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Transparency compromised: the unfortunate saga between the Liberian Embassy in Washington and Liberia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
BY JEREMIAH J.KRINGAR HARRIS,
FORMER ASSISTANT MINISTER OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS.

On the eve of the much anticipated elections of October 11, 2005, and in the wake of one of the most corrupt governments in the history of our nation, Liberians seem suddenly and overly obsessed with the idea of transparency in Government. The euphoria with which transparency is greeted seems understandable, given the depths to which the credibility of the nation has been taken by the moral bankruptcy of the Government of Gyude Bryant and the Warlords. Consequently, Liberia's international image has been so tainted and smeared with credible allegations of corruption that most sane Liberians are left utterly flabbergasted.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs bears the ultimate responsibility to present to the world a favorable image of Liberia's people and it's Government. In this regard, the Ministry has a tradition that is as old as the nation. However, and not surprisingly so, Foreign Minister Yaya Nimley and his coterie of Aides from the Model Rebel Movement, seem not up to this highly specialized task. Of course I fully comprehend Yaya Nimley's dilemma, given the glaring and blatant disparities between the Ministry, the home of Liberia's disciplined and conservative Diplomats, and Model, a Rebel Movement adept at snuffing out the lives of innocent and helpless civilians. The objectives and modus operandi of these two Institutions, it is apparent, are in diametric opposition to each other. Succinctly put, you do not conduct diplomacy as if you were strategizing to launch a guerilla attack on an unsuspecting enemy. This is the problem. Meanwhile, the image, reputation and credibility of the nation have become involuntary victims.

Moreover, Yaya Nimley's ability to repair the image and credibility of the Government abroad is further dampened by the unusually high incidence of questionable developments with which the Ministry is itself besmirched. Up to this point, the Minister has yet to offer any credible explanation with respect to the sale of buildings owned by our Embassies in Lagos and London. Infact, these developments were initially brought to the attention of the public by the media long after they had transpired. Yaya Nimley then offered an extraordinarily incoherent and lame account which up to now has not been credibly verified. It is my considered opinion that the people of Liberia must be privy to this information. Does not the Minister(Yaya Nimley) believe that he owes the public a more transparent explanation? Was the sale of these valuable properties sanctioned at the highest levels of the Government? How much were the buildings sold for and where is the evidence that the amounts were deposited with the Central Bank in keeping with law? Nimley must realize that these are questions that will not go away even after the election of a new Government.

In 2004, Charles Minor was appointed as Liberia's Ambassador accredited to the Government of the United States by Gyude Bryant, Chairman of the National Transitional Government of Liberia. When Minor assumed his duties following the presentation of his credentials to President George Bush and the subsequent accreditation appertaining, he found the Embassy in absolute disarray. The staff was completely demoralized, with salary arrears of one year plus. Subsequent to the foregoing, the income generating arm of the Embassy, the Consular and Visa office was completely mismanaged with a Consular Officer running amok.

The new Ambassador did not need a microscope to ascertain that something was amiss in the Consular and Visa office which was being run by the First Secretary and Consul, Mrs. Sataria Cooper-Morris. This office was being run as a government within a government, typical of how the Warlords in Monrovia were conducting the affairs of their Ministries. Accountability in the Consular and Visa office seemed to be by fiat, with the record of consular and visa receipts beclouded with deliberate inaccuracies and deception. To the Ambassador, this was unacceptable, especially so as he was aware that the rest of the Staff were watching and waiting to see what formula he would devise to rectify this obviously despicable situation.

According to very reliable sources, the Ambassador reacted with deliberate dispatch. He ordered the Consular and Visa office closed and its activities temporarily suspended pending an audit of all financial activities therein. In keeping with standard procedures within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for problems of this nature, Ambassador Minor duly advised the Foreign Minister of alleged financial improprieties, misappropriation and misapplication of funds collected. The Ambassador wisely requested an audit of the Consular and Visa office. As is the procedure in the Missions of the Liberian Diplomatic Service, the Ambassador also informed the Chairman of the NTGL of the entire sequence of events surrounding the improprieties that had unfolded within the Consular and Visa office. Lest there be no misinterpretation, I should note that, as the Official Representative of the Head of State accredited to a government, an Ambassador reserves the right to communicate directly with the Head of State on matters concerning the internal affairs at his Embassy and our relations with the host country.

Following a lengthy delay, and upon the directive of the Chairman of the NTLG, a team of Auditors was dispatch to Washington D.C. to conduct the Audit. The team was headed by the Auditor General of Liberia, and included the Deputy Auditor General and the Inspector General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Harry Tah Freeman. However, no sooner had the team arrived, and then problems began to emerge. The Inspector General, Harry Tah Freeman, ordered the Ambassador to immediately reopen the Consular and Visa office. The Ambassador of course refused, and rightfully so, because the Inspector General had exceeded the scope of the legal assignation of his nomenclature. According to the rules and regulations of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Inspector General, although ranked as an Ambassador, is subordinate to any Ambassador who heads a Diplomatic Mission and cannot arbitrarily order the closure of any section of an Embassy in the absence of a Directive from the Minister to the Ambassador. However, the Head of State, if he so desires, may overrule the Minister in the event of such Directive. This is constitutional procedure at its most simplistic level.

The unfolding diplomatic dog fight led to the Ambassador being recalled home by the Minister for consultations. Again, the Ambassador did not budge. The Foreign Minister should have understood by then that Governments, as opposed to Rebel Movements, operate within the strictures of Rules and Regulations. Does it take a degree in Nuclear Physics for him to comprehend that the Ambassador cannot be recalled without the expressed directive of the Head of Government? Has he read the Comprehensive Peace Accord, and if so, is he aware of its implications? Does he not comprehend that once the process of disarmament was completed the extra-constitutional powers of the Warring Factions became kaput? Can't it be drilled into the mind of this man that he now serves at the will and pleasure of the Chairman and can now be summarily relieved of his duties? Ignorance is a much more debilitating disease than cancer.

Despite monumental difficulties, the Audit was successfully completed and endorsed by the Auditor General and his Deputy. As expected, the Ambassador's allegations of gross financial improprieties by the First Secretary and Consul, Mrs. Sataria Cooper-Morris were confirmed beyond all reasonable doubt. In accordance with administrative procedures, the Auditor General duly submitted his Report to the Chairman, with copies being provided to the Foreign Minister and the Ambassador respectively. The Chairman reacted to the report by transferring Mrs. Cooper-Morris to another section of the Embassy, replacing her with the newly arrived Diplomatic Officer, Mr. Nippy. All of this transpired in April 2005.

Like the sudden appearance of a tornado, about a week ago, a report, distinct from the Official Audit, was released to the media by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, erroneously asserting the non-existence of financial improprieties in the Consular and Visa Office of the Embassy as alleged by the Ambassador and accusing him of being the culprit in the misappropriation of over $300,000. The report was signed by Harry Tah Freeman and was a complete contradiction of the Official Audit Report submitted by the team headed by the Auditor General of which Mr. Tah was a full fledged member. Mr. Tah Freeman, it should be noted, is not an accountant which renders him incapable of conducting an audit.

Naturally, one is constrained to be nonplused and befuddled beyond comprehension at factors that would motivate such an asinine attempt to juggle the facts of an Official Audit. The answer is not so difficult that it would bog the mind down in deciphering complex theories justifying the pathological nature of such obvious prevarication. These people are Warlords and, as such they are advocates of the justice of the jungle; if events prevent you from physically destroying your enemy, then semantics must be the avenue of destruction. In short, if you cannot kill your enemy, you tell a lie on him that would be convincing enough to destroy him. This, my fellow Liberians, is vintage African Warlordism.

I must conclude by suggesting to the Chairman that he employs the full force of his executive powers in dismissing the Foreign Minister, because, pettiness does not the number one diplomat of a nation make. Our nation has a rich history of diplomatic savvy. Furthermore, I recommend the recall of Mrs. Cooper Morris as her tarnished image suggests the end of her usefulness on the diplomatic scene in Washington D. C.