Tuesday, October 6, 1998
Atlanta - From the Perspective July- September 1998 issue: A little over a year ago, Liberians enthusiastically went to the polls in what seemingly appeared to have been an expression of a general desire to look up to one overarching authority vested in Mr. Charles Ghangay Taylor to rule them with mandates unsurpassed by previous authorities on the Liberian Political scene.
In an unusual twist of logic, many Liberians voting in last year's elections, wished that even though Mr. Taylor "killed their Mom and Pa," they were convinced to vote him into power on the assumption that his presence in the Executive Mansion conferred a reassuring sense of order and direction on a fractious country struggling to recover from a revolving state of anarchy induced by the very man Liberians turned to- to rescue their country from his self-induced anarchy.
An unyielding authoritarian, Charles Taylor wasted no time in disproving the notion that he would transform himself into a respectable African Statesman. Instead, he has adopted a more bellicose posture toward the opposition in Liberia and at times, having his agents outrightly murder his opponents; as in the case of the Dokies and six followers of Taylor's arch-rival, Roosevelt Johnson's. Taylor, obsessed with his personal security and safety, has been working actively to consolidate absolute political authority that would one day crush all dissent; though, analysts who have watched Liberia closely, believe that would be harder to achieve then contemplating. But as one western diplomat recently put in Monrovia, with mounting economic and political instability, " . . . Taylor has attracted lots of resentments amongst Liberians for amassing friends, guerrilla warlords and kleptomaniacs like Shaw, Cyril Allen, Jenkins Dunbar, etc."
With nothing to show for his first year as president of Liberia except misery and civil strife, Charles Taylor recently asked the Liberian people for their forgiveness. This outreach by Taylor, must have come apparently to late, as there are growing indications that his government has lost legitimacy with the Liberian people for his (Taylor's ) failure to implement some form of economic restructuring that would have been central to the reconstruction of the country.
Despite Taylor's political pronouncements, however, like his well known maxim " democratic capacity building" and "Vision 2024," all of which would supposedly resurrect the earlier and more promising view of Liberia as an open and tolerant society interested in political and economic reforms, the stark reality is that Taylor has been unable to even reform the state-owned Public Corporations. The Corporations are not only unreformed, but are mired in debt, and run by NPP's incompetent apparatchik, many of whom are grossly corrupt.
Because of Taylor's ill-gotten wealth, reported to be close to the tune of $450 million, there is a stampede amongst Taylor's officials to get rich first even while their fellow Liberians scrap for their daily exigencies of life. This simmering disorder and jockeying for wealth and power heighten the danger of unrest lurking over Liberia. Amid the princelings of conspicuous new wealth of Taylor and his officials, Taylor appears oblivious to the level of mass suffering and starvation induced by uncontrolled corruption of scarce public resources. Western diplomats around the Liberian Capital are hinting that though Taylor's hand is certainly uppermost in the conspiracy by his officials to loot the remaining sorrow state of the Liberian treasury, he needs to part with them and go beyond his current hands-off attitude and treat official corruption with greater seriousness if the Liberian treasury is to be saved.
According to a recent Memorandum written by Liberia's Deputy Minister of National Security, Mr. John B. Wonpoe Yormie, a copy of which was obtained by the Perspective, Taylor's friend and Minister of Lands, Mines & Energy, Jenkins Dunbar, is alleged by the Memorandum of having " . . . knowingly aided and abetted the perpetration of defrauding the Government of Liberia [of US $354,653.00] in custom revenues." Jenkins Dunbar along with some close colleagues of Taylor's such as Emmanuel Shaw, Cyril Allen, Grace Minor, Robert Bright and Dan Chea are reportedly in collusion with alleged suspected international criminal individuals seemingly involved in shaddy business deals. Niko Shefer and Felix Kramer are two South African businessmen with questionable business history brought into the country by Shaw and Dunbar under the guise of the Greater Ministries International.
Initially, the Greater Ministries International went to Liberia supposedly to participate in the provision of relief services for Liberians affected by the country's civil war. While in the country, the Greater Ministries International in concert with high-powered friends like Shaw and Dunbar secured custom and tax import exemptions reserved only for relief organizations to import "donated equipment and supplies " for mineral exploration in Lower Lofa and Sinje in Cape Mount County; two places that form the heart of Liberia's Diamond Country. Though the promised relief supplies for Liberians never arrived, this group boldly took in heavy earth moving equipment and more than 3,000 pieces of shovel in Sinje and started exploring for Diamonds without registering as an official Business in Liberia. Apparently furious over this event, the Ministry of National Security launched its own investigation to determine the motive of this Greater Ministries Group.
No longer hiding its fraudulent motive, the Director of the Board of Greater Ministries International Rev. James W. List of Tampa, Florida, on May 6, 1998 faxed his friend Minister Dunbar to intervene on their behalf. The Greater Ministries International later changed its name to the Greater Diamond Company, Ltd., even though the purported company pocketed over half a million dollars in duty free imports exemptions reportedly at the request of Minister Dunbar. Over the objection of the Ministry of National Security, Minister Dunbar persuaded the Ministry of Finance to grant Duty Free/Tax exempt status to the Greater Diamond Company (Liberia), LTD up to September 1998, though the Ministry of National Security requested the suspension of the company's activities involving the smuggling of construction equipment and Diamonds in and out of Liberia.
An observer of the Taylor administration reacted with a shrug that the Ministry of National Security must have painfully learned that the regime is an example of the ultimate game of three-dimensional checkers, where a false move in a distant corner of the board has a jarring way of affecting all of the moves in the middle of the board. And in this case, the middle of the board is occupied by Jenkins Dunbar, Emmanuel Shaw, Grace Manor, Cyril Allen, Dan Chea and Charles Taylor. But that alone doesn't explain the interwoven interests which is being exploited here by the Greater Diamond Company.
While researching for this story, The Perspective obtained copies of communications among the relevant parties. One source intimated to us that the two South African Businessmen, Niko Shefer and Felix Kramer were the founders of the failed and fraudulent Amalia Gold & Diamond Group Venture that included Shefer's Tanden Group of Companies of South Africa and as well as the Greater Ministries International. When pressed by one western diplomat recently, Shefer intimated that they were in Liberia not to exploit and steal the country's resources, but were in the country to help with reconstruction. Accordingly, Shefer planned to establish a commercial bank and capitalize it to the tune of four million $US dollars.
However, knowledgeable sources indicated that the bank to be known as "The Bank of Liberia," will actually be capitalized in the tune of two million, not four million, as indicated by Shefer. In a related development, there is mounting concern amongst National Bank officials that it appears to them that this proposed bank might be a future money- laundering and criminal enterprise by these South African businessmen. When NBL Governor Charles Bright ordered the final approval of the establishment of the Greater Group's Bank, reports confirmed that there was nearly a revolt by the deputy governor, CEO and general manager, all protesting the establishment of The Bank of Liberia by Shefer and co.
Reliable sources informed The Perspective that the "Greater Group is being hosted by the Minister of Lands, Mines & Energy, Jenkins Dunbar." The Official in a solemn mood, observed that " . . . Dunbar is the man who brought The Amalia Group to Liberia; he is looking to make amends with the Greater Group. Working behind the scene to promote South African Investment in Liberia is Emmanuel Shaw, II., Advisor to the President for Economic Affairs and Chairman of the National Banking Commission" The official continued that " . . . Shaw resided in South Africa throughout most of the Liberian civil war, and was deeply involved in the scandal that racked South Africa's Central Energy Fund in late 1997."
The source further honed in by wondering how "Cyril Allen, Chairman, National Investment Commission, could laud the Greater Group's activities but by contrast, has been extremely cool, even hostile toward large-scale investors with long history in Liberia, such as Rubber Concessionaries." Other Observers say they're not surprised " . . . as it was Allen, acting on behalf of warlord Charles Taylor, commandeered 600,000 gallons of fuel from Mobile Corporation during the last round of fighting in Monrovia in 1996."
Most observers watching events in Liberia are deeply concerned that the general trend of so-called "foreign investors" in post-civil war Liberia appears to have connections with organized crime in Europe and around the world. Accordingly, in a confidential Italian Government document obtained by The Perspective, Italy is profoundly bothered by the presence in Monrovia of an "extremely dangerous" man named Colombo. Colombo is allegedly in the gun-smuggling and gun-running enterprise with a disreputable Dutch businessman and Charles Taylor's associate from the war, Gus Kouwenhoeven, who for years during the war, was known to be the main source of weapons to Taylor's NPFL. Many Italians observers view Columbo's presence in Liberia as a signal that the Mafia might have made inroads into Liberia as part of a general effort to expand in Africa.
While the South African and Italian alleged criminal connections are sufficiently disturbing, it is not however the most important, in this three dimensional checker game. According to some unconfirmed reports, Lands, Mines & Energy Minister Jenkins Dunbar has an indictment against him in the State of Oklahoma where he was reportedly working as a Safety Engineer inspecting Oil Wells for the State. According to one source, Dunbar orchestrated fraud and received bribes and other kickbacks for ignoring safety hazards for which he was employed to enforce. Every attempt to contact Dunbar to give his side of this story proved futile.
Meanwhile, amid the erosion of public and international confidence in his government, Taylor continues to be preoccupied with his personal security and the creation of a pervasive personal cult. Mr. Taylor who idolizes the late William V.S. Tubman and Mobutu Sese Sekou, both of whom were tyrants and ruled their respective monochromatic countries with absolute political authority and patronage. He dresses and mimic Mobutu style of drab clothing ensuring his ubiquitous prescence through portraits in every place in Liberia. Despite buoyant world view of Liberia as an emerging democracy in Africa just a year ago, Taylor's state apparatus has replaced such views with a paradigm of a repressive state that is nervous about every move of the opposition and the possibility of a coup. With the absolute lost of the Government's moral sway, Taylor is undoubtedly causing tremdous grief for Liberians as their country falls behind the rest of the continent in the next millennium.
*The Liberian Democratic Future (LDF), publisher of The Perspective, is a think-tank and research organization
July- September 1998.
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