Thursday, November 15, 2012

When a human rights Activist becomes a politician:

                        When a human rights Activist becomes a politician
                                       The case of Koffi Woods

 
By: Sam K Zinnah
Clayton, Delaware
szinnah@yahoo.com


Clayton, Delaware; When one of Liberia’s most vocal human rights activists “Mr. Samuel Koffi Woods” was tapped as Public Works Minister in 2009 by Liberia’s president Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, most Liberians were of the hope that Public works ministry would get some administrative facelift at last. What was absent from the hope was the fact that most experts of these advocates of human rights understand at least that when the microphones are off, work begin in the real world. In that case, eyes and other attentions becomes focused on reality and the influence over internal abuse of resources draws local and international attentions. In activitism, it is easier to condemn, critise and challenge a relatively inconsequential regime that you are not a part of and refer to others in such regime as “humiliating leaders”. As a Human Rights activist, little did Koffi Woods know that sometimes quiet diplomacy is more effective than a public rebuke. As the old saying goes, “what goes around, comes around”.

After three years of sitting in the driver’s seat as Liberia’s minister of Public Works, the real world has encircled minister Woods, as his operations are becoming “dismal,” characterized by constant drumbeat for his immediate resignation. In May 2009, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf promised to spend her first ever Christmas in a Town, once notoriously known for hosting tax invaders and political prisoners in Liberia. The announcement was heavily criticized by opposition politicians and other individuals who had different perception about the president’s intentions. Some said President Johnson-Sirleaf’s action was intended to score political point while others saw it as a favor for Gbarpolu County.

But the road to Bella Yella was impassable, a road that represented how backward Liberia has sunk after 14 years of civil war. Minister, Kofi Woods “after the unceremonious departure of his predecessor, Luseni Donzo from public works” was tasked with the responsibility of executing the president’s promise, principally building the road to Bella Yella. Five years later and with more than US$7 million dollars budgeted, allotted and expended, the Belle Yalla road project has become a dismal failure, and exposed Minister Wood’s real colors, as a man who has spent considerable time on public gimmicks than real performance. Covertly Spending on the media and fortune hunters thinly disguised as student leaders to give him undeserved image boost as an anti-corruption campaigner.

Over the years, Minister Woods has successfully made effective use of the media thus making him to appear as the most effective Government minister. Several attempts to expose minister woods' poor handling of major road construction projects in Liberia has been suppressed by the minister’s complex networks of media connections. But his media cartel connection can only bury so much and no more. It is becoming priceless for the minister to keep covering up.

On July 31, 2012, I escorted a team of journalist to inspect the Belle Yalla road project. Driving from Totoquelle to Belle Yallah, the road is nothing but a mere political propaganda site designed by the public works ministry to give false impression to the president. The condition of the road could not permit the team to cross Mbelekpalamu bridge. After making excessive use of our 4wheel drive vehicle, we were forced to park our vehicle on the top of Mbelekpalamu hill and rolled up our pants and make our way to one of the abandoned bridges. At the Mbelekpalamu bridge, we saw huge pile of damaged bags of cement left behind by contractors. While taking pictures, we saw a gentleman walking towards us. As he approach us, Daily observer journalist Steven Binda, asked “how are you sir, do you work here?”. The gentleman answered “hello, yes I work here, I am the security here”. At that point, all cameras turned to the gentleman. Journalist Binda requested an interview and he agreed to grant an interview.

Holding firm my camcorder, I carefully focused on Journalist Binda and the gentleman. In his first question to the gentleman, Journalist Binda asked “what’s your name sir?”.The gentleman answered “my name is Mohammed Siryon”. The full interview which is currently in my possession, revealed that the abandoned construction materials meant for work on the Belle Yalla road are now being carried back to Monrovia by the contractors, while Minister Woods and his crew continue to put president Sirleaf under the impression that works are ongoing on the Belle Yalla road project.

Few days after my return from the Belle Yalla road, I visited several news papers and released few of the pictures from my trip to those news papers for publication. In response to my investigation, one of Minister Woods’s deputies appeared on Truth FM to tell the Liberian people that the contractors were working on the Belle Yalla road and that critics were nothing but opposition detractors. I immediately picked up my phone and call the studio to challenge the deputy minister’s claim. I explained to the Journalists in studio that I had just returned from the Belle Yalla Road with enough evidence to show that the project was abandoned. I volunteered to drive to the studio with my evidence to disprove the deputy minister’s claim, but I was told by the journalists that the program was almost at the end and that they could not entertain me. My hope was that the journalists in studio would provide a balanced debate by giving me a formal invitation on their talk show to proof my case against the public works ministry but that hope became a mere imagination and dream that was never realized until I left Liberia on September 23rd 2012.

My visit on the most publicized, but now abandoned, Belle Yallah Road gave me more reason to lunch more probe on the minister’s activities. My follow-up investigation In Monrovia revealed a lot about Minister Woods’ operational and financial activities. He is known to carry from ministry to ministry his Comptroller and Procurement Director, undermining continuity principle of government and the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) of the civil service Agency. I visited the Monrovia YMCA, Labor Ministry, and public works ministry and was able to confirmed that some of the positions named above came with the minister from YMCA to Labor Ministry and now public works. I also obtained a copy of a private communication between a highly placed person and Minister Woods, in which Minister Woods was asked to resign from the Sirleaf government since 2007 if he was unhappy with what was happening in the Government at the time. This followed after there was a leak about his secret undermining of the Government image in the early months. According to the communication, Minister Woods appeared before the sender of the communication and complain about salary differences that existed between some ministries/individuals in Government. The Minister pleaded with the highly placed person and negotiated his salary.

After more than four years as Minister of public works, Minister Woods is still fighting to shift blames on his predecessor for major projects that are stay in ruins. How can anyone believe that former public works minister Donzo is responsible for the bad road conditions that exist on the Somalia drive? Why did the Minister not refuse supervision and implementation of Agreements signed by Former Minister Donzo? What is remarkable, however, is that minister Woods activities are still shadowed by the believe that he’s a Human Rights activist but the issue of the abandoned Belle Yalla road should be used to re-evaluate the minister’s real activities since he joined government.

Why any of these matter in Minister Woods’s administration? It turns out to our peril, that the Human Rights activist activities are being exposed gradually. One would expect Minister Woods to expose these ills “such as the Belle Yalla Road project” but he is now quiet and even suspected to be deeply involved in covering up. In addition to a pundit class that continues to draw deeply from the well of comforting moral certainties and platitudes that are suppose to be Minister Woods greatest Human Rights legacy, more than four years worth of pure Liberian style politics is beginning to slip the Rights activist into political and reality positon. Many things are coming out under his administration that is making people to believe that the Minister is “just another Liberian politician” as he is slowly failing to actively promote and protect human rights every where he can through different means other than micro phone criticism.




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