Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission, Chairman Cllr. Edwin Kla Martin seems to indulged in selective justice targeting women in government.
Both Agriculture Minister Madam Jeanie Milly Cooper and National Elections Commission Chairperson Madam Davidetta Browne Lansanah appear to be wrongly targeted from a list of indictees comprising of several men.
Minister Cooper pointed accusing fingers at the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Fisheries, Sen. Jimmy Tornanlah, as the mastermind behind her indictment. The Minister said she has done no wrong except for presiding over millions of US dollars that has attracted more interest and attention.
“The Chairman of the Senate Committee, Jimmy Tornanlah, is the man after me, but for what reason, I don’t know,” Minister Cooper said.
LACC Chairman Martin responding to allegations of selective justice targeting women said he was not ready to respond to gender issues but he was rather focused on doing his job. Cllr. Martin informed Womenvoices that the case involving the National Port Authority Managing Director has since been submitted to the Ministry of Justice.
Many observers who spoke with Womenvoices have expressed serious concern over the speed at which LACC boss is moving with cases involving women, especially the case involving NEC boss where LACC immediately initiated prosecution of Madam Davidetta Browne Lansanah, instead of submitting it to Justice Ministry as it did with previous cases.
It can be recalled that on January 14, 2022 the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission announced placing 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.
Prior to investigation the Executive Chairperson Edwin Kla Martin made a public statement claiming that the LACC was deeply worried and baffled by the intelligence it gathered, terming it as reckless disregard to public financial management laws, Public Procurement laws and the country’s code of conduct for public officials at Liberia’s Agriculture Ministry.
Meanwhile the Senate Committee, headed by Sen. Tornanlah has accused Minister Cooper and the Ministry of Agriculture of financial malpractice. Sen. Tornanlah said the Senate investigation discovered that three persons who are not employees of the Agriculture Ministry, but contractors, are also signatories to the ministry’s account while four contractors including her brother Zubin Cooper were given two years contract in her office.
The Senate investigation alleged that one Thomas Gbokie was contracted as Agriculture Knowledge Management Advisor with an annual salary of U$100,000 from February 15, 2021, to February 14, 2023, with, a project value of USD 99,984, for smallholder Agriculture Transportation and Agri-business Revitalization project (STAR-P).
The Committee also highlighted that Minister Cooper as well employed (Sylvester W. Taylor) as Financial Management Advisor over a project valued at US$99,984.00 with an annual salary of US$50,000 at the smallholder Agriculture Transportation and Agri-business revitalization project.
The Committee’s report furthered that Zubin Cooper (brother of the Minister) was awarded a contract, (smallholder Agriculture Transportation and Agribusiness Revitalization Project) as a communication and marketing Specialist with an annual salary of US$100,000, running from February 15, 2021, to February 14, 2022, with a project value a US$99,984.00.
The Committee at the same time reported that Momolu Tolbert is a non-employee of the Agriculture Ministry, but signatory to the account of the Ministry of Agriculture.
The Committee said it established that Momolu Tolbert was awarded a contract of US$298,145.42 by the Minister to supply F1 Hybrid Cocoa seeds to the Ministry of Agriculture, but failed to deliver the same.
However, these allegations, Minister Cooper said they are trumped up to seek her downfall. The Minister highlighted the transformation the Ministry was undertaking to empower farmers to feed Liberia. She said with her network and skill, the Ministry in a year period was able to raise about 72 million United States dollars for the Agriculture sector. The female agriculturist said her good work and records would vindicate her from any accusation.
Moreover, MoA in release said it was pleased to request the GAC to immediately release to LACC and the general public the audit reports commissioned by the Ministry, covering from 2019 to 2021, for the major projects funded by Development Partners that MoA implemented.
During the same period in similar manner the NEC Boss’ indictment was triggered by the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission’s investigation report, which implicated her, and another official in corruption and later recommended their dismissal without conviction.
The LACC’s report claimed that the NEC Boss confessed to have awarded the contract to her brother David Brown, Vice President of the Tuma Enterprise Incorporated in violation of Chapter 1, Section 1 & 3 of the National Code of Conduct for all Public Officials.
The investigation comes following a report that the NEC Commissioners spent 180 thousand United States Dollars to rent several pieces of thermometers during the just ended by-Elections in four countries.
Madam Lansanah has since dismissed the allegation, terming it as false and misleading.
In a press conference held at NEC Headquarters on Sunday December 19, 2021, Madam Browne Lansanah offered a general response to the LACC’s investigation of the National Elections Commission’s procurement of Goods and Services from Tuma Enterprises.
“We say general response because, as of the time of this statement to you, the LACC has not served us with its report; therefore, we cannot provide a detailed response to allegations in a report we have not seen. Moreover, because the LACC has not served its report on us, we on December 17, 2021 wrote the LACC requesting the report since it had already released the report to the public”, she said.
She however informed the press that on November 19, 2021, the LACC served them with letters of invitation to appear for investigation. “Before the ink could dry on the letter of invitation, the LACC sent it to local media and its Chairman later that day appeared on the Voice of America international broadcast to tell the World the LACC had placed us under criminal investigation”.
NEC Boss said on advice of her lawyers and out of respect for the LACC as another institution of government, she said they remained silent even in the face of what she called the weekly prejudicial leaks by the LACC to certain local dailies claiming it had found criminal wrongdoing but was receiving political pressure concerning the investigation.
“Never before has such calculative and coordinated leaks been seen in the LACC’s investigative history”.
“We believe that an agency with investigative and/or prosecutorial powers is obligated not to make, condone, or cause to be made public statement the agency knows or should reasonably know has the likelihood of prejudicing a criminal matter or heightening public condemnation of the target of an investigation,” she reacted.
Madam Lansanah said following its investigation, the LACC through its Chairman held a press conference on December 15, 2021 in which he told the public the LACC had completed its investigation, and then read out an outcome claiming we had made certain admissions of guilt during our appearance before the LACC. “This is false and misleading. We appeared before the LACC with our legal counsels, submitted the requested documents along with written statements; at no time during the interviews did any of us ever make any admission of guilt as falsely stated during the LACC’s December 15th press conference”.
NEC Boss as they await the LACC’s report to provide a detailed response, she noted that the Liberian Constitution instructs that an announcement to pursue an indictment should not raise inference of guilt, “as all accused persons are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond all reasonable doubt in a court of law”.
She however assured the public of her commitment to perform her critical role in the system of government to conduct free, fair and credible elections.
Many observers are concerned why only high profile women in government have been accused and prosecuted when there are several other pending cases including a case involving the Managing Director of the National Port Authority who was accused of conflict of interest for awarding a huge contract to his brother in Buchanan several months back. Pundits believe if the Government of President Weah will be successful in its fight against corruption, it has to be holistic in its approaches, beginning with friends to the President who are engaged in corrupt acts.