Liberia Indicts Ellen Cockrum, Musa Bility, LBDI, FIB Diaspora Consultants, Others1 August 2013
Photo: Liberia Government
Monrovia — The corruption saga involving Ellen Corkrum a U.S. citizen and a pilot who served in the American military has come full circle with the government of Liberia unsealing her indictment along with that of others including the board chair of the LIBERIA AVIATION AUTHORITY (LAA), Musa Bility, the Liberia Bank for Development and Investment (LBDI), Diaspora Consultants, First International Bank Liberia Limited, Cockrum's boyfriend Melvin Johnson and many others.
The indictment copy of which is in the possession of FrontPageAfrica handed down by the Special Grand Jurors of Montserrado County charges Cockrum and co with the crime of Economic Sabotage, Theft of Property, criminal conspiracy and misapplication of entrusted property.
The indictment reads that Ellen Cockrum, former Managing Director of the Liberia Airport Authority and Musa Bility, Chairman of the board of the LAA, Diaspora Consulting LLC thru Moamar Dieng, Momar Dieng and the Liberia Bank for Development & Investment (LBDI) by and thru its President John B. S. Davies and General Manager , Gloria Menjor did conspire to and did do and commit the crime of economic Sabotage in flagrant violation of Chapter 15, sub-chapter "F", section 15.81(a)(b)(c),Misapplication of Entrusted property in violation of Chapter 15, sub-chapter "D", sections 15.56; Theft of Property in violation of Chapter 15, sub-chapter "D", section 15.51 (a)(c); Criminal Conspiracy in violation of Chapter 10, sub-chapter "D" section 10.4 (1)(2)(3)(4) of the penal code of Liberia.
The indictment states that Bility and Cockrum who happen to have been signatories to the account of the LAA maintained with LBDI, Criminally conspire with Co-Defendant Diaspora Consulting LLC represented by Dieng and LBDI defrauding the government by making unauthorized transfer of funds aggregating US$269,000.00 from the LAA account 005USD21235003306. The indictment states that the accused on diverse occasions remitted monies to the Bank of America account of Diaspora Consulting LLC through the LBDI for services which were never rendered.
The indictment also states that on December 4, 2012, the LAA through its MD Cockcrum submitted two requests to the PPCC for "no objection" to single source SSF Entrepreneur INC and Diaspora Consulting LLC for the rehabilitation of the RIA's runway and other pavements in the combined amount of US$1,283,333.00 proposed for SSF Entrepreneurs Inc. and US$ 255,000.00 proposed for Diaspora Consulting LLC.
The indictment also states that Board Chair Musa Bility even though he was aware that he was not authorized to sign any financial instruments, whether cheques or transfer application along with Cockrum as a signatory to the account, Bility according to the indictment ignored the instructions of the Board of Directors to the LBDI and signed all checks and application for transfer of funds from October 1, 2012 to February 4, 2013.
The government's move comes months after the Documents (including emails, wire transfers and bank statements) were released by FrontPageAfrica unveiling a web of corruption that permeated the Liberian government's aviation sector.
Genesis of the Saga unearthed by FPA
A FrontPageAfrica investigation revealed earlier this year that there was massive and successful corruption of unbelievable proportion including flagrant disregard for the country's Public Financial Management (PFM) and the CPublic Procurement Concession Commission (PPCC) laws allegedly by Cockrum and Melvin Johnson Cockrum's boyfriend within three months of Ms. Corkrum's tenure.
Corkrum, a US-based Liberian female pilot tasked with the responsibility of revamping the Roberts International Airport reportedly attempted to defraud the Liberian government of nearly a quarter million United States dollars leading her dismissal by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
This issue goes beyond the role of government to the Liberian people themselves. Politicians, civil servants and businessmen may abuse their positions, mistaking their wealth for legitimacy.
Yet, at the same time, citizens who often complain about officials "eating money" are also willing to accept patronage from these power-holders when it suits their own interests. A syndrome has developed whereby those with access to resources through any kind of position of power are seen as "stupid" if they do not use this access to maximize their own wealth. In this way, public and private moralities have become divorced and the corrupt status-quo continues.
A final element that stymies the struggle for accountability in Liberia is the state's orientation towards international organizations and businesses. Though democratically elected, Liberia's government arguably answers more to outsiders than to its people. Over $340 million in aid per annum is delivered through a myriad of government agencies, NGOs and contractors, which reinforces dependency, leads to uncoordinated activities and generates sub-optimal outcomes.
Well-qualified Liberians are drawn away from government or civil society positions by higher wages in donor organizations, which undermines domestic capacity. Meanwhile, huge contracts between the government and natural resource extraction companies have been far from transparent - recently, Global Witness reported that "a quarter of Liberia's total landmass has been granted to logging companies in just two years, following an outbreak in the use of secretive and often illegal logging permits."
All of this is important because it is at the heart of Liberia's security and West African stability. The Liberian people are angry about their lot and frustrated that the channels for upward social mobility are largely closed to them. Unemployment and under-employment levels remain dangerously high - particularly among young men - and the region is awash with weapons.
A recent UN Panel of Experts Report revealed a government "deeply concerned about mercenary and militia activity" and reported a "hyper-political and polarized environment" in Liberia. This is a combustible combination.
To give Liberia a better chance at cementing peace, those who care about the country's future should redefine their thinking to focus more directly on the core elements of accountability. First, we must match our view of accountability with local realities. Corruption may be easy to condemn in the Western context, but in a system like Liberia's, censure may do more harm than good.
Prosecuting high-level transgressions may make sense in selective cases, but in others it may make it harder to attract relatively decent and competent people into public service. Instead, the focus must also be on changing the incentives and relationships that give rise to endemic graft as part of a campaign to build a contextualized system of values and ethics.
Second, we must support the creation of accountability institutions not just on paper, but in practice. This means bolstering the capacity and scope of anti-corruption bodies; encouraging collaboration among and between relevant agencies; and building constructive bridges between civil society organizations that work on these issues and key government ministries such as the Ministry of Lands, Mines and Energy, and the Ministry of Public Works. It also requires greater emphasis on the implementation of existing laws - for example, a civil society group recently registered the first administrative Freedom of Information case law precedent in Liberia, which is a step in the right direction.
Finally, we must use different tools and timeframes to build peace and accountability. Large conferences and lengthy reports may have their uses, but they are far from sufficient.
Instead, international organizations should carefully support alternative approaches (using religious leaders, cultural networks or new technologies, for example) to drive anti-corruption messaging in ways consistent with Liberia's oral traditions. And we should be patient in measuring impact, because cultural changes of this sort take time. Young people can be especially useful to these efforts since they are less beholden to traditional patronage structures and tend to be more creative.
There has now been ten years of peace in Liberia, and the country's worst days may be behind it. But in order to ensure this remains the case, it is critical that the Liberian government, its people, and its partners across the international community focus more directly on accountability issues.
Blair Glencorse is Executive Director of the Accountability Lab, based in Liberia. You can follow the Lab on Twitter @accountabilitylab