ECOWAS Summit on Guinea and Dunn Commission Report Take Center Stage at Press Conference

Monday, 12th January 2009

Monrovia, Liberia--President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf on Monday, January 12, 2009, addressed a press conference in which she gave details about the ECOWAS Extraordinary Heads of State Summit on Guinea held in Abuja, Nigeria, and the report presented to her by the Dunn Commission on controversial emails exchanged late last year.

Below is a transcription of the Presidentís exact words:

We thank all of you for responding to our call for this news conference. As the Press Secretary said, there are two items, the ECOWAS Summit, just a brief report to you on that, and the Dunn Commission report.

On the ECOWAS Summit, as you all know, I was in Abuja on Saturday for this Extraordinary Summit. A Communique was the final document after discussion. That Communique has three major elements; some of it has been reported in the local press. One is that the Summit condemned the coup díetat because it is totally inconsistent with ECOWAS and African Union policies regarding the takeover by undemocratic means. The second major decision on that, in keeping with that policy, is the leaders of the military group in Guinea will not be allowed to participate in ECOWAS meetings until such time that the country has been restored to democratic rule.

The third element, I must say in this regard that Liberia represented by myself was instrumental in this, in making sure that this provision was put into the Communique, is that we are going to appeal to the international community not to enforce economic sanctions, but rather to help the new government to be able to be put on fast track towards democratic rule but not to suspend aid to them, because doing so would mean that the poor people in Guinea would suffer. It wouldnít be the military ruler that would suffer and so we obliged ourselves as Mano River Union members and this was a position of the Mano River Union, which we persuaded ECOWAS to go along with to encourage the donors to continue to support the government in its economic reform and we undertook to take some measures to support them in that regard. So thatís all on the ECOWAS Summit.

The Dunn Commission report, as you all know, was presented to me last Wednesday, the very evening I was leaving the country and so I told them I wanted to read the report on the trip and when I returned, I would make it available to the public. That report is now available through the Minister of Information and through him and the media that report in its entirety would be made available to the public. As you know, certain elements of that have been touched upon in the press and I just want to give clarification and express concern that the press that have covered all of these have not taken the time either to read the report carefully or to ask questions and have made certain insinuations and certain inferences that are totally inaccurate. There are three aspects of that report that relate to me specifically. One has to do with an exchange of emails with former Minister Willis Knuckles on the 23,000 United States dollars reimbursement. Itís very clear and that email says it very plainly that email was authentic. That during the course that he was Minister of State for Presidential Affairs, that he incurred certain expenses that he was requesting now that since he was removed and he was sick, he wanted his money back. Our respopnse to that through my Special Assistant was very clear. In listing the things that you are requesting for reimbursement, some of them are personal items. The personal items would be handled, I have my son over there, he made the money available, USD$10,000 to Mr. Cashin. I said in my email that USD$10,000 was enough to cover the non-official transactions, like people come and ask me for things, I may say to Mr. Kncukles like I say to Mr. McClain, do you have USD$500 to $USD600 to help with a funeral, thatís personal. And so we added it up and so I gave instruction that $USD10,000 was paid to him from my personal funds. I said on the official things, those ones you have to submit reciepts, invoices and documentation, because it has to go to the Cash Management Committee. And that is stated in the email and therefore if you read the email, it will state that this one is very much clarified, because I acted appropriately because I called for the procedures of Government to be very much adhered to.

The second issue that refers to me in the report has to do with what they call the Wortorson issue. That is, Senator Wortorson came to me one day and said myself and Dunstan McCauley, we have a company that Dunstan McCauley is running and what we want to do is to take trees and turn them into light poles to be able to qualify for supplying light poles to LEC in the power expansion program. And I said to him that itís good for Liberians to do this because if you donít do this some other person will come and do it, so weíll see how we can support it. Well that was the end of that, it has not happened, I did not pursue it. I told him I would support it for Liberians to produce these poles. The report says it is inappropriate for a senator from a legislative branch to pursue a project and get support from the executive branch. I stand corrected on that one. We have not enforced it, we have not put any pressure on the Forestry Development Authority (FDA), they have not got the contract, so end of that story. Letís give him credit, at least he came to me said Iím a part of this company, thatís the honesty on his part.

The third serious one is the one relating to this USD$600,000. You know that they had the expert group hired by the Commission and they asked all those mentioned to make their computers available to the experts. The computer in my house was made available. In the course of their looking through the hard drive, they found a message written to ECOBANK to one Finda Kromah talking about a USD$600,000 advance on transaction. Because Mr. Bernard lives in my house and uses it and because they saw other personal messages, they asked him, can you explain this? He answered back legally like a lawyer and say I donít know this person. I have use to this email but so do many other people who come into our home. What is this all about? Finda Kromah is a financial consultant. She worked with me in the United Nations for years. She came to Liberia for my 70th birthday celebration; she lived in my home for three nights before she returned. I have asked her and she will be sending the Anti-Corruption Commission all the documentation. ECOBANK will be asked to do the same thing, in keeping with the recommendation for further investigation and I think they will find out in keeping with their investigation that that transcation has nothing to do with Liberia. She says she has a consultancy. As you know, CELLCOM is expanding, they are now in Guinea, they are trying to go into Sierra Leone, they are trying to go into Democratic Republic of Congo. She works with them. Iím saying it, but let me not be the one. Iím saying it but let the investigation bring that out very clearly through the documentation, throught the evidenvce that will be provided to the Commission for them to deal with it. Other aspects of the report, you all will get it and read it in its entirety. Iím satisfied that the report dealt very failrly with all the issues. They made recommendations that we will abide by. I will be asking the Anti-Corruption Commission in consultation appropriately with the Ministry of Justice to now take all the reports to be able to carry out and to guide the next steps that need to be taken. Whether itís the appointment of a Special Prosecutor, whether they will do further investigations to be able bring it to light. I will ask them to take the whole thing and now bring it to an end. I am pleased and want to thank Dr. Dunn and the Commission for doing this. The statement I will be handing out will say and I hope you all agree that for the first time something in the basis of rumor, we didnít put it under the carpet, we didnít hide it. We gave it to a Commission; we asked them to investigate it. Theyíve made the report; the report will be made public. A follow-up action, in keeping with the findings, will be undertaken by the body that has thelegal mandate to do so and recommendations will be carried out. Thank you all.