By Peter Quaqua, A Distant Friend
On May 3, 2012, while celebrating World Press Freedom Day, the Press Union of Liberia organized a debate between the University of Liberia and Stella Maris Polytechnic on the implementation of the Freedom of Information Act. The Union was honored to have three distinguished personalities served as panel of judges: Cllr. Michael Allison, Ms. Dehab Ghebreab, former Public Affairs Officers (PAO) at the US Embassy near Monrovia and Chris Simpson, formerly of the BBC. I recalled how Cllr. Allison was critical with his scores.
On February 13, 2015, Liberians in and out of the country were awakened to the mysterious death news of Cllr. Allison. The body of the British trained lawyer was found in underwear on a Monrovia beach, with cuts on the body suggesting foul play, while other accounts say he drowned.
The Lawyer, son of the late Defense Minister, Gray D. Allison during the regime of Samuel Doe, came to prominence recently when he exposed what is thought to be a corruption scam involving the Speaker of the House of Representatives Alex Tyler and Montserrado District #15, Representative Adolph Lawrence. Cllr. Allison provided legal consultancy to the House on the draft oil law for a fee of US$25,000. He reportedly received half of the amount at the start of the work, but when the final payment was being made, a check for US$25,000 was written in his name. According to the story, the job was pre-financed by Speaker Tyler and he [the Speaker] was therefore demanding his money from the check written in the lawyer’s name. It was at this point that Cllr. Allison, apparently sensing corruption, alerted the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission while on his way to the bank to cash the check, accompanied by the Speaker’s man, Rep. Lawrence. The two lawmakers have since denied wrongdoing even though the Public Procurement and Concession Commission law forbids pre financing.
The counselor was truly an anti corruption hero, a whistleblower of class. It is reported the LACC showed up at the bank and confiscated the money. The matter is said to have been under investigation before his death. There are indications that the lawyer was being threatened and he had expressed fears for his life to fiends.
As it turns, instead of being a champion in President Sirleaf’s so-called fight against the ‘public enemy/vampire’ called corruption, Cllr. Allison is simply another victim and perhaps the biggest casualty preyed upon by this marauding enemy. A dead hero indeed!
The Police say they are investigating the mysterious death, and the Government is urging citizens to stop speculating and wait for the autopsy report to determine the cause of death. This makes good sense, but whatever the cause of death is, this is really another victory for corruption. Certainly we are all waiting for the autopsy report, but it is safe to suggest that a key witness is dead. Besides, when a whistleblower of this competence, in a high profile corruption disclosure, falls in this suspicious manner, it is too obvious that other potential whistleblowers might go under ground, remain quiet or perhaps join the practice to the detriment of the state. Worst still, Michael’s death has already sent a chill down the spine of well-intentioned civil society and human rights activists – a rude reawakening of the dark days in our country’s history.
You see, when a government fails to prosecute and punish the ‘enemy’, the people suffer; they die waiting for answers and are even murdered for raising their voices. I am told one sin leads to another and that corruption fights back. So the people are in double trouble. First, they are being confronted by theft and economic injustice, now there is supposedly targeted killing – a new frontier in the fight against waste and abuse. This is simply terrifying for a country trying to rebrand itself.
The Government rightfully prides itself with setting up integrity institutions to fight corruption; but it has been struggling to prosecute perpetrators. And it seems corruption is even fighting to put down or kill the relevance of these institutions. I still remember in 2013 how the Ministries of Justice and Information denigrated the work of the General Auditing Commission (GAC) only because a journalist had used an audit report to highlight a corruption case involving a former official of government. Do I also need to remind you of how the Ministry of Justice and the LACC have been at variance over the sufficiency and insufficiency of evidence to prosecute alleged corruption cases? Amidst the apparent fight among these integrity institutions, or more appropriately, the counter attack by corruption, President Sirleaf is obviously constrained to seek the enactment of prosecutorial powers for the LACC. But this too is only another institution that we are trying to establish; well, hopefully this will be the magic bullet should the legislature give its blessings.
And so as the LACC awaits the power to prosecute cases on its own, it appears resigned to giving lectures about corruption to school children and marketers and addressing press conferences to somewhat ‘name and shame’ perpetrators while the people are victimized with impunity.
Yes, Cllr. Allison is dead and gone, but we will remember him for taking the corruption fight to another height; for his high sense of integrity as a lawyer. No matter how this courageous soldier for economic justice died, he leaves behind a memory, a narrative – however painful it maybe, too rich to forget. It could qualify to be recorded as a case study in any anti corruption literature.
While we await the Government’s verdict on the cause of death, I should like to extend my profound condolences to you members of the bereaved family. As you mourn the death of your loved one, you can take solace in the fact that Michael was a good man, a people’s man. His singular action typifies our desire as a people to confront corruption with the laws. But maybe Michael was too honest to be in this uncertain world. You see, “death befalls all men alike,” but if his was masterminded, may justice be served.
In the mean time, may his soul rest with the Lord who knows all things. So sorry Michael!
The Author: Peter Quaqua is currently President of the West Africa Journalists Association. He served the Press Union of Liberia for at least eight years in the capacities of Secretary General and President for two terms. He has more than 20 years of experience as journalist in the Liberia, working for both print and electronic broadcast.