Liberian chiefs urge president to fight impunity

Liberia's President-elect and former football star George Weah delivers a speech during his swearing-in ceremony on January 22, 2018 in Monrovia. To the cheers of a crowd fired by his promise to bring them jobs and prosperity, former football star George Weah was sworn in as president of Liberia on January 22, completing the country's first transition between democratically-elected leaders since 1944. / AFP PHOTO / ISSOUF SANOGO (Photo credit should read ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/Getty Images)
Liberian President George Weah gestures as he speaks with students as he visits the Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers, in Paris on February 20, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / FRANCOIS GUILLOT 

More than 300 chiefs representing Liberia’s rural and traditional bloc have called on the president to set up a war and economic crimes court as part of measures to fight impunity that has impeded the growth of Africa’s oldest independent republic.

The representative chiefs are powerful and particularly influential in political decision-making and voting processes in the rural belts

In their statement, released at the close of a week-long gathering in the capital, the chiefs expressed disappointment over the government’s handling of millions of U.S. dollars since George Weah assumed the presidency. This includes $104 million in newly-minted local banknotes and $25 million withdrawn from the Federal Reserve accounts for infusion into the economy to strengthen the local currency. The government has so far failed to properly account for those funds, the group said.

A few months ago the president’s office, through press secretary Isaac Solomon Kelgbeh, said government institutions had irregularly withdrawn money from donor funds to pay salaries, promising to restore the money.

The statement came after nine ambassadors, including those from the U.S., Britain, Germany, France, Norway and the European Union, wrote the president expressing disdain and asking the government to put back whatever funds had been illegally withdrawn.

“The country is shaking because the government refuses to clear our doubts” over how the money was used, the chiefs said in their statement.

They told President Weah “some efforts and corrective measures being put in place by the government appear not to be having the desired effect.” citing concerns from the country’s international partners about the “worsening situation.”

The chiefs asked the Liberian leader to concentrate on agriculture.

President Weah said that some of the counts are “allegations that are not my focus”.

He promised however to address the concerns “in the near future.”

The chief’s statement came two days after a government-organized national conference was held to find ways to resuscitate the dire economic situation.

The current value of the Liberian dollar, which exists traditionally side-by-side with the U.S. dollar, is at an all-time low with rising inflation, arbitrary increases in the prices of basic commodities and high cost of living.

Liberia was founded in 1847 by freed African slaves repatriated from the United States.

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