9 January 2019

Liberia: Beware the Zero-Summed Nature of Politics in Liberia, Mr. President!!!

opinion

Today's editorial is drawn from a front page lead story headlined, "Former President Sirleaf Subpoenaed to Testify in Sable Mining Bribery Case". The fact that a former President can be subpoenaed to appear before a court of law is a clear testimony of how far we have come as a nation in the evolution and growth of our democracy.

This development, though not entirely novel, should constitute a wake-up call to those in positions of authority, especially those who abuse their positions and authority, that a day of reckoning is sure to come.

We recall for instance that Transitional Government Chairman, Gyude Bryant, after leaving office was dragged before a court of law on charges of corruption or theft of public resources. Now, President Sirleaf is being called to testify in a case involving individuals whose prosecution she had authorized as President.

Now the tables appeared to have turned with this unprecedented move to have the former President testify in court. It is important to note and one should not lose sight of the fact that public demands for accountability for public officials is growing by the day.

As it appears, no one knows where this road may lead. Who resurrected the case, for example? Was it the State and/or was it Senator Sherman in a bid to clear his name? An interesting aspect of the case is that the individual who was appointed by President Sirleaf as Chief Prosecutor has since been elected to the House of Representatives and is now a colleague of Senator Sherman.

Questions are now being asked whether there are hidden motives and intent behind the quest to have the former President appear in Court. Is it a disguised attempt by Senator Sherman intended to exact revenge against the former President? Who knows and given the zero-summed nature of politics in Liberia, this cannot be considered far-fetched.

When the case initially began in 2016, it took on the appearance of a score-settling affair between Senator Sherman and the former President. The attending drama of the legal exercise tended to suggest, at the time, that the case was politically motivated and that Sherman, who had fallen out with the former President as well as disgraced former Speaker Alex Tyler, were the principal targets.

Huge sums of money -- at least three quarters of a million U.S. dollars -- were paid to Chief Prosecutor Koffa to bring the accused to justice. There was so much hype attending the affair and so much money put into it; but at the end of the day, not a single conviction was secured.

At the end, the case appeared to have virtually fizzled out as the nation prepared for elections. The entire affair was laughable, according to observers who followed it. For "who in their right frame of mind," commented a lawyer following the case, "would appoint an individual with questionable integrity to lead prosecutorial efforts against individuals accused of integrity missteps?"

How are these developments going to sit with President Weah, who had earlier publicly committed to protecting his predecessor's interests, whatever that meant? Given growing tendencies by officials of this government to blame former President Sirleaf for the current economic downturn, it may not be surprising were President Weah to shift stance or abandon his previous commitment.

Whatever turns out to be the case, these developments should serve to remind President Weah that he can avoid having to face a similar fate if only he can come to grips with the threat that corruption poses to the viability of the nation. He lost out on initial opportunities to put a check on corruption when he refused to conduct an audit of the past administration, to establish a true and clear picture of the situation he was inheriting.

Now he is being blamed for just about everything wrong with the economy. And his situation has not been and is not being helped by the arrogance, greed and corrupt behavior of his officials upon whose advice he steers the ship of state.

The reopening of the Sable Mining Case therefore provides an opportunity to set things straight regardless of who is involved. Let the case proceed and let the chips fall where they may.

But already, fears are being expressed about the outcome of this entire case, which observers maintained was reopened at the behest of certain high profile and well-connected individuals with the intent to not only wipe the slate clean but also to settle old scores. President Weah must not and cannot afford to let this happen.

He should bear in mind at all times that his predecessor President Sirleaf has long since thrown wide open the doors to prosecution of former leaders, with the prosecution of Transitional Government Chairman Gyude Bryant (now deceased) on charges of corruption.

In all of this the Liberian people must not be taken for a ride to another roadside show. This must be a time for true accountability. Public discontent is brewing. Corruption is rising and the missing billions are yet to be accounted for. The likelihood that they may never be accounted for remains a possibility which cannot be ruled out entirely. And the likelihood that such a development could eventually trigger a national crisis can also not be ruled out.

President Weah must take heed except, of course, he stands prepared to, if need be, bear his cross alone when all his fair weather colleagues and friends would have abandoned him. Such is the nature of Zero-Summed politics in Liberia. "To be forewarned, Mr. President, is to be forearmed," the saying goes.

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