Hello, President Sirleaf – which way are we headed?
-The case of Mary Broh and Col. Mulbah

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
February 20, 2009


Crime has gained an extraordinary pre-eminence among the social problems of our country, and preventing it in a sensible and responsible manner must become a priority for the Sirleaf government. The growing crime wave and other recent developments in our dear country are causing me immense consternation; and have left me wanting of some explanations and or clarifications about which way we are headed. Since I am so far removed from the theater, I am perhaps not qualified to pass judgment on alarming recent presidential decisions and social developments in the country so I have decided to try asking a few questions of Madam President.

My concern is rooted in the creditable promises the president sold me on during her triumphant march to the Executive Mansion and shortly thereafter in subsequent pronouncements. Somehow, I entered an unofficial social contract with the president on the basis of those promises. The voters did too –- maybe, officially. I hung on to her every word. I can’t tell whether the voters were as gullible as I was.

For starter, when president Sirleaf took office she promised the dawn of a new day and emphasized “security sector reform” and “job creation.” She promised to make “papa” proud to gladly respond to the “papa na come” welcome gesture of his children. To me, that meant being gainfully employed and capable of taking care of one’s family with dignity. The situation has changed since those promises were made more than two years ago – many for the better, but some not so much.

Madam President also promised to reform government so that it works for the people. She declared war on corruption to the delight of all Liberians. Well, from her own admission, she has so far failed to curb the level of corruption in her government. She probably underestimated the scale of the problem, but it is also public knowledge that many alleged abusers of the public trust, including the likes of Harry Greaves and Morris Saytumah have not been prosecuted or even investigated for these alleged breaches that would require serious jail time in other countries. There are many others in her government who have been accused of similar malfeasance but have so far not had to answer to any inquiry, let alone face prosecution. I must admit that a few low level employees have been sacrificed, according to news reports. Let’s take a look at Mary Broh and Paul Mulbah and try to square that off with the president’s promises.

A look at Ms. Mary “fix-it” Broh…

Apparently, armed with the knowledge of the free range to operate, Ms. Mary Broh, without any constitutional authority, burned the market stalls of private citizens struggling to survive in a rather though environment. Mary Broh has since admitted her actions were illegal. But like many others, she will walk and possibly become city mayor, since we acquiesced to allowing the president to appoint mayors and can not always rely on our legislatures to do right. If this was not Liberia, I could bet that she does not stand a chance of going on to become mayor. But I know better than bet the food money against her chances.

Perhaps if Ms. Broh had to face elections, she would have been more sensitive and considerate in the way she carried out her “clean Monrovia campaign,” appropriate authority or not. Maybe a simple notice that the market stalls would be demolished at a certain date would allows the traders to dismantle their stalls and put the timber in other beneficial uses instead of having them burned. No news report has indicated that such advance notice was given. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for cleaning Monrovia and everywhere else in Liberia, but there is always the human component to these things that must be carefully considered. If they can not sell and can not find employment, then what else does Mary Broh expect them to do - what alternative was offered?

Ms. Broh has come in for commendations from many who see her as “madam-fix-it” -- criticisms have also not been in short supply, but so far nothing seems unnerving for the “fix-it” lady. While I am not quite sold on her “incomparable” abilities to deliver, I am sure she is not the answer to our lack of fundamentally sound institutions with tested systems, procedures and control mechanisms that actually work. I think we are sending the wrong signal and heading in the wrong directions by projecting Mary Broh as the answer to our structural problems. I have so far not read of her coming in and overhauling a system to make if functional and effective. At best, she has been portrayed as a baby sitter and chief executor of her own “effective” policies. If that is the case then it does not quite make her a good manager or administrator let alone a change agent. That is, she has not been portrayed as someone who can come in, refine policies to align with prevailing realities and constraints, identify critical resources and trust capable people to implement them. She has not been touted as someone who has institutionalized change – that means her brand of change goes out the door with her as she leaves one entity for another. A good manager will retains, motivate and attract talented people to restore the fortunes of any entity they head as well as seek to institutionalize a change that is enduring. Change can be introduced and implemented without inducing fear, acting unlawfully and projecting a ‘strong women” persona. No single person can institute change without a coalition of willing critical change agents. Peers and subordinates must buy in to the change mantra in order to be enthusiastic change agents. If that is what Ms. Broh has been, then we have been presented with the wrong character. Mr. Morlu of the GAC suffers from similar situation except that his is occasioned by his paystub and to a large extent, by his often premature and unrestrained media outburst.

Madam Broh, following her “exemplary” exploits at the passport sections of the Foreign Ministry, was seconded to the National Port Authority (NPA) as a deputy to “fix things.” Both she and her boss, oldman Tubman, are on record for complaining of “rampant corruption” at the NPA while in control. They were just stating the obvious because that was exactly what they were sent there to control it. It’s funny they seemed surprised or thought it was newsworthy to state the obvious, isn’t it. But has corruption been curbed at the NPA; and exactly what did they do to bring it under control, if at all they did; and how can we be certain? What was the baseline number of corruption incidents before they instituted “the fix” and what is it now – what were the critical measurement variable? How were the best practices, if any, institutionalized and can they be repeated and reproduced elsewhere in government? We don’t know. All we know is that Ms. Mary Broh is a “no nonsense super fix-it woman’ who may work in every area of the executive branch before the regime term expires.

Though I have not read much about the achievements of Madam “fix it” during her tenure at the NPA, I guess, just by sending her to “fix” the city, her third assignment in a short span of time, is sufficient indication that her principal is satisfied with her “fix it” accomplishments at the NPA – accomplishments we are yet to know. Maybe we can all now relax and assume the much publicized corruption at the NPA is under control. I have my doubts though.

Maybe like Mary Broh, if other committed technocrats were given as much appropriate authority and creative space to operate, they would achieve more without the drama and occasionally over-reach. Maybe Madam President should look into matching appropriate authority with responsibility since it seems to be working in the case of Ms. Broh, howbeit, her sometimes irrational exuberance. That way, no body will have to look over their shoulder when making sensible decision in the public interest for fear of receiving a ranting call from a higher-up who is a relative or sponsor of a subordinate who may be disciplined or affected by a change in policy.

A look at the second coming of “armed robbery czar” Col. Paul “Loyal” Mulbah
President Sirleaf has somehow curbed the state-sponsored human rights abuses so prevalent in the oppressive Taylor regime and silenced the foot soldiers to the delight of many victims, including principal actors of the current government such as Tiawon Gongloe and then JPC boss Frances Johnson Morris (who was arrested on orders of Col Mulbah in a case of alleged “mistaken identity”). Even while counselor Gongloe struggled to survive at the Cooper Clinic in Sinkor, the police, under Col. Paul Mulbah, reportedly had officers stationed at the hospital to further torment him with their mere presence as if his agony was not enough. Paul Mulbah was director of police when both Tiawon and Frances suffered the wrath of the police. Are you with me?

President Sirleaf bowed to vociferous public outcry when Col. Mulbah was included in the transitional team. Then president-elect Sirleaf dropped Col. Mulbah and made a spectacle of it by publicly stating her decision was due to “his known human rights violations.” Moreover, the coalition of Human Rights Defenders, on at least one occasion, reportedly demanded the “immediate resignation of then police director Col. Paul Mulbah for “his failure to serve the public trust, uphold the law and protect the innocent.” Additionally, the coalition observed that Director Mulbah’s reign at the police was “characterized by widespread police brutality, mayhem, intimidation of peaceful citizens, harassment of civilians/passengers, deception, tactical cover-ups and empty promises of investigation into acts of lawlessness by police officers.” (Frontpage Africa- February 08).

While I do not argue for the criminalization of social policies or the socialization of crime prevention, I certainly would like to see a situation-sensitive approach that emphasizes both law enforcement and social policy in addressing the growing crime wave in the country. Such decision can not be reactive. It must be thoughtful, targeted and forward-looking. That is why I am befuddled by the crowning of Mr. Paul Mulbah as the crime prevention expert, especially when, according to Madam President, he has no stellar record to boast of from his time at the helm of the police. I can not figure out the factors considered in tapping the much criticized Charles Taylor era police director to advise Inspector Munah Sieh on the critical issues of armed robbery. Ostensibly, it is safe to assume two things: first, that the president now believes the Paul Mulbah she once assailed for “human rights violation” has been sufficiently reformed and rehabilitated; and second, that the kind of “human rights violations” that she once detested will now be permissible in order to curtail armed robbery. Implicitly, the president is indicating that permitting some human rights abuses is a tradeoff for reducing the crime wave. I hope my interpretation is wrong because any of the two considerations will be off beam. It is certainly possible to curb the crime wave and still respect people basic human rights, particularly the right to life and liberty, so there is no need to compromise principles for fleeting gain, if any is expected.

What else can we assume when during his tenure, Col Mulbah’s was reportedly known more for the police’s use of brute force, sometimes against unarmed citizens, abuse of police power in the unlawful arrest and detention of peaceful citizens and less for building community relations and partnership and increasing public confidence in the police? What exactly does Madam President expect from Mr. Mulbah and what does she expect him to do differently and why?

There is a strong relationship between crime prevention and social policy. In fact in certain circumstances, crime prevention can become the goal or one of the goals of robust and targeted social and development policies. Failure to tailor policies toward minimizing criminal opportunities and preventing crimes may lead to huge opportunity cost, misaligned transient fixes, and dicey presidential waivers that have the potential to derail Liberia’s forward march and reverse hard-earned gains.

Liberia’s increasing crime rate must be addressed in a holistic manner that links social and development polices with law enforcement initiatives. There is sufficient evidence that law enforcement alone will not work in crime-laden Liberia and in fact, has not worked. Evidently, some of these crimes are influenced by socio-economic problems that can not be resolved through policing or by the judicial systems through either/or determinations, which can often become a source of frustrations for those who look to government to create the space for social progress. Moreover, there are no programs in place to rehabilitate criminals when they are incarcerated, so they go to prison and come out angrier and resolved to do more harm to society. What else would we expect when they go in and come out feeling out of place and incapable of functioning normally in a society that provides limited opportunities, especially for those on the fringes?

That is why I am mystified by the appointment of Mulbah. What else does he bring to the table besides the draconian fear-laden methods he and his predecessor, the late Joe Tate, reportedly perfected at the Liberia National Police? I guess when Bob Willie is your Cuttington school mate, and can constantly put in good words for you then you are in business. In the FrontPage Africa article, Mr. Knuckles in an email to President Sirleaf, described Mr. Paul Mulbah, his Cuttington school mate he has known for more than forty years as “extremely loyal.” If the kind of loyalty Mr. Knuckles spoke of is reminiscent of the type demonstrated by Col Mulbah during the despotic Taylor regime, always claiming to be following orders when the excesses are laid bare, then that is exactly the reason why President Sirleaf should have thought through his appointment carefully. He is portrayed as someone who does not have a mind of his own and is not principled enough to say no to his boss when it is imperative -- or is simply too opportunistic. How many times did he refuse orders or the temptation to act unlawfully on ethical or moral grounds during his tenure at the police?

Seriously, unless in addition to law enforcement, the government moves quickly to address the issue of unemployment in the country, particularly among former combatants, President Sirleaf might have to reach out to Joe Tate from the dead to bring back his “shoot first and justify later” policies he practiced at the Police. I vividly remember seeing the bullet-ridden remains of former ULIMO commander Mana Zazkay on display at the police headquarter. He was reportedly killed in the exchange of gunfire with police but not a single police officer involved in that raid was hurt. Good tactical training or fabrication – you decide.

Crime in any form is wrong, whether it is committed by an overzealous public servant, a corrupt official, a recycled human rights abusers or a disadvantaged and hopeless common citizens. Some of these petty thieves and hardcore criminals are unemployable in their current state and formal education is not an alternative because they lack the foundation. Nobody expects a 15-18 year old to be comfortable sitting in a first grade class with five-year-olds. That is why vocational and skills training must be explored and offered. But in the interim, some kind of employment opportunity that does no require difficult-to-learn skills should be provided while they are being trained. That is also why due care must be taken when market stalls are burned. It may be the only means many have of earning a livelihood at this time.

Frankly, at this point, I will need a lecture on the directions the president is headed with these issues. If her views on human rights abuse, stealing, “papa na come” and the promised of a new egalitarian Liberia has been overtaken by circumstances and events, then we like to know so that we do not continue to hold her to the very high standards she implored us to hold her to. Madam President, if the “human right violator” Paul Mulbah, was not good enough to work in your transitional team, how come he is now so good enough to work in your government – particularly in law enforcement?. Call me naïve if you want, but she promised many things and I believed her. In fact, I still want to believe her that is why I am asking to be educated and requesting that she walk the walk for the talk she talked. This concern is not only limited to Co. Mulbah, but he provides a good example to make a case.

As madam president will know, confidence is very crucial in many things if not to everything in government. If the Liberian people, who have been so patient, stop believing that their fortune will improve under the regime, they may begin to look at government as the enemy instead of an ally in their struggle, particularly when government agents continued to take actions without considering the socio-economic implications on the common man. If that social contract between government and the people is broken, it could lead to unimaginable delinquent behaviors that could have negative consequences on the society as a whole. The Liberian people are keeping their side of the bargain – the president should keep hers.

Madam President, I just can not figure out which way this train is headed now. I know it left the station more than two years ago and that a host of unsavory characters, some of whom may be diehard loyalists, are still on board midway into the regime’s tenure, despite regularly embarrassing the presidency. Just waste it on us so we can know yah, oldma! No technique, no equivocation, just make it plain. Which way are we headed?

Nyekeh Forkpa
Providence, Rhode Island
401 477 4993

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