Fighting Corruption: We Must Get Serious
By Ben Kolako
Liberia is endowed with so much wealth. Resources such as timber, iron ore, rubber, diamond and gold have long been in abundance. The recent discovery of oil is an impetus. These resources should serve as a blessing to benefit the majority of the people. Instead, they have turned out to be a curse. Majority of the citizenry continue to live in miserable poverty.
Liberia is nearly 167 years old. It is Africa’s oldest independent, but least developed nation. The country lacks far behind in just almost everything. The war has exacerbated the situation. The provision of electricity and water after the war is still a mystery.
Corruption now seems to be the overriding mission for public service. The practice has permeated our nation and society so much that it is now systemic. Fighting corruption appears to be one of the most difficult challenges facing this nation.
The Government of Liberia fulfilled international prescription by setting up the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) to investigate and prosecute acts of corruption in both the public and private sectors as well as create awareness about its ills. But the LACC can only succeed when there is political will and support of the citizenry.
Though the Commission hasn’t achieved much in keeping with public expectations, it has made some gains amidst inadequate budgetary support, government’s continuous reluctance to penalize officials making false declaration of their income, assets and liabilities, the gross interference of the Executive exonerating some officials accused of improprieties, delays in the prosecution of corruption cases at the courts, and the unpatriotic behavior of some citizens “paid agents” to discredit the good work of the Commission.
Fighting corruption involves collective efforts, but the government bears the greatest responsibility. There has to be political will which is still mind-boggling. Public perception is that government is not serious about the fight against corruption and that its professed commitment is cosmetic. This may seem myopic, but the government must get little more serious if we are to succeed.
The Executive’s defense of the former Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Liberia Airport Authority, Musa Bility, a corruption indictee, is a bad omen.
The Executive demonstrated similar behavior when former Finance Minister, Augustine Ngafuan was indicted in a General Auditing Commission audit report of 2010. The LACC at the time issued a strongly worded statement describing it as “grossly incompatible with Government’s professed war on corruption as public enemy number one”. Such action undermines the work of integrity institutions like the GAC and LACC, and renders them irrelevant and weakens the fight against corruption.
It is only prudent that the Executive refrains from “exonerating” officials accused of improprieties in the discharge of their official duties and responsibilities. Rather, such officials should be suspended and given their day in court.
Section 10.4 of the Administrative Code of Conduct for members of the Executive Branch of government prescribes punishment such as summary dismissal for political appointees and suspension for non political appointees whose declarations are found to be false upon verification. The LACC has submitted two reports on the verification exercise to the Executive, indicting some public officials for false declaration “perjury”. Actions are yet to be taken. Are we really serious?
Instead, these corruption perpetrators resulted to hiring elements within the media and civil society to discredit and erode public confidence in the work of the Commission. “As you fight corruption, corruption fights back”.
The reaction of legislators to the asset declaration regime is disappointing. They have outrightly and dreadfully refused to submit to the process. This attitude was also exhibited by the judiciary until in recent times when the Executive made it mandatory in letters of appointment of judicial officials.
The process of prosecution is tedious and challenging. The docket of Criminal Court “C” which deals with theft and related offenses is overcrowded. This is why the Commission continues to advocate for the establishment of a Fast Track Court to assist with the speedy adjudication of corruption cases.
The prolonged delay of cases on appeal at the Supreme Court is also worrisome. Since 2010, the case involving the former Chairman of the Liberia Telecommunications Authority, Albert Bropleh still lingers at the Supreme. The case of former Police Director, Beatrice Munah Sieh Browne and others continues to hang on at the Supreme Court since 2012. Why?
The rate of corruption is alarming. Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index 2013 ranked Liberia at 83 out of 177 Countries. The ranking gave Liberia a score of 38% of 100%. The index ranked 177 countries/territories by their perceived levels of public sector corruption.
The former leadership of Cllr. Frances Johnson Allison did its best considering the challenges it faced. That leadership made the Commission functional and successfully prosecuted two major cases at the circuit courts. The LACC was firmed on its opposition to some pronouncements by the Executive and was at times denounced by some officials within the Executive.
The LACC now has a new leadership headed by a renowned human rights activist and lawyer, Cllr. James N. Verdier, Jr. This leadership is sensitive to the expectations of the Liberian people. It has embarked on the process of re-orientating and rebranding the Commission for which Liberians will appreciate and be proud of its work. Let’s welcome and give them a chance.