The Fight Against Corruption: My Contribution In The Wake Of Hullabaloo

By Atty Philip N. Wesseh (PNW)

Three of the issues that are always used to determine the success or failure of any government are human rights, measures against corruption and equitable distribution of the resources of the country which center on the welfare and wellbeing of the ordinary people. It is by these three that a government is rated high in terms of performance or is berated for not living up to expectation. Of these three, one of the important areas of concentration is the fight against corruption, as it deprives a nation of its needed resources and also in meeting the needs of the society.

Because the fight against corruption has become a matter of concern, for which it has been made one of the conditions for attracting international or donor support to countries. That is, countries are expected to set up institutions known as “Integrity Institutions-“to set up safeguards or measures to alleviate corruption in society. It is in this light that this country over the years set up many of these institutions, including the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC), now being headed by Cllr. James Verdier, Jr., the second since the establishment of the Commission by an Act of the National Legislature, approved august 21, 2008 and printed into handbill August 28, 2009.

The LACC, among other things is charged with the responsibilities to investigate all acts of corruption discovered or reported to have occurred in the public, private and civil society sectors of Liberia subsequent to the passage of this Act with the aim of identifying the person(s) and the extent of the loss of or damage to any public and/or private property as a result of the subject act of corruption.

Also, it is to investigate the conduct of any person, irrespective of office or status, natural or otherwise, if the conduct of the person(s) constitutes corruption; examine and investigate any information, matter or report that indicates or raises suspicion that the conduct, action or decision of a public or private official in line of official duty and in the context of the definition of corruption herein provided.

Furthermore, the Commission is to cause the prosecution in coordination with the Ministry of Justice, all cases of corruption in the manner provided in this Act and to develop and/or adopt appropriate measures consistent with law to identify, trace and freeze any assets and/or proceeds of acts of corruption and ensure the confiscation, in court of law, of said assets and proceeds there from.

Noticeably, since its start of operation, the Commission has been investigating allegations of corruption and has been enforcing the issue of asset declaration. Additionally, the Commission has been involved in public education and awareness about its mandate and functions, some of which have been stated supra in this piece. However, one of the areas of public controversy has been the outcome of its reports on investigation conducted in accordance with its mandate.

Just days after its reports on recent investigations, some of those who have been accused of alleged corrupt practices and have, accordingly, been recommended for prosecution, have taken issue with the Commission. The office of Speaker Alex Tyler has rejected claim that the Speaker, who has been linked to some payment, was ever investigated. The office said the Speaker’s involvement was based on “gentleman agreement.” Similarly a social worker accused of selling rice intended for Ebola victims said she was told by the Commission in the presence of her lawyer that she was cleared, only to hear her name as one of those to be prosecuted.

Also, the former Chairman of the Board of the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL), Clemenceau Urey rejected any liability for any act of bribery, as this was a decision of the management and board. For him, he feels that the LACC report is “politically-motivated.” The owner of Donkon Gas Station, Rep. SekouKanneh, who was charged with forgery, has also denied the allegation.

As for my social club member, Boom Wilson, former Comptroller General of Liberia, who has been accused of negligence, for failing to exercise due diligence in the performance of his duty at the time, is yet to comment on the report. Likewise, my former schoolmate, Sinoe County Superintendent J. Milton Teahjay, is one person in the report, I read, who is facing multiple allegations, including his failure to follow the rules in keeping with the Public Procurement and Concession Commission (PPCC) rules regarding the awarding of six contracts. I have not heard from him.

Another interesting case is that of the Japanese Oil grant, involving the Aminata and Sons, in which the commission has recommended that the Managing Director T. Nelson Williams should be charged for violating the PPCC laws regarding the awarding of contract to Aminata and Sons “without conducting the required bidding process.“ The Commission also recommended administrative action against the MD and Madam Miata Beyslow, who was then Commerce Minister for “not being vigilant in setting the price in the face of fluctuation.”

Whatever may be the reactions to this latest report, I see it from different perspective, not only for those who have been accused, but also to serve as a guide for other managers who may find themselves in such situations. As the report indicates, sometimes people are held liable for their failure to follow the rules laid down for a particular operation or transaction, like in the case of the PPCC.

It means that managers are required to put out bid for certain threshold. Failure to do so could bring about suspicion and ulterior motive, thereby holding one culpable for such violation. Furthermore, the report is reminding us that those who received public funds should render the services for which such money was given, or else, one would be held for non-performance.

The next point I see from the report is the issue of negligence and due diligence. As managers, we must be able to always exercise due diligence by properly checking transactions and activities, more so, in situation for payment and selection of businesses to be awarded certain contracts. Negligence, as it is simply defined, refers to one’s failure to act whenever it is required, especially when such a person has a duty to do so.This can sometimes lead to financial loss for which one could be held liable. As for due diligence, it requires care and caution in whatever one does.

In the face of these reactions, I inquired from the Commission whether or not it confronts those it investigates on its findings, I was told the Commission investigates and recommends in keeping with the Act, upon discovering culpable cause for prosecution.

As I close this piece, while it may not be part of the rules of the Commission to confront the accusers, I feel that the Commission could make this as one of its procedural rules before its recommendation for prosecution. Although it is not an auditing agency, its work is also investigatory.

By this, one would be informed of the findings and the next step. This, I believe, would provide an avenue for further engagement on whatever outcome. However, my point should not be misconstrued as saying that because some of those accused are reacting it renders the report incredible. NO! This is not the case because sometimes people react as a cover up or smokescreen.

But all in all, such a report is there to put us on our guide, sometimes to avoid being blamed only because one acted ultra vires, and not necessarily because of “stealing” or “chopping” government money,” just to say it the Liberian way, but failing to adhere to laid down procedures. Furthermore, it would help us to be careful and mindful of how one behaves in public or private offices on similar matters raised by the Commission.

I am aware of a situation in which a chairman of a public corporation reportedly signed checks and left them at the discretion of the manager to use. Unfortunately, the manager put in figures far more than what was agreed upon, which backfired later, thus, incriminating the Chairman. Can this chairman be cleared of not doing anything wrong? No, because of his ill-advised decision of signing checks and not making sure of the amounts printed therein, thereby leading to the siphoning of public funds.

Hence, let us follow the anti-corruption rules, like the simple PPCC rule, and exercise due diligence, to be on the safe side. Even if it is “gentleman agreement,” there must be documentation to substantiate this when necessary, because it relates to the rules regarding public funds.

Lest we forget that “what is not done legally, is not done at all.“ Therefore, we MUST follow the RULES.S I Rest My Case.