African News

Liberia: Fight Over Cherokee Jeeps.

26 November 2005 at 13:36 | 656 views

By Abu B. Shaw, Vanguard London Bureau Chief

The confrontation between the United State embassy in Monrovia and Liberia’s
outgoing members of parliament is definitely not the type of problem the new
president of Liberia Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf would like to encounter on her breakfast table.

Declared Liberia’s next president on November 23, Ms Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s
main priority is understandingly to usher lasting peace to Liberia by uniting the various political parties especially her bitterest rival Mr. George Weah of
the Congress for Democratic Change party.

Latest reports say the bitter argument that ensued between the US embassy and the MPs was the resultant effect of fierce criticisms levied by the former on the latter’s intention to keep their Cherokee Jeeps which the
Interim government of Liberia, led by Mr. Gyude Bryant, had allocated to the MPs for their official duties two years ago.

The US ambassador Donald Booth blasted the outgoing MPs indicating that their action to keep the vehicles after leaving office is unscrupulous and irresponsible.

Ambassador Booth’s was so angry that he threatened that any member of parliament who refused to hand over his vehicle to the incoming MPs would be denied a US visa.

Denouncing the Liberian MPs further, embassy officials say the culture of abuse
of public trust and impunity by politicians, who ought to know better, has
contributed immensely to the 14 year civil war in Liberia. “This action
cannot help developmental goals of any government. Worse, it sends the wrong
signal to the international community whose financial donations are largely
contributory to propping up such programs,” a US embassy press release
informs journalists in Monrovia.

Mr. Booth, the US ambassador, was seriously hammered by the outgoing Acting
Speaker of the lower and upper Houses of Representatives on Capitol Hill in
Monrovia, Honourable George Koukou who warned the US envoy to know his limits as a diplomat.

Legislators of the House of Representatives, particularly those who have
lost their seats in the just ended elections, are however determined to keep the Jeeps. Reports have intimated that MPs are ready to make an offer to pay for the vehicles.

House of Representative member Hon. Sando Johnson disclosed that outgoing MPs keeping official vehicles after losing their seats is a tradition in Liberia. Outgoing interim leader Mr. Gyude Bryant has however
warned rebel MPs to willingly hand over the vehicles when the time comes and stop making the country look ridiculous.

Many Liberians are equally unhappy with the behaviour of their law makers. “This is broad day light robbery. This type of thing should not be allowed. This country is trying to cope with the poverty around us. Why
should politicians think they are above the law? Any one who steals must be brought to book,” angry Liberians opined.

There are about 76 Cherokees jeeps involved in this diplomatic melee. It is
estimated that the vehicles cost the Liberian government close to 2 million United States dollars. These monies came from donor countries and institutions.

Unlike the incoming MPs who are coming from different political parties with Mr Weah’s CDC party having the majority, MPs in the outgoing interim government representing warring factions are noted for corruption.

Meanwhile, the legal scuffle continues unabated between the two main political adversaries. Despite the final announcement declaring Ms Johson-Sirleaf’s Unity Party as winner of the run-off elections, Mr Weah’s
party has formally launched a complaint to the Supreme Court for redress.

The National Elections Commission, led by Ms Frances Morris Johnson, has concluded their investigations and their findings about fraudulent activities claimed by Mr. Weah were too minimal to have any effect on the
overall elections. Whether CDC’s 18 MPs will carry out their threat to boycott parliament when they take their seats early next year remains to be seen.

Photo: Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Liberia’s new leader.