MONROVIA: Against the background of the visa restriction placed on him recently by the United States Department of State, Minister of Finance and Development Planning Samuel D. Tweah, Jr has reacted publicly to the allegation which also affected his family, blaming his designation on the level of detailed misinformation given to U.S. congressional leaders against the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC), and maintained that the action is “unbelievably unjust, unfair and is a fundamental violation of their rights”.
Minister Tweh however vowed, while describing himself as a father and a husband, to fight what he called the “injustice meted out to me and my family irrespective of the might of the power of the individual or of the country inflicting that harm”, saying that he has always loved the United States and its ideals. “I lived close to a decade as a resident of the U.S. and received graduate education there. America is a truly great country and democracy,” he said.
Responding to the allegation yesterday in a well-publicized press conference held at the EJS Ministerial Complex, Congo Town, Monrovia, Tweah vehemently refuted and discounted the allegations for which he and his family have been designated for visa restriction.
“As a Minister of Finance and Development Planning, I have never abused my position through soliciting, accepting and offering bribes to manipulate legislative processes and public funding, including legislative reporting and mining sector activities.
“I have never done so whether in dealings with the National Legislature or in dealings with any other branches or institutions of the Government of Liberia or with private sector actors. As a Minister, my job is to provide approved resources to the National Legislature upon request, subject to the availability of cash,” the Minister hit back.
The tough-talking founding member of the Congress for Democratic Change(CDC), a constituent member of the Coalition for Democratic Change(CDC), having given a deep perspective on the quick succession in which designations from the US government came, said he was of the opinion that there could be enough reasons to believe that those actions are more political than anything else to warrant meting out sanctions against officials of the CDC led government because “the post-elections timing and character of [the] recent designations are even more confusing and suspect.”
He said after President Weah elevated the Liberian democracy in his graceful concession to president-elect Joseph N. Boakai, his government and party are being disintegrated by designations.
“In the Liberian senate, either Senator Albert Chie or Senator Emmanuel Nuquay stands today the strongest chance of being elected President Pro Tempore of the Liberian senate. CDC can claim at least 15 senators-elect to make this happen. To conceivably eliminate them both and prevent the CDC from controlling both houses, since it is clear the CDC will control the House of Representatives, it became necessary to use State Department designations to summarily squelch their chances,” Minister Tweah argued.
He said to achieve this, the United States had to add him, who had already been targeted in the ArcelorMittal saga. “By doing this you might strengthen the hand of the Unity Party to possibly control the Senate, while achieving the other important goal of decapitating a major intellectual lynchpin of the CDC.”
During the press conference which Tweah used to extensively discuss the visa restriction that also affected President Pro Tempore of the Liberian Senate, Albert T. Chie and Senator Emmanuel J. Nuquay of Margibi County, he gave a hint of how he got to know of the visa restriction when on the morning of December 11, 2023,he received a FaceTime call from his 11-year-old daughter and first child Sadel Datiloh Tweah who is in the sixth grade – calling to say she had won the writing competition she had started in November.
Tweh recalled that he was having a really bright day and pointed out that by seven in the evening, his wife showed him a text from Sister Oretha Pannoh who resides in the United States of America describing what would eventually be visa restriction imposed by the U.S. State Department.
“The glow of my morning transformed into a gloom of a pitch-black evening: The propagandists and malicious detractors who had sustained against me when I became Minister of Finance in 2018, a prolonged campaign of lies, misinformation, propaganda and disinformation had finally succeeded,” he recalled, stating that he could only feel sorrow for his wife and children.”
“In a mere 75-word paragraph, the three individuals and their families were both summarily accused and rendered guilty without any due process of law, their respective life-time reputations summarily impaired by dint of misinformation and false allegations given to a powerful country”, he said.
Recalling how he received the text of the Sanction information, Tweah said the allegation and verdict read thus: “Pursuant to Section 7031(c) [of the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, 2023] the United States is publicly designating Tweah, Chie, and Nuquay, for their involvement in significant corruption by abusing their public positions through soliciting, accepting, and offering bribes to manipulate legislative processes and public funding, including legislative reporting and mining sector activity.”
He further recalled the designation states, “As part of this action, their immediate family members are also designated, including their spouses Delecia Berry Tweah, Abigail Chie, and Ruthtoria Brown Nuquay, and Tweah and Nuquay’s minor children.”
While categorically denying the allegations levied against him, Tweh retorted, saying “I have never influenced legislative processes” whatever that implies. Specific reference to the mining sector confuses me but I believe this reference pertains to my involvement to developing a multi-user gateway through the third amendment of ArcelorMittal’s current concession and through granting rail access to HPX, an American company looking to transport rail from Guinea through Liberia.“
Making a link to the submission, he said about a year ago in Washington D.C. he received hints that persons connected with an American company, High Power Explorations Inc. (HPX) were trying to get him on Treasury sanctions because he was allegedly or supposedly “favoring AccelorMittal Limited (AML) over HPX and preventing HPX from accessing the rail to conduct its investment in Guinea through Liberia.
“My informant knew this was unjust and unfair, knowing the role I was playing on the Inter-ministerial Concessions Committee and understanding the difficulties and complexities of the negotiation. I was also informed that persons close to HPX were considering sanctions against me because the company had paid US$ 37 million to the Government of Liberia through the national budget since 2019 and was yet to have an agreement with the Government,” he said.
He argued, “Legitimate monies received by the Government of Liberia for the development of Liberia through the national budget is never a bribe. That an agreement has been difficult to reach because of complexity surrounding a pre-existing agreement is no reason to threaten government officials with sanction.”
Minister Tweah who has been in charge of his portfolio since 2018 upon the ascendency of President George Manneh Weah said he is providing these explanations and contexts because “these are chatters that have underpinned threats of sanction against me and my family from powerful individuals; It is important for the public to understand and know these things; We have not discussed them publicly as a government but now have an obligation to do so under the current circumstances”.
“I was advised that to avoid sanction, I should withdraw my support for ArcelorMittal’s third amendment until after the election. It was on this basis that I advised President Weah to turn over negotiations on the rail to the U.S. Government since too much propaganda and misinformation were threatening to destroy members of his government.
“The president obliged and the Americans for a brief moment tried to bring both HPX and A together to reach some understanding on the multi-user rail system. Meetings were held in London and Washington. Unfortunately, these meetings did not achieve anything, and the Americans withdrew and turned negotiations back to the Government of Liberia,” he averred.
“The truth of the matter is that ArcelorMittal has an agreement with the Government of Liberia signed by the Unity Party Government that gives Mittal the right to use the Nimba rail and to be an operator of this rail. In the Government’s vision to develop a multiuser rail system, we have tried to have Mittal relinquish operatorship of the rail to an Independent third-party rail operator for purposes of fairness and equity”, Tweah said.
He noted that ArcelorMittal has not been open to this position, and they, the government, have been at a deadlock in the negotiations for more than three years. Realizing the impossibility of having ArcelorMittal give up rail operatorship, and knowing the Government was not willing to proceed to international arbitration, the Government moved to a position of having Mittal become the User-Operator in exchange for other critical rights Mittal would have to give up under its current concession that would enable fair and equitable access to third parties such as HPX.
He narrated that he would have enabled the parties to reach a compromise, noting unfortunately, that HPX did not seem open to such a compromise and had insisted that Mittal abandons the rail operatorship.
“Mittal itself does not want to give up rail operatorship. As a consequence, Samuel Tweah became the biggest victim in this power play between two billionaires, each of whom aims to undo and outmaneuver the other. This is fundamentally unfair to me and requires correction by the U.S. authorities,” Minister Tweh explained.
He said a few months prior to the 2023 elections, the IMCC paid a visit to the Port of Buchanan; but prior to this visit, “we had taken a position to press ArcelorMittal harder to share the current facilities at the port of Buchanan with HPX and to accept small shipments, about one to two million metric tons of ore through Guinea, preferably from HPX, since under the current concession Mittal is obliged to sharing both rail and port.”
He clarified that he narrated all these positionings and repositionings to the Americans to prove that neither he nor other members of the Government of Liberia were biased toward one investor against the other, but that we were bent on finding a practical solution to a very complex problem.
“Given legal concession rights ArcelorMittal has under the current concession forcing them out of operations of the rail would require litigation or the Armed Forces of Liberia bursting through their premises, violating international law. Since the Government did not prefer any of these two options, we could only concede to Mittal’s operations in exchange for other rights for third party companies like HPX,” he stressed.
“However, these explanations still evidently did not impress some higher ups in Washington who have continued to use Africa Intelligence, a propaganda media outfit, to rain attacks against the Government of the CDC. The headline of one of Africa Intelligence’s articles published on September 29, 2023, reads: George Weah irks Washington and Robert Friedland (he is the billionaire owner of HPX) with mine transfers to ArcelorMittal. Several such false stories have been planted internationally and locally,” he added.
Tweah said as they leave the Government, they have left copious transition notes to guide the new administration on these issues. The latest thinking is to find a way for HPX to share the port of Buchanan with ArcelorMittal since it may take a long time for HPX or other third parties to develop separate berths at Buchanan,” he explained, furthering, “We wish the new administration luck in these negotiations and look forward to Liberia having a fair and equitable multi-user rail system.”
He disclosed the above factual pieces of information to show that publicly available information on which individuals have been sanctioned or are being placed on visa restrictions are not reliable to use to destroy the lives of decent characters who have worked years to earn and build their reputation, he stated, noting, “This architecture of disinformation has been deployed to undo the CDC by powerfully connected persons.”
The Minister who was in one of his best element on a day he has to give his all to deflate the negative propaganda against him indicated that these public designations without any due process, without any investigation to which those who are accused are involved, where they have the chance to dispel rumors and counter misrepresentations or misinformation, do not represent the values and norms of the democratic freedom-loving America that he has admired since his youth.
“I will argue here publicly that these outcomes do not represent the stated foreign policy objectives as conceived and understood by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen and by President Joseph R. Biden. I know these outcomes are the work of powerfully placed officials or bureaucrats within the U.S Government who have deep connections and relations here in Liberia and who are sworn and are committed to weakening the CDC.
“The recent designations are a mere strategy to disorganize the CDC while the incoming Government struggles to find its bearing and to prevent a powerful, experienced and knowledgeable CDC from mounting the fiercest political opposition,” Minister Tweah reacted, saying, “this is a fundamental unfairness in the conduct of foreign policy in a country and against a government that has shown nothing but commitment to the stated foreign policy objectives and interests of the United States”.
Minister Tweah pointed out that President Weah has advised his cabinet that in the larger calculus of foreign policy considerations impinging on the interests of the United States Government, he stands with the American people.
“Liberia has sided with all resolutions against China and Russia even when the rest of Africa took a different position. Most recently in the United Nations resolution to end the war in the Gaza Strip, which would bring peace and end the killing and suffering of Palestinians, Liberia stood with America to say No to ending war. Despite this support, we still see the dismantling of CDC. Yet we are made to believe that these designations are targeting individuals only. With the evidence at our disposal, we beg to disagree,” he intimated.
The CDC, he said, has long been targeted. “All of you here will bear eloquent testimony to the propaganda of the ‘missing 16 billion,’ the lies of the so-called 25 million, and the attribution of so-called auditors’ deaths to members of the CDC Government.
“Even though the US funded Kroll reports on the 16 billion have said there was not 16 billion missing- something I had publicly said on a radio show months before the findings of Kroll report were released, and though GAC audit reports on the 25 million have shown that I have had nothing to do with monies at the CBL, members of the opposition made sure this misinformation were kept in files in the offices of US Congressional leaders and in other agencies of the US Government,” he explained.
He recalled that in a meeting with Democratic U.S. Congressman Jim McGovern of the State of Massachusetts, he was stunned by the level of detail in the misinformation given to U.S. congressional leaders against the CDC. The Congressman told the Liberian delegation in the meeting in D.C. that President Weah proposed the 2020 national referendum because he wanted to serve for three terms. When we clarified that this was not the case and that he had been “misled by opposition surrogates, the Congressman said: “Y’all got to be here in Washington every week to give us correct information because all the information we have about you guys is damaging.
“Similar themes were echoed in several other meetings. It was clear to us that while we struggled to stabilize Liberia’s difficult macroeconomic situation and fought the COVID-19 epidemic, the opposition was piling propaganda garbage on the CDC Government in Washington. By the time we turned our gaze to Washington, significant damage had been done and today we are paying a costly price for this neglect,” Minister Tweah concluded.