Some former leaders of the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) have raised a number of issues against the George Manneh Weah-led administration of Liberia bordering on what they call the alarming state of bad governance or misrule in Liberia and urged the Biden administration of the United States of America to institute actions in order to protect democracy and promote good governance in the West African country.
In a letter dated April 22, 2021 addressed to the U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, the former PUL executives, including Isaac D.E. Bantu, Emmanuel D. Abalo and Gabriel I.H. Williams, called for stronger U.S. engagement with Liberia to prevent economic collapse and unrest. The letter was copied to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Ranking House Member Chris Smith, among others,
In a press statement issued in the United States, copy of which was sent to THE ANALYST newspaper, the former PUL leaders stated that since its ascendency to power in 2018, President Weah’s government has been engaged in widespread corruption and serious inefficiency in the management of the Liberian economy.
To buttress their allegation, the top journalists cited audit findings and other reports which generated controversies around the L$4 billion new banknotes printed by the government for which, according to them, there has been no accountability, as well as USD $25 million for a mop-up exercise.
The former Press Union leaders pointed out that the US $25 million that was intended to mop-up excess Liberian dollars on the market could not be accounted for, according to a General Auditing Commission (GAC) audit report.
Part of the letter reads, “It is in view of the Weah government’s failure to be transparent and forthright in handling the financial affairs of the country that we are alarmed by reports that the National Legislature of Liberia recently issued a joint resolution giving approval for the printing of L$48 billion banknotes”.
The letter also stated that members of the National Legislature gave approval to print the new banknotes despite public outcry against said action, for which the lawmakers have been accused of receiving bribes.
Among other things the letter by the former PUL leaders furthered, “We are also concerned by reports that the government is proceeding with the printing of the L$48 billion banknotes in order to use said money to fund President Weah’s re-election campaign in 2023.
“Given the experience of the December 2020 Senatorial election when officials of the government and the ruling party doled out newly printed banknotes while the economy was saturated with mutilated banknotes, we have reasons to be seriously concerned that the interest of the country will be subordinated to the political interest of President Weah and his ruling party,” they added.
The veteran journalists further pointed out in their letter that years of financial mismanagement and misrule have trapped Liberia in a chronic cycle of economic dependency and international aid, while most Liberians endure extreme poverty due to rampant corruption and poor governance, which according to them are factors for instability.
The former Press Union leaders raised the issue of the growing insecurity in the country, while mysterious deaths and disappearances are becoming commonplace. They gave the mysterious death of four government auditors and the disappearance of three young men, for which there have been no conclusive investigations as examples of the trending situation
The former PUL executives indicated that they are becoming equally alarmed by the increased attacks on freedom of speech and of the press in Liberia. They mentioned a PUL petition to President Weah in 2020 in which the union cited widespread attacks, detention, and brutality meted against media practitioners in Liberia.
The communication contained six (6) recommendations to the Biden administration which according to the journalist will promote good governance, adherence to accountability and transparency, as well as respect for free speech and the rule of law in Liberia.
In their communication, they said that the U.S. Government, in partnership with other donor countries, offers to provide direct technical oversight of financial institutions in Liberia for an initial period no less than five years. And they thereby call for an international intervention, similar to that of the Governance Economic Management Assistance Program (GEMAP), under which the international community assisted in the management of Liberia’s resources following the end of the civil crises.
While there were some shortcomings with the GEMAP as some critics have noted, the journalists said the agreement led to the institution of financial policies and programs that contributed to the rapid revival of Liberia’s economy, which had collapsed during the civil war.
“We applaud the U.S. Government for the recent sanctions imposed on a prominent Liberian senator and lawyer for the said official’s alleged involvement in corruption in Liberia. Additionally, we appeal to Washington to investigate instances of alleged corruption and abuse of power involving any of its citizens and others in the employ of the Liberian Government for appropriate action under U.S. laws,” the journalists wrote.
According former PUL leaders, the U.S. should deny visa access to corrupt individuals and their families, stating that new U.S. aid to Liberia be channeled directly to citizens and democratic institutions through private partnership and other initiatives.
They furthered that the U.S. condition new economic assistance on full implementation of recommendations contained in the Final Report of Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and, that U.S. officials decline invitations/meetings with Liberian Government officials who are designated as corrupt and “roadblocks” to fostering a democratic environment.
The journalist concluded their statement by saying they have consistently spoken out in support of democratic values, respect for the rule of law and human rights, and good governance in Liberia.