George K. Fahnbulleh

Ideas and Opinions...

In Liberia: The President, The Media, and The Crook

On May 10, 2011, the President of Liberia announced 10 new appointments to the Government of Liberia.  The most startling appointment was that of Emanuel Shaw, as Chairman of the Board of the Liberia Airport Authority.

This appointment is even more shocking when one considers this President has been dogged by her inability to adequately tackle corruption.  Five years into her administration, a President I vigorously supported, finds herself unable to govern in a manner that would help Liberia free itself from the development-stifling corruption.  Five years into her administration, Liberia is ranked as the most corrupt nation in the world by Transparency International.

A Brief History of Mr. Emanuel Shaw

According to a series of reports by the South African Mail & Guardian, "Mr. Shaw, one of Doe's closest confidants, fled Liberia ahead of the dictator's downfall in 1990, but before he did so he allegedly masterminded an elaborate ploy to rob the impoverished country of about $27-million - in effect the remaining assets the country had abroad.

The court papers establish that Shaw set up a new national oil company in which he was a major shareholder, resigned as finance minister, and then wrote a letter as if he were still finance minister obligating the government to pay his oil company millions of dollars."

As Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf and Amos Sawyer were agitating for the removal of Samuel Doe, their organization, the Association for Constitutional Democracy in Liberia (ACDL) wrote in its June 1989 Newsletter of Mr. Shaw:

"They have converged to pillage the wealth of Liberia. Shaw [and several ministers and public officials] have joined Doe in forming a parasitic cabal that is dedicated to the plunder of Liberia's resources.The kleptocrats in Monrovia engage in nothing of productive or long-lasting value to the nation's economy.

They simply skim off the top of whatever remains. Emmanuel Shaw is simply the most representative figure of this social category."

A former Justice Minister in Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf's administration, Phillip A. Z. Banks, III, also represented the Government of Liberia, in a lawsuit filed in New York, by Mr. Shaw to force the government to pay up on the scam.

What makes this appointment by the President so puzzling, for a woman who has bemoaned the weakness of the Liberian justice system, is that Amos Sawyer, the Chairman of the Good Governance Commission, Phillip A. Z. Banks, III, the Chairman of the Judicial Reform Commission and the President all have intimate knowledge of who Mr. Shaw is. 

This is not a bureaucratic breakdown, neither is it a failure to perform due diligence.  When Mrs. Sirleaf became President she was advised by the United Nations of two sanctions against former Liberian officials:

1) The UN Travel Ban List

2) The UN Asset Freeze List

Emanuel Shaw's name appears on both of those lists. 

Enter the Press 

As if on cue, a publication, BusinessLiberia, which "promotes doing business in Liberia,"  put Mr. Shaw on the cover of its magazine (see photo above).  In the interview, Mr. Shaw spoke harshly about saboteurs of the Liberian economy:

These saboteurs of our economy are the ones truly guilty of economic crimes. They are the enemy within. But they are also the big elephant in the room, the one that everyone can see but no one wants to talk about.  

This coming from a man, who had been labeled a kleptocrat by the very President now appointing him. Patriotism is, indeed, the last refuge of the scoundrel.

So what we have in this entire disgraceful debacle, is the President appointing someone to government, her organization excoriated as a kleptocrat, and the Press, BusinessLiberia, in this case, attempting to polish and rebranding his image.

It simply strains credulity for anyone to believe that BusinessLiberia publishing this piece on Mr. Shaw, just around the time he is appointed is a mere coincidence.  I seriously doubt that.  I see it as  an orchestrated enterprise by the President, Mr. Shaw, and the Press.

Madame President, exactly how does your plan to tackle corruption in Liberia work, when you put the fox in charge of the hen house?