Members of the Press, fellow Liberians. Thank you for coming today. In view of all the activities of the past weekend, I think it is important to provide some context and clarification regarding the operations at the Liberia Airport Authority (LAA).
We remain grateful to the President for the privilege of serving our country as Chair of the Board of Directors of the LAA. I have provided leadership at the LAA in as professional a manner as is possible. It is never in the interest of the organization or the country to run the organization in the Press, but as I noted earlier the events of the past few days require setting the record straight.
Ms Ellen Corkrum, the dismissed MD of LAA and Mr. Melvin Johnson held a Press Conference on Wednesday February 6th. During that Press Conference they made a series of allegations that, in some instances, bordered on rumors, slander, libel, and defamation of character. In other instances, pure speculations.
Today we can summarize the actions of the former MD of the LAA Ms Corkrum as a culmination of a series of malfeasance, misfeasance, financial improprieties, abuse of office and privileges, and the co mingling of personal and public funds all within a short space of under 6 months.
I would like to speak to some basic facts: There are six members of the LAA Board of Directors. Per our Board guidelines, four members including the Chairman constitute a quorum. The Board met and unanimously resolved to terminate Ms Corkrum's contract for breach of her duties and responsibilities to LAA. The two members of the Board who were not physically present were informed of the Board meeting and subsequently gave their support to the decision of the Board.
As Chairman of the Board of Directors, I signed Ms Corkrum's contract in September 2012. It was one of the best contracts any head of a Public corporation has signed in this country. We offered her very generous incentives and financial remuneration in order to hire her services. We did it because we wanted the best talent. As you are aware, on paper, Ms Corkrum was an excellent candidate. She has two graduate degrees from two very prestigious institutions - Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Furthermore, she had risen to the rank of a Major in the US military. She had served in the military as a pilot and continued in the private sector as a commercial pilot. Her resume presented what looked like we were ready to take RIA to the next level with a good Manager/Administrator. In this package offer, Ms. Corkrum was paid for the month of September, even though she did not actually begin work until October. We also gave Ms Corkrum a substantial package to assist with her resettlement back to Liberia. We did so all because we felt that to attract the quality of leadership required to change the LAA, we needed an attractive compensation package. In addition to all of these, as Secretary to the Board, Ms. Corkrum also collected Board fees.
I hold nothing personal against Ms Corkrum and if she claims to have evidence implicating me in any wrongdoing, I invite her to submit that evidence to the appropriate Authority for investigation and action. As we speak, the Board has already commissioned an independent audit for the period between September 2012 and January 2013. At the same time, the LAA has been engaged by the GAC for an audit for the period between 2006 and 2012. We are pleased to inform you of these developments.
We first noticed a problem with our new hire, very early into her tenure as MD of the LAA. I was constrained to verbally reprimand Ms Corkrum. At the time, I chose not to put her on record because a) she had just been hired and b) it seemed like an honest mistake. It is only in retrospect that we realized that was a pattern and NOT mistake. She made a unilateral decision to paint the fence far beyond what had ever been spent on painting the RIA Fence since this Government took office in 2006.
Since the facelift of RIA in 2006, the fence has been painted. Upon arrival at the airport, Ms. Corkrum paid a Mr. Melvin Johnson US$60,000 to have the fence painted. The employees informed her that the total cost for painting the fence has always been around $5,000. Ms Corkrum responded that she was using oil paint. She did not mention procurement processes. I called Ms Corkrum and cautioned her, informing her that it was an irresponsible use of public resources. She claimed that she was still new to the job pointing out that it was a mistake not to be repeated.
Insider Trading.. Malfeasance and mis feasance.
The beginning of the slippery slope on which Ms Cockrum rode.
Prior to Ms Corkrum being hired, the LAA had already contracted the Netherlands Airport Consultants (NACO) to update the existing Master plan of the Airport. The Master Plan is a 25-year development blue print of the airport. The first part of their assignment was an assessment of the infrastructure and recommendation of emergency works.
After several incidents on the runway, we decided at the time that for any emergency works at the airport we had to hire airport construction engineers to supervise the work. Initially we contacted our neighbors in Ghana and at the last minute the plan fell through. At that time, the MD informed us that she was aware of a Senegalese firm that could do the work. Because of the emergency nature of the work, she suggested that the contract be single-sourced. She was clearly informed at the time that it required a letter of approval from the Public Procurement and Concession Commission (PPCC) especially since the quoted price exceeded US$250,000.
Ms. Cockrum proceeded to write to the PPCC for single source and no objection. When the letter for "no objection" was submitted to the PPCC, there were some very obvious anomalies and discrepancies which were immediately communicated back from PPCC to LAA.
As part of its due diligence, the PPCC observed in a letter dated 6 December 2012 that there were discrepancies and material misrepresentation from the firm purportedly headed by the Senegalese momar dieng.. The request for "no objection" was out rightly and unambiguously denied. A copy of the PPCC's reply to Ms Corkrum is here. This is pivotal and material to all that is subsequently seen as the chips falling where they may.
After being denied the "no objection" letter from the PPCC, rather than adduce more evidence of proof of the existence of what appears as a bogus company or a shell company, and direct the PPCC in its due diligence search, Ms Corkrum took the rejection letter so personal and was henceforth in public so angry and resentful toward the Executive Director that she took to invectives, shouting obscenities and insulting the PPCC Executive Director. One such meeting took place at the Executive Mansion, another at the Ministry of Finance. The PPCC Executive Director wrote a formal complaint to LAA in which she complained of Ms Corkcrum's behavior going beyond the bounds of civilities expected among public officials. Other high government officials who witnessed the ruddy behavior of Ms Corkcrum offered this and other similar views.
It must be observed that the letter from the PPCC Executive Director is professionally written, showing cause why the request could not be positively considered when no formal human or electronic contacts were made with this shell or bogus company.
It can be recalled that when she rained insults at the Executive Director during a meeting at the Ministry of Finance, Ms Corkrum was asked to apologize. She refused. It soon became apparent that her displaced anger and aggression toward the PPCC Executive Director was because she had by then already forwarded an advance payment to this shell Company to the tune of $ 125,000.00 US dollars without a contract and without any written directives from anyone. This amount was paid via wire transfer from LBDI on November 10, 4 days after the former MD wrote to the PPCC for "no objection" and was denied
Again Our MD might want to come back to provide further reasons why she proceeded to transfer the next and final payment of $ 125,000.00 USD to this Shell or Bogus company, for work not done and to a company which is now being challenged after due diligence by the PPCC as non existence. The Amount was again paid via wire transfer from LBDI on December 13, 2012 a good 7 days after the PPCC denial letter was sent out. Public Funds, paid out with no contract for no work done by an individual who has no authority to disburse the people's money in such manner.
Infact, a review of the bank accounts after this rampage within and between the accounts, it was discovered that she had moved funds from one account to advance this payment overseas. The account from which these funds were moved is that from which LAA pays its workers. This is the same MD who said 'not on her my watch ' will the poor workers remain poor. She had moved money from the accounts where workers salaries are paid in anticipation of an approval, for work that was not done and from no authorize d contractual agreement. The board by attempting to slow her down and bring her feet to the fire of how government works and how public corporations are run with a board providing oversight and keeping a vigilant eye on the management, is now the subject of personal attacks, innuendos and invectives by an MD.
Here it must be noted that the MD was entrusted to manage the Airport. As Chairman of the Board, I gave her my fullest support and confidence to allow her work to bring the needed positive changes and success that will take the RIA to the next level. A public trust, I believe she completely abused and misused for immediate and personal gains.
When NACO was eventually contacted to do what we initially wanted to avoid, they charged $51,000.00 as against the 255,000 US charged and paid out for a job undone. This amount will be shown in any audit as outstanding, with no contract and no report of any job assigned as completed. This is 250,000 of Public funds charged far and above the professional firm, which did the work; a US$205,000 difference between what the MD's Senegalese friends had promised they could do and which had never provided this type service before.
It became clear to all involved then that there was indeed some collusion between Ms Corkrum and Mr. Dieng to defraud the state. We will observe some sub contracting or delegating of responsibilities to complete work for sums, which had been transferred and hurry people must hurry work even if they have never had such scope of work to do ever before.
As an aside, the public has been made to believe that a cabal is at work which introduced Ms Corkrum, our US Major to an unknown Senegalese named momar dieng. The Finance Minister Amara Konneh was identified to have been the one who introduced the Senegalese fellow who owns the now infamous company. Had I not received an earlier email from Ms Cockrum with another tale of how the Senegalese entered her picture, I would not believe that our distinguished MD is capable of telling a white lie or telling a lie at all. I am left asking as to what her real motives were. For it was Ms Corkrum who informed me in an email (copy of which is available ) that when the deal with the Ghanaians fell through she reached out to her Harvard network and Mr. Dieng responded. Today you line up; deing, konneh, Bility, kamara and you want to show a neat Mandingo network in motion.
Ladies and gentlemen of the press, at the time, neither the Board, nor the PPCC, nor the Ministry of Finance was aware that Ms Corkrum had already made payments 4 days after her request for PPCC "no objection was denied. Before she even requested for "no objection", She had already hired this same firm to do other kinds of works and transferred money to them. A copy of the email requesting the General Manager of the Airport to provide information to this bogus non existing company supposedly hired by Ms Corkrum to do strategic analysis and forecasting for and about the RIA.
When the board began to exercise closer scrutiny of the MD's activities, the shell or sham company was brought to the public fore, This prompted a complaint from the Ministry of Finance to the President, indicating an "intent to defraud" the government on the part of the then acting MD. The letter was a strong warning if there was no intent to defraud. A copy of that letter here is available.
As the search light from the board became more obvious, a number of the misdeeds, unilateral decisions, adhoc financial measures, and other subterfuges became apparent. In January, for instance, I received a formal complaint from one Mr. Edwin Harmon on the lack of or inadequate payment for work assigned him. . I do not know Mr. Harmon, nor was I aware that he had been contacted or contracted or sub contracted by Ms Corkrum to do a risk analysis of the airport. Mr. Harmon complained about non-payment of the final portion of his fees. Inadvertently but thankfully, it was Mr. Harmon who brought to our attention that Ms Corkrum had previously wired US$10,000 to him through the account of a Mr. Melvin Johnson and Associates.
Is it a coincidence or a matter of convergence that it turns out that again a Mr. Melvin Johnson happened to be the same Melvin Johnson who had previously been awarded the contract to paint the fence for $60,000.00 (sixty thousand US dollars). In Mr. Harmon's letter, a copy of which is available, Ms Corkrum made one of the payments in cash - in the amount of US$5,300.00 US dollars. Payment in Cash in this Administration. Un heard off. The President issued, I believe Executive Order Number 2 and subsequently the Public finance and Management Act forbids this practice. Payment in cash, whose case, how did this cash get in the public domain. This is a practice completely against established government practices.
The question then and now still remains as to whether Mr. Harmon was a sub contractor of Dieng, or of a Melvin Johnson, or of Ms Corkrum or with whom. For as to date the board is not in awareness of any contract between the LAA and Mr. Harmon.
Please note also that because Ms Corkrum was conducting most of this activity in cash, none of these transactions show that the required taxes due government were paid to the Ministry of Finance and obtained the necessary flag receipts.
A brief and cursory view of our dear Mr. Melvin Johnson. A man who claims to be a lawyer and Judge in a county in the State of Georgia. He further claims that I hired him as legal counsel. Except I did not hear him right, or the Press misquoted him, I would like for this esteem and learned gentleman of law and letters to make public this contract which shows I hired him. This learned and legal mind that boasted of the many things he has done in his career, is now being challenged to prove just this one. Show me the contract that I Musa Hassan Bility has with you as legal counsel of the LAA.
Only an independent audit will show if indeed Ms Corkrum abused her office, and co mingled her private credits, that which she was entitled to as per her incentive contract when she charged over US$30,000.00 on airplane tickets for herself and Mr. Melvin Johnson to travel to the United States on many occasions. When I noticed these huge charges and brought it to her attention, Ms Corkrum stopped charging the tickets to the LAA account and began paying for the pair of tickets in cash.
Even though Ms Corkrum worked only three months out of the year last year, she did not ask nor got permission to, but paid herself an unauthorized bonus. Again how we arrived at this bonus, by whom and what standard and at what rate, no paper trail between the board and Ms Cockrum exist. Yet she paid herself twice in December. Perhaps she might have a re think now and return the public funds to the public coffers. It was the unearthing of these and other behavior that left the board with no alternative but to fire Ms Corkrum. We are still unaware of the full extent of the damages she might have caused the organization, which is why we have commissioned a comprehensive audit. The public will be kept fully abreast when this is completed.
Abuse of office
It remains unfortunate; that Ms Corkrum saw absolutely no wrong done by her and all the good she and Mr. Melvin Johnson had done for the people of Liberia. Rather the board is boring her with details of various and what she considers at the worst misdemeanors but acts which the board and others view as grave and abuse of public trust.
Here is a typical case of Ms. Ellen Corkcrum at work or play. Upon returning from one their many trips to the US, Mr. Corkrum and Mr. Johnson arrived in the country on a Delta flight. On board this same flight where the Minister of Transport, who is also a board member of LAA and the Statutory Chairman of the Board of the Liberia Civil Aviation Authority. Also on that same flight was the Director General of the Liberia Civil Aviation Authority. They disembarked and rode the Civil Aviation and LAA designated shuttle bus.
Ms Cockrum had telephoned ahead of scheduled arrival for her assigned vehicle to drive onto the apron to pick her up. The vehicle was parked under the wing of aircraft waiting for her and a Mr. Melvin Johnson to disembark. They boarded the vehicle and drove off handing their passports to one of the employees to process it.
Playing on the polemics of words and actions, it is my understanding that during their Press Conference last week, Mr. Melvin. Johnson proudly displayed pages of his passport with a stamp to show that he did not violate immigration procedures. Ms. Corkrum was equally selective in her choice of words, that she did not drive her car under no plane. Thanks to the ever watchful eye of the Director General of the LCAA for safety and security at RIA and throughout all our airspace, he wrote a letter shortly there after, alarmed and detailing all the violations and the security concerns and calling for strong disciplinary measures to avoid future occurrence.
The copy of this letter of reprimand from the Director-General of the Liberia Civil Aviation speaks volume. He was a participant observer so he witnessed first hand Ms 'Corkrum flouting the signs of her office and the perks attached as well as the potential threat this posed to national security.
So much of her character was on display when Ms Corkrum, knowing fully well she was under suspension and could no longer act or transact on behalf of the LAA took liberties to do so. On the morning of her Press conference, Wednesday February 6 2013, she proceeded to the bank and conducted herself in a manner we will leave to investigators to determine whether it was criminally, cowardly or otherwise.
Aware that she was about to give a press conference she tried to erase evidence of what await the independent audit to determine as mis feasance, mal feasance and other forms of financial improprieties. On that Wednesday morning Ms. Corkrum marched to the LBDI and attempted to remove from the banks records, three checks she had issued: checks number. All those checks were written to a certain Mr. Melvin Johnson. This we are certain is the one and he same Mr. Melvin Johnson who claims to be a lawyer, judge, legal counsel among many other public roles he has enumerated. We have a letter from the bank reporting this behavior.
It is my understanding that Ms Corkrum has adopted a line similar to one of selective amnesia. That is you choose to forget what you want to forget. She returned to the airwaves on Friday to inform the public of her life was being threatened. She called nearly all senior government officials and family friends and relations to people in government to reinforce the view that her life is threatened. That lights and water have been discontinued at her residence at RIA. I am not certain if she informed the public that this residence is the property of the LAA to which she was given adequate time to leave. She selected not to inform the public that she cohabitates in this same RIA premises with a certain Mr. Melvin Johnson.
Since they are both consenting adults who put on a brave face to appear in public and not disclose their personal lives and issues we will also make no further comments on that publicly.
We will however not fail to bring to the attention of the public, the areas of co mingling of private and public accounts where they occurred, the lack of fiduciary duties and responsibilities. Any sign of fraud, waste and abuse of office when and where the full audit is completed. Upon completion of the audit, the Board will take other such actions as it deems necessary.