Liberia: Blama's Dismissal - a U.S.$100m Question?

opinion

President George Manneh Weah's recent diatribes against Nathaniel Blama, who was yesterday morning fired from his post at the helm of Liberia's Environmental Protection Agency, may be saying more than meets the eye.

In a rather vague exposé of alleged corruption, as told in an Executive Mansion press release yesterday, citing Blama's 'unilateral' signing of a US$20 million contract agreement without the signatures of the Ministers of Justice and of Finance and Development Planning, President Weah describes the alleged action by Blama as "unscrupulous behavior" and used the opportunity to tout his "zero-tolerance stance against corruption".

And while Mr. Blama has responded to the effect that the agreement he signed was non-binding to the government and that the allegations against him do not bear the whole truth, the chips have fallen where they have and Blama must pick up the pieces and move on.

This is the second instance in which President Weah has made an example of the former EPA Executive Director, who has so far maintained a rather distinguished profile at the Agency. In February this year, under his administration of the EPA, the Green Climate Fund (GCF) Board converged in Liberia for a three-day informal board meeting, followed by five days of technical meetings with the Government of Liberia. That arrangement in itself was a remarkable feat by the EPA leadership. What was even more remarkable is that, that informal Board meeting of the GCF in Margibi ended with a commitment by the GCF to fund three major projects in Liberia worth over US$100 million.

The funding would be used to implement three projects, namely: the climate information system, integrated agricultural eco-tourism, and Monrovia's metropolitan climate resilience, respectively. The third project, costing approximately $40 million, aims to address the problem of coastal erosion in the community of West Point, a slum off the coast of Monrovia. The integrated agricultural eco-tourism project is one such project, which the Board of Directors of the GCF is expected to focus on when its members meet for their 28th meeting in December this year. All three projects, however, would require formal approval by the GCF.

Present at that meeting in Margibi, in addition to Blama, was Finance and Development Planning Minister Samuel D. Tweah Jr.

Fast forward to the second week of March, Blama was in Geneva Switzerland to attend the 25th meeting of the CGF Board, reportedly as an observer. It was from that meeting he returned and, three days later, the President of Liberia personally descended on him, calling him announcing his suspension "for time indefinite... for repeatedly violating prescribed health protocols and endangering public health." In that same announcement, the President disclosed that Blama had become Liberia's index case of the Coronavirus.

While Blama claimed that the President was misinformed to make such a pronouncement, he (Blama) received the reprimand in good faith and a clear conscience, as he spent his required 14 days in quarantine and remained off the job until his suspension was lifted on Thursday, July 30.

But barely a week after he was reinstated, the President issued the second, more drastic punishment on Wednesday, August 5 -- dismissal from office. The crime? "Fraud... Corruption," the President said.

"Mr. Blama, on March 7, 2020, unilaterally signed a US$20 million contract without the signatures of the ministers of Justice and Finance contrary to law and established governmental principles and procedures," the Executive Mansion press release said. "Investigation conducted by the Ministry of Justice established that Mr. Blama did not adhere to legal requirements, standards procedures regarding the selling of the Government of Liberia assets."

Was the President yet again misinformed?

While Blama is yet to fully expound on these happenings, he has said this much: that his sudden dismissal is due to what he called "vindictiveness" from within. He has thanked President Weah for the opportunity accorded him to serve but maintained that he has done nothing wrong for which he deserved the dismissal from his post.

"I did not commit any crime," Blama said. But the more telling part of his initial response to this allegation was what he said next. "The only thing I said in that agreement was that whatever proceeds come will be used for environmental work."

The "proceeds", a well-placed source told the Daily Observer, Blama was talking about would be none other than that US$100 million commitment from the GCF.

Truth be told, the money in question would be managed by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), not the EPA.

"I did not commit the government's action to that agreement and, by the way, it is a non-binding agreement that calls for any or either party to withdraw at will without having any cause to worry," Blama said.

Although Blama did not specifically name those who he thinks behaved vindictively against him, he loudly opined that it is unfortunate that the decision from the President came as it did.

"I think somebody wanted to get at me and that person has probably succeeded. But I am not worried because I have served diligently and the records are there to show anyone how I proceeded as head of the EPA," he said.

He added that the contract was a normal deal, as it is in the case with climate fund and the global environment facility fund, among others.

"I did not unilaterally act, as they claimed," Blama went on. "The Finance Minister, Samuel Tweah and the Minister of State for President Affairs, Nathaniel McGill were aware. I signed that document on March 7 before traveling to Switzerland and upon my return, I was sick and had to stay at the hospital for a long time. I could not discuss anything further with anyone but when I recovered I went to McGill, after sending him a number of text messages without any reply, and we talked about it.

"He read through the document and said there was nothing wrong with it because I did not commit the government to anything. It was a non-binding agreement," Blama stated with emphasis.

Ministers McGill and Tweah could not be reached to confirm Blama's assertions concerning them.

Although the Executive Mansion press release did not say what would be the penalty Blama would be subject to other than his dismissal, it stated that President Weah reiterated his zero-tolerance stance against corruption and informed the public that Mr. Randall M. Dobayou, Deputy Executive Director of EPA will act as head of the entity pending the appointment of an Executive Director.

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