The hosts of a popular Liberian radio talk show have called for the resignation of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
They say she has failed to protect the country’s natural resources resulting in pillaging by investors.
The management of Hot-FM took “The Costa Show” off the air to review what it called “the content and formats of the show.”
A report last year by Global Witness found that Private Use Permits (PUPs) had proliferated and used by companies to get logging concessions without paying the same kind of taxes and following the same rules regarding timber sales contracts.
The PUPs are deeded property belonging to individuals that are granted to private operators for logging operations.
Sirleaf suspended the director of the Forestry Development Authority and set up a blue ribbon panel to look into the alleged abuses.
Co-host Henry Costa said President Sirleaf was negligent in the management of Liberia’s forest resources.
“This flagrant and national security issue that has to do with the violation of the Private Use Permits was grossly abused, and government officials, including the Board of the Forestry Development Authority and the Minister of Agriculture who sits on the Board as chairman, violated the PUP, and 24 percent of the country’s total landmass was given out to these companies under fraudulent circumstances,” he said.
Costa said Sirleaf should have fired Agriculture Minister Florence Chenoweth instead of suspending her over the alleged PUP debacle.
“For example, the minister of agriculture, who approved these PUPs, was suspended as chairman of the board of FDA, but not as minister of agriculture. This, in my opinion, it is a legitimate basis for the president’s resignation,” Costa said.
Last year, Sirleaf suspended the director of the Forestry Development Authority, put a moratorium on the PUPs, and set up a blue ribbon panel to look into the alleged abuses.
Costa said, while he commended the president for imposing a moratorium, a government investigation into the alleged PUP abuse was watered down.
“It was a systemic pattern, it was in line with the pattern under which the government operates where reports or commissions are set up, investigations are done, and then, when the reports are presented, nothing happens,” Costa said.
Critics said Costa cannot be trusted because he once spoke the praises of the government. Costa said he has never been a supporter of the president.
“The position is that I have never supported the president. I have been critical since I began the show about seven months ago. I remain critical, but very objective. If the government has done certain things right, I will say the government has done good things. So, we have our detractors. I’m not going to argue that,” Costa said.
Costa said his call for the president resign should not be seen as a call for the overthrow her, but rather it is a free speech protect by the Liberian constitution.
“If I call for the president to step down, that is a basic exercise of my democratically enshrined given right of freedom of speech which is protected and provided for under our constitution,” Costa said.
He said the president should resign because if she is allowed to stay in power for the next five years, all of Liberia’s natural resources will probably be mortgaged away to multi-national corporations.
Costa refused to criticize the management of Hot-FM for taking the show off the air, at least for the time being, except to say that the owners were threatened by government to pull the plug on the show.
“Under the circumstances, I am not inclined to lambast the management. They are my good friends. They have come under a lot of pressure, and one of the former shareholders of the station happens to be an official in the government. So, he himself was threatened. His job was the line,” Costa said.