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Liberia’s Auditing Commission Under Attack

Press Release: Press Union of Liberia

Despite the huge funding pumped into the Commission by the Liberian Government and foreign capitals to make it effective, the GAC appears to be a source of conflict and embarrassment to the government.

The Union sees it contradictory that an institution created by the government to fight waste and abuse is exposed to such sustained bullying from government officials without support from the leadership of the country.

There has virtually been no audit of government structures by the GAC that was not rubbished by the officials concerned.

Shamefully, this is happening in a country whose President declared “corruption as a major public enemy.”

As a consequence of this systematic show of aggression against the Commission, about 80 audits completed by the GAC in the past eight years have been gathering dust at the Legislature waiting for public hearings.

While we acknowledge the rather late face-saving-pronouncement by the Public Accounts Committee of the Legislature, suggesting that it is now ready to conduct some sort of hearing into the audit reports, we still believe that they should take immediate action to remove any semblance of political effect on audit findings.

A further evidence of this lack of political will to confront this ‘national emergency’ is the apparent resistance and/or refusal of the Legislative and Judiciary branches of the government to submit to audits. Although the Executive has to some extent opened itself up for audits, it has sadly failed to pay attention to key findings of those audits.

The Union is not therefore surprised at the recent condemnation from the Ministries of Information and Justice against the GAC that its audits were wanting in “best practice standard” suggesting that the audits were not reliable and therefore “no serious government the world over will rush to court on the basis of a mere audit report because audit reports are not evidence in of themselves,” says the Ministry of Information.

The Justice Ministry then made matter worse when the Attorney General, the Solicitor General and another official of the Ministry declared categorically that the GAC did not have the mandate to recommend prosecution, a claim that has since been dismissed by authorities at the GAC. The Ministry also argued that audit reports were not admissible in court.

With all these arguments coming from the government amidst a barrage of questions and condemnations from local and international organizations over the failure of government to prosecute, [among many others] former Agriculture Minister, Dr. Chris Toe on corruption allegations. Ironically, it is Dr. Toe who gets a 1.5 million US Dollars libel judgement against a journalist who lifted the audit report.

Even though Dr. Toe’s boss, President Sirleaf was the one who sparked doubts over his reputation when she asked the GAC to examine his conduct, yet the President gave cold shoulder to the findings of the probe. Dr. Toe himself rightly so, argues that he was never prosecuted for wrongdoing and invites the press to further denigrate the work of the GAC.

We are also not very surprised by these developments because the President herself set the tone for these attacks on the GAC. In March 2011 when the President decided to end the contract of former Auditor General John Morlu, she declared.

“We did not always agree with the way Mr. Morlu performed his job, including an indictment that our Government was three times more corrupt than its predecessors, even before he officially commissioned his very first audit.”

In the aftermath of the President’s statement and the support from the Attorney General, wouldn’t it make common sense for any of those recommended in the audits for prosecution to put up resistance? So will the Union be wrong again to say this is victory for corruption?

Would it not make sense to declare victory for corruption if the institutions set up by the government to fight corruption are undermining each other? Doesn’t it make proper logic to suggest victory for corruption if the government could not attract an Auditor General to the GAC other than Robert Kilby whose rise and fall at the Commission was marred by “hustling” to use the latest words of President Sirleaf to describe her critics?

The Union holds that the GAC has been effectively rendered incompetent and therefore a waste of resources because the government does not believe in its operation.

As part of our core objectives, the Union has always been positioned to support the work of anti-corruption fighters. This is why we joined the National Integrity Forum (NIF) with the hope of strengthening and complementing the fight against corruption in our country.

But we have formally withdrawn our membership from the group because the NIF has not given us any encouragement to stay on. We have unfortunately seen member institutions fight and undermine each other with the NIF making any public statement – hence our withdrawal.

For the record, the NIF brings together the Liberia Anti Corruption (LACC), the General Auditing Commission (GAC), Public Procurement and Concession Commission (PPCC), the Governance Commission (GC), the Justice Ministry, Center for Transparency and Accountability (CENTAL), the Liberia Chamber of Commerce (LCC), among others.

As we pull out, we however pledge our collaboration and support to work with genuine organizations committed to the corruption fight to salvage our country from a relapse into gun violence in the name of fighting corruption.

The fight against corruption has always been the challenge of the media and we do not intend to desert that. Henceforth notwithstanding, we admonish every journalist to treat any and all GAC audit reports with the highest degree of suspicion. We would not hesitate to call for a boycott of the GAC if the government insists on its survival in the face of these distractions.

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