The New Dawn (Monrovia)

13 February 2013

Liberia: The RIA Claims and Counter-Claims

Since a week now, claims and counter-claims about financial misappropriations at the Roberts International Airport continue to remain the main news-making issues in the country. The corruption claims and counter-claims surfaced to public notice when the Managing Director of the RIA, Miss Ellen Corkrum was reportedly given a marching order out of the Airport by President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, as published in a few dailies. The Managing Director of the RIA had been reportedly dismissed by the President for attempting to defraud the Government of Liberia.

Corkrum's dismissal letter accused her of awarding a contract exceeding US$250, 000 through single-sourcing without receiving authorization from the Board, noting that not only did she unilaterally award the amount above, but that the company to which the contract was awarded, the Diaspora Consulting did not exist- something Miss Corkrum denied.

"The fact is I met the head of this company, Mr. Momar Dieng, through Amara Konneh, the Minister of Finance; the company has been in existence since 2009, and I have only been at LAA for a few months. Musa Bility suggested that LAA used this man and his company; for Bility to say that I paid them $250,000, and that I attempted to defraud the good people of Liberia is simply not true- it is a deception to the people and an attack on my integrity and character," Managing Director Corkrum rejected the claims during her last Wednesday's news conference in Monrovia. Another institution caught up in the web is Melvin Johnson and Associates, which the dismissal letter said has no ties with the airport or the Government of Liberia.

"He also said I received a plane ticket; I was hired by Bility and the entity to provide legal consultation that's what I do for living. I have a copy of the check he signed to pay me for my services; this is my passport, signed and stamped. I did not violate the law as claimed by him in the letter," Melvin Johnson also told a live news conference last Wednesday in Monrovia.

One reason, in the RIA Managing Director's counter-claims, for Musa Bility's action is the financial regulations instituted during her short tenure, which may have allegedly annoyed him (Bility). "During my short tenure at the airport, I discovered numerous loopholes through which I believe Musa Bility and others have been stealing; the VIP inventory ordering, the gasoline ordering and issuing process, vendors purchase orders etc. in fact, monies recouped from these loopholes, I pushed to pay the poorest of our workers and citizens in Liberia. This has upset Musa and his cohorts.

Also dragged into the RIA corruption saga are Massaquoi Kamara, a friend of Bility, Michael Gilayenneh, an employee of the Liberia Football Association, Board Secretary Cecelia Sio, as well as Finance Minister Amara Kamara, among others. It is no doubt that these alarming developments at the Roberts International Airport need serious attention.Other than watching this media battle between Bility and Corkrum to the detriment of the image of the Government of Liberia, the necessary actions are required to deal with this unfortunate situation.

In the interest of the image of the administration and nation, it is important that an independent investigation panel be constituted to probe the entire RIA corruption saga so as to determine where the problem is, who's involved and to what extent, with findings and recommendations submitted to the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission or LACC for further actions.

While the Chairman of the RIA Board of Directors may have first instigated the media war, the Managing Director must also see reasons to 'cease fire' because of the damaging impact of the media war not only on the RIA, but the Ellen Sirleaf Administration for which the "belligerent sides" work. They must exercise restraints to give way for an independent inquiry into the matter.

Such inquiry must be conducted by a special independent panel, mentioned earlier, comprising a representative each from the Ministries of Justice and National Security, National Bureau of Investigation, Liberia National Police, General Auditing Commission, Liberia Council of Churches, as well as National Muslim Council, Civil Society, the media and women of Liberia.

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