Monrovia — Don't write off Minister Brownie Samukai just yet. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has entrusted her embattled Defense Chief with the state of the nation as she departed Monrovia Wednesday for what the Executive Mansion says, is a "private" visit to the United States of America.
The President, who returned to Monrovia last Friday from a visit to the U.S. and Qatar, will reportedly be out of the country for a week and is expected to return to the country on June 4th. Samukai will steer the ship of state in the capacity as Chairman of the Cabinet in consultation with Vice President Joseph N. Boakai, Sr., according to the Executive Mansion.
Samukai was the odd man out in the aftermath of a secretly-released recording by Ellen Corkrum, the former Acting head of the Liberia Aviation Authority (LAA) who along with her fiancé Melvin Johnson, made recordings of Samukai and several senior administration officials.
Prior to his current preferment, Samukai, was one of few Cabinet Ministers regularly left in charge in the president's absence. The Corkrum revelation at one point, appeared to have strained ties between Sirleaf and her loyal defense chief, sparking speculations that his dismissal was imminent.
A couple of incidents between Samukai and Othello Warrick, the former Director of the Executive Protection Service, further heightened the speculations. On one of those occasions, Warrick reportedly attempted to have Samukai searched before entering a meeting during which the president was present. A similar incident involving Police Director Chris Massaquoi at the Monrovia Central Prison also highlighted strains among Sirleaf's security apparatus.
But at a news conference in August 2013, Presidential press secretary Jerolinmek Piah disclosed that the President had listened to the secret recording of Samukai but fell short of revealing the President's impressions. The Liberia government has since said it has issued an indictment against Corkrum and her fiancé, Johnson.
Samukai, fighting back tears, would later take full responsibility of the recording, at a news conference when he said: "I take full responsibility for granting access to Ellen Corkrum who secretly recorded me and I will like to call on all Liberians to streamline the kind of conversation they have with certain individuals," the Minister alarmed.
The Minister said at the time that his words were unguided and filled with distrust, summing up the incident as a human error and that he stands committed to serve the country diligently. Last December, the Criminal Court C placed a ban order on the publication of the secret recordings.
Besides Samukai, Corkrum successfully recorded Inspector General of the Liberia National Police, Chris Massaquoi, who is heard on the recordings suggesting to the pair how they could escape to avoid a plot he said was in the works to arrest them. Musa Bility, the former chair of the LAA Board, President Pro Temp Gbezohnga Findley, Senator Clarice Jah(Liberty Party, Margibi), Minister of State for Presidential Affairs Edward McClain and President Sirleaf have also fell prey to Corkrum's secret recordings saga.
Both Corkrum and Johnson have stood by the recordings and resisted calls by critics and the Sirleaf administration to return home and answer corruption charges. The pair, indicted by the Liberian government last year for "economic sabotage," have slammed the allegations against them as false and unfounded. Johnson, a Liberian-American, told the Voice of America in January that he and Corkrum, have assembled hundreds of pages of documents and email correspondence that would prove their case.
The Liberian government claims that Corkrum, also a Liberian-American, and Johnson stole over $1 million and fled the country. Justice Minister Christiana Tah confirmed to VOA that the government indicted the pair and asked the US government to extradite them. But, Tah said she would not discuss the merits of the case because "it's before the court."
In her January 2014 annual message, President Sirleaf said of the debacle: "A major setback in efforts for the development of the airport resulted from an unscrupulous and conspiring newly recruited Managing Director, who returned kindness and deference with entrapment and intriguing accusations to damage the credibility of several individuals, and the image of the country. This matter is under review by counsel in the United States for legal redress, including extradition."
But Corkrum and Johnson maintains that the charges are bogus and are an attempt by the government to cover up what he calls "the embarrassing revelations" contained in the secret recordings made of government officials and others.