The Liberian parlance, “Monkey does not leave behind its black hands” is difficult to disprove when it is analogized with the Liberian politician’s ingrained tendency of bullying critical voice into absolute submission, this was how the Public Agenda newspaper started its analysis of the resurgence of political thuggery. The topic sentence or thesis statement of this article by the paper was not mistaken. In the past, political actors that have found themselves in leadership position have used the scare-tactics of bullying opponents or those critical of them was the modus operandi from the days of the foundation of Liberian politics – heightened during the tubmanic era and then peaked at during Taylor’s civil-military regime that phased out 2003 August. This kind of tactics was a way of obliterating critics and, at most, driving them into exile so that they perpetuate themselves into power without criticism against the odds of their regimes. At this tactics, dissenting voice often comes overtly and brutally; but it also comes subtly and covertly, or by means of the combination of both. The manner and form notwithstanding diverse, there is one thing that almost always stands in every case: no Liberian leader lets challengers of the Presidency survive without deep bruises either inflicted by him/herself or his/her commissioned thugs and spies as the situation seems to be resurfacing at the General Auditing Commission (GAC), the Truth & Reconciliation Commission (TRC and other domains of the government.
The Brevity of This Vicious Political Trait’s Evolution
The country’s 18th President, Tubman, constructed the architecture for political intimidation, coercion and annihilation in the country. He spread his despotic tentacles across the country via “Public Relations Officers (PRO)” who were actually secret agents that gathered true or false intelligences for his ear and action.
Once Tubman lent ears and eyes on hints from his intra-governmental or intra-national espionage network, he got into action and effectively subdued the target. The 27-tenured President left the traits so entrenched that his successors imbibed them. Tolbert, however his noted liberal deportments, hardly uprooted Tubman and True Whig Party’s secret cells and fanatics whose information to the President was sufficient ground for governmental action.
President Samuel Doe maximized the trait via his Krahn-dominated Special Anti-Terrorist Unit (SATU) and other military and paramilitary forces who worked both covertly and overly to feed the Presidency with the real or perceived maneuvers of opponents and critics. And Doe hardly ignored their reports on his and government’s perceived and real opponents within and without.
Charles McArthur Ghankay Taylor, probably the luckiest of all--lucky because he’s having his day in court to answer to entrenched culture of political thuggery and espionage--is also on record fielding partisans, well-wishers and other extremists to contain, if not liquidate, dissenting voices.
The Hereditary Traits Hit Ellen
Beyond all the pretenses camouflaged by rhetoric, there seethes a fury of political and bureaucratic intolerance and hate within Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and/or her administration--the same intolerance and hate that historically and characteristically provide the composts that give growth to the culture of political espionage and thuggery in the country. Probably mortified by past appellation of human rights and pro-democratic advocate and by the fact that the administration does not command an active military force of its own, coupled with the overwhelming presence of the rights-obsessed international community, Sirleaf and most of her officials are constrained to keep the hereditary traits of political intolerance and hate highly discreet and disguised.
Nonetheless, monkey can hardly leave behind its black hands, the ripples of political espionage and thuggery are growing visibly with time under the Sirleaf leadership. And the new tactic is to disfigure and render inconsequential any individual or group within or without government who, even those standing on the pedestal of its own transformation policy for proving to be tough and dissenting on the modus operandi of Government in general and the presidency in particular.
The most recent targets are the government’s own progenies--the General Auditing Commission (GAC) and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC)--which have variously come under and been enduring devastating presidential maneuvers. One longtime political pundit states, “As it had been under past authoritarian regimes, so it is under the Sirleaf administration: firstly, commission aficionados, often within the same organization, to keep surveillance on the principal targets and leak every trace of non-conformity; and secondly, if the result is difficult to come by, use thugs to unleash provocative venoms.”
The GAC Malaise
The GAC is currently wobbling in the furnace of the onslaught and is endeavoring to salvage itself from political espionage and thuggery. In less than a week recently, the physical attack increased on the Commission: office vehicle damaged, senior official’s home burglarized and another senior official brutalized.
Since the transfer of Elizabeth Tubman from the Ministry of Finance, where she headed the BGA Section, the Commission continues to witness intermittent disquiet owing to what some staff there call her “espionage” tactics a the GAC. According to a source who does not want to appear in print, the planting of Elizabeth at the Commission, believed to be a daughter of President William Tubman, was perhaps an ideal placement not only because the transferee must have been carrying the espionage-thuggery trait of her father, but also because the GAC and its head were about to produce audit reports that might leave far-reaching political implication for the transferor, President Sirleaf.
It is not clear how the presidential maneuvering have been paying off, though there were reports recently that a trumped-up and obscure pressure group, Movement for the Downtrodden Masses, got access to deliberately abridged GAC financial reports sent to the Ministry of Finance and subsequently exploited the leaked documents to rain disparaging comments on the Commission.
Probably just mere social hoodlum and professional misfit, the source said, Madam Tubman has so far limited her job at the GAC to fomenting hullabaloos and trading chitchats between the Commission and her assignors for which sources say she snatches US$2,000 monthly.
The issue of professional misfit of Madam Tubman was since raised at the Ministry of Finance by ex-Assistant Minister for Expenditure, Aletha K. Brown, who wrote a memorandum of December 5, 2007 questioning the professional capacity of the subject. The quality of quarterly reports supervised and submitted by the then Director-General of the Bureau of General Accounting (BGA) for review, according to the Browne memo, required weeks of additional work to get her handiwork tidy up.
“We are particularly concerned about the disruption this level of our involvement in the work of the BGA is causing our office,” Browne’s memo further states. “Clearly, there are issues of capacity that need to be addressed.” The GAC Deputy Auditor General for Administration, Madam Elizabeth, confessed to her incapacity problem in a memo to Auditor General John Morlu, a copy obtained by Public Agenda.
“This is in reference to your memo dated 15 May 2008, giving me the responsibility to prepare four proposals for your review and onward submission to the World Bank and EU,” she wrote in the memo dated May 28, 2008. “I do not have the technical skill in writing project proposals, therefore, it will be prudent to hire a expert [sic] or select someone in our organization who has the technical skill, and I will be more than happy to work on the team.”
GAC sources begging for anonymity for fear of reprisal say the assignment of Madam Tubman by Madam Sirleaf at the GAC is epitome of pension scheme for the former first family member. “The lady does nothing, except to collect her check and other emoluments at the month’s end for which she gather hints pleasant to the ears of her masters,” a GAC source hinted. “If we have little quiet today, tomorrow is commotion often authored by this lady.”
In her latest show of brouhaha, according to our sources, Madam Tubman and her “NGO” [Women Never Got Old] pals verbally and emotionally attacked Auditor General John Morlu at ceremonies marking President Sirleaf’s presentation of the State of the Nation Address before the 52nd Legislature on Monday. The source further said when the Elizabeth-led cabal’s whispers of “GAC-Corrupt” invectives could not attract much attention in the hall where the President was delivering her speech, they reinvigorated themselves outside the hall scoring the goal they had sought: many passersby and bystanders gave them audience as they shouted on the top of their voices, “GAC Corrupt; Morlu Corrupt”.
The GAC Deputy Auditor-General took her new assignment at the Commission with a backlog of fiscally indiscipline credentials. The fraudulent case was about some “eat-so-eat-so” scheme that Madam Tubman engaged in as she took office at the GAC. In taking office, a source divulged, she had a gracious offer from Government via the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) to pay her “transitional” emolument. But Tubman did not inform the GAC. She rather chose to put pressure on the GAC which bowed with some US$1,500 monthly.
Caught pants down, sources say Madam Tubman was asked to refund monies taken from GAC while at the same time receiving another “eating” from the UNDP. Apparently her “eat-so-eat-so” has passed on with impunity. As if Madam Tubman and colleagues’ onslaught on Morlu at the Annual Message ceremony was not sufficient, they drove to the premises of the GAC a day or two later and used car-parking claims to unleash another round of invectives.
The Deputy AG insisted parking on a spot reserved for the Auditor-General despite being persuaded by guards to use an alternative spot traditionally reserved for D/AG/Adm. The guards’ counsel, eyewitnesses said, enraged Madam Tubman and her peers who were seen panting in anger and stampeded with insults and other acts of discourtesy that attracted swarms of onlookers.
The stampede-breakers called in their contacts who sent a band of police officers. Without much ceremony, the officers commandeered the park-signs before the GAC and made away with them.
Except God intervene, one source said, the TRC would soon break into two factions, engulfed in commotion which detractors of the Commission might use to further discredit and annihilate it. “As long this lady is around she shall work to ensure her espionage mandate is achieved,” the source said. “And there is little or nothing authority at GAC cannot do because it is President Sirleaf who commissioned her and it is at her way and will and pleasure Madam Tubman is serving.”
If the GAC cracks, the source said, it would be joining the fate of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which is nursing the wounds of the policy of political espionage and thuggery.
In the wake of the rancor at the GAC, reports have it that President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has called for the reprimand of the women that had assaulted the Auditor General of Liberia after a probe has proven then liable. But the General Auditing Commission of Liberia has rejected calls by Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf for a probe into the incident which followed the President’s State of the Nation address on Monday, leading to an assault on the Auditor General, John S. Morlu by Morlu’s deputy, Matu Tubman and two other women.
Reports have indicated that Sirleaf has asked the various ministries to punish the women who allegedly assaulted the Auditor General on Monday. The President has called for an investigation between Ms. Elizabeth Martu Tubman, and the GAC security.
The decision by Sirleaf is hardly acceptable to the Auditor General and auditors at the GAC who call on the President to take action as her call for probe is “unacceptable” to them. The accused Mrs. Tubman of leading a gang of women to attack the AG who eyewitnesses say did not retaliate during the incident. The assault on Morlu was curbed through the swift intervention of Moses Kollie and former Minister of State, Morris Dukuly.
President was notified
Already, it has been reported that the GAC has notified the President and the Executive Mansion; that the incident was witnessed by several people and seen in broad day light and a probe now would only lead to a waste of time for the “apparently a clear cut incident”. Ms. Tubman, and the women, following the Monday incident, again assault the Auditor General and other staff of the GAC on Tuesday, when Ms. Tubman and band of women reportedly stormed the GAC’s offices and launched the new round of assault.
The GAC has described Ms. Tubman’s actions as a “calculated plan” to obstruct and undermine the work of the GAC and to humiliate the Auditor General. During the President’s State of the Nation address Monday, Tubman reportedly insisted on parking her vehicle in the space reserved for the Auditor General. The incident according to Morlu, made him thirty minutes late for an important EGRIP meeting at the Ministry of Finance.
For Morlu, the incident raises serious questions about the support he is receiving from the administration. The AG a media outlet recently that he wondered why Tubman and her peers showed up at his place of work; after attacking him at the State of the Nation's Address? “It is calculated. It was planned. It could have been directed, because of their boldness to attack an AG and the entire GAC staff. Who is providing them backing? You are the appointing power, and tangible action is needed. Again, Morris Dukuly and Hon. Kollie witnessed the entire incident at the Capitol.”
'Will Not be Swept Under the Carpet'
According to Morlu, the staff of the GAC has been attacked in the past and nothing has been done by the government to protect him, and his staff of the GAC. “This attack on me at the State of the Nation Address by a gang of women put together by Deputy AG Martu Tubman will not be swept under the carpet by an expanded and unnecessary investigation, because the facts are so glaring with even the Government admitting that I was unduly harassed. The Minister of State McClain, and DG of the CSA know the facts, because the DG has spoken to Mr. Dukuly.”
Morlu says he has informed the President, that he has already informed the Minister of Justice, that he reserves the right to self defense against these types of attacks. However, he continues to exercise the maximum patience, as he and his staff of the GAC has come under attack. “I cannot take anymore!,” Morlu declared.
In the wake of the incident Morlu says, he does not see how he and Ms. Tubman can ever work in the same building. “This issue will not be watered down by an expanded investigation. Demonstrable inaction on the part of the Government to take swift and reputable actions against these kinds of attacks against me, and the GAC is increasing the risk of more unprovoked attacks, which is affecting the morale of the staff of the GAC. They are all concluding that it is likely supported by the Mansion, which you have been assured that it is not the case. I like to continue to believe that is the case,” Morlu declared Thursday.
Wife, family fears for safety
Morlu said his wife and family are concerned for his safety in Liberia, and the incident has dampen his resolve to even consider renewing his contract to stay in Liberia beyond the three-year mandate. “Truly, I have reached the end of this whole attack. I cannot tolerate it any longer. I just came to Liberia to do a piece of job. If they want to take GAC back to the days of compromised audits and continue the looting of state coffers, I will not be a part of it. This Nation needs to move forward responsibly to respond to the needs of its people, rather than the perceived continued support to disorderly behavior by highly placed Government officials who will leave their places of work, to join another person to attack and undermine the work of others."
The AG asserted that he has never been an enemy of the Sirleaf Government, and only came at the President's request to help improve accountability and transparency. "However, the uncontrolled, planned and escalated attacks and threats against me, and the staff of the GAC was not a part of the deal. But I am the real target of so many of these people,” the AG said.
Morlu said it is highly likely that if it was him who had attacked and threatened the women, he would have been immediately ordered arrested and imprisoned. “For instance, I was accused of breaking a US$50 glass door and was prevented from leaving this country to see my wife and children for Christmas. I would have been probably sent to the "Gulag" for attacking and threatening other government officials at the President’s State of the Nation Address. But since it is against me, they are walking free.”
Morlu said in any event, if swift action is not taken against Ms. Tubman and her gang of unruly women who attacked him at the State of the Nation Address, and followed it up with another attack at my office of work, then he would have to seek legal redress in the Courts. “There are many ways to scheme to get me out of this position and this country, so that they can carry on the “business as usual” you're trying to end. Attacks and threats on my personhood is not a viable option. GAC must not be turned into another GRC, TRC, and Transport Ministry etc confusion was or is the order of the day.
As long as I am AG, Mr. insisted, I will resist any attempt by people like Ms. Tubman and her gang of women to undermine the work and integrity of the GAC. No expanded investigation is needed, when the facts are so glaring. It is not proper to shift blame on the GAC security. How will any Cabinet Minister feel, if his or her undermen decided one day to insist that he or she park their vehicle in the space reserved for them, a day after the same minister was attacked by the same women?”
The incident comes as Morlu, in recent weeks has been winning praise from the U.S. government. Both the United States Ambassador to Liberia Linda Greenfield, and Mr. Gene L. Dodaro Comptroller General of the General Accountability Office(GAO), the Supreme Audit Institution in the United States have heralded the GAC for fighting fraud and waste in Liberia.
Pres. Sirleaf must decisively act
Greenfield, in a meeting with Morlu this week said she was greatly impressed and deeply overwhelmed with the high level of performance of the Auditor General in the fight against fraud, waste, abuse of resources, graft and fiscal improprieties. The incident also comes as the Department of International Development (DIFID),based in Great Britain announced that it has paid the arrears of the General Auditing Commission (GAC) to the African Organization of Supreme Audit Institutions of English Speaking Countries(INTOSAI), thereby making the GAC a full-fledged and active member of AFROSAI-E.
The payment of the arrears, over US$45,000.00 accumulated over the years is a notable gesture on the part of DIFID, something which smoothens GAC ‘s relations and demonstrates its active and increasing participation on promoting independence and collaboration amongst international auditing institutions.
For Morlu, in the wake of this week’s incident, it is crucial for President Sirleaf to put her foot down and put her friends in check. “Their attacks were surreal because it was unprovoked. I believe I have never met or crossed paths with these women, except for their ring leader Ms. Tubman. They must not exploit their relationship with the President, - or anyone else in the Mansion to attack and threaten other people,” the AG concluded.
The TRC melancholy
Another pivotal state institution that has been radiating with symptoms of political espionage and thuggery is the Truth & Reconciliation Commission probing Liberia’s social, economic and political aberrations between 1979 or even beyond and 2003. The advent of the TRC, coupled with its operations, has been encumbered by external, though national, influences that are nearly wrecking the essence and gains of the Commission.
In-fighting between and amongst commissioners and feuds between the Commission and other state structures, particularly the office of the President, has been the order of things characterizing the modus operandi of the TRC. Some analysts believe that the malaise facing the TRC is a grand scheme by high national powers to de-venerate this all-important commission and render it unpopular and useless in the hope that their deeds during the period being probed are left unexcavated for the sake of impunity.
However regarded with contempt by some pundits who believe the Commission’s autonomy from other powerful structures and officials of government is questionable and compromised, the TRC has shown some juice and muscles that nearly contradict pundits’ opinion. Mid last year, the TRC mustered the courage and accused elements in the office of President Sirleaf of interfering with the work of the Commission in trying to establish the authenticity of allegations of war crimes committed by folksinger Michael Davies, alias Sundaygar Dearboy.
Michael is a praise-singer of President Sirleaf. Investigation conducted by journalists and the TRC in a couple of villages in Grand Bassa County uncovered gross violation of human rights and war crimes allegedly committed by the pro-Sirleaf singer during the civil conflict. When the TRC was about to appraise the reports, the Executive Mansion attempted to counterbalance the investigation with pro-Dearboy maneuverings which the Commission found offensive and strongly reacted to at the time.
The TRC also proved it had teeth to bite when it angrily reacted to Justice Minister Philip Banks’ “legal advice” urging President not to stand before the TRC. Banks had cited fear of mob action against President Sirleaf and Article of 61 of the Liberian Constitution as grounds for dissuading the President to appear.
But the TRC, amongst other things, asserted that Banks’ opinion, “stretching the limits of Article 61 of the Constitution of Liberia to include the LTRC, a non judicial, truth-seeking, reconciliation and peace building institution, advising the exclusion of the President of Liberia’s testimony from the LTRC process on matters unrelated to the Presidency from 1979 to 2003, is, in the least, disappointing and appears analogous to and indistinguishable from dishonesty.”
President Sirleaf herself has been evasive in meeting the TRC’s request to appear and testify openly. The TRC members, or some of them, have been in fist fight and quarrels that draw the dichotomy of so-called Execution Mansion-controlled commissioners and anti-establishment commissioners. The dichotomy is becoming clearer by the day as acrimonies linger between two camps of commissioner over the release of TRC’s preliminary reports.
One camp headed by Chairman Jerome Verdier submitted the first volume of report with recommendations for criminal prosecution of perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity, but another camp of four has objected on grounds that the recommendations were not product of consensus amongst all commissioners.
A similar brew surfaced again when the President’s appearance before the TRC in camera became an issue. TRC source hinted Public Agenda that there are commissioners who usually swallow every gesture of the president and seek to impose same on other members of the TRC. “We must be thankful that there are some good Liberians on the TRC who are independent-minded; otherwise, the TRC would have since been a President’s surrogate commission,” said a TRC source who does not want to be named. “Here, we have the President’s eyes and ears. I am sure they are here. What I don’t know is whether they are acting on the order or commission of the President.”
Malaise of Other Critical Voices
The GAC and the TRC, however principal targets of the resurgence of political espionage and thuggery, are not the only groups in the furnace. A number of private individuals and organizations are also being sweltered by the planted confidantes and thugs to monitor and demean.
The head of a civil society organization, who begged not to be named in print because he would alarm at the appropriate moment in the near future, said he suspects powerful political forces are acting against his advocacy campaign.
“What I notice is that deliberate efforts are being made to frighten some of our donors and partners as a form of strangulation,” the said. “I notice that some of my funders are backing away without any tangible excuse, even though they told me in confidence that I should tune down my aggressive advocacy. At times I get anonymous calls from people who disclose my next moves as if there were insiders here that feed the big powers with information.”
Courtesy of Public ADENDA