6 February 2018

Liberia: 'Minister Shoniyin Unfit'

-Liberians Speak Out; Still Insist He Is Rejected

Several Liberians and employees at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have called on President George Weah to replace Deputy Foreign Minister Designate, Elias Shoniyin, because of his alleged questionable integrity problem. The embattled ministerial designee has denied doing wrong.

The aggrieved Liberians claimed Shoniyin retention means an endorsement of his past corrupt practice associated with Japanese grant.

Some senior foreign ministry sources and a group of students told this paper that the deputy minister-designate is unfit and has tainted record and needs to be removed.

"The reason for which a person retains position is due to past good performance. But if you look at this deputy minister-designate, he does not have any of those attributes. We think the president needs to listen to us and remove him," one senior official who spoke on anonymity said.

Following his appointment recently, a civil society group, the Movement of Social Democratic Alternative (MOSODA) called on President Weah to replace him, and described him as an unwanted person who does not have any clean record.

It can be recalled that the Government of Japan in 2014 provided US$$731,412.00 to the Liberian Government for the purpose of building the institutional capacity of the Department of International Economic Cooperation and Integration (IECI) at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It aimed to enhance efficiency and effectiveness on the job in a way that leads to maximum productivity and at the same time ease capacity challenges at the Ministry.

But soon, it was alleged that the then Deputy Minister and others 'played' with the funds which made the Japanese Government to express concern over it and requested a full-scale investigation into the matter.

"What is the justification for retaining this man at that ministry? He needs to go. We are told that he has been involve in passport sale at the ministry at the highest level to some foreign people (we are investigating this case). He used to do this during the administration of former foreign minister, former Foreign Minister Marjon Kamara.,' Richard Kollie, a businessman told this paper.

The group said in the statement at the time that; "this individual is not only a perversion of integrity and a scar in the conscience of public service, but also a carpetbagger whose voracious appetite for wealth is objectionable and pernicious, undermining the zeal of public spiritedness and altruism that are characteristics of public service."

Following the 'disappearance' of the amount, the General Auditing Commission and Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission audits pinpointed wrongdoing with the Grant, and Shoniyin and other officials were highlighted as having played part in what happened. A senior foreign ministry official, Thomas Kaydor was dismissed while Shoniyin remain; even though both men were captured in the report.

The entity strongly believes such appointment is a contrast of what the president told the nation in his inaugural address.

The group reminded the president of his pledge to the nation. "I want to admonish you, that the foundation of the New Liberia must be reinforced by the steel of integrity. We need men and women, boys and girls, whose integrity provides the foundation of the trust that is required for Liberian society to benefit her people," MOSODA recalled.

Shoniyin is said to have integrity issue in the wake of his role in the Japanese Grant.

Saying that it is taken aback by the appointment, MOSODA believes "is a total contradiction to your pledge to end corruption, and it is a classic act of an afterthought, given that this individual is hooked in the reports of the GAC and the LACC for mismanaging the Japanese Grant that was given to the Liberian Government to mitigate capacity gap at the International Economic Cooperation and Integration (IECI) at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs."

If President Weah pronouncement about ending corruption is anything to take seriously, MOSODA says Mr. Shoniyin should go nowhere near the new administration.

A GAC report presented to the Liberian Legislature on the status of the grant highlighted "Misapplication and swindling of L$21,394,360.00 of the Grants allegedly by some authorities who were in charge of the management of the fund."

"As per the canon of the project, the key authority who had exclusive jurisdiction over the fund was Elias Shoniyin, he maintained such power even when he was transferred from the position of Deputy Minister for International Cooperation to Deputy for Foreign Affairs," MOSODA noted.

Foreign ministry sources told this paper that the Liberian government had to repay about US$200,000(Two hundred thousand Untied States dollars) to the Japanese government. "It was based on the repayment made the Japanese government to come back. So, why will this man remain in such position for the Liberian government to pay money he and others misapplied pay for it? This is totally unacceptable to the strongest degree," the source said.

According to the organization, the fight against corruption "cannot be conducted on the basis of equivocal and vague political pronouncements."

This paper established that his retention was based on an intervention of Robert Sirleaf and former president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. If this is true, it remains unclear on what basis such occurred.

"The fight against corruption must go beyond the airwaves of radio stations and the front pages of newspaper to praxis," it argues, and encouraged the President to take such a bold step starting with Mr. Shoniyin.

Appearing before the Joint Public Accounts Committees of the Legislature on the GAC report, former Foreign Minister Marjon Kamara; Elias Shoniyin, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, and Thomas Kaydor former Deputy Minister for IECI Department admitted that the intent of the grant was not met.

Commenting on the issue at the time, Deputy Minister Shoniyin told the Committee that 50% of the project goal was achieved, and further admitted at the hearing that US$20m was misapplied, something which, according to him, served as a hindrance to the full implementation of the project.

"Look, this man has admitted to the senate hearing before about this amount. So, what more does president Weah need to remove him from this position? I think his statement at the hearing is a clear confession of corruption," Wilfred R. Johnson told this paper. He said, based on this open confession by the deputy minister designate, it is about time that he leaves the position.

The then Deputy Minister for IECI Department said the manager of the project at the time, Augustine Nyanplu, who was out of the country denied the allegation, and others at the bank were involved in unauthorized withdraws, leading to the misapplication of the amount in question.

Also, in response to questions from members of the Legislative Committees, Minister Kamara (who was not linked to the alleged misapplication of the Japanese Fund) said the project was implemented by 30% and not 50% as was mentioned earlier by Deputy Minister Shoniyin.

In its report, the GAC said it had also uncovered that the IECI Project Management made payments for various transactions, amounting to L$21,394,360 without adequate supporting documents to substantiate the integrity of the transactions, and also noted that payments without adequate supporting documentation could cast doubts on the regularity of the transactions and undermines public sector accountability and transparency.

But last week, Deputy Minister Shoniyin told a local news agency that he was cleared by both GAC and Justice Ministry of the funds. But he failed to give any clearance document from these institutions.

When this paper contacted the GAC for comment, a senior official said: "he was never cleared by this agency. If he said he was cleared, let him show a copy of such clearance. I am not aware of any clearance from here."

Mr. Johnson and others are calling on the Senate not to confirm him.

"We are begging to the honorable senators not to confirm this man. He has tainted financial record," he said.

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