“I Apologize to the Liberian People” -Agriculture Minister Admits to Conflict of Interest Charge

The embattled Minister of Agriculture, Jeanine Milly Cooper, who is undergoing investigations by the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LAC) over conflict of interest and other charges, has further entangled herself by admitting publicly during a Friday, January 21, 2022 Spoon TV interview that she was involved in the hiring of her biological brother, Zubin Cooper, who got a contract with the Ministry of Agriculture in February 2021 as Communication and Marketing Advisor, and was paid US$3750. “I apologize to the Liberian people for giving him a contract for $5, 000,” Madam Cooper stated halfheartedly after several hours of grilling from her interviewers.

The Agriculture Minister’s appearance on Spoon TV comes in the wake of the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission having placed the entire leadership of the Ministry of Agriculture under full-scale corruption investigation for issues of conflict of interest, financial improprieties and other inappropriate awarding of agro contracts amounting to millions of United States Dollars.

The admittance from Madam Cooper was issued following her initial denial on the same show about having any relative being awarded any contract at the Ministry of Agriculture.

“I don’t have any family members as consultants at the Ministry of Agriculture. But I have a very good idea about who is witch-hunting me. Besides Senator Tonorlah, I know of others who are witch-hunting me. The senator as the Chair on Agriculture misled the Senate to conduct an investigation that they are in no way competent to conduct. When this investigation is done, I know I will be vindicated. The same things that were investigated in 2020 and 2021 are the same things that are being rehashed. We are busy with the work of transforming the sector. The LACC should not allow itself to be manipulated. You’re conducting an investigation and already found me guilty; putting people’s salaries out there,” Madam Cooper caustically responded to an interviewer’s question about whether she had knowledge of any of relative being awarded a contract with the Ministry of Agriculture.

The tide of the interviewer however turned against Minister Cooper when one of the interviewers asked if she knew about the awarding of a consultancy to her brother Zubin L. Cooper.

“Yes, he is my brother,” Madam Cooper answered reluctantly, further clarifying that her brother no longer has any contract with the MOA. She also admitted that her brother Zubin Cooper was contracted last year to do some communication work with the Deputy Minister of Agriculture regarding a trade fair, and that Mr. Cooper was paid for his services.

“That was the only time, and he doesn’t need it. He does not have an employment contract with the MOA, but even if he did, in this government, how many cousins, siblings, even in the Ministry of Agriculture are employed?” Madam Cooper responded in a peeved tone, admitting further that although it was her Deputy Tetteh who hired her brother, she approved his contract in February 2021.

Interestingly, having earlier stated that she has no knowledge of any of relatives being awarded any contract at the Ministry of Agriculture, she would later admit signing on the contract of her brother Zubin, but did not see it as conflict of interest because she did not initiate the hiring process.

“He is a Liberian businessman. They were lobbying for him to do that work. For them to come out now and say it is a conflict of interest, ok fine. Yes I did that. I apologize to the Liberian people for giving him a contract for $5000,” Madam Cooper responded petulantly.

Despite being encumbered by the ongoing LACC investigation, and having openly apologized for indulging in conflict of interest, Madam Cooper has to credit years of experience and network which have helped to transform the agriculture sector, and she believes it is mainly for those reasons that she still enjoys the confidence of her employer, President Weah.

“I have put all of my resources, ability, talent and skills, network at the disposal of the Liberian people, and they are manifold and international, spanning many years. The transformation that is happening in the agriculture sector is due to me. I raised $72 million in 12 months. Yes, I still need to be Minister,” Madam Cooper remarked hopefully at the close of an interview that cornered her into partially admitting to some of the charges brought against her by the LACC.

“If I was in Madam Cooper’s shoes, and I am undergoing LACC investigations, I wouldn’t have agreed to sit for this interview,” one of the talk show hosts remarked cryptically after the curtain had closed on the Agriculture Minister.

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