The ‘Dear Son’ Who Destroyed Liberia’s Economy


    In barely 64 days, 79-year-old Ellen Johnson Sirleaf will leave office at the behest of the constitution after 12 years at the helm of the country.
    Sometime around January 18, 2018, she would take a deep breath and most certainly reflect on her days in office as Africa’s oldest independent Republic President – the ups and downs. Her years in office have been colorful, dull and controversial.
    Either in her retirement home or office, she would find time to read through her memoire, the presidential papers containing bilateral and multilateral agreements, concession deals, executive orders, and communiqué.
    Those volumes of historically documents will be separated into two parts: there would be the file of joy and the file of sorrow. Images of a rock star celebrity who was idolized in the Americas, Europe, Asia, Africa etc.; wining coveted honors there and not here glitter as she flips through the pages of history. But across the table lies the file of sorrow. In it, the “world-class-economist and banker, public policy and anti corruption czar failed to live up to expectation and reputation. Hunger, corruption, massive looting of public resources and bad governance plagued her legacy at home. She is leaving behind a huge mountain of disappointment. The celebrated leader was unable to help her poor country.
    Ellen Johnson Sirleaf does not need to look far away for people who torpedoed her grand vision to help the poor people of Liberia. The chief culprit for her underperformance is seated on
    the right hand of her throne while the co-conspirators roam in her presence.
    Robert Alvin Sirleaf, the dear son of the President is one who not only had a corrosive effect on his mother’s governance record but the grand wrecking of the nation’s economy.
    Like other African leaders’ children who have amassed wealth using their parents’ influence, Mr. Robert Sirleaf from 2008 held multiple public positions in Liberia: Chairman of National Oil Company of Liberia, Senior Advisor to the President, Chairman of First International Bank, UNESCO Representative and Oil envoy to the Middle East. With these roles, it is believed Robert was the main recruiting agency of the Government, wherein he hired cronies and fired perceived enemies.
    In July this year, Johnson Sirleaf told the UK Guardian that the ‘dear son’ was “put in a strategic role because he “knew the big players and he brought in the big American companies.”
    That strategic role has had devastating consequences on the country and its people. Before his entry into his mother’s government in 2008, the administration’s development programs and projects were on course; policies were been rolled out, the economy in good health to the extent that it was recorded amongst the fastest growing economies in sub-Saharan Africa.
    Every public institution Robert presided over in Liberia collapsed at the expense of taxpayers with the economy losing millions of United States Dollars and pushing people into poverty.
    The First International Bank Liberia Limited entered the country’s banking industry in 2005 at the time the country was recovering from war.
    But a forensic audit conducted after it crashed in 2016 shows it was nothing but a ponzi or criminal cartel, which used state resources and private individuals and businesses money to benefit the bank’s owners.
    The Sirleaf brothers operated the bank: Jeff Sirleaf was President and Robert Sirleaf was Chairman of the Board of Directors.
    According to the KPMG’s audit, the bank was operated fraudulently and illegally, violating the Central Bank of Liberia’s laws and regulations with impunity.
    FIBank made losses from inception till it was closed down in June 2016, issuing more than US$20million in unquestionable loans to directors and people related to bank owners, collecting depositors’ money and using it while causing the Central bank to lose US$17.5million, the auditors, said.
    “Based on the approach employed and the findings ascertained from the scope of our investigation, we can conclude that the key direct causes of the bank’s failure were as follows:
    • Pervasive lack of capital and eventual insolvency of the bank,
    . pervasive frauds experienced at the bank
    • The bank having exhibited characteristics akin to a Ponzi type operation by using depositors’ funds to repay deposits (dig hole, Cover Hole), acting illegally from 2013 onwards in terms of Liberian laws by taking deposits whilst insolvent and probably trading fraudulently whilst continuing to take on obligations whilst being insolvent
    Application of the bank’s funding was not such that the returns thereon funded the operating cost and obligations of the bank;
    • Pervasive governance failures and delays of mitigating action on the part of the
    CBL allowed these causes of FIBLL’s failure to persist
    FIBLL became insolvent as a result of its persistent capital shortages, losses on capital employed and reluctance of shareholder(s) to inject more funds. Over the years of its existence, FIBLL never made profit and its capital consistently fell short of the capital requirements of CBL.”
    In totality more than US$60million and close to L$200million was stolen from the state and depositors at Ponzi FIbank.
    In July, this year the Central Bank forwarded the audit report to the President to prosecute the culprits. To date, no action has been taken by the Sirleaf against the Sirleafs and associates in crimes.
    NOCAL: The ‘Dear Son’ managed the company with immense graft allegations. The President praised her son upon his resignation and declared he had “mission accomplished” though there has been serious clue that the state owned oil company meltdown commenced under his watch.
    NOCAL (National Oil Company of Liberia) was one of the lucrative state owned enterprises in the country netting millions of United States dollars from various multinational oil companies.
    There has been no anticipation that the company’s mega dollar status will die soon given the virgin nature of the nation’s hydrocarbon industry that attracted billion dollar oil giants like Chevron and Exxon-Mobil.
    The economic and energy potential of the sector also sparked geopolitical fight between and amongst key global powers including the United States, Russia and China in a bid for strategic oil blocks.
    In the process millions of dollars were generated via signatures fees, licensing and geo seismic data information.
    For Instance the Company in 2012/13 reported US$148 million in generated revenue.
    But for some reasons mainly bordering on waste and fishy expenditure the Company’s estimated financial reserve which trustworthy administration official sources estimated at US$100 million in a single financial year disappeared into private pockets.
    The President would take responsibility for the NOCAL’s fall, blaming the situation on high wages, while the Liberia Anti Corruption Commission (LACC) launched economic crimes investigations into the shocking collapse of the entity to determine if the issue of mismanagement, misappropriation of resources and the waste of government resources are responsible factors for the insolvency at the at the National Oil Company. Since 2015 the LACC has not produced findings on the matter, hence no prosecution.
    Dr. Christopher Z. Neyor, former Chief Executive Office of NOCAL and the President’s Energy Advisor, in 2014 provided clue on how the company’s finances were being misappropriated for personal gains.
    Neyon was one of the victims of the Robert’s rise to pinnacle of power in post war Liberia.
    “From the time Robert was appointed to the Board of
    Directors of NOCAL in 2010 and he realized the millions involved, he started to position himself overnight as an oil and gas expert and instructing me on how we could make a lot of money. When I didn’t go along, he began to undermine and intimidate me as CEO as well as then
    Chairman of the Board Clemenceau Urey,” he said.
    ”When I started the reform process at NOCAL learning from the errors of most of the African oil-producing countries and formulating a foundation for empowering Liberians through lucrative local content participation in this new extractive sector, you know that Robert
    interjected that it was unwise politically to allow citizens to have money like that, especially when the 2011 elections was around the corner.
    “You were fully aware that Robert began to portray himself as the defacto head of NOCAL and began soliciting huge amounts of money from individuals and companies with interest in acquisition of oil blocks.
    Some of these companies approached me and I brought those to your attention only for Robert to tell them not to pay attention to me because I was going to be removed after the 2011 elections, and he was going to become Executive Chairman (which was later proven right). Oil blocks were promised to these people of which you are fully aware and millions was brought in irregularly for the campaign with cash brought in on private jets and taken to your [President Sirleaf] home,” Neyor said in his open letter to President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf in 2014.
    From all indications, the ‘Dear son’ has been directing efforts and energy toward the economic front and influencing economic policy decisions that will primarily benefit and accrue financial gains for him and his allies. The aging West African leader, her sons and key cronies have positioned themselves economically.
    At present the Sirleafs and key allies are among the country’s richest people. Their wealthy status became more pronounced when Sirleaf the mother became President in 2005, making government service the main source of wealth. The President had served in lucrative public offices such as Finance Minister under ultra corrupt regimes in the 1960s, 70s and 80s.
    On 17 October, 2013, the President revealed that she begs her son- Robert Sirleaf when she’s low on cash. This suggests that Robert the son is richer than Johnson-Sirleaf the President.
    “I do know that he [Robert] has enough [money] to be able to, each time I get broke, to call him and say I need so and so and he will say alright give me a week or so and I will try and do that. Today he has his house paid for in the U.S., he has his car in the U.S. , he ha s money invested in the U.S. Treasury Bond and Bills because over the years he made good money.” Johnson-Sirleaf said Claiming that her son earned huge bonuses while working in the U.S.

    By Festus Poquie