that has vast regional and international implications considering that it is a nation emerging from a brutal 14 years civil conflict, and considering that the entire West African sub-region is susceptible to a broader conflict and terrorism since Boko Haram is in Nigeria and Cameroon and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) is next door operating from the Sahel region.

This is precisely why the New York University (NYU) Washington, DC, Friends of Liberia (FOL), and the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) Expert Panel to examine the ongoing Liberian presidential election is indeed critical and relevant to usher in an international outlook on what is happening in Liberia and its potential impact not just on Liberian daily lives, but the possible insecurity it poses to the West African sub region and the world at large, especially so since terrorists once used the sub-region for their blood diamond trade from which it is believed funding for the 9/11 attacks were garnered.

According to the organizers of the Expert Panel, acclaimed and retired Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs and Ambassador to Liberia, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, will lead an analysis of the Liberian presidential election process and its meaning to Liberians through the prisms of peace, democracy, and development. Other panelists will provide up-to-the-minute information on the election, discuss the impact of the delay on Liberia’s application of the law and acceptance of the results, and assess the challenges a new president will face in unifying the country.

The event takes place on Friday, Nov. 17 at 3:00 PM and will be followed by refreshments at the NYU/DC, Auditorium, 1307 L St. NW, Washington, DC.  RSVP (https://www.nyu.edu/washington-dc/nyu-washington–dc-events/liberia-s-presidential-election.html.

Editorial Page Note:

Globe Afrique believes the international community must be honest in balancing truth with its love for the Liberian leader, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.  After 12 years of peaceful leadership, President Sirleaf must do all she can to leave a peaceful Liberia behind. It is time that her international friends and supporters be honest and side with the 4.5 million Liberian people by saying enough is enough.  If the president did not do things that indicate that she is interfering in the country’s transitional and political process, everything would have gone fine.  So, instead of international calls and blames on the people of Liberia, it is time for friends and international supporters of the Liberian president, to be honest with her.  Her legacy and protection are important to her, equally the security and wellbeing of the Liberian nation and people are more important, too.

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