3 September 2013

Liberia: 'A Big Joke' - Chris Toe Brags About Journalist's Detention: Yet Acknowledges GAC Audit

Photo: FrontPage Africa
Imprisoned FrontPage Africa's Managing Editor, Rodney Sieh.

Journalists in their numbers turned out at the Corina Hotel in Monrovia on Tuesday hoping to put an end to a situation that has been dragging for weeks that has seen one of their colleagues the Managing Editor of the FrontPageAfrica newspaper Rodney D. Sieh in jail for a week and another week in the hospital after falling sick in his cell, but later found that Dr. Chris Toe was determined to prolong the crisis.

The former Agriculture Minister Dr. Chris Toe Tuesday acknowledged GAC report that accused him of his alleged failure to account for millions of United States dollars offered by the government to fight army worms that invaded two regions but claimed that the report was unprofessional.

Dr. Toe's statement comes in the wake of lawsuit involving him and the management of the FrontPageAfrica newspaper over a news story where the paper quoted the same report to accuse him of corruption.

In 2010 former Agriculture Minister Dr. Toe first filed a lawsuit to the Civil Law Court at the Temple of Justice against the FrontPageAfrica requesting US$2m in damages for story the paper published accusing him of his alleged failure to account for million of United States offered him by the government to fight army worms in Bong and Lofa Counties.

At the time of the trial the lower court despite the paper's evidence presented to the court ignored and held the paper liable but ordered to pay US$ 1.5m as damages instead of the US$2m previous requested by the plaintiff.

After the lower court ruling FrontPageAfrica announced an appeal to the Supreme Court but the high court denied the paper's appeal and upheld the lower court ruling to pay to the former Agriculture Minister US$1.5 in damages for libel on grounds that the paper did not follow the rule of appeal.

Following the high court ruling the managing Managing Editor of the FrontPageAfrica was arrested and taken to jail at the Monrovia Central Prison after he refused to pay the said amount on grounds that his story was true and does not have such a huge money to pay to the appellee.

Barely one week after his detention on August 21, 2013 at the famous Monrovia Central Prison, the FrontPageAfrica Managing Editor Sieh collapsed in prison and was later taken to the John F. Kennedy hospital where he is admitted under tight security but family sources say he has suffered from pneumonia due to bad prison condition.

Two weeks after the Managing Editor's detention, former Agriculture Minister Dr. Toe on Tuesday's held a press conference where he claimed was intended to react to a number of negative reports that have been circulated in the media about him since the arrest of FrontPageAfrica Managing Editor Sieh.

Dr. Toe started by saying that he was a small village boy born in one of Liberia's poorest counties of Grand Kru County who has been blessed by God nurtured by God fearing parent who had no undisputable trace record.

He continued that the allegation against him by the paper was totally false and that the money given to him to fight army worms while serving as Minister was US$ 76,275 from the Agriculture Ministry 2008/2009 which report was given to former Finance Minister Augustine Ngafuan and also published in several local dailies including the New Democrat newspaper.

Commenting on the GAC report which the newspaper used as its reliance in the publication of the news story that accused him of corruption, Dr. Toe acknowledged the report and claimed that it was seriously flawed from three critical perspectives.

Firstly, Dr. Toe added that the conduct of the audit was wholly unprofessional, erroneous with misrepresentations and seemingly undertaken in a rush to judgment in order to tarnish his reputation and stellar record of service at home and abroad.

Secondly, the GAC admitted that the audit was not properly done and there were shortcomings, which brought into serious questions its findings and conclusions according to Dr. Toe.

Thirdly, he noted that the GAC did not have the mandate to investigate a task force jointly organized by the government and the United Nations, which operates under a supra-national agreement on Liberia.

"Challenge anyone including the FrontPageAfrica Managing Editor to prove me wrong in those evidence that I have," Dr. Toe told the huge number of journalist who turned out for the press conference.

On the issue of the question of whether he was in the position to reconcile with the FrontPageAfrica management, Dr. Toe stated that he was not above reconciliation but maintained it can only happen on the right terms and condition. He said peace cannot be achieved when another party to conflict is unwilling to make peace hereby making reference to detained Managing Editor that he will not apologize to Dr. Chris Toe when his story was nothing but the facts. Many wonder why Dr. Toe could not sue the GAC or his deputy based on whose reports the paper based its reports.

Former Auditor-General John Morlu, under whose tenure Dr. Toe was audited, said Dr. Toe should have sued the GAC over the reports instead of going after the journalist and the media entity, which was only reporting what, was contained in the report.

Dr. Toe at his news conference on Tuesday acknowledged that FrontPageAfrica newspaper based its story on a government report and a letter of complaint from his deputy at the time.

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