Former Liberian Finance Minister, Amara M. Konneh, says the team of investigators set up by the George Weah-led government is on a witch-hunt to silence individuals from providing critical analysis about the country’s woeful economic governance state.
“I will fight this witch-hunt and politically motivated phony investigation with every bone in my body to prove that they are lying and looking for people to shake down. If this is intended to silence me from speaking out on the real economic governance issues the country is currently facing, which even exceed the challenges we faced in the turbulent 1980s, then you’ve just gotten me started. You can’t point fingers through governance the way you did when you were in opposition,” Mr. Konneh stated over the weekend, in response to claims from government investigators that he, his successor Boima Kamara and Dr. James F. Kollie stole $13 million of European Union Budget support to the Fiscal Year 2012/2013 national budget.
The current war of words between Mr. Konneh and government investigators is spurred by a list published recently in the media fingering certain persons of interest, mainly from the past government, for defrauding the state of much-needed resources. Following publication of the first list, Mr. Konneh immediately reacted, indicating his innocence, and pointed out the gross error of judgement. Konneh clarified that Dr. Kollie and Mr. Kamara were not even working at the Ministry of Finance at the time the investigators mentioned.
The spat forced newly hired solicitor general Cllr. Cyrenus Cephas and his team to reconfigure the list of persons of interest, with Amara Konneh’s name again making the list.
Now Mr. Konneh has taken off the diplomatic glove, stating in very clear terms that he is prepared for the battle of his life to clear his name and reputation which he worked hard over the years to maintain.
Clearing the air on the disinformation “mess”
Clearly incensed over the new Solicitor General’s claim that former President Sirleaf stole US$4 billion, and that he needed $2.1 million to chase after the stolen funds, Konneh exposed the incredulity of the claims in a fiery retort.
“On a broader note for rational and sensible people, the new Solicitor General (SG), in defense of the $2.1 million budget he submitted to the legislature on July 15, 2019 to pursue criminal cases against officials of the last administration, alleged that former President Sirleaf and team stole US$4 billion.
For context, President Sirleaf’s government raised less than $6 billion in 12 years. I need not rehash this for some of those making these claims today who also served in her government. Salaries for workers alone accounted for approximately $2.4 billion over 12 years. Goods and services for running the government hovered around $600 million over 12 years. I don’t need to mention debt servicing, or the massive reconstruction activities that brought the economy back to pre-war levels. Moreover, $4 billion is the equivalent of nine (9) years budget of Liberia. For the SG’s claims to be true, Sirleaf and her team would have to have stolen every penny that we raised. If we stole that amount, how then did the post-conflict nation survive for twelve years during which civil servants got paid on time, debts were serviced in time, goods and services were purchased regularly, we increased public investments from 6% to a whopping 25% of the budget and delivered tangible public goods including some of which the new government will be dedicating on July 26th. Without the proper and transparent management of public resources, we would not have been able to accomplish all the above.
Today, the story is different. The Solicitor General has asked to spend $2.1 million of limited public resources on a promise to recover a non-existing and imaginary $4 billion. I will fight this witch-hunt and politically motivated phony investigation with every bone in my body to prove that they are lying and looking for people to shake down. If this is intended to silence me from speaking out on the real economic governance issues the country is currently facing, which even exceed the challenges we faced in the turbulent 1980s, then you’ve just gotten me started. You can’t point fingers through governance the way you did when you were in opposition.”
Proof of Innocence
Konneh’s initial outburst was followed by a methodical explanation showing evidential proofs to clear his name of the wild goose claims. In a social media media post published over the weekend, under the title: “The EU $13 million Saga – Part 1, What We Did with the Money”, this is what the former Finance Minister had to say:
“A year after my appointment in February 2012 as Minister of Finance, the FrontPageAfrica (FPA) newspaper ran a story on June 13, 2013 alleging that they had been informed by Ministry of Health officials that I had “diverted” 10 million Euros (the equivalent of US$13 million at exchange rate parity at that time) of European Union (EU) budget support to the health sector – implying that those funds had been siphoned for my personal use.
To be fair, Mr. Rodney Sieh did call me the evening before he ran the story. I was in the middle of reviewing our fiscal data and Consolidated Account balance late that evening in my office so that commitments didn’t exceed available balance. It was a very long day. Nearly brain dead, I yelled at him and used words I regret, driven by my flawed thinking that no rational person would believe such a story. I had crossed the line for which I’m still paying a heavy price.
Here are the facts: Due to a strong GoL record of fiscal management, we were able to negotiate in my first year in office a $30 million direct budget support grant from the EU for the fiscal year 2012/2013 budget, $13 million of which was support to the health sector. To reach Liberia, it was sent from the European Central Bank, to the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank of New York, before finally being received electronically by the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) and deposited in the GoL’s Consolidated Account. Once the funds hit the Consolidated Account, the CBL officially informed the MoF about the deposit. The money was then recorded in the Integrated Tax Administration System (ITAS), appropriate official “Flag Receipts” were issued and disbursed to the health agencies as appropriated by the National Legislature. This was all done in accordance with the 2012/13 Budget, PFM Law and Regulations. All of this is verifiable – all documents all are at MFDP.
Those are the facts on the EU $13 million allegations. The records are there – at MFDP, CBL, in LRA’s ITAS (revenue system) and the money trail between the EU Central Bank, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and CBL. The Tax Code for the transaction was 132101-103; BPS Number was 136383; and Flag Receipt Number was 1152432 – all verifiable in ITAS and at the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning and Central Bank of Liberia. The Liberia Revenue Authority is the custodian of ITAS after we established it in 2015. There is absolutely NO GAC Audits or LACC reports that say the EU’s budget support of $13 million was missing. Here is the link to all of GAC’s audit reports: https://www.gac.gov.lr/reports.php. I have mine – both electronic and hard copies. Get yours read it!”
Digging further, Mr. Konneh said the issue about the EU $13 million had long been quashed when the EU Ambassador and team verified the transaction.
“The two links below show the clarification and the additional resources we were able to attract for the health sector after the alleged scandal when the EU Ambassador and team, and FPA verified the transaction:
- After the alleged scandal was clarified, we successfully negotiated and mobilized a whopping $384 million in budget support for various sectors, including the health sector, supported by: https://www.liberianobserver.com/news/eu-commits-us384m-in-aid-to-liberia
- The EU Embassy in Liberia issued a statement in December 2016 that it had not called for any audits and the EU support to Liberia had not stopped – see EU press release,” stated Konneh.
The retort from Mr. Konneh has clearly angered the team of government investigators. During the course of last week, one of the investigators stated that they had received a letter from Mr. Konneh with a return address only indicating Washington, DC. He wondered why would Mr. Konneh refuse to indicate his main address, vowing that if Mr. Konneh refuses to come to Liberia to answer to the charges made against him, government would pursue the next line of action.
Liberians from all walks of life have started to show interest in the current case, with many believing it is simply a means for the CDC-led government to silence critical voices.
“Look forward to the Sunday’s account but nipping this story with evidential account and filing a lawsuit for damages would dislodge the myth, if any. I believe in you but equally cautious till this allegation is provided its rightful seat in history and never to be talked about again…waiting, AMK!” says Abraham Doedeh.
Bendu Sanoh-Sesay: “Hon. Amara Konneh, You have said it all. No backing down from here. Clear your name by all means necessary and we are here to give you the ultimate support. Lights needs to be shine on this government and it’s falsification/implication of reputable individuals like yourself. DO NOT BACK DOWN!”
Augustine Tamba: “Cleaning the mess, Indeed! I am beginning to feel that Mess is created when the cleaners of the Mess are not involved or benefiting from it.”
“Timely and accurate, Hon. Amara Konneh. This, in my mind, gesticulates your innocence until that your accuser proves beyond,” says Amara Quardu Mohammed Kamara.
Joseph M. Dukuly: “Amara, one thing that’s sure is, CDC government is on a witch hunt mission so they can buy sentiment from the Liberian population in order to cover their ugly deals. We’re are aware Mr my man!”
Saki Golafale: “a gullible society like ours, it’s a difficult thing to clarify issues of this kind. The CDC government is careless about facts. All they are interested in is causing damage to characters they perceive to be opponents. At the same time, the 25 million saga is being slowly buried.”
Pundits are also curious as to whether the current investigation is not a means to sidetrack the long running saga of the missing LD16 million and the misappropriated US$25 million mop up fund.