Wednesday, 27 April 2011


Did investor cross the line by offering Liberian President a $25K cheque in public gathering?
Monrovia -
n the eve of a hotly-contested political campaign season, a multi-million dollar investment firm appears to be entangled in a web of Liberia’s post-war politics wrangle amid allegations involving bribery or “cold water” to of all persons, the Liberian head of state.
LIBINIC Oil Palm Inc has in recent days expressed disgust at suggestions conveyed in local media reports that it ridiculed the office of the Liberian head of state by openly offering an envelope containing a check of $US25,000. Now the opposition have picked up the issue hoping to score political points ahead of what many predict would be a brutal campaign season.
The offer was made during Sirleaf’s visit to Palm Bay last weekend, to inaugurate the company’s new multi-million dollar palm oil mill. The opposition now wants to have the last say.
This week, Israel Akinsanya, chairman of the Liberty Party indicted the president for accepting a financial gift from a foreign company. Said Akinsanya: “The envelope is evidence of an attempt to commit a crime—bribery or at least illegal gratuity! The President is said to have rejected the money, but who currently has it? Has it been deposited into government treasury or returned to LIBINIC? Because if an agent of the President is in possession of that envelope, then the President did not reject the money; the President constructively received the check. Has the Manger been arrested for attempting to bribe the President or for offering illegal gratuity to the Head of our Government?”
Amid allegations of bribery attempt, the company defended the action in a statement shortly after the controversy broke by stating categorically that it is a publicly listed company on the London Aim Stock Exchange and bribery or any form of kick-back is not and could not be part of its culture and operational procedures.
Foreign Corrupt Act Breaches
Foreign firms are confined to strict laws. The United States for example has the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act which demands the American companies are not allowed to give a penny to countries oversees.
The FCPA came into play as a result of the U.S. Securities Exchange Commission investigations in the mid-1970s, over 400 U.S. companies admitted making questionable or illegal payments in excess of $300 million to foreign government officials, politicians, and political parties. The abuses ran the gamut from bribery of high foreign officials to secure some type of favorable action by a foreign government to so-called facilitating payments that were made to ensure that government functionaries discharged certain ministerial or clerical duties. One major example was the Lockheed bribery scandals, in which officials of aerospace company Lockheed paid foreign officials to favor their company's products.  Another was the Bananagate scandal in which Chiquita Brands had bribed the President of Honduras to lower taxes. Congress enacted the FCPA to bring a halt to the bribery of foreign officials and to restore public confidence in the integrity of the American business system. The Act was signed into law by President Jimmy Carter on December 19, 1977, and amended in 1998 by the International Anti-Bribery Act of 1998 which was designed to implement the anti-bribery conventions of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.
But LIBINICO insists its action was not in breach of bribery. The company insists that the gesture was made publicly to show that the company was transparent and was making a public donation in recognition and appreciation of the president’s development efforts, especially her initiatives and programs that target and benefit Liberian women and children. The company also said that the donation was part of its corporate responsibility  to honor the more than 200 ordinary Liberian women who now work for the company in various capacities.
‘Uncontrollable corruption’ Liberty Party Says
Despite the explanation, the opposition Liberty Party says the action constitutes uncontrollable corruption, which it says, characterizes the government, going as far as to label the act as public bribery or undisguised illegal gratuity.
But LIBINIC says its operations have always adhered to the highest ethical and legal standards of Liberia and regrets that an offer that recognizes and honors the President’s commitment and efforts to improve the living conditions of ordinary Liberians could be misrepresented in such unprofessional manner. The company states that it has never offered, it did not offer bribe, and it shall not offer bribes to any Liberians.
The Government of Liberia and LIBINIC, on December 31, 2007, signed a 50-year Concession Agreement granting LIBINIC rights to operate on 34,500 acres in New Cess, Grand Bassa County. But the opposition party lamented what it says were contrasts slipping under the radar of the Liberian people. “Unlike other concession agreements, the contract neither contains the total amount of the investment nor the number of jobs it would create. John Bestman, the President’s former Campaign Manager and a senior executive of the President’s Unity Party, is reported to have financial interest in LIBINIC,” the statement said.
The controversy broke out on Monday, April 25, 2011, when the Daily Observer and The News Newspapers reported that the company’s manager, Peter Bayliss, sitting at the high table along with official guests, was seen pushing the envelope towards the direction of the President.” Media reports went on to say that the President rejected the envelope, which was “ostensibly offered her (President Sirleaf) as a token of appreciation for the program.”
A FrontPageAfrica reporter who also travelled with the President quoted Bayliss as saying that the envelope contained a small donation on behalf of the board of PLC to her and to her market women foundation. Said Bayliss, “We would like to make a small donation on behalf of the board of Equatorial Palm Oil to you and to your market women’s foundation and we hope that you will put the money to good use and that it will help to build some of the extra parts of the development puzzle that you are putting together.”
When Bayliss concluded his statement the President stood up in response by posing a challenge to the company, by asking them to work along with the Superintendent of the county Julia Duncan Cassell in completing an unfinished market building for the women of the county with what is contained in the envelope and also suggested that a second market building be added to the project.

Liberty Party, in offensive mood suggested that when the President said that she could not receive the check and that she did not want to know the amount of the check, she was obviously trying, but failed, to avoid the appearance of “illegal gratuity.”
“So what did the President do? She directed that the check be turned over to the Superintendent of Grand Bassa County, Julia Ducan Cassel, who happens to be the President’s personal friend and a senior executive of Unity Party, for subsequent disbursement. Superintendent Cassel has been indicted by various government audits, none of which has been acted upon by the Sirleaf administration. She may therefore not be a fit custodian of the “rejected” money.”
Split down the middle: Liberians weigh in
Since the controversy broke, Liberians on both sides of the aisle have been weighing in.
J. Clement Wright, a local businessman says he sees nothing wrong with a foreign company giving financial gifts: Says Wright: “I saw it morally right when I heard it on the news. In every country, you will find gestures being extended from officials and managers of companies. Today it was clarified by Cyrus W. Badio, the presidential press secretary that the money was not given to the president for her own personal use but for some developmental project.”
But Wright also wonders whether the company had any ulterior motives. “Is LIBINCO looking for any concession agreement from the government? No! The company is accredited as a legal company already operating in the country, so they are not looking for favor with the president. I think that money was in good fate, for the citizens of Grand Bassa County to benefit.”
Amos Sandiaman, a technician says the action on the part of LIBINIC was clearly a sign of bribery.  Says Sandiaman: “As a head of state who went on a program, and a manager of a company gave her an envelope without indicating the purpose of the money, first rejected it and later said it should be used to build market ground. I believe if it was in a close door, madam Silreaf could have hold that envelope because it was in a public manner, that is why she refused the envelope.”
James B. Nyamen, another businessman counters that he did not see the act as bribery: "Check and balance, I will tell you that the manager who gave this envelope who does not understand the traditional in Liberia. In an open place to give an envelope to the president other people will think you are bribing the president but I think it’s not a bribe.  I don’t think he meant it was it’s a bribe to the president.  The president did not receive the envelope at least she only directed it so some projects.”
With election campaign season only weeks away, political observers say the opposition will likely continue to chip away at potential loopholes likely to spark a political firestorm. The case of concession agreements is usually a hot-botton topic capable of igniting a storm and the stakes have never been higher for the incumbent government, already embroiled in another controversy regarding the controversial Western Cluster deal awarded to the Israeli firm, Elelnilto.
In the case of the Liberty Party, the constructive receipt of the LIBINIC check by the President, her public “rejection” notwithstanding, puts into disrepute the office of the President, exposing it to the influence of the highest bidder. The party asked: “Why did a British Manager feel that he could offer money to President Sirleaf and get away with it? A situation whereby individuals are allowed to make unrestrained “donations” to the President with unrestricted use of such funds by the President, subjects not only the President, but also our entire system of governance, to the tentacles of corruption. The transferring of the check to the Viceroy of the President did not cure the problem.”
REPORTERS CLARA K. MALLAH and Wade Williams contributed to this report