26 June 2013

Liberia: Wanted - a Workshop On Conflict of Interest for Liberian Legislators


YET ANOTHER member of the 53rd National Legislature in Liberia has run afoul of the law in broad day light and with no regards for the constitution and the oath of office they swore at inauguration.

IT IS BECOMING a norm in Liberia these days for lawmakers to openly insult the intelligence of the Liberian people and those who voted them into office.

EARLY THIS month, the opposition Congress for Democratic Change resolved to expel Representative Edward Forh(District, 16, Montserrado County, CDC) in the aftermath of an investigation into a secretly-recorded tape on which the lawmaker is heard discussing how to steal county development funds.

SADLY, FORH'S own peers in the national legislature turned a blind eye on the charges despite his open admission that it was his voice heard on the tape recorded by former Montserrado County Superintendent Grace Kpaan.

Issues of conflict of interest involving members of the national legislature has been rampant for some time. Just last week, the watchdog group, Global Witness alarmed that another member of the national legislature Representative Ricks Toweh(NUDP, Nimba District 6) was in violation of laws prohibiting lawmakers and their relatives from holding logging concessions.

JUST LAST WEEK, the watchdog group, Global Witness reported that in the Doru CFMA (Nimba County), community members reported that they had been solicited by Liberia Tree & Trading Co. (LTTC) for a CFMA and were rushed into signing documents to legitimize the deal.

BUT ONCE AGAIN, a lawmaker was at a center of it all, looking to profit off the backs of his own people. GW REPORTED: "At a meeting attended by Global Witness and at least 50 Doru residents, community members reported that they had not been given copies of the actual CFMA contract and there was confusion over what promises the company had made in exchange for the right to log the forest.30 As early as 2009 and possibly as late as March 2012 LTTC was headed by Ricks Toweh."

THE REPORT noted that starting April 2012, control of the company appeared to have been transferred to Toweh's wife. However, in January 2012 Toweh was elected to the Liberian legislature and Liberian law bars both legislators and their relatives from holding logging concessions. Toweh chairs the House Committee on Peace, Religious and Reconciliation and sits on the committees on Labor, Claims and Petitions and Public Utilities. "Global Witness wrote to Toweh regarding his involvement and that of his wife with LTTC and the process by which LTTC became associated with the Doru CFMA. By the date of publication no response had been received."

THEN ON MONDAY, June 24, 2013, another member of the legislature was found in breach of the Conflict of Interest stipulation in the constitution of the republic.

ARTICLE 90 of the constitution states: a) "No person, whether elected or appointed to any public office, shall engage in any other activity which shall be against public policy, or constitute conflict of interest.b) No person holding public office shall demand and receive any other perquisites, emoluments or benefits, directly or indirectly, on account of any duty required by Government; c) The Legislature shall, in pursuance of the above provision, prescribe a Code of Conduct for all public officials and employees, stipulating the acts which constitute conflict of interest or are against public policy, and the penalties for violation thereof."

IT BECAME CLEAR Monday that Representative Blamoh Wesseh(District 1, Grand Kru County) lacked education on this fact, seeking instead to pursue a bid for his company and benefit from County Development Funds from his own county, using money that should help improve the lives of those who elected him into office.

AT ISSUE was Rep. Blamoh's attempt to get the Ministry of Public Works to explain why a receipt was issued to a company owned by the lawmaker on the back of a business card belonging to Assistant director, Joseph Gray. Providing the receipt to the committee during the hearing, Rep. Blamoh said his company was made to pay US$ 300 as license fees to the Ministry of Public Works out of an initial US$ 450 charged. According to the lawmaker who sits on the Committee scrutinizing the budget, the US$300 was received Assistant Minister Gray, who in turn issued the receipt on his call card to the company's agent and stamped it with the stamp of the Deputy Minister for Technical Services' official stamp. Appearing before the body Monday, lawmakers took Deputy Minister for Administration, Mr. Stephen Yekeson to task for failing to provide a proper receipt for an amount of US$350 paid to it by Grand Kru County District #1 Rep"s private construction company.

IT IS BECOMING increasingly clear that members of the 53rd, those before them and most likely those to come after them will continue to abuse the trust impose on them by the people of Liberia by consistently pursuing their own interests over those of the people of Liberia.

LIBERIA HAS COME a long way and the international community has spent millions of dollars to help Africa's oldest republic complete the transition from war to peace. We are however afraid that all of this help and massive aid may go to waste unless the stakeholders begin holding a number of sensitization exercises including workshops, seminars and trainings to educate lawmakers about the values of leadership and why it is important to avoid using their offices to their own benefit and to the detriment of their constituents.

A LITTLE BIT of practical knowledge could also go a long way in helping our lawmakers understand that what they are doing is wrong and it is time to stop.

LIBERIA NEEDS a robust auditing and prosecutorial arm that will begin looking into these cases and even taking lawmakers head on and putting a good number of them on trial and possible jail. This is the only way that this nonsense they are masquerading as leadership and self-proclaimed honorable men will come to an end.

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