Liberia: Axe Your Sacred Cows and Let the Chips Fall, Mr. President, or Risk Falling With Them!

opinion

That the government of President Weah is faced with growing crisis, much of which is self-inflicted, cannot be gainsaid. One of such self-inflicted woes is the threat of delisting of Liberia from the Extractive Industries Transparency Index (EITI), owing to what is described as President Weah's unwarranted interference and blatant disregard of procedures and laws establishing the Liberia Extractive Industries Transparent Initiative (LEITI) as an anti-graft institution -- in essence, a local chapter of the international body, EITI.

LEITI was established by an Act of Legislature during the reign of President Ellen Sirleaf as an autonomous agency, and anti-graft institution to fight corruption in the extractive industries sector. Its leadership is selected by a Multi-Stakeholder Group through a competitive and transparent recruitment process and is expected to operate free of interference by the Government of Liberia, according to its by-laws.

The LEITI Act requires that all government agencies and extractive companies comply with the Liberia EITI process. It covers the forestry and rubber sector, as well as oil, gas and mining. It also requires that the reports published payments by individual companies, and that operating contracts and licenses are published and reviewed. Reasons for the establishment of the LEITI are outlined in the Preamble of the Act establishing the body.

Relevant sections of the Act are quoted in this writeup in order to dispel notions from high circles in government that President Weah's March 5, 2018 appointment of Gabriel Nyekan as head of LEITI, in disregard of the 15-member MSG did not violate any law or provisions of the Act establishing the LEITI. It appears that either the President may not have fully apprised himself of the Act or that he may have been misled and ill-advised into taking the action to dismiss Konah Karmo, who was selected through a competitive recruitment process.

It appears more likely though, that those officials who advised the President may have sought reliance on Section 6.5 of the Act which confers on him (the President) the authority to appoint members of the MSG which is the governing body of the LEITI. Section 6.5 of the Act reads:

"Members of the MSG shall be appointed by the President who shall designate one of them as the Chairperson and another as the Co-Chairperson. In the appointment of members of the MSG to represent civil society and the private sector, the President shall hold appropriate consultations with members of the groups". Amongst the powers conferred on the MSG is the authority, as enshrined in Section 6. d, is "to recruit and dismiss the Head and the Deputy Head of the LEITI Secretariat, and to approve the recruitment of all other staff and consultants".

While the President has the authority to appoint members of the MSG, he does not have the corresponding authority to appoint or dismiss the head of the LEITI, a power which is invested in the MSG and not the President as some would wish to have the public believe.

And as a consequence of President Weah's usurpation of the powers ascribed to the MSG, the country now faces the grim prospects of being delisted from the EITI which is bad news, with all the negative implications they portend for Liberia's natural resource governance.

The Preamble of the Act establishing the LEITI makes it succinctly clear compelling reasons for its establishment:

"WHEREAS, Liberia is endowed with vast quantities of diamonds, gold, iron ore, tropical timbers and other natural resources which are held by and in the name of the Government of Liberia for the benefit of all Liberians;

WHEREAS, the exploitation of Liberia's forest and mineral resources for many decades has not had adequate or meaningful beneficial impact on the national economy or the livelihood of Liberians, but has led to deprivations and conflict due largely to the lack of transparency and accountability in the operations and regulation of logging, mining, oil and related companies and the persistence of opportunism in the award and performance of concessions/licenses for exploitation of these resources;

WHEREAS, the government and people of Liberia recognize the potential positive contribution that forest and mineral resources can make to economic and social development of the Country, and have agreed to realize these potentials through improved resource governance that encompasses and fully implements the Principles and Criteria of the international Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI); and

WHEREAS, Chapter 10, Article 89 of the Liberian Constitution empowers the Legislature to enact statutes for the creation of agencies and commissions as may be necessary for the effective operation of Government NOW THEREFORE, it is hereby enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the Republic of Liberia, in Legislature Assembled:"

The scope of the LEITI as outlined in Section 5.1 of the Act shall be to "promote (1) revenues transparency, and (2) contract transparency in the natural resource sectors. Contract transparency is defined in Section 5.3 which shall mean "(1) public accessibility of material concessions/licenses and agreements related to the sectors within the scope of the LEITI as per Section 5.4 hereof; and (2) the post-award review and/or audit of the process by and through which concessions, contracts, and licenses are awarded for exploration and/or exploitation of minerals, forests and other resources in order to ascertain that each award was made in compliance with applicable laws".

Additionally, the institution's failure to publish its report for the fiscal period ending June 2016 within the 1 July 2018 deadline, led to the suspension, in 2018, of Liberia's membership in the EITI. But it is not late for President Weah to make amends. He can do so by reversing the appointment of Gabriel Nyekan forthwith. In this regard, he had nothing to lose except the impending pariah status which his actions appear to be inviting.

In the final analysis, President Weah, for his own political survival, will either have to axe his sacred cows and let the chips fall else he may risk falling along with them. Axe your sacred cows and let the chips fall Mr. President, or risk falling with them.

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