4 January 2013

Liberia: Issues and Events of 2012


At the end of each year, media institutions including The NEWS Newspaper present major news making highlights for the period under review as a way of looking in the past. As part of the social responsibilities of this paper, headline stories especially the ones that had impact on the country have been catalogued.

In January 2012, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf in her year's message, promised to have addressed the problem of unemployment, education and training for Liberian youth. President Johnson-Sirleaf said: "Our youth need jobs, but also, they need to develop their skills for the kind of jobs that are coming in the mining, agriculture, forestry and petroleum sectors."

The President said she was confident that the benefit of the country's natural resources would show results by improving the lives of the people. At the heart of her priority, President Sirleaf said was the agenda for peace and national reconciliation which she stressed was critical for socio-economic development and progress as well as peace, security and stability.

However, the issue of youth unemployment as stated by the president is yet to be addressed as many young people remain unemployed although, the Labor Ministry claimed that more than 22,000 jobs were provided in 2012.

Still in January 2012, the Legislature held elections for speaker and deputy speaker in which Representative J. Alex Tyler retained his position when he defeated Nimba County Lawmaker Risk Toweh, while Hans Barchue was elected as Deputy Speaker over Maryland County Representative Bhofal Chambers. In the Senate, Gbezongar Findley was elected Senate President Pro-tempore.

In February, same sex marriage took center stage as anti-gay groups denounced the recognition of the practice. As the debate heightened, a student leader and same sex campaigner, Archie Ponpon was chased out of the campus of the University of Liberia. He narrowly escaped the wrath of angry mob when he and other guests had gone on the Truth FM radio talk show to discuss same sex marriage in Liberia.

Also in February, the former Board Chairman of the Liberia Petroleum Refining Company (LPRC) Cllr. Negbalee Warner uncovered financial mismanagement at LPRC. In a report released by Cllr. Warner, the lawyer cited several questionable transactions that were signed by the current management of the company before he was even appointed as Board Chairman of the company. However, LPRC Managing Director T. Nelson Williams rejected Cllr. Warner's allegations and claimed that the lawyer was an antagonist to the Japanese oil grant because he wanted the oil sold to foreigner, presumably a client of Cllr. Warner. The oil in question was a grant given to the Liberian government based on a bilateral agreement with Japan.

In late February, African Petroleum confirmed the discovery of oil in Liberia. The company disclosed that the oil discovery was significant and that it is now focusing on sourcing oil rigs. African Petroleum also indicated that the discovery was made at the Narina -1 well, Liberia Block LB--09 following 43 days of drilling at the cost of US$50 million. However, days before the discovery of the oil, President Johnson Sirleaf announced a reshuffle at the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL). The president appointed her son Robert Sirleaf as Chairman of the oil company's board. The appointment triggered criticisms from the public including opposition figures. Despite the condemnations and outburst, the president justified the appointment of her son on grounds that he possesses the requisite qualification and expertise to chair the Board of the oil company.

During the same period in February, former Police Director Beatrice Munah Sieh-Brown was indicted by the Grand Jury of Montserrado County for acts of corruption. The indictment was based on a complaint by the Liberia Anti Corruption Commission (LACC) that linked the former police chief and others to Economic Sabotage, Theft of Property, Criminal Facilitation and Criminal Conspiracy.

In March, members of the National Legislature suspended all negotiations on offshore blocks until the Act that created the National Oil Company of Liberia was reviewed. There were concerns about which institution (Ministry of Finance or NOCAL) should manage proceeds from oil sale. Global Witness urged the Liberian government to develop policies that would dictate how oil wealth should be used for development, stability and poverty reduction.

During the month of March 2012, the former vice standard bearer of the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) Amb. George Weah was denied entry into the Chambers of the House of Representatives while members of that august body were in session. Some lawmakers led by Grand Bassa County Representative Baron Browne insisted that Mr. Weah could not be allowed because his visit wasn't on the agenda.

The death of former Montserrado County Representative Moses Tandapolie came as a surprise to the nation. He died at the Phebe Hospital in Gbarnga, Bong County from heart failure. The representatives were in Gbarnga for a retreat when Representative Tandapolie collapsed.

Former operatives of the Special Security Service (SSS) during the year threatened lawsuit against the institution for illegal dismissal. The institution defended their position and said the operatives would not return to the service. During this period, President Sirleaf declared that she will not sign any law that supports same sex marriage.

A tragic road traffic accident left three young Liberian girls dead and a Lebanese seriously injured in Congo Town. The girls were found burned in the vehicles in which they were riding. The driver was said to have lost control as a result of excessive speeding.

The Government of Liberia multi-year budget proposal received its first allocation of 55 million Euros from the European Union. The money was expected to be disbursed towards the Vision 2030, which is the agenda for transformation.

Danish Journalist, working undercover, revealed in April that he gave US$35,000 to the Chairman of the ruling Unity Party, Cllr. Varney Sherman to get an appointment as Liberia Honorary Consul General to the Central Africa Republic. The Danish journalist, Mads Cortzen also linked former Foreign Minister Dr. Toga McIntosh to the scam, a claim that was denied.

In April, former President Charles Taylor was convicted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone sitting in The Hague. Taylor was convicted for Aiding and Abetting the mayhem in Sierra Leone. Mr. Taylor is sentenced for 50 years.

In May, rebels in Ivory Coast killed seven UN peacekeepers and wounded others in an overnight raid as fighting between supporters loyal to former President Laurent Gbagbo and state security intensified. The fighting in neighboring Ivory Coast came near the border with Liberia, triggering influx of refugees into the country. During the same period, the Liberian government arrested and detained several Ivorian and Liberian mercenaries.

The Liberian government in June, extradited 41 alleged Ivorian dissidents suspected to have launched series of cross border raids in Ivory Coast. The men were arrested by UN peacekeepers as they attempted to cross into Liberia with heavy weapons.

The suspected Ivorian dissidents were allegedly supporters of former Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo, who is currently detained in The Hague, Netherlands, on war crimes charges. At the same time, the European Union advanced a proposal to both the Liberian and Ivorian governments for the deployment of troops along their common borders as a security measure to end the military stalemate.

In June, a man believed to be in his 60s reportedly died while having sexual intercourse with a young woman believed to be in her 20s. The incident occurred at a local motel in Monrovia.

Controversy emerged between the country's regulator, Liberia Telecommunication Authority (LTA) and LoneStar Communication Company over the decision of LoneStar to disconnect Comium. LTA had threatened to suspend LoneStar for three days, but the GSM Company sought the intervention of the court.

In July, riot at the University of Liberia paralyzed academic activities at the institution. Two student based political parties were involved in the riot which resulted into injuries and destruction of properties.

In July, the UN Security Council lifted travel restrictions on several Liberians.

About this time, the Managing Director of the National Port Authority (NPA) Matilda Parker embarked on a reform of various sea ports in Liberia. The Freeport of Monrovia was dredged and is being considered for expansion. The ports of Buchanan and Sinoe are undergoing similar reforms.

In August, the head of Green Advocate, Cllr. Alfred Brownell, condemned the demeaning conditions of workers at two logging companies in Rivercess County. He said the demeaning conditions at the Mandra EJ and J and Maria-LTTC (Liberia Tree and Trading Company) must be investigated and action taken against the companies. Cllr. Brownell said the conditions of the workers were similar to "slavery".

Still in August, citizens of Sinoe County resisted the operation of Golden Veroleum on grounds that the company was forcibly seizing their ancestral lands.

In September, The NEWS Newspaper launched an ongoing investigation into the whereabouts of one million textbooks donated by former US President George W. Bush. The Ministry of Education declined to comment on the issue. About the same time, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf announced that she accepted the retirement of Chief Justice Johnnie Lewis. President Sirleaf, quoting a letter from Chief Justice Lewis, said his retirement was predicated upon the need for him to seek medical treatment.

The death of Ballah Scott, a former employee at the John F. Kennedy Medical Center sparked tension following the discovery of the body. Mr. Scott went missing mysteriously while on his sick bed on July 24, after he was admitted on July 23, 2012.

A media watch group known as the Liberia Media Center (LMC) launched a report in which it analyzed that only 18% was achieved in government's 150 days deliverables after 100 days. The LMC Executive Director Lawrence Randall intimated that although government's pronouncements continue to underscore high marks in meeting the delivery objectives of the President's 150 days action plan, it observation runs contrary during the monitoring exercise.

Nimba County Senator Prince Y. Johnson urged Commissioners of the Independent Human Rights Commission (INCHR) to go beyond the perpetrators and focus at those who contributed financially to the atrocious civil war in the country. In his speech to journalists, the former warlord accused current President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Dr. Amos Sawyer, and scores of influential politicians for allegedly sponsoring the Liberian civil war.

A report by Johnny Dwyer has indicated that President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf deliberately chose to allow Chevron to buy tainted oil agreement.

According to the report posted on the Web, Mr. Dwyer reported that seeds of corruption in the early days of Liberia's oil rush finally blossomed into a political mess for President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

The report noted that as President Sirleaf pressed for the sale of off-shore exploratory blocks owned by Nigerian companies Oranto and Broadway to Chevron, the US Ambassador reminded the president that Chevron was concerned over audits conducted by the General Auditing Commission (GAC) into alleged inducements by the companies to members of the Legislators.

The Press Union of Liberia (PUL) on September 23, 2012 showed a video documentary in which Liberian government officials were depicted accepting bribes for diplomatic positions.

In the documentary, Danish journalists Mads Courtzen working undercover, was in hand shake with then Foreign Minister Toga McIintosh. The ex-minister was heard in the video promising the Danish investigative journalist that his conferment would be possible with money.

The Chairman of the National Traditional Council of Liberia Chief Zanzar Karwor on October 5, 2012 halted the traditional practice of Poro and Sande societies throughout the country until the council identifies bushes where initiation ceremonies are performed.

Leymah Gbowee, the Nobel Peace Laureate winner resigned and disowned her fellow compatriot accusing her of nepotism and her lackadaisical attitude to fight corruption and reconcile the people of Liberia.

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