11 October 2018

Liberia: Hands Off the LMA, VP Taylor

The attention of the Daily Observer is drawn to a story carried in its October 8, 2018 edition headlined: "Suspended LMA Prez Has Option to Sue VP Taylor, Says Judge Kaba".

According to the story written by court reporter Abednego Davies, the Liberia Marketing Association (LMA) had filed legal action against Vice President Jewel Howard Taylor seeking the court's review of the action taken by the VP, who sacked the leadership of the Liberia Marketing Association and replacing them with individuals of her own choosing.

According to sources, Vice President Taylor had taken the action in the wake of complaints against the legitimate leadership of the LMA, alleging that it was involved in corrupt practices. According to the LMA, on August 25, 2018, Vice President Taylor unilaterally suspended LMA President Alice Yeebahn and her corps of officers and replaced them with a five-member interim body, in violation of the Act creating the LMA.

In their complaint before the Court, the LMA argued that the Vice President injured their scope of operations and stalled their day-to-day activities. The Association also accused Vice President Taylor of ordering armed men to forcibly remove Madame Yeebahn form her office, an act which they consider illegal. They therefore called for the intervention of the Court to halt the Vice President in her tracks.

But the Court apparently dashed their hopes, maintaining that Vice President Taylor's actions did not injure the LMA rather it was Madame Yeebahn and her corps of officers who had suffered personal injury, meaning they were therefore at liberty to pursue legal action against Vice President Taylor in their own name. This newspaper is naturally concerned about such a development which appears virtually analogous to unwarranted interference bordering on illegality on the part of the Vice President of Liberia. The question which naturally arises is, just what color of right confers on the Vice President the authority to change at will, officers of a business association made up of private interests.

Meanwhile, the Vice President's action has triggered public protests by members of the LMA against the Vice President. But a spokesperson from her office, clarifying the Vice President's action, said she was directed by President George Weah to do so. But why would President Weah order his Vice President into taking such illegal action remains unclear. Whatever the case, neither President Weah nor Vice President Taylor have any right under the law to unwarrantedly interfere in the activities of the LMA. In the opinion of this newspaper, should members of the LMA feel aggrieved because of actions by its leadership, they have the option to seek redress and take advantage of remedies available under the law.

Civil Law Court Judge Yussif Kaba, before whom the case was filed, ruled that if Madame Yeebahn and others of the LMA felt injured by the Vice President's action they should have sued in their personal capacities rather than in the name of the LMA. Conversely, it can also be argued that if Vice President Taylor did feel aggrieved or injured by the alleged acts of the LMA leadership, she should have availed herself of remedies under the law. But the question is, does Vice President Taylor have any legal standing to sue the leadership of the LMA?

In the opinion of this newspaper, and based on review of relevant documents, Vice President Taylor has absolutely no legal standing to sue the LMA leadership. In the first place, she is not and has never been a member of said Association. So how she becomes fit and proper to dismiss the leaders of the LMA needs explanation. In any case, should the members of the LMA feel aggrieved by the actions of its leadership, they should, which they have not done, first take advantage of provisions under their by-laws and Constitution to address such problems.

Should those measures fail, they can then resort to legal action filed before a court of competent jurisdiction. But unwarranted interference of this kind is a practice that predates the George Weah administration. From available evidence the LMA has long since been used by local politicians, especially the sitting president, to drum up political support for the government. It goes back to the time when all civil servants including teachers and other government workers were compelled to pay taxes to the ruling True Whig Party.

As the marketing Association is a body composed of micro-enterprises and petty traders, many of who are women, politicians found it useful as a rallying tool to marshal political support for the programs and policies of the powers that be. During the administration of the late President Samuel K. Doe, the political profile of the LMA was raised considerably as the First Lady, Nancy Doe, herself a former market woman, prevailed on the government to construct market buildings around the country to accommodate marketeers who could often be found selling their goods in the open, fully exposed to inclement weather conditions.

Aside from its potential political clout, the LMA, according to findings derived by this newspaper, generates more than US$1 million monthly, from collections at the various markets just around Monrovia and its environs alone. With such potential economic clout, the LMA, working in concert with local financing institutions, could easily become a leading importer and distributor/retailer of basic commodities including rice on the Liberian market.

Recalling history, shortly after the election of President Sirleaf in 2005, Commerce Minister Olubanke King Akerele, according to sources, opened a bank account in the name of the LMA allegedly with herself as signatory to the account. Not long after, President Sirleaf, perhaps realizing the potential of the LMA established a fund, called the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Market Women Fund (SMWF), with the alleged intent to provide support to Liberian market women. Sirleaf has since stripped her name from the fund and had it changed to the Sustainable Market Women's Fund.

To date, it remains a unclear how much was realized from the fund established by the former President or how much support it provided to market women. Now out of office and no longer President, the SMWF has either folded up or become inactive. Just who were the contributors to the fund and how much they contributed is shrouded in mystery.

As it appears, the fight at the LMA is in reality a fight over control of funds generated by that body. Past leaders have often used it as a slush fund to underwrite personal and other expenses. Accountability remains a critical concern and government officials, rather than assisting the organization to develop an independent and transparent institution, appear instead to be more interested in sharing in the spoils garnered by a corrupt leadership accountable only to the President or Vice President and not their members. This situation has to change now and its leaders must do all they can to institute transparent and accountable leaderships.

In consonance thereof, the Daily Observer says: "Hands off The LMA", VP Taylor!

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