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Konneh Says he is not running

“I Don’t Want to be President”…Min. Konneh

By James Kokulo Fasuekoi

Minneapolis, MN, [7/28/13] – Liberia’s Finance Minister Amara Konneh who served as keynote speaker for this year’s July 26th Independence Day celebration in the twin cities of Minnesota, Saturday dismissed persistent rumors circulating at home and abroad that he was eying the Liberian presidency.

Minister Amara Konneh speaks to Liberians during a town hall meeting/photo: James Fasuekoi

“Some say I want to become president, no, I don’t,” said Min. Amara Konneh in a calm, but serious mood, as he addressed an audience of curious Liberians who had gathered for a town hall meeting at the United Methodist Church located in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota. The forum was primarily organized by the OLM in order to enable the minister provide clarification concerning an alleged 13 million donated by the European Union to help fight maternity and infant mortality in the country.

Min. Konneh explained, he was not interested in the presidency and that his hard work was based on necessity and not an ambition for the presidency.  “I am just helping the president because she’s getting old,” Min. Konneh told the audience.

Turning to the alleged missing EU funds, he said, the 13 million was given as grant and not in cash as some may think. He narrated that “some have double counted the 13 million” which according to him, “was originally intended for the Ministry of Health’s pool fund.” However, the “confusion, came from Dr. Gwenigale after the Ministry of Health leaked the letter to the press.” He expressed regret that his ministry didn’t get the Ministry of Health involved regarding the distribution process earlier.

Min. Konneh said, as part of his ministry efforts to curb corruption within his own ministry, he has introduced a barcode system which is capable to detect and at the same time reject a dubious voucher which doesn’t meet the approval of his ministry.

 “I don’t handle vouchers…you can ask any of my assistant here,” he said, as he pointed toward his deputies on the platform and in the audience. “I have never handled a 1 million check in my life…in fact, people called me the scary minister,” he said further, which threw some members of the audience into laughter.    

“Not a dim was stolen or diverted from the EU money,” he said repeatedly. “No… people are not putting their hands in the cookie jar,” meaning, financial transactions at his ministry no longer involve cash as was in the past.   

“Corruption,” he said, “is in procurement and those who carry out negotiations,” and not at his ministry. His statement is an apparent referenced to officials who negotiate investment contracts on the GOL’s behalf as well as agencies such as the GSA that is responsible to do purchasing for the government. 

“If people want to settle financial score, they are hurting their country, but not me,” said Min. Konneh who fired several of his employees over a year ago for alleged corrupt practices.

According to him, the distribution of government funding is carried out based on the constitution and in addition, it must meet legislative approval before distribution can go ahead.

He indicated that a team from his ministry met the House Committee members “with some of the best accountants” and after countless hours of making comparison (a breakdown of the 13 million), “all added up.” Still, after the MOH has provided clarifications over the “confusion,” Min. Konneh continued, “Many people are still not satisfied. “People are not interested in the explanation given by the Ministry of Health but they want the Finance Minister’s neck.”

Clarifications surrounding the alleged missing 13 million alone, took much of the two hours town hall discussion, and when the moderator at one point motioned as he tried to give the floor to another speaker, Minister Konneh immediately protested and insisted in a rather jovial, but frank manner, that he Konneh be given more time to adequately address the EU money issue which was the underlining factor that prompted the meeting.

He said the matter has created lots of noises in Liberia and the diaspora, thereby causing serious embarrassment to him and his entire family. He stressed that the defamation of his character lately on the internet was such that his daughter had to put up defenses on his Konneh’s behalf against “corruption allegations” coming from certain people. “She told them her father [Konneh] isn’t corrupt.”

“This is personal to me…people say I bought house in Mali, Guinea, and other places…this isn’t true.” “This isn’t fair…I didn’t eat a penny of that money, it came in and was disbursed,” said the minister.

He informed the audience that his ministry in collaboration with the government of Liberia was able to prove wrong the allegation of a missing 13 million; it is based upon that fact, he maintained, that the EU went ahead to give additional funding to the government.

He then wondered how possible is it that he Konneh would “steal” 13 million in Liberia and be walking around without the US Government having him placed on its “wanted list.”

Minister Amara Konneh was comfortably dressed in jeans plus a coat with sneakers. He seemed to have come very prepared for this particular part of his trip more than anything else. People sat attentively listening to him, while ignoring any side attraction. As he spoke, Minister Konneh slowly moved back and forth. Sometimes, he sat on a tiny stool but never lost eye contact with majority of the people in the audience.  

Somewhat touched by the minister’s presentation, a Liberian man who bragged of how he wrote a letter of Konneh’s “indictment” and was published by Front Page Africa expressed deep regret for doing so after listening to Min. Konneh’s version of the “missing money.”  

“After sitting for 15 minutes and listening to your clarification, I was intellectually baptized by your explanation,” he confessed! He then extended sincere apology to Minister Konneh who in turn declared: “I have forgiven you.” Exchanges by both resulted into another burst of laugher from the audience.

Prior to the town hall meeting, Min. Konneh had appeared on several Liberian-Minnesota based community radio programs including the TMZ International, host of “Issues in The Press Reloaded” earlier caught in a row over a 13 million, to address corruption allegations. Some members of MOLAC involved in Friday protest against Minister Konneh for “financial malpractices” showed up at the town hall meeting but they didn’t stage a demonstration as announced earlier.   
     
In defending his character, Min. Konneh who belongs to the old traditional school of thought with a humble background, often cited family honor and faith as two main reasons why he can’t afford to engage in activities such as cheating which may diminish such legacy that his late father worked so hard to achieve. 

“My father worked very hard to cater to me and my siblings,” the youthful minister who isn’t shy to talk about his background, he told the crowd. He stated he would pay the difference if the money in question turns out to be short. “I want to die a happy man,” he said with some degree of seriousness.  

He boasted that his selection as Finance Minister is based on the fact that he’s trained for the job; plus, he’s hardworking, hence, the reason for which President Johnson-Sirleaf chose him for the job contrary to widely circulated belief that he, Konneh was chosen because the president likes him.
  
He further disclosed that certain people “have stirred up people” against him and his family but the most troubling of it all a while ago, he explained, was when “they (adversaries) paid some prostitutes to come and cause trouble to my home while my family was there [in Liberia.]”    

Minister Konneh spoke on a wide range of issues arising from questions posed by the audience; from the issue of Transparency International’s report, that he described as “inaccurate,” to why the ordinary man in the street of Liberia isn’t impacted by the GPD “unless he takes a pen-pen or a taxi cab every morning, go and work for a total of 30-13 days to be able to put food on the table.” He similarly spoke of the level of progress made toward roads pavement and cited the Buchanan, Bong Mines Highways that were already finished or near finish.

Other road projects in the pipelines being aggressively worked on, according to the Finance boss, include the Red Light to Ganta Guinea border, Gbarnga-Mandekoma, Ganta-Harper, Fish Town-River Gee and Monrovia-Bo Waterside Highways, among many others. He said there is funding available for the above listed projects and the government is in the planning stages to begin working on them.

Concerning education, he spoke about frustrations and the level of progress the government is making for the upkeep of most of educational institutions in the country including the University of Liberia. He explained that more money is required to run those universities. But unfortunately, he said, “students would threaten to demonstrate” when whenever the government tries to increase tuition in order to meet educational needs.

“Where in the world can you find free college education?” This situation, he revealed, compels the GOL to make up for the rest of the money not paid by students in order to keep the smooth running of these higher institutions of learning.  

For electricity, the minister described the White Plains Mount Coffee hydro plant which was damaged due to the civil war, as key element in the development of the country. He recognized electricity as a crucial commodity that can be linked to national stability and pointed out that electricity was part of the crisis the triggered the U.S. Civil War 1861-8165.                                   

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