RIA’S Relief in Plain Sight! -Concerned Liberian Proffers Solution

Liberia’s lone international airport has been bedeviled lately with a cornucopia of problems ranging from the lack of electricity to fuel issues. Reportedly, personnel at the Roberts International Airport are yet to see their salaries paid on a current basis. In the midst of the institutional turmoil, President George M. Weah has opted to sack the management head, especially due to mounting calls from the general public. But in the wake of the President’s management sweep, criticisms have been mounting regarding the Liberian Chief Executive’s latest nomination, with many contending that Darlington Karnley doesn’t fit the bill to manage the country’s premier airport. Against this background, a concerned Liberian, journalist Danesius Marteh, has added his voice to other Liberians, by calling on President Weah to consider bringing on board Mr. Alex Cuffy, an ex-GEMAP Financial Controller at the RIA, and former boss of the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) under the erstwhile Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf administration. The Analyst publishes below Mr. Marteh’s opinion on why he feels Mr. Alex Cuffy is the best man who can revitalize the ailing RIA administration.

CDC-led government has an armory in Alex Cuffy, ex-GEMAP expert
-Will President Weah appoint Cuffy to return RIA to its postwar status praised by Hilary Clinton?
by Danesius Marteh, 

The Roberts international airport (RIA) has been in the local and international news for all the wrong reasons. A Royal Air Maroc flight was forced to abort its landing at 4:00AM due to a dark runway on 20 February 2022.

Those onboard were dropped in Freetown, Sierra Leone, forcing those bound for Monrovia to come by road. The change also left several passengers stranded at the RIA.

President George Weah and government officials were greeted with darkness upon their arrival at the RIA on 28 March 2022 from the United Arab Emirates where they had gone to participate in the EXPO Dubai 2020.

Passengers were compelled to use their phones to provide light in the terminals at the RIA on 29 March 2022. A video, which went viral on social media, showed travelers complaining and expressing serious frustration over the disgraceful situation while awaiting their respective flights for departure along with their luggage.

SN Brussels, one of the most consistent airlines from Europe to Monrovia, was again re-routed to Freetown when the plane, after descending sufficiently to touch the ground, suddenly aborted landing due to power outage at the airport and on the runway on 27 April 2022.

The scary situation did not only cause panic among passengers on board but also delayed passengers at the RIA who were waiting to board the flight for their destinations.

In a video recorded in the plane and shared with FrontPageAfrica, the pilot is heard announcing: “I would like to inform you that the airport in Monrovia is closed and there is no electricity at the moment. They’re trying to fix it, but we have some fuel to do a few miles; but until now, we don’t have any contact at the airport of Monrovia so we have decided to go back to Freetown. In Freetown, we will see if we can take some fuel and what the decision would be next…”

The flight returned after the airport was powered, causing delay for outbound passengers scheduled to take off at 8:30PM. They were rescheduled to leave at 9:30PM and later moved to 10:30PM but the plane left after 11:30PM.

There have been several complaints from airlines about the safety of the runway and other issues relating to the quality of jet fuel being supplied at the RIA.

The RIA, early April, announced a daily shutdown at midnight and advised airlines to reschedule late night and early morning flights to allow it to carry out a digitalization implementation work plan that will run from six to 10 months.

President Weah has formed a cabinet committee to address what appears to be a national and or international embarrassment.

It appears the RIA is in an intensive care unit (conditions of 2003-2005) but emergency and lasting solutions are within the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC)-led government. And former Finance & Development Planning Minister Amara Konneh knows the doctor to take the RIA from the ICU.

In an April 5, 2022 Facebook post, Konneh urged President Weah to appoint Alex Cuffy, one of the founding members of the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) in the United States of America to fix or repair the RIA.

“Alex Cuffy, an internationally recruited financial controller (a CDCien, I must add), worked with the UP government and implemented a controls system to improve financial management.

“Between 2006 and 2009, Cuffy worked with Julius Dennis and Abraham Simmons, successive managing directors at RIA, to implement a series of reforms to make the airport viable again.

“They established financial controls that helped bolster the airport’s financial position, eliminated unnecessary workers, trained the remaining staff, wrote a complete operating manual, and purchased much-needed equipment with financial support from donors.

“With these reforms, RIA met International Civil Aviation Organization standards, and US regulators approved the facility to handle flights to and from America. Results: major airlines like Delta, British Airways, Air France, etc., added RIA to their routes.

“I am not sure what Alex Cuffy’s current political affiliation is. Still, if we are serious about having a well-managed international airport by international standards, he is perhaps the best to do it.

“Alex is a Liberian with strong managerial skills and experience with a deep understanding of systems, politics, and culture. I hope the regime will look beyond partisan politics on one of the most important strategic economic infrastructures in our land.

“Sorry, Alex Cuffy, for putting you on the spot, but we should be offering solutions for a situation as grave as the current status of our international airport.

“Imagine annual revenue was roughly US$4 million in 2006 when you had a runway with potholes and a house as the terminal. Then imagine the potential now. Own it and prevent it from falling apart. Get the right people in there,” Konneh wrote.

Cuffy was the Governance and Economic Management Assistance Program (GEMAP) internationally recruited financial controller at the RIA from 2006 to 2009.

GEMAP, introduced in September 2005, was in recognition of the fact that Liberia’s financial systems had broken down as a result of the civil war and needed considerable assistance to rebuild.

And it made a significant contribution at arresting corruption and improving transparency and accountability in the operations of the government.

The United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) was actively involved in GEMAP’s establishment and played a key role in ensuring that the benchmarks set were met.

In an exclusive interview with UNMIL FOCUS magazine in January 2007, then President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf acknowledged that GEMAP played a significant role in arresting corruption in Liberia and helped to improve accountability, transparency and good practices.

As part of the program, in key ministries, state-owned enterprises and public corporations, internationally-recruited experts worked with the Liberian leadership to establish transparent financial management systems, trained and built the capacity of Liberians, and reported openly on their operations, revenue collection and expenditures.

The RIA was one of GEMAP’s success stories, recording nearly US$1 million in net profit in December 2006.

This was a sharp contrast to an RIA that could not even pay its employees or give staff their severance pay, recording a net loss of over US$548,000 at the end of 2005.

But Cuffy with Simmons as head, sustained a positive cash flow by exceeding every target. It was a success story also recognized and praised by the then United States Secretary of State Hilary Clinton on a visit to Liberia on 13 August 2009.

“Some of the things that RIA could not do in the past, we are gradually doing now, including obtaining airport liability insurance, buying communications and other equipment for the airport, renovating staff accommodations and so on,” Cuffy told UNMIL FOCUS magazine (December 2006 to February 2007 edition), attributing the positive achievements to the controls, policies and procedures that were put in place at RIA.

“Gone are the days when people were holding cash for days, transacting business in cash and without adequate support. All these controls that we have put in have made the process work to ensure that the monies that are generated by the airport are deposited into the bank. We have revamped the whole process and hope it will be sustained when we leave,” said Cuffy.

That was a hope for change, which is gradually fading away and returning the RIA to where it was when Cuffy worked with Simmons.

And Cuffy thinks the RIA’s ongoing struggles need quick, robust and timely interventions. 

“The airport needs someone, not necessarily an engineer, with a track record of turning an organization around, from mess to best. Aviation is such that you must have very limited people on the airside. You have to optimize. You have to review contracts and cancel some where necessary. 

 “Dennis wasn’t an agent of change. That’s why Ellen removed him because he didn’t listen to the GEMAP financial controller. Simmons was the guy who helped me to turn things around,” said Cuffy, who resides in Dallas, Texas, United States of America.

Asked if he would accept an appointment from President Weah, Cuffy said: “Given the governance structure in Liberia today and where I am at in my profession and with my family, I will need to have a serious conversation with the president. I must have a performance contract with the president as was done by Ellen. I must have unhindered access in meeting the president, who must provide the needed resources. I must have the flexibility to approach international partners and others for financing like I did in obtaining the needed funds from the US government to complete emergency works at the airport by 2009 that allowed Delta and other flights to come in.

“The president must fire me if I don’t do my job because I am going to submit an eight to 10-year work plan, which will include a 90-day deliverable, a two-year plan till the end of the president’s tenure and for the next six years. That will be developed within 90 days.”

Cuffy says, if appointed, he will work directly with the president, RIA board, Ministry of Transport and National Legislature.

“There should be no interference from anywhere. The minister of state works directly with the president and the minister of finance, of course, will have to provide the funds and they can ask questions where necessary but those concerns shouldn’t amount to interference,” Cuffy underscored.

Cuffy has stood-up for integrity at many places of work in Liberia, including at the RIA, Ministry of Agriculture, University of Liberia and Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU). 

He was the first director-general when the FIU was established as an autonomous agency by an act of the legislature in 2012 (approved on April 30, 2013 and published on May 2, 2013), as the central, national agency of Liberia responsible for receiving, requesting, conducting preliminary investigations, analyzing and disseminating information to competent authority concerning suspected proceeds of crime and terrorist property.

With the support of then President Johnson-Sirleaf, legislature and judiciary, Cuffy’s FIU formulated several laws and policies to deal with money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism [AML/CFT] in Liberia.

He took the FIU to leadership positions at ECOWAS’ inter-governmental action group against money laundering in West Africa (GIABA).

Under Cuffy’s leadership, the FIU gained recognition from the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), which is the global money laundering and terrorist financing watchdog and the United States Treasury Department.  

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