Liberia: Kruah’s Nomination Questions Boakai’s Commitment to Fight Corruption

– Many wary of Justice Minister-designate’s “Checkered Past”

In what seems to be a contradiction to his campaign promises, President Joseph Nyuma Boakai has appointed Cooper Kruah as Liberia’s new Justice Minister, a move that has ignited a storm of criticism and skepticism regarding his commitment to fighting systemic corruption and promoting integrity and accountability in public service.

Kruah’s appointment has raised eyebrows because of his checkered past and allegations of corruption.

Critics argue that such a tainted character overseeing the prosecution of perceived corrupt individuals compromises the very essence of the anti-graft campaign.

One of President Boakai’s central campaign pledges was to champion a relentless war against corruption, but many are questioning whether the appointment of Kruah is counterproductive to that goal.

As head of the nation’s joint security and with the power to shape the rule of law for the next six years, the new Justice Minister’s questionable track record threatens to undermine Boakai’s anti-corruption efforts before they even start.

One notable incident involving Kruah emerged from the Grievance and Ethics Committee of the Supreme Court, where he was found guilty and liable for theft of money in violation of the Code of moral and Professional Ethics of lawyers in Liberia. The committee’s finding stated that Kruah had failed to account for money in his possession that belonged to his client, Mano River Agricultural Rehabilitation & Development Corporation (MARDCO), which raised serious concerns about his trustworthiness and ability to adhere to ethical standards.

Furthermore, in a September 2016 Amicus Brief by Cllr. Tiawan Gongloe, who was appointed to the case, it was requested that Kruah be ordered to account for the money or face suspension from the practice of law. The brief emphasized the need to protect the integrity of the legal profession based on the facts and circumstances of the case. Another disconcerting revelation suggests that Kruah, while working as a lawyer for MARDCO between 2009 and 2012, received a significant sum of money on behalf of the company but failed to fully account for it. These allegations have led to claims that Kruah is indebted to MARDCO in the amount of US$58,814.08, as confirmed by the company to President Boakai and Vice President Koung.

This recent appointment has drawn comparisons to a similar case during President Weah’s era. In 2018, President Weah withdrew the nomination of Cllr. Charles Gibson, as Minister of Justice/Attorney General after media reports questioned his integrity. It had been established by the Grievance and Ethics Committee that Gibson misappropriated funds from a client, leading to his suspension until restitution was made. Apart from the appointment of Cllr. Kruah, other appointments within the government are also raising eyebrows and fueling concerns about ethical standards and integrity.

Transparency and accountability are vital pillars of any functioning democracy. The appointment of Kruah, who stands accused of involvement in corrupt practices, undermines the very principles that President Boakai vowed to defend. Arguably, an individual with a tarnished reputation may not have the necessary integrity or impartiality required to lead the fight against graft.

Kruah was also embroiled in controversy following an investigation conducted by The DayLight, which revealed his alleged involvement as a shareholder in a logging and mining company while serving as minister of posts and telecommunications. The investigation uncovered that the Universal Forestry Corporation (UFC) was granted numerous mining licenses and one logging contract during Kruah’s tenure as minister. The probe further suggested that Kruah attempted to conceal his conflict of interest by purportedly transferring his shares using a dubious company document.

UFC was allegedly implicated in various illegal activities, including illicit logging, smuggling of logs, and engaging in an unauthorized subcontract. Despite evidence of Kruah’s and UFC’s wrongdoings, neither the Forestry Development Authority nor the Ministry of Mines and Energy took action against them. This lack of punishment has fueled criticism and raised concerns about accountability and enforcement within these government agencies. In response to the publication, Kruah issued a statement contending that the UFC had amended its article of incorporation in 2019, citing it as proof of his compliance with ethical standards.

However, records from the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA) indicate that the UFC did not make any amendments to its legal documents in 2019, as companies are required to pay a fee when making such changes. These official records cast doubt on Kruah’s claim. Furthermore, The DayLight obtained what appears to be a physical copy of UFC’s article of incorporation, which raises suspicions of its authenticity. Notably, the document misspells Kruah’s son’s name as “Prince M. Kuah”, instead of Prince M. Kruah.

“If there was any singular message that reverberated across this country during the height of the Liberian civil conflict, it was revered Liberian gospel artiste, Evelyne Marsh’s well-documented lamentation that “Liberians are hard to learn and quick to forget,” Emmanuel Bayoh, a resident of OldRoad, said at the Intellectual Center on VP Road on Sunday. “And President Boakai just proves that we are indeed hard to learn in this country. Just yesterday, former President Weah was faced with the same issue of corrupt Charles Gibson as his first Minister of Justice. Here we are with Boakai, too.”

Bayoh wondered why Liberian leaders do not carry out credential and character checks on their prospective officials before nominating them.

“This is sad. Cooper Kruah of all people whose names have been all over the place for conflict of interest and corruption, our President Boakai did not hear about this or [are they] trying us? This regime was supposed to be a new beginning. They shouldn’t make us think otherwise,” he said.

It is worth noting that this document surfaced more than a year and a half after Kruah assumed his government position. Besides the conflict of interest issue, these pieces of evidence suggest possible violations of forestry and mining laws by UFC during Kruah’s time as minister.

Adding to the controversy surrounding this appointment is the alleged influence of Nimba County Senator Prince Y. Johnson, who played a crucial role in Boakai’s election. Senator Johnson is said to have been making a list of demands for various positions within government ministries and agencies, with Kruah being one of his recommendations.

Moreover, there are also allegations of tribalism and nepotism over Kruah — these only serve to exacerbate concerns about the impartiality of justice under Kruah’s tenure. Justice must not only be done but must be seen to be done, free from any perception of bias or favoritism.

The public reaction to this controversial appointment has been swift, with civil society organizations, opposition parties, and ordinary citizens expressing disappointment and frustration.

They fear that such a decision may signal a derailing of the government’s commitment to tackling corruption, thereby further entrenching a culture of impunity within the public service. Calls for President Boakai to reconsider this appointment have grown louder in recent days. Critics argue that he must demonstrate his unwavering commitment to his anti-corruption agenda by appointing individuals of unquestionable integrity and who possess a track record of fighting graft without fear or favor. As President Boakai’s administration enters its early stages, the significance of this appointment cannot be overstated.

The decision to appoint a Justice Minister with a history of alleged corruption and indiscretions raises serious concerns about the government’s ability to deliver on its promises to the people. The government must address these concerns and ensure that its actions align with its words.

Only through the appointment of individuals known for their integrity and dedication to combating corruption can the government regain the trust and confidence of the public. The fight against graft demands transparency, accountability, and the unwavering commitment of those in power.

President Boakai now faces the difficult task of addressing the contradictions between his campaign promises and the actions of his administration. It remains to be seen whether he will rise to the challenge and make the necessary course corrections to ensure that his vision of a corruption-free administration becomes a reality.

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