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The Case of Benoni Urey: Is the President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Incompetent or Corrupt? (Guest Co...

The Case of Benoni Urey: Is the President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Incompetent or Corrupt? (Guest Commentary)

(Oct 5, 2009) By: Rufus S. Berry II
I am filled with feelings of passionate frustration when it comes to Liberia's government, and the barriers it has mounted to prevent accountability, transparency, and sound fiscal management for the Liberian people. 

On that extremely hot day of January 16, 2006, the people of Liberia were optimistic that they had finally made a conscious choice to leave behind their turbulent past and pursue a future of hope and opportunity. They were witnessing the historic inauguration of Africa's first female elected leader. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf brought much needed international credibility to the Liberian government and her greatest accomplishment was the hope she ignited in the hearts of the Liberian people. The people of Liberia believed that Mama Ellen, the “Iron Lady of Liberia” came home to clean house and make life better for them and their children. 

The people of Liberia were depending on Ma Ellen to set forth a worthy example like Nelson Mandela of South Africa. President Sirleaf's government was expected to establish the cornerstone that the next generation of leaders would build upon. Liberia has been repeatedly plagued by morally undisciplined government officials, throughout her history. This lack of discipline birthed an insidious culture of corruption that pervaded Liberia’s past governments. 

More than three and the half years into her presidency, her government is bombarded by consistent reports of corruption. Is history repeating itself yet again? Again justice is being subverted in the republic. Our dream of a new transparent, honest and accountable society still looms in the distant future. 

This is clearly visible in the important corruption trial involving former transitional leader Gyude Bryant, Edwin Snowe and others. All were indicted by a grand jury in Liberia. President Johnson Sirleaf thought it was acceptable to make an official public visit to Mr. Bryant, in the midst of the trial. 

On October 1, 2009, a press release from the Executive Mansion reported that the President appointed Mr. Mr. Benoni Urey as the acting Mayor of the City of Careysburg. Mr. Urey is accused of obtaining the vast majority of his wealth by illegal means. His appointment is a symbolic slap in the face of the Liberian people. 

There is no reason Mr. Urey should be walking the streets of Liberia as a free man. He enriched himself at the expense of the Liberian people, and is now being glorified as a wise business man, a good citizen, and an elder who helps the poor. Madam President your action is cowardly and sends the wrong message to both the Liberian people and the international community. The Liberian people are saying that you appointed Mr. Urey because he will bring financial and political strength to your potential 2011 presidential bid. Shame on you madam President. 

I wonder if you ever think about the consequences? Have you ever considered how your appointment of Mr. Urey will appear on the world stage, and what message you are sending? Even if it was not your intent to drag our nation's reputation through the mud –– again, the appointment indicates that we are still a devious and corrupt society. 

Madam President why stop at Bernie Urey? Rumor has that the only reason you haven't appointed Charles and Chucky Taylor is because both of them are still in jail, in the Netherlands and the USA respectively. Why do we reward people that steal from us? Why does our President sanction such nonsense? 

We may witness the total failure of President Sirleaf's administration. The administration has failed to implement a reliable system of checks and balances to appropriately dictate how the government of Liberia should operate. 

Serving as one of three panelists at the 45th anniversary celebration of the Press Union of Liberia (PUL), held in the Central City of Gbarnga, Bong County Saturday, Liberia’s Auditor General John S. Morlu, II said the fight against corruption is ongoing but there are numerous challenges facing the struggle. He blamed political appointees for massive corruption. 

In her inaugural address, the President said, “Fellow Liberians, we know that if we are to achieve our economic and income distribution goals, we must take on forcibly and effectively the debilitating cancer of corruption. Throughout the campaign, I assured our people that, if elected, we would wage war against corruption regardless of where it exists, or by whom it is practiced. Today, I renew this pledge. Corruption, under my administration, will be the major public enemy. We will confront it. We will fight it. Any member of my administration who sees this affirmation as mere posturing or yet another attempt by another Liberian leader to play to the gallery on this grave issue should think twice.” 

Whatever political capital President Sirleaf acquired during the early days of her presidency have been frittered away. Though she still appears to be popular outside the borders of Liberia, the vast majority of Liberian people have lost faith in her ability to be an effective and fair leader, especially in the battle against government corruption. 

Many Liberians are now saying that President Sirleaf and members of her inner circle have done nothing to stop the uncontrollable corruption within the administration. This implies that they are not only condoning, but secretly encouraging it. It is a grave disappointment to hear President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf say, “Corruption is a reality we must face.” Not too long ago, the President and some members of her inner circle raised funds for Charles Taylor, so that he could bring about the forceful and unconstitutional removal of the Late Samuel K. Doe. This was done in the name of stamping out “massive corruption”. But now, they themselves are just as corrupt as members of the Doe administration. 

Some have gone as far to say that President Sirleaf is the head of a criminal enterprise. Many are now saying, the President is more interested in playing politics than moving the country forward to benefit all of Liberia. Our President's legacy will be “Incompetence and Corruption”. 

Liberia has suffered under a string of self-seeking, brutal and corrupt leaders, from William Tolbert to Samuel Doe to Charles Taylor. But I continue to hope and pray that God will give us a leader who has the country and its people at heart. I pray for a leader who will facilitate the reconciliation process. I hope for a leader that is fair and just. As Liberians, we must be united and speak with one voice as we pursue accountability and transparency in our government. We must stop being our own worst enemy, by alienating the best, brightest and most progressive citizens. In her inaugural address, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf declared that corruption would have no place in her government. It is very clear that the government of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is not serious about fighting corruption. Her policy statements do not line up with her conduct. Rather than prosecution, corrupt public officials have been given prestigious government positions. 

The rest of the world has already taken drastic measures to eradicate corruption in Liberia. The United Nations Security Council listed Charles Taylor, his colleagues, and other Liberian individuals as international security risks in resolution 1521 (2003). The resolution mandates that all countries bar entry of these individuals. This resolution also directs all nations to immediately freeze the financial assets and economic resources controlled directly or indirectly by Charles Taylor, Jewell Howard Taylor (Charles Taylor’s ex-wife), Cyril Allen, Edwin M. Snowe Jr., Benoni Urey and a number of others. 

Foreign governments and foreign financial institutions are globally enforcing this UN non-corruption resolution. Unfortunately the Liberian government has not enforced the freezing of these funds inside Liberia. As a result, Mr. Urey’s access to these stolen funds has made him one of the richest men in the country, in spite of UN resolutions that mandated the freezing of his assets. The whole world and international financial institutions are helping the Liberian people stamp out corruption; yet, President Sirleaf's administration has not enforced the measures at home. It is a fundamental betrayal of the Liberian people. The president has betrayed the Liberian people and the international community. 

It has become apparent that President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf lacks the political will to clamp down on corruption within her administration. She lacks the political will to act against her friends whenever they are involved in illegal activities. She lacks the political will to govern in the interest of all Liberians. The President recently indicated that she will be tough on corruption because she has paid her debt to those who financed her successful presidential campaign. Madam President the ultimate debt is the 250,000 men, women and children that were murdered in our civil war in which you and some members of your inner circle sponsored financially. Shame on your Madam President; history would not be kind to you. 

Author’s Note: Rufus S. Berry II, (former President of the Liberian Community Association of Northern California - LCANC) a resident of the San Francisco Bay Area (Northern California), and the author of many articles including: “Liberia's Long History of Corruption, Facilitated by Citizens that Turn a Blind Eye on the Government”, “Madam President your People are Angry: Corruption in your administration must end”, " Liberia's National Security Alert: President Johnson-Sirleaf's Government Needs Discipline to Stay the Course", and Ban Smoking in Public Venues Now. He can be reached at (510) 393-1825 or
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