By: Clarence R. Pearson
I must begin with an apology to my many readers that the gravity of the matter necessitated the length of this article. Notwithstanding, I trust as always, you will find this article worth the read.
MOMENT OF REGRET
It is indeed sad to see Liberia become an object of international ridicule over such cancerous economic malpractice.
NEW BEAT, BUT SAME OLD LYRICS
I was neither shocked nor surprised on hearing the obvious – corruption in high places in Liberia – as presented by Global Witness investigative reporting. This story only seem to have different beat, but the lyrics for the past eleven years under the leadership of President Johnson-Sirleaf remain the same. (https://www.globalwitness.org/…/global-witness-exposes-bri…/). Rather, it concerns me why it took so long for us, the concern masses, to get such much needed international corroboration on this degrading and socially unacceptable behavior that have haunted Liberia’s post-conflict recovery, national development, peace and security for far too long as a list of previous reports show (https://www.globalwitness.org/en-gb/campaigns/liberia/). No doubt, we have cried far too long that national leaders of the Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf (President) regime, including the Legislature and Judiciary, have robbed the people of Liberia of much needed resources for the past ten to eleven years with impunity. Had our cries been heeded, not only would we have saved a reviving nation out of economic carnage, but we would have in addition to that better the lives of the many ordinary Liberians who today are languishing in abject poverty. What we urgently need is hard actions and not hard talk alone. Don’t get us wrong, hard talk is good, but where we have reached, we need hard diplomatic actions from our international partners to bring the power that be to the point where tangible or concrete corrective actions are taken to end impunity with regards to economic crimes – now in the face of corruption.
WE NEED HONEST INTERNATIONAL RHETORIC
World Report 2014 reported on Liberia regarding corruption indicating that “The Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC), which is empowered to investigate and prosecute on its own initiative, has secured only two convictions since it was established in 2008. The second conviction occurred in 2013 against former Liberia National Police Inspector General Beatrice Munah-Sieh. The conviction was appealed on the basis of jury errors. At time of writing, the case was pending before the Supreme Court. In June, the Senate rejected a bill submitted by President Sirleaf to give the LACC more freedom to prosecute corruption cases. Currently, the LACC must submit its cases to the Ministry of Justice and wait three months for the ministry to decide whether it will pursue its own case.
The General Auditing Commission (GAC), Liberia’s independent auditing agency, has completed and issued dozens of reports in the last five years with details of mismanagement and corruption. The Ministry of Justice has investigated or pursued very few of these reports, but it announced in September 2013 it was reviewing past GAC reports for possible prosecution of government malfeasance. That same month, the Senate began to hold public hearings on past GAC audits.” (https://www.hrw.org/world-rep…/2014/country-chapters/liberia). The question is, what have the Ministry of Justice and the Legislature done to ensure improvement in curbing corruption since 2013/2014 to present. In my professional opinion, not much has been done.
At the same time, I am concern as to how this eleventh hour rally call is going to help the nation improve in its fight against corruption, or will this recent Global Witness report on corruption just be another wasted effort, especially that our losses are now far too great and recovery of political loots are extremely difficult to achieve in Africa. Do African leaders take these international reports serious?
Because, as far as I am concern, there are worrying inconsistencies in how related international watchdogs address such matters. Without fear or favor, speaking to power boldly, I can say for certain that diplomatic rhetorics from some international institutions and governments are very indecisive. For example, in 2012, a query on Liberia and the status of corruption in the country was posed to Transparency International, the response shed light on my apprehension as noted above. Query: “Please provide an overview of corruption and anti-corruption efforts and actors in Liberia, with a special focus on Natural Resources (energy/petroleum). To the extent possible, please identify institutions, actors and processes that might support a pro integrity agenda.” Summary of response: “Liberia is perceived as having progressed in the fight against corruption over the last few years since the 2003 Accra Comprehensive Peace Accord. In particular, President Sirleaf has demonstrated a strong leadership on anti-corruption issues which has translated into ensuring the independence of the General Auditing Commission, supporting the establishment of the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission, promoting transparent financial management, public procurement and budget processes and assuring Liberia’s compliance with the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) through the Liberian EITI law. These efforts have been pro-actively supported by the international community and civil society through the Governance and Economic Management Assistance Program (GEMAP).
These combined efforts have contributed to achieve remarkable progress in terms of control of corruption. While Liberia still performs significantly below world and regional averages in many areas of governance, most indicators reflect positive governance trends since President Johnson-Sirleaf took office in 2006.
However, in spite of these positive developments, corruption remains endemic and permeates most sectors of the society. Low public sector salaries, lack of training and capacity, inefficient and cumbersome regulations create both incentives and opportunities for corruption across the public sector. In addition, Liberia is endowed with vast mineral wealth, some of it possibly untapped, including iron ore, timber, diamonds, gold and rubber, and in spite of progress made in this area too, natural resource management continues to face major corruption and governance challenges. As the country is set to join the group of oil producing countries, it is especially important to address these issues to ensure that potential oil boom benefits all Liberians instead of precipitating the country in a spiral of corruption and kleptocracy.” (http://www.transparency.org/…/overview_of_corruption_and_an…). You can get the full answer to the query from this link (http://www.transparency.org/…/324_Overview_of_corruption_an…) We can see from the last paragraph that the problem of corruption is in the full view of our international partners, yet, politics prevail over reason and true justice. Having said that, I should restate: Don’t get us wrong, hard talk is good, but where we have reached, we need hard diplomatic actions from our international partners to bring the power that be to the point where tangible or concrete corrective actions are taken to end impunity with regards to economic crimes – now in the face of corruption.
Presidential Appointed Committee Is a Misstep
Though presidential boards or committees of inquiry may have their place in public service, and sometimes do yield fruitful results, I seriously frown on President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s appointing of a Committee to look into the Global Witness damning corruption allegations that we already have the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC). As I will point out later, it is a waste of public resources and in essence, undermines the role and functions of the LACC. Besides, far too often in African context, the appointment of boards of inquiry or presidential investigative committees are nothing but political smokescreens intended to deceive the public and put international partners at ease. They serve as a political mirage that is intended to seem to address a current disturbing political situation but with no tangible or meaningful result anticipated. Diplomacy, we call it.
Damage control, others would call it. Regardless the nomenclature, the motive remains the same – public deception without any intention to address the real problem. In the end, such inquiries or investigations never amount to any beneficial results in the interest of the nation or its people. Additionally, reports of such boards or committees are either stalled, shelved, tarnished or manipulated by the power that be. Some examples on very major disturbing events: (CEMESP/IFEX, 2006) – Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has appointed a presidential committee to investigate the recent wave of harassment, intimidation, assault and molestation of journalists by state security agents. (https://www.ifex.org/…/…/27/president_appoints_committee_to/ ); President Sirleaf Acts on student-Police Standoff Report (2011), but were actions really taken? (http://www.emansion.gov.lr/2press.php…); and Liberia’s President Calls for Probe of West Point Ebola Violence (2014), what has come out of this probe? (http://www.voanews.com/…/liberias-president-ca…/2426884.html). There are many other examples that could be cited. This therefore is a misstep, waste of much needed resources, and gross undermining of existing structure for dealing with this matter of corruption as revealed by Global Witness. Or perhaps, this is another chance to put money in the pockets of other political cronies.
THE WAY FORWARD
The way I see it, appointing a so-called presidentially independent Investigative Committee or Board of Inquiry by Madam Johnson-Sirleaf to look into the damaging report of Global Witness on corruption in Liberia should be frowned upon by all well meaning Liberians and international partners for two reasons:
1) Such an action downplays the relevance of the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission, and lead to a further waste of public (and or donor) funds. The reason I say this is because the enactment of the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission into law and its establishment with public (donor) resources is to deal with such issues. In fact, with public and international partners funding, the LACC is expected to have the full capacity as well as having the right mechanism and expertise in all respect to deal with such matters. Hence, the appointment of a Presidential Committee creates duplication of roles, complicates the functions of the LACC, lead to further wasting of public (donor) resources, and in essence undermines the integrity of the LACC; and
2) Such an action suggests to the critical mind that the President does not have faith in the LACC, does not lend it political and moral support, as well as may not truly intend to deal decisively with growing, disturbing and damning allegations of corruption under her leadership. To proceed any further with this Presidential Committee to investigate the allegations of corruption as revealed in the Globe Witness report on Liberia, in my professional view, is another political fiasco.
In conclusion, I would say that the whole idea of a Presidential Committee to look into the damning report on corruption in Liberia must be addressed as follows:
1) Let the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission be fully responsible to follow-up on the Global Witness report in close collaboration with the Ministry of Justice, civil society organizations and international partners/experts; and
2) If option one is not workable , and that it is a must to maintain a Presidential Committee to look into corruption charges, then it is a clear indication that the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission has lost its relevance and should therefore be decommissioned to avoid wasting of much needed public funds that should be spent on the impoverished masses.