Liberia: Opposition Parties Dissect Weah's Annual Message

President George M. Weah, during his second Annual Address to the Joint session of the National Legislature on January 28, 2019.

Opposition political parties, including Liberty Party (LP), Alternative National Congress, former ruling Unity Party (UP) have termed as wasted time and deception the message delivered by President George M. Weah because his administration has produced tremendous hardships on the Liberian people as one of worst governments on the planet.

President Weah yesterday delivered his annual message to the 54th Legislature as mandated by Article 58 of the 1986 Constitution. According to the four political parties, Weah, as expected, failed yet again to assure Liberians that he is committed to serving as president for all.

According to chairman Wilmot Paye who read the parties' statement, he said on January 22, 2018, President Weah pledged "to end corruption, be president for all Liberians, and change the unacceptable trend of Liberians being spectators in their own economy, and noted "what Liberians have endured in the last year is contrary to the pledge made on January 22, 2018."

He said from all indications, not only are Liberians spectators in their own economy but they are now also effectively bystanders in the affairs of their own country. The President, his cronies and a handful of foreigners are the main actors and participants in the Liberian economy, he said. "And even more appalling is that some of his foreign business partners have horrible criminal past in their countries," he added, though he did not elaborate further.

Mr. Paye said public corruption has galloped out of control and noted that the governance is characterized by skulduggery, bigotry, hypocrisy, falsehood, abuse, and misuse of public office and power. Violation of the Constitution and laws of Liberia has become commonplace and is pervasive throughout the administration. The President and his officials are above reproach, violating laws and tearing down systems and procedures with impunity, Paye said.

He said despite his declaration in early 2018 that he inherited an "empty" treasury, a claim later refuted by his predecessor, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President Weah and his officials have only worsened Liberia's woes.

According to him, daylight robbery motivated by insatiable greed is on the rampage, stating "this has caused a total loss of confidence and trust in the governance system."

"Liberia is now a society balkanized into those "for" and "against" George Weah. Those perceived to be against Weah are viewed by senior members of the administration as "enemies of the state." But in his message, the President ignored the deepening division that he has caused in the country. His message showed no indication that his administration is committed to reconciling Liberia. Nevertheless, the President tried to deceive the world that Liberia is either still the country it was when he assumed office more than one year ago," he said.

He said Liberians have waited in vain for a detailed explanation from the President on how the administration "infused" US$25 m into the economy in response to last year's monetary crisis. There is no trace of how US$17m of this amount was used.

"For the first time since Liberia returned to democratic governance, we have a President whose finance minister does not prepare quarterly or mid-term reports as required by Law, the 2018/19 budget is a classic example. Instead, the finance minister is like a parrot perched on the branch of an oak tree programmed to make noise. That is not the function of a finance minister," he said.

The President needed to provide satisfactory answers for questions surrounding the L$16bn (some say L$15 billion, L$10.5 billion) reported by his own Ministers of Justice and Information, Cultural Affairs and Tourism to have gone "missing" last year. The message provided no such answers other than what the nation has already heard.

He could not speak to these issues because of a previous position he had taken on this grave matter. "Where is the report from the investigation commissioned by the President? We are shocked that the biggest scandal that has plagued this government will be addressed by two lines in the President's message. What an irony!!! It looks like the nation should brace itself for many more millions, if not billions, to go "missing" without a trace before the President leaves office.

"We do not understand why the Legislature, a separate branch, has not shown interest in the grave issues that confront Liberia today," he said.

INCREASING LEVELS OF CORRUPTION

"We urge the 54th Legislature to immediately proceed to cancel the fraudulent EBOMAF, ETON, and other dubious deals that have impugned on our nation's reputation. More specifically, we encourage all opposition representatives and senators to demonstrate patriotism by pushing for cancellation of these and other criminal deals," he said.

The vast majority of Liberians hate corruption, but the President has gowned it and given it a top seat within his administration.

"Do not take this year's message seriously. Insofar as the President did not address your needs, concerns and the pains that you endure daily, his message lacked credibility. Remember that as you struggled to endure hardships imposed by bad governance fueled primarily by an unprecedented level of corruption, President Weah and his officials are busy enriching themselves. They are doing so at your expense. See what they have acquired for themselves in just one year despite the economy being in such a horrible state.

"Besides, what you heard from the President fell far short of fulfilling the requirements stipulated in the Liberian Constitution. It answered no questions about how his administration intended to tackle corruption. It failed to speak directly to the fiscal indiscipline and other myriads of financial improprieties that the President and his administration have caused in just one year.

"Even the Public Financial Management (PFM) and Budget Laws are violated with impunity. The President and his team do not believe in accountability and transparency. This is one way they can fund their meaningless globe-trotting adventures," Paye said his strongly worded statement.

He added "They are wastefully spending your money. At the same time, they profess to be "working for you" or "in your interest." This is false! They are serving their own selfish interests. That is why they ignored your views and are trying to suppress dissent with acts of violence. They want you to cheer for them as they loot.

"You are probably unaware that the administration has acquired a private aircraft to facilitate the President's foreign travels. The same President who had lied that he "inherited an empty treasury" is the one flying in a private aircraft procured with your money. That aircraft is kept abroad to avoid any possible public backlash. They want you to believe the aircraft belongs to a friend.

"This is false! There is no wealthy person anywhere in the world to be so "generous" as to allow the leader of any nation uses their aircraft for every travel. Who bears the cost of maintaining such an aircraft? The President may be thinking that you have no way of determining if the aircraft he flies in regularly was purchased last year. That was part of the criminal loan deals that the President struck last year against growing public outcries.

"Besides, it makes no financial sense for George Weah to pretend to have "reduced" the salaries of public officials under the guise of instituting austerity measures while at the same time he has increased non-program expenditure by more than tenfold. This is criminal," Paye said.

"Also, the President tried to divert your attention from the alarming pace at which he and his officials have been accumulating real properties. This is in flagrant violation of the Liberian constitution and laws. This is the same President who declared before a US Court prior to the 2017 elections that he was insolvent.

"He pleaded to pay US$160 a month for child support. In a single year, however, he has undertaken enormous private building projects for himself.

"As he does this, prices of commodities have gone through the roof. The Liberian economy is bleeding profusely. There are no recovery efforts in sight. Where is the President getting the millions from to fund his private ventures? As expected, his message avoided this question."

he said urgent actions need to be taken to curtail the unending wave of corruption and bring to bear the full weight of the law on those culpable of looting state resources at the detriment of the people and the country," according to Chairman Paye.

VIOLATIONS OF THE CONSTITUTION & LAWS; NATIONAL SECURITY; GOVERNANCE AND RECONCILIATION

"The first year has been a disaster. Most Liberians expected the President to apologize for the countless laws and provisions of the constitution that he and his officials have already breached since January 2018. Even though these violations are grave and warrant impeachment proceedings too, he does not care. He has no interest in promoting the rule of law and good governance during his tenure. This is an assault on our democracy.

You waited for one year for the president to speak to issues of concern to you. You expected to hear his position on the frequent attacks on the fundamental freedoms and rights guaranteed by the Liberian Constitution but which are today violated with impunity.

"Liberians are today denied their basic rights, which include the right to life, freedom of speech, freedom of press and expression, academic freedom, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion and the pursuit of happiness.

"These rights and principles form the basis of our national policies and are no gift from any President. They are immutable. Their implementation or enforcement does not depend on whether or not a President deems it necessary. President Weah has no choice but to show respect for them and ensure their unhindered implementation or enforcement.

"For those Liberians who might have anticipated genuine transformation during this era, events of the past one year are sufficient to make you rethink. You need a rude awakening. You need to realize that our governance system has now reached a crisis level.

"Last year's violence against the residents of Montserrado County's District #13 during a by-election was not mentioned yesterday. In that by-election, marauding bands of thugs brandishing deadly weapons disrupted a peaceful rally organized in support of Candidate Cornelia Kruah-Togba. That incident left many innocent citizens wounded.

"Even though the President was in the district campaigning for his party's candidate when the attack took place, he ignored it.

"So, it doesn't matter to this President if scores of Liberians perished under his watch. As long as that is done in his name and against critics and political opponents, it does not matter. He will never bother to speak about it. He won't as long as it does not serve his purpose. He has relegated the presidency to be an instrument for pursuing his narrow interests," Paye noted.

He said, "Rep. Kolubah himself later informed Liberians and the world that his residence had come under gunfire during the early hours of January 21, 2019. According to him, the Liberian National Police simply stood by. In a country that had undergone nearly two decades of institutionalized mayhem, this is worrisome.

"Yet, yesterday's message was not to address an issue as grave and life-threatening as this and other acts of violence. You probably expected that a reasonable reaction from any serious leader would have been to apologize to parents whose kids were wounded as a result of that assistant minister's barbarity and bring that idiot to face the full weight of the law. This was never done.

"What the President presented (yesterday) was a compilation far removed from the harsh reality that you face. What he said was simple. You can cry and cry and cry and cry, but you will eventually get exhausted and capitulate to my whims and caprices. So, it is up to you. This is further evidence of arrogance and callous insensitivity.

"For one year, this has been the hallmark of his administration. It shows that his administration will continue to downplay your pains and plight. This spells danger for Liberia. Such an attitude is reminiscent of the days of anarchy. This is why we must put aside our ego, sectional, tribal, partisan and other parochial interests to unite in one accord. We must insist on an immediate and unconditional return to the rule of law. We cannot detour to lawlessness.

"We must never forget that more than 200,000 of our fellow citizens were slaughtered for the peace and democracy that the President and his administration are taking for granted. The human sacrifice was enormous. We have journeyed too far to be pulled back. It does not matter who is at the helm of political power in Liberia. Let wrongs be recognized as wrongs. They never mutate. Only the perpetrators change from time to time.

"Additionally, there has to be an immediate end to the deliberate destruction of integrity systems and institutions. These integrity systems were designed to improve governance. They are the only civilized way whereby we can hold public officials accountable.

"Through these means, we had regained our reputation as a respectable member within the comity of nations. Yet, within a single year, that reputation has vanished! Liberia has once more become an example of a country with bad governance.

"The President does not honor our commitment under the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). Procedures, laws, and systems for Public Procurement and Concession have been breached. His refusal last year to declare his assets was to pave the way for his personal projects and private financial ventures. The situation in the country is troubling. The 54th Legislature should disprove growing suspicion among Liberians that it has now become an auxiliary organ of the presidency.

"The serious and decent members of this Branch need to promptly investigate all acts of violence and the many grave issues confronting the country but which the Executive Branch is downplaying. The 54th Legislature cannot join the President's cheering squads. As we say here in Liberia, "Small shame is better than big shame". So, you can redeem your image now!

"The culture of impunity must stop now! This must stop before the 2020 senatorial election! Liberians have already suffered too much from violence and can tolerate it no further. Violence, as history has shown, will only beget violence. You must join us to save Liberia from its new predators.

"Liberians, you will note that President Weah made no mention of serious governance and other structural reforms in government. He was more concerned with seeking to repeal Laws that grant tenured positions to institutions of government that should promote good governance and integrity in the public service. Towards this end, we the four Collaborating Political Parties commit to mount pressure on the government and constructively engage our foreign partners to help institute the necessary reforms in our Electoral System to ensure Free, Fair and Transparent elections in 2020, 2023 and onward."

SEPARATION OF RELIGION AND STATE

Continuing, Chairman Paye said "Last week the President and his officials celebrated one year in office. What were they celebrating? They were celebrating their successful looting of Liberia. They celebrated their unlawful acquisition of properties at your expense. Indeed, they had to celebrate.

"They celebrated your suffering. They are glad that you are enduring excruciating hardships while they enjoy your resources. They celebrated the violence that their thugs and fanatics unleash against innocent citizens, which is now a routine. They will continue to celebrate a further dismemberment of the economy. They have nothing to offer you.

"They do not care if your children drop out of school because you cannot afford to pay their fees. They do not care if hospitals and clinics are empty of medicines and have therefore become temporary funeral homes rather than being treatment centers. They just do not and will not care.

"While they were celebrating their looting of Liberia in disregard for the sufferings you have endured under his watch, one of the President's spiritual advisors chose to insult your intelligence and abuse the moral sanctity of the nation. There are many genuine Christian preachers. They are on bended knees praying for Liberia.

"The Liberian clergy has always spoken out against societal ills. We value their courage to stand for the truth and with the suffering masses, as the Bible demands of them. Religious leaders of every faith have never at any time forsaken the people. They see their sufferings and empathize with them," concluded.

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