New LEITI Secretariat Head Pushes Back Against Critics of His Appointment

MONROVIA, Montserrado – The new head of secretariat for the Liberia Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, Gabriel Nyenkan, has pushed back against criticisms of his appointment by President George Weah.

Nyenkan disclosed at the Ministry of Information press briefing on Thursday that, contrary to the criticisms, especially by international organizations, Weah did not violate any laws in appointing him to the post.

He said LEITI was created by an act of the legislature as a public autonomous agency of the government, structurally maintained by presidential appointments and financially sustained through budgetary allocation through the legislature. He also noted that as a sovereign government, Liberia does not take instructions from NGOs.

“The president of the Republic of Liberia takes absolutely no instruction in the governance of Liberia from NGO,” he said.

LEITI was established to promote transparent management of Liberia’s extractives industry, as part of a global standard, EITI. It was created by an act of the legislature in 2009.

Although the president has the power to appoint the 15 members of the governing body of LEITI, known as the Multi-Stakeholders Steering Group, the group is the authorized body responsible for managing and implementing activities and programs, including the recruitment and dismissal of the head and deputy head of the secretariat, according to the law.

However, Nyenkan said the president took an oath to protect, uphold and adhere to the constitution, before any other law. He said the constitution gives Weah the power to appoint.

“In article two of the Liberian constitution, it is clear that any law, any statute, any treaty, any regulation that runs contrary to the Liberian constitution to the extent to the inconsistency shall have absolutely no legal effect,” he said.

However, Nyenkan did not specify how the law creating LEITI and empowering the Multi-Stakeholders Steering Group with the authority to recruit and dismiss the head of the secretariat violated the constitution.

He said the constitution empowers the Supreme Court to declare such “inconsistent law” nor and void, and subsequently, unconstitutional.

“So yes, the president on record has violated no law, and I concur with him until somebody can prove tangibly, not by speculations or innuendos that he has done so,” he noted.

Nyenkan also said the current Multi-Stakeholders Steering Group has no legitimacy until Weah can appoint new members, as per the act, because their three-year mandate expired in October last year.

“Right now, anyone talking about MSG is talking about a conceptual construct that remains abstract,” he said.

He argued that, because the president is empowered by the act to appoint members of the steering group, some of whom are agents of the government appointed by the president, Weah technically has the authority to appoint the head of the secretariat.

Weah’s decision to replace LEITI’s head of secretariat, Konah Karmo, with Nyenkan has received criticisms from local and international organizations. Karmo was reportedly demanded out of office a week after his successor was named.

The U.K. based pro-transparency group, Global Witness strongly criticized the appointment, saying it violates Liberian law and severely undermines the independence of a critical anti-corruption agency.

Global Witness’ extractive industries campaign leader, Simon Clydesdale, said Weah must immediately withdraw his appointment and allow Karmo to resume his duties.

“LEITI’s independence is fundamental to its mandate and for the political credibility of Liberia, it cannot be the playground of political appointments,” Clydesdale said.

The group said its recent investigation that uncovered corruption in the acquisition of an oil block off the Liberian coast by U.S. oil giant, Exxon, in 2013 was made possible by information published by LEITI.

Jonathan Gant, Global Witness’ senior campaigner, said not only did the investigation show that the country’s oil sector was corrupt, but that LEITI was working in the interest of the country.

“The latest news that President Weah has illegally fired LEITI Secretariat Head Konah Karmo is alarming and may show a weakening of political will to tackle corruption,” Gant said.

The group reemphasized its call to the government for the immediate reinstatement of Karmo as head of the LEITI secretariat to ensure that the entity’s independence is preserved.

However, Nyenkan went on to attack the organization, saying he recalls only three occasions that Global Witness has made comments on Liberia, which include the Sable Mining report, his appointment as head of LEITI, and the recent report on Exxon’s 2013 oil deal.

In these instances, he said the organization’s revelations have only shown its interest in negatively impacting the country’s governance architecture than contributing positively.

He stressed the need for thorough analysis of reports released by “bulwark” organizations, as according to him, most of their reports are characterized by unnecessary misrepresentations.

According to The News newspaper, Weah justified his appointment of Nyenkan during a recent media stakeout with Amina Mohammed, deputy U.N. secretary general. “I didn’t break any law and I have not broken any law,” he said.

Gbatemah Senah

Gbatemah is currently a senior student at the University of Liberia and a recipient of the Jonathan P. Hicks Scholarship for Mass Communications. In 2017, Senah won three Press Union of Liberia awards: Women's Rights Reporter of the Year, Legislative Reporter of the Year, and Land Rights Reporter of the Year.

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