Liberia: 'CoP's Intent to Stage July 24 Protest Misplaced'

Some officials of the Council of Patriots during a previous press conference

-- U.S. Ambassador Elder

Amid plans by the Council of Patriots (CoP) to stage a protest during the week of Liberia's Independence Day celebrations, a sequel to the much acclaimed June 7 "Save The State" protest that caught worldwide attention, the United States Ambassador to Liberia, Christine Elder, has advised that protesting during the Liberian Independence season is 'misplaced'.

In a statement released on Thursday, July 18, Amb. Elder said: "The U.S. Embassy read with interest the statement of the Council of Patriots (CoP) issued July 12 announcing their intent to stage a nationwide protest beginning July 24. While the U.S. Embassy supports the rights of citizens to lawfully apply to assemble or convey their views to elected officials, the intent to do so during the week of July 22 is misplaced. We commend the peaceful conduct of thousands of protestors who by their actions on June 7 conveyed they are interested in progress and national dialogue over aggression or demands.

In recent months Liberia has been rocked with peaceful protest actions by citizens, two of which received massive support and commendations from citizens and the international community. Said protests called the attention of the Government of Liberia and its development partners the people's dissatisfaction with the government's mismanagement of the economy and bad governance, while highlighting the sudden displays of wealth by members of the ruling elite.

The first protest, known as the Bring Back Our Money protest, highlighted an alleged missing container of newly printed Liberian currency which the Government of Liberia, through its Cental Bank, ordered from Crane Currency, a currency printer in Sweden. Though procured during the administration of then President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the newly printed currency was delivered shortly after the administration of President George Manneh Weah was seated and at a time when the rate of exchange between the United States Dollar (USD) and the Liberian Dollar (LRD) was spiraling out of control.

The Bring Back Our Money protest resulted in the U.S. Embassy, through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), commissioning an independent investigation conducted by Kroll Associates, Inc., a US auditing firm, into the alleged missing money and a US$25 million mop-up exercise carried out by the President's Technical Economic Management Team (TEMT). Meanwhile, the Government of Liberia assembled its own investigative team -- the Presidential Investigation Team -- to conduct a parallel investigation, also into the alleged missing money and the mop-up exercise.

The reports of the two investigations were released on the same day, February 8, 2019. Both reports found discrepancies between the CBL's procurement of the printed money and the delivery by Crane Currency. Moreover, both reports agreed that the conduct of the US$25 million mop-up exercise by the TEMT created opportunities for money laundering. Finance and Development Planning Minister and TEMT chair, Samuel D. Tweah, Jr., denied any wrong-doing.

It soon became clear that the only persons of interest named by the Weah Administration following the Kroll and PIT reports were those appointed to the CBL during the Sirleaf administration. Also, seeing that President Weah and other members of his cabinet had suddenly acquired huge wealth and properties within their first twelve months in office, and in defiance of the law requiring them to publicly declare their assets, a group called the Council of Patriots (COP), planners of the famous June 7 "Save The State" protest, was formed with the aim of calling the Weah administration to account.

In the weeks leading up to the June 7 Protest, there came a sudden avalanche of communications from Liberia's development partners including several heads of foreign missions including the United States Ambassador Elder, the World Bank and the United Nations, calling on the Government of Liberia to account for donor money that had been misused and, in some cases, improperly reported.

The June 7 protest, however, marked a turning point in Liberia's democratic development, characterized by a massive turn-out that was violence-free. In spite of the successful conduct of protest, the CoP failed to present their petition to the delegation assigned by President Weah, accompanied by ECOWAS Ambassador Babatunde Ajisomo, to receive the petition. The following week, the CoP released their petition and gave President Weah up to the end of June 2019 to deliver on the petitions immediate demands. President Weah responded with a call for "dialogue", but did not indicate when or how said dialogue would happen. According to the CoP, the President has essentially not responded to their petition, hence their new protest, planned for July 24, intended to upstage the official 172nd Independence Day festivities.

Amb. Elder, in her statement, believes that the CoP's decision "conveys a lack of commitment to national development."

Hear her: "As the CoP press release specifically calls on the international community to join their 'long march,' the U.S. Embassy responds by sharing its view that, particularly from a group carrying the banner 'Council of Patriots' and from a group which avows that patriotism remains central to their efforts, staging such actions as they have outlined, during independence celebrations, would instead convey a lack of commitment to national development. Ideally, events surrounding upcoming national celebrations should be devoid of partisan promotion or posturing, focusing instead on working together for the common good of the Liberian people."

In response to the US Ambassador's statement, CoP chairman Henry P. Costa announced on his Facebook page: "The Council of Patriots will respond to the outgoing US Ambassador's statement on our planned protest action tomorrow (July 19). We met with them last week. Stay tuned."

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