Government of Liberia Failing To Support Fight Against Corruption, LACC Says

Monrovia, Liberia – February 18, 2019: The fight against public corruption in the West African country of Liberia appears to be a losing exercise in addition to lackluster support from the George M. Weah Administration. 

Liberian President George M. Weah – File Photo
Since it’s inauguration over a year ago,  no public official has been prosecuted nor convicted of graft by the Administration.  The Liberian Government’s pronouncement of fighting corruption in public service has not been matched with concrete support and funding. 
Embarrassing National financial scandals including the alleged “missing 16 billion dollars” from the Central  Bank of Liberia (CBL) and the bribery and extortion saga at the National Housing Authority (NHA) involving the former head take top manifestations of pervasive graft which are yet to be checkmated by government. 
Transparency International (TI) defines corruption as, “…the abuse of entrusted power for private gain. It can be classified as grand, petty and political, depending on the amounts of money lost and the sector where it occurs.”
In spite of his call to his own underlings to comply with law and declare their personal assets, President Weah has yet to hold his officials accountable for their failure to do so.  Citizens of the poor West African country are yet to receive confirmation of public officials complying with the law.

LACC James Verdier

According to the country’s Anti Corruption Agency (LACC), “The government of Liberia printed into handbill on June 20, 2014, “An Act of Legislature Prescribing a National Code of Conduct for All Public Officials and Employees of the Government of The Republic of Liberia” in line with the 1986 constitutional requirement to curb certain vices which are inimical to the economic and social wellbeing of our common patrimony. Specifically, Article 90 a) & b) of the Constitution highlight those vices while article 90 c) quoted below echoes the antidote to eradicating them: Article 90 c) “The Legislature shall, in pursuance of the above provision, prescribe a Code of Conduct for all public officials and employees, stipulating the acts which constitutes conflict of interest or are against public policy, and the penalties for violation thereof.”  The legislation of a national code of conduct after twenty-eight years, since the coming into force of the Liberian constitution, finally created a legal framework through which the conducts of public officials could be monitored, examined and punished in relation to the use and management of public resources. In Part 10, of the Code of Conduct, it is required that every Public Official and Employee of government involved in making decisions affecting contracting, tendering or procurement, and issuance of licenses of various types sign performance or financial bonds and in addition declare his or her income, assets and liabilities prior to taking office and thereafter:

  1. At the end of every three years;
  2. On promotion or progression from one level to another;
  3. Upon transfer to another public office; and
  4. Upon retirement resignation.”
President Weah’s own asset declaration was held behind closed doors and sealed after; a clear failure to be a transparent example. Public officials have openly ignored the asset declaration law and the President. 
“Corruption corrodes the fabric of society. It undermines people’s trust in political and economic systems, institutions and leaders. It can cost people their freedom, health, money – and sometimes their lives,” TI says of the cost of corruption. 
The LACC’s Investigations of alleged acts of corruption  by public officials or recommendations to the Justice Ministry are oftentimes never started, aborted and abandoned; and where cases are prosecuted, lost in court. 
Recently, the head of Liberia’s anti graft agency James Verdier, in an interview with a Radio France International, and in a rather bold move, accused the Weah Administration of “undermining ” the fight against corruption. 
“ The experience we’ve had in the first half is a bit terrible because we’ve not had funding. We have actually struggled to actually have this Administration put its stamp behind the stamp of corruption and make some bold statements regarding transparency, accountability and ensuring that we can fight corruption.”
In less than a year and while there has been no public disclosure of his assets, President Weah is facing scrutiny and questions over his massive construction of houses in a poor country. 
The country which emerged in 2005 from back-to-back wars in the 1990s is struggling to attract and retain critically needed foreign investors and resources to jumpstart the flailing economy. 
 In 1980, a violent coup d’etat carried out by non-commissioned soldiers was sold as a radical solution to address “rampant” corruption. The civilian President William R. Tolbert was murdered by soldiers led by former junta head and former President Samuel K. Doe.
Flag of Liberia
Nine years later, another charge of runaway “corruption” was laid as the basis for a rebel insurgency against the Doe Government. The war which quickly devolved into an ethnic conflagration was prosecuted by former rebel turned former a President Charles G. Taylor who was eventually forced out of power by rebels opposed to his government and pressure from the international community. 
Taylor is a convicted war criminal serving out his fifty year sentence in prison in the UK.  
An estimated 250,000 people lost their lives and nearly 1 million others were displaced internally and externally. 
The NHA extortion scandal is still pending prosecution after the accused posted bond and were released. Unconfirmed reports, however, say the suspects have jumped bail and have either fled the country or cannot be found. 
During his State of the Nation Address to lawmakers and citizens on January 28, 2019, President Weah disclosed that the Investigation Report on the “missing billions” will be released by USAID by the end of February, 2019.
 “If it is established that there has been any willful act of criminality, negligence, or malfeasance by anyone implicated in the reports, the full weight of the law will be brought to bear”, President Weah warned.  
Transparency International
Just prior to the inauguration of the Weah Administration in January, 2018 Transparency International (TI), the global organization leading the fight against corruption, advanced several recommendations to the Congress For Democratic Change (CDC) led government to tackle endemic corruption and included the following:
1. Ensure the independence of the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) and give it direct prosecutorial power to quickly investigate and prosecute corruption cases.
2. Establish specialised anti-corruption courts for prosecuting corruption without delays.
3. Enact a Corrupt Offences Act to clearly define and provide sanctions for various forms of corruption.
4. Enact a Whistleblower Protection Law to encourage more Liberians to freely report acts of corruption and other integrity-related issues.
5. Require all public officials, including the president, to declare their assets, irrespective of their positions or connections to superiors in government. The government must independently verify and publish these declarations of assets.
5. Review and impartially implement reports and recommendations by integrity institutions in a timely manner, and establish dedicated committees and bodies for investigating fraud and other forms of corruption.
6. Audit the legislature just like any other branch of government or institution that receives public funds. The 52nd and 53rd legislatures in particular should be audited and any recommendations from the audit report fully implemented and
7. Increase financial support to integrity institutions and enable them to properly function.
A year later, the Weah Administration is still delinquent in the adoption and implementation of TI’s recommendations. 
IJG Principal Deputy Executive Director Luigi Spera
Last September, the International Justice Group (IJG) announced that it was putting in place a mechanism to ensure that all those in Liberia accused of war and economic crimes, money laundering etc. will be exposed to the international justice system for tough punitive actions, including asset tracking and confiscation, international arrests, trial, and imprisonment if prosecuted and found guilty.
By Our Economic Editor With Contribution From Our Justice Correspondent In Monrovia
West African Journal Magazine

Liberian President & Legislature Violating Constitution; 2018 Expenditure Reports Missing

Capitol Hill, Monrovia Liberia – February 12, 2019: An investigation conducted by the West African Journal Magazine reveals that, in violation of the Liberian Constitution, the Executive branch of the Liberian Government has failed to provide expenditure reports to the National Legislature since the inauguration a year ago of the George M. Weah Administration.

Members of the Legislature
Members of the Legislature

The specific Constitutional provision Article 34 states that “…(ii) no monies shall be drawn from the treasure except in consequence of appropriations made by legislative enactment and upon warrant of the President; and no coin shall be minted or national currency issued except by the expressed authority of the Legislature. An annual statement and account of the expenditure of all public monies shall be submitted by the office of the President to the Legislature and published once a year…”

Members of Liberia’s Legislature are failing in their Constitutional duty and oversight to hold the President accountable for provision of the reports which are due quarterly. Four expenditure Reports are now delinquent.

Earlier this month and in open protest, a lawmaker from the southeast administrative district of River Gee County Francis Dopoh II, staged, a “walk out” of legislative plenary session at the Capitol. He later fired off a letter to the House Speaker in which he charged that “…the importance of these financial reports are intended to give this Honorable House an understanding of the performances of various budget lines and to help us guide the direction of the government’s fiscal stance…”

2018 CBL Revenue Sources Report.jpgExcerpt of CBL 2018 Revenue Publication

The Liberian Ministry of Finance and Development Planning oversees the budget preparation, execution and reporting processes, in close collaboration with the National Legislature; but has failed along with other government agencies to report to the President and National Legislature for over a year.

Meantime, an inside source at the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA), has disclosed that revenue collected over the final quarter of 2018 is still unaccounted for on the books of the country’s central bank.

Last August, the LRA announced that it actually collected USD $41.48 million, well above the USD $33.7 million which it says it targeted for collection. All revenue collected were within Liberia.

LRA Commissioner General Thomas Doe Nah
LRA Commissioner General Thomas Doe Nah

The source who is intimately knowledgeable about the non-reporting of millions of USD revenue still do not show as “inflow” or “deposit” from the LRA and no credible system exist at the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) to transparently account for monies received. The Liberian Financial Statistics bulletin published by the CBL for Sept-October, 2018 reveals Revenue and Non-Tax Revenue sources for the Government for the period between July – October showed a total of an estimated USD $24.4 million.

Bank Governor Nathaniel R. Patray
Central Bank Governor Nathaniel R. Patray

There is no reporting for the period between October – December, 2018 nor any record of the $$41.48 million reported as revenue collected by the LRA.

The LRA says its mission is to “ professionally, fairly, transparently and effectively collect lawful revenues; facilitate legitimate trade and social protection for the people of Liberia.

Certified Public Accountant Aaron WlehCPA Aaron Wleh

A Liberian Certified Public Accountant (CPA) Mr. Aaron Wleh, based in Massachusetts the U.S., when contacted, questioned the accounting and bookkeeping regime of Liberia’s Central Bank. “This is not an accounting error. The monies are either at the bank or missing and squandered and must be accounted for And I don’t see where the Bank believes it has an obligation to accurately report on its books,” Mr. Wleh noted.

Dr. A. Joel King
Dr. A. Joel King

A Liberian Management scientist Dr. A.   Joel King based in New Jersey, U.S. recommended that the CBL initiate a system to report monthly on its revenue sources, balance sheet and statement of cash. “An accurate system of reporting that meets international best practices is needed at the CBL,’ Dr. King said.

Liberia’s economy is under serious stress and the Government has come under heavy criticisms by citizens and international partners for lack of transparency in the management of resources and pervasive graft.

Most major financial defenses are lacking due to lack of technical capacity and infrastructure which are hampering Government’s ability to improve its financial governance system.

By Our Economic Reporter

West African Journal Magazine

Liberia: New Parliament Discuss Dual Citizenship Bill

The Liberian Senate has begun serious debate on the proposed Dual Citizenship bill for Liberians and others who have pledged their allegiances to other nations to obtain citizenship as Liberian.

img_0241

Liberian Legislators in Session – File Photo

Our Monrovia correspondent reports that some members of the Liberian Senate who are in support of the Bill said that it’s time that  modern day Liberians think twice about those Liberians who fled the country and obtained citizenship in other countries to allow them to also form party of the country’s rebuilding process.

Senators from other counties said that the debate is necessary and healthy but that it will be important for the committee to bring in experts to enable lawmakers to hear their views on the matter and make a good decision at the end.

Senator Prince Y. Johnson

Nimba County Senator Prince Y. Johnson

As the debate went on, Nimba County Senator and former war lord, Prince Y. Johnson told his colleagues that supporting dual citizenship is not the priority of the people of Liberia.

Senator Johnson who committed hideous crimes during the civil conflict in Liberia said instead of the Liberian Senate wasting its time after bills that have no effect on the people of Liberia, they should instead focus on strengthening the education, health and other sectors of the country.

The former rebel general now Senator from northeastern Liberia added that those supporting the Dual Citizenship Bill are those who have pledged their allegiances to other countries and take Liberia to be their farmland where they can collect funds to support their families abroad.

The Nimba County Lawmaker further stated that these people come to Liberia to earn money and send the money to other countries to buy houses and support their families who are in those foreign lands. He said these individuals are not helping to build Liberia instead they are destroying the country.

 Also speaking, Grand Cape Mount County Senator, Varney Sherman who was indicted for corruption in the Sable Mining case in the last administration presented the Bill in Plenary and stated reasons why Dual Citizenship Law should exist.

Senator Sherman who is chair on Judiciary at the Liberian Senate gave reasons why amendments to the the country’s Alien and Nationality law is necessary The Senator said it is unfair to have a naturalized Liberian in another country and deny them their citizenship.

He stated that it is necessary to make amendment on chapter 20, 21 and 22 of the Alien and Nationality law. Giving reasons, he said when a father’s citizenship is revoked the child/children’s citizenship should not be revoked as it is stated in the law.

img_0242

According to reports, this is the third time that the Dual Citizenship Bill has been presented to the Senate plenary for discussion but it has not been favorably supported. The first it was discussed was during the leadership of the 52nd and the second time the 53rd Legislature lawmakers and it was trashed out due to its nature. Now the 54th session of the small West African county’s Legislative body has been presented with this Bill and from the views of several lawmakers, this bill will not be passed into law.

President George Weah, in his annual message said since the founding of this country in 1847, more than 170 years ago, there have been certain restrictions on citizenship and property ownership that in my view have become serious impediments to the development and progress of this country.

He stated that these restrictions include the limitation of citizenship only to black people, the limitation of property ownership exclusively to citizens, and the non-allowance of dual citizenship.

He mentioned, “This may have been appropriate for the 19th century, and for the threats and conditions that existed at that time. However, here in the 21st century, I am of the view that these threats no longer exist, and that these conditions have changed. In these circumstances, it is my view that keeping such a clause in our constitution is unnecessary, racist, and inappropriate for the place that Liberia occupies today in the comity of nations.”

“It also contradicts the very definition of Liberia, which is derived from the Latin word “liber,” meaning ‘Liberty’. I believe that we should have nothing to fear from people of any other race of becoming citizens of Liberia, once they conform to the requirements of our Immigration and Naturalization Laws, as maybe appropriately amended to address this new situation,” President Weah stated.

The Liberian leader said, “In fact, we have everything to gain. If we look in our region amongst the other member states of ECOWAS, especially our neighbors in La Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana, it will soon be observed that permitting people of other races to become citizens has not marginalized their indigents”.

“I believe that this is an anomaly that should not have found its way into the 1986 Constitution -Chapter 4, Article 27. I therefore strongly recommend and propose, respectfully, that consideration should be given to removing it by appropriate measures provided for in our laws for amending constitution,” President Weah noted.

Reporting by Lincoln Barcon in Monrovia

West African Journal Magazine

 

Liberia: “Liberia Is Actually Broke,” Says House Speaker After Hearing From Central Bank

Contrary to conflicting statements by incumbent President George M. Weah and former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf on the state of the Country’s economy, the House of Representatives has confirmed that Liberia is actually broke.

Lawmakers Listening To Address
Some Liberian Lawmakers At Capitol Building

House Speaker Bhofal Chambers, after hours of closed-door session disclosed that after listening to Central Bank of Liberia’s Governor, Milton Weeks and the Ministry of Finance, Development Planning, it was confirmed that the country is broke as was previously stated by President George M. Weah in his annual address.

According to information gathered from sources at the Capitol Building, the seat of the country’s Legislature, members of the House of Representatives are believed to be hiding some basic information from the public which has the propensity of creating doubts in the minds of the people that elected them as their representatives.

Our sources at the House of Representatives said the CBL disclosed that the funds that the former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf spoke of, in the country’s reserve account, is over US$300 million but can be used  after a specific period of time; the time which is yet to be specified.

Political observers are saying if those lawmakers are concealing public information from the citizens of Liberia then they are afraid that Liberians will continue to live below the poverty line because of the lawmakers’ inability to tell them the current state of the nation’s economy.

City Map of Liberia
City Map of Liberia

After hours of a closed-door session on Thursday, the issue of releasing the proper information as to whether the country’s economy is actually broken, as President Weah said, was not clear thereby leaving doubts on the minds of many.

In President George Weah’s first State of the Nation address, he informed the citizens that the West African country’s economy is broken and that the country is broke. But contrary to his statement, former President Sirleaf, in an interview on the BBC, claimed that she left more than US$400 million in the nation’s treasury; something that has caused serious concern among the populace.

The two conflicting statements by President George M. Weah that Liberia’s treasury is empty and the government is broke and former President Sirleaf’s revelation caused the lawmakers to invite the three public financial institutions to give a clear picture of the state of the nation’s economy.

In his testimony in the Chamber of the House Thursday,  Central Bank Governor Weeks said as of January 22, 2018 the bank has  over US$5 million and the amount of over L$500 million.

Also speaking on behalf of the Ministry of Finance, Development Planning, the Deputy Minister for Fiscal Affairs, Samora Wolokollie disclosed that when the CDC-led Government took over, the country had over US$11 million and L$600 million respectively which summed up to US$ 16 million.

Former Liberian President Ellen-Johnson-Sirleaf-MS
Former Liberian President Ellen-Johnson-Sirleaf

Our correspondent in the Liberian capital reports that the baffling question is who is really telling the truth on the state of the nation’s financial standing; as President Weah has said that the nation is seriously broke while former President Sirleaf has claimed that the country is not broke?

Meantime, some Liberian social media posters are heavily criticizing the former Liberian President Johnson-Sirleaf and asking the current administration to conduct an audit of her government.

By Lincoln Barcon in Monrovia

West African Journal Magazine

Liberia: Incoming National Legislature Selects New Leadership

Monrovia, 16 January, 2018 – In the West African nation of Liberia, less than a week to the inauguration of President-Elect George Weah to succeed outgoing president Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, lawmakers on Monday convened the first session of the 54th Legislature where a new corp of leadership was selected.

Speaker Bhofal Chambers
Speaker Bhofal Chambers

Maryland County Rep. Bhofal Chambers emerged as Speaker unopposed while Bong County Rep. Prince K. Moye was elected deputy speaker over Grand Bassa County Rep. Hans Barchue, who previously held that position.

But the election of Sinoe County Senator Albert T. Chie as president pro-tempore astonished political analysts who voiced criticisms that both legislative and executive powers have now gone to the southeast of the small West African nation, since President-elect Weah also hails from Sinoe in the southeast.

But the new President Pro-Tempore Senator Chie of  Sinoe differs, arguing that Weah had been Senator of Montserrado County; an unamusing reality since Weah ran and won and has been Senator for Montserrado County since 2014.

Yet Weah has, at no point, ever denied the truism of his roots in Sinoe County in southeastern Liberia, Senator Chie argued.

Meanwhile, outgoing Vice President Joseph Boakai and former House Speaker Emmanuel Nuquay on Monday turned over their offices to their respective successors.

Vice President-elect Jewel Howard praised Dr. Boakai for his fine leadership as leader of the Liberian Senate during the past twelve years, and suggested retention of some of Boakai’s key staff for her start-off, saying “ we will be new to this office”.

Outgoing President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
Outgoing President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

In another political development, barely one week before President Sirleaf hand over power to her successor Weah, executives of the outgoing ruling Unity Party (UP) have expelled the Standard Bearer Emeritus President Johnson-Sirleaf and others including Commany Wesseh and Medina S. Wesseh for what has been described as party “disloyalty and gross violation of its constitution”.

Executives of the ruling Unity Party (UP), in a statement issued over the weekend in Monrovia, accused the expelled members of “campaigning for the CDC.”

But President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf rebuked the action as “illegal”, saying there was not even a due process prior to taking of the action.

Political Subdivision Map of Liberia
Political Subdivision Map of Liberia

Liberians are divided over this strange development as they countdown to a historical democratic transition never seen for more than seven decades since William VS Tubman was inaugurated on 3rd January 1944. President elect George Weah will be inaugurated on January 22nd to succeed President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

By Tepitapia Sannah in Monrovia