Army Investigating Leaked ‘Classified Audio’ -As Defense Minister Ziankahn Cools Tension -Says Govt. Will Fund Army Contingencies in Mali

Defense Minister Daniel Ziankahn says the army will launch an investigation to unearth the source of the leaked controversial audio in which Armed Forces of Liberia Chief of Staff, General Prince C. Johnson, was heard speaking disparagingly about Finance Minister Samuel Tweah. Minister Ziankahn said, although he has already cooled down tension between the two high ranking Liberian government officials as a result of the audio leak, the Army is more concerned about the classified content of the audio, especially disclosures bordering on equipment and weaponry in the Mali war theatre.

“We will investigate. I am concerned about some of the classified things that were said in that leaked audio, especially classification of our equipment and weaponry,” Defense Minister Ziankahn said when he appeared Wednesday, April 11, 2022 on OK FM.

Downplaying the tension that ensured as a result of the audio being leaked in the public sphere, Minister Ziankahn said, although General Johnson spoke in the heat of the moment when he was addressing Mali-bound AFL soldiers via Zoom, the Army Chief of Staff himself later realized that he spoke out of order.

“Yes, General Johnson said those things. Those are soldier’s talks when you are speaking to the troops, when you are in the barracks. It was unfortunate that somebody would record it to put it out there which is of concern to us because there could have been some classified things that could have been said out there. But having said that, in hindsight, I think he himself regretted referring to the Minister that way.

“When I spoke with him yesterday, I also spoke with the Minister. I said, I wish you had said this to Tweah, and I know he can say it. It was just the heat of the moment he had to say that. But I think he regretted speaking to the Minister that way. He has spoken to the Minister. That shouldn’t be an issue. The repatriation and redeployment of our troops are more paramount than for people to be running around about the leaked tape. He was wrong and he has apologized so we should pass that stage,” Minister Ziankahn stated emphatically.

History of the Compulsory 20% Salary

According to the leaked audio, General Prince C. Johnson’s gripe with the Finance Minister centered around government’s decision to halt the compulsory 20% salary deduction that the Army had always used to take care of pre- and post-deployment trainings, contingencies and rentals for the Liberian peacekeeping troops assigned in Mali. Putting the blame squarely on Finance Minister Tweah, General Johnson had termed the decision as “stupid and silly”, when budgetary allotment had not yet been provided to augment the halted funds.

However, in providing an overview of the 20% compulsory salary deduction, Minister Ziankahn intimated that although such deductions are standard with all peacekeeping operations, the decision to halt the 20% deduction derived from President George M. Weah himself who, in sympathy with the soldiers, mandated a halt to the deduction, with the proviso that government would shoulder the expenses taken care of under the compulsory salary deduction.

“First we were with AFISMA, the African peacekeeping mission that first went to Mali in 2013 and were rerouted to MENUSMA, the UN peacekeeping Mission. By the time we went there we only had a platoon, now they are about a company. Our predecessors, former Minister Samukai and General Abdulraman said, because we had just come from war, and the government has a lot to do, we should not be looking at the government to shoulder the responsibilities of the peacekeeping mission in Mali. So, as it done to other soldiers in other countries, they took a percentage of the peacekeeping money and used that for operations. For example, when the soldiers need their passport to go to Mali, it is not the government of Liberia to do that. It was just this year ago that the President of Liberia decided that the soldiers should not take care of those responsibilities. We are grateful to the Commander-in-Chief for that.

“From 2013 up till now, it was the 20% that was used for pre-deployment training because when the soldiers go to Mali, we don’t just put them on the plane; they have to go through pre-deployment training for operations that they are expected to carry out in Mali, and orientation about the language and the culture. So they are trained sometimes for two or three months. It is that 20% that is used to take care of them. When they come from the theatre, we also conduct the post-deployment training for two or three weeks which involves demobilization because they are just returning from the war front,” Minister Ziankahn disclosed, noting that President Weah saw it fit, along with the Finance Minister and the army hierarchy, to abolish the compulsory salary deduction.

“Right now, the government of Liberia has pledged to shoulder that responsibility,” Minister Ziakahn averred.

Further elaborating on the disbursement of AFL soldiers’ salaries from the United Nations, Minister Ziankahn said once the UN provides the funds, it is placed into the peacekeeping account at the Central Bank.

“The 20% is automatically taken out and placed into an account. That 20% is used for all of those things I just spoke about. It is also used to rent a compound for them in Bamako. The UN doesn’t pay for rentals and incidentals for the troops, it is the Troops Contributing Country (TCC) that does that.  As we speak, the budgetary support that will augment the 20% is being taken care of,” Minister Ziankahn stated categorically.

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