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Liberia's Sirleaf Puts a Hold on Controversial Nominee

Liberia has one of the premier ship registries in the world with nearly two thousand ships flying the country’s flag. Liberia makes between 10 and 15 million dollars a year from its maritime program. So how was it possible to nominate Washington-based lawyer John W. Stewart to be commissioner of the Bureau of Maritime Affairs when he Stewart faces the possibility of disbarment because of alleged professional misconduct.

According to the District of Columbia Bar Council, Stewart faces numerous counts, including violations of rules and lack of competence, violations of rules regarding dishonesty and fraud, and violations of rules regarding committing criminal acts and theft that reflected adversely on honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness as a lawyer.

Lawrence Bropleh is Liberia’s minister of information. From the capital, Monrovia, he told that President Sirleaf was misled about Stewart's background.

“Currently the president has put a hold on the nomination of Mr. Stewart and this is because information that the president has received regarding activities of impropriety, lack of professionalism and the possibility that he could be barred from practicing law in the United States. Based on that information the president has put his nomination on hold pending further clarification from Mr. Stewart or at least a vindication of him of these charges,” he said.

Bropleh described as baffling and a disservice to President Sirleaf by allowing Stewart’s nomination to reach the president’s desk.

“The president does not know Mr. Stewart and his professional work or what he had done in the U.S. I often say to those of us who serve the president as advisors, who bring nominees to her, we have the responsibility to be honest with her and to do our own background checks. The president was not aware. In fact I brought it to her attention after the nomination had been made. I was not privy to that information prior to him being announced. Secondly, he had been a deputy here in Monrovia at the Maritime Bureau and in Monrovia since January, and nobody told the president. Let me say that we did a disservice to the president by not doing our homework,” Bropleh said.

Bropleh said it is unlikely that Stewart will ever get the job as commissioner of maritime affairs even though the allegations against Stewart are mere allegations.

“He may not be guilty of anything, but in the light of what President Johnson-Sirleaf is talking, bringing people of impeccable and professional and moral character, while this is pending in the Washington, D.C. it is not good for the president to appoint this man as the Maritime Bureau commissioner handling millions of dollars. And at this point in time, it is not likely that he will get this nomination unless everything is cleared up and cleared up very quickly,” Bropleh said.

He said President Sirleaf has every intention to recruit the best and most honest candidates to manage Liberia’s lucrative maritime bureau.