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

Transparency International Corruption Report: MRU Countries At Bottom Of Assessment

West Africa- January 30, 2019: The 2018 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) for 180 countries worldwide, including those of the Mano River Union (MRU) sub-regional economic grouping in West Africa have been released by Transparency International (TI).

Pres Alassane Ouatarra of Cote d' Ivoire
Pres Alassane Ouatarra of Cote d’ Ivoire

Cote ‘Ivoire showed relatively highest among the four countries with a CPI of 35 and a global score of 105. Although in comparison to other countries in the MRU, Cote d’Ivoire remained higher, it dropped 1 base point from the prior year. Nine sources were used to determine the CPI of Cote d’Ivoire and consist of the African Development CPIA, Bertelsmann Foundation Transformation Index, Economist Intelligence Unit Country Ratings, Global Insight Country Risk Ratings, PRS International Country Risk Guide, World Bank CPIA, World Economic Forum EOS, World Justice Project Rule of Law Index and Varieties of Democracy Project.

Liberian President George M. Weah
Liberian President George M. Weah

Next is Liberia whose CPI rose to 32 – an improvement of 1 base point over the prior year using eight sources including African Development Bank CPIA, Bertelsman Foundation Transformation Index, Global Insight Country Risk Ratings, PRS International Country Risk Guide, World Bank CPIA, World Economic Forum EOS, World Justice Rule of Law Index and Varieties of Democracy Project. Liberia’s global ranking is reported at 120.

President Julius Maada Bio of Sierra Leone
President Julius Maada Bio of Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone’s CPI was reported at 30 with no change from the prior year. Based on the assessment of nine sources including African Development Bank, Bertelsman Foundation Transformation Index, Economist Intelligence Unit Country Ratings, Global Insight Country Risk Ratings, PRS International Country Risk Guide, World Bank CPIA, World Economic Forum EOS, World Justice Project Rule Index and Varieties of Democracy Projects . The global ranking of Sierra Leone is 129.

Guinean President Alpha CondeAt the bottom of the list is Guinea which came in with a CPI of 28 – improving 1 base point from 2017. Six sources were considered for its score and include the African Development Bank CPIA, Bertelsman Foundation Transformation Index, Global Insight Country Risk Ratings, PRS International Country Risk Guide, World Bank CPIA and Varieties of Democracy Projects.

According to TI, “ Since its inception in 1995, the Corruption Perception Index, Transparency International’s flagship research product, has become the leading global indicator of public sector corruption. The index offers and annual snapshot of the relative degree of corruption by ranking countries and territories from all over the globe. In 2012, Transparency International revised the methodology used to construct the index to allow for comparison of score from year to the next…”

Map of West AfricaIn his assessment of the report, Mr. James T. Fiske, a Liberian medical professional who is currently in his doctoral nursing residency at Arizona University told the West African Journal Magazine that, “ To improve corruption perception requires transforming the conditions that create those perceptions. In other words, the impression that Africa and African countries are poor is a fallacy that should be replaced by a more realistic appraisal of what is occurring. That is, African countries are not poor but extremely mismanaged! I call this the paradox of poverty. African governing class do not hold themselves or are being held accountable for making sure that the variables that make the current rich environments that persist in many African countries work for the betterment of its people. No one fought to decolonize Africa but Africans and no one will transform the wealth of Africa for Africans, but Africans. There is no third world, but one world divided between one group of people who hold themselves accountable for their development (developed nations) and those waiting for others to do it for them (underdeveloped countries).”

A social media commentator and political analyst in Monrovia Mr. Ibrahim Al-bakri Nyei, in his analysis of the TI report noted that, “MRU countries must build institutions and enforced institutional rules to constrain regulate the behavior of public officials. Fighting corruption has been a campaign pledge of every contemporary African politician but they always fail to build the necessary institutions to support them in fighting corruption, some of them end up witch hunting. To improve their CPI scores they must govern according to the law, deliver services with transparency and hold people accountable for their actions.

Globally, Denmark and New Zealand scored a CPI of 87.The 2018 CPI draws on surveys and expert assessments to measure public sector corruption in 180 countries and territories, giving each a score from zero (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean).

“Corruption chips away at democracy to produce a vicious cycle, where corruption undermines democratic institutions and, in turn, weak institutions are less able to control corruption,” Patricia Moreira, Managing Director of Transparency International says.

Public corruption in the West African sub-region and across the continent harms democracy and national growth and governance.

By Emmanuel Abalo

West African Journal Magazine

Transparency Intl (TI) Urges Robust Mining Approval Process to Mitigate Corruption

Philadelphia, PA USA – Transparency International (TI), an organization dedicated to the global coalition against corruption, in a just released report entitled Combatting Corruption in Mining Approvals: Assessing the Risks in 18 Resource-Rich Nations  details how corruption can get a foothold in mining approvals processes before ground is even broken.

Mining
Mining

TI defines corruption as “the abuse of entrusted power for private gain” and furthers adds that this  recognizes that all actors in the mining approvals process – not just government officials-have the potential to engage in corrupt conduct.

TI, in its report, also listed examples from a range of diverse countries and identities including some in Africa, important roles for government, the mining industry and civil society to identify, prevent and mitigate these risks.

In order to understand  and identify the corruption risks in the mining sector of the countries examined, TI urged the following questions be asked:

  1. Who benefits from mining approval decisions?
  2. How ethical and fair is the process for opening land to mining?
  3. How fair and transparent is the licensing process?
  4. Who get the right to mine?
  5. How accountable are companies for their environmental and social impacts and
  6. How meaning is community consultations?  The 102 page report, TI utilized what it refers to as the Mining Award Corruption Risk Assessment (MACRA) tool which undertakes a rigorous and consistent approach to identifying and assessing corruption risks in various contexts.
  7. The steps in the tool include:
  8. Defining the assessment
  9. Mapping the approvals process and practice and identifying vulnerabilities
  10. Analyzing the approvals context and identifying vulnerabilities
  11. Determining priority corruption risks for action and
  12. Assessing corruption risks and validation of the assessment.

The TI  report details the top seven risks from the MACRA tool and standings of some African countries which undertook risk assessments.

  1. What is the risk that community leaders negotiating with a mining company will not represent community members’ interest? Kenya, South African and Zimbabwe were listed a “very high” in the report.
  2. What is the risk that mining laws have been, or will be, if reform is planned, written to favor private interests before the public interest? Zimbabwe was listed as “very high” while Liberia was assessed as part of a group of risks.
  3. Assuming consultation with communities or land holders is required, what is the risk that negotiations for landholders or community agreements can be manipulated? Kenya and Sierra Leone were listed as “very high”.
  4. What is the risk that criteria for awarding licenses, etc will not be publicly knowable? Kenya, South Africa and Sierra Leone were listed as “very high”.
  5. What is the risk that applicants for licenses, etc will be controlled by undeclared beneficial owners? Zambia and Zimbabwe were rated as “very high” while Kenya was assessed as part of a group of risks.
  6. What is the risk that, in practice, that there is no due diligence on applicants claims regarding their capacity and financial resources? Kenya, Sierra Leone and Zimbabwe were listed as “very high”.

TI is urging governments, civil society and industries around the world to ask the following questions in their own countries, utilize their own examples and context to better understand the risks in their own context to building corruption- free mining processes.

 

Political and administrative context 1. Who benefits from mining approval decisions? Corruption is more likely to occur when:

  1. Regulations on political donations and lobbying are weak
  2. The real owners or beneficiaries of licence applicants are not disclosed
  3. Senior public officials don’t declare assets or interests in mining companies
  4. Controls on revolving doors are inadequate
Land allocation 2. How ethical and fair is the process for opening land to mining? Corruption is more likely to occur when:

  1. Land rights are poorly protected and not properly registered
  2. Rules and criteria for opening land to mining are not clear or transparent
  3. Register of land rights is incomplete or uncoordinated with other land use registers
Mining licence application and approval 3. How fair and transparent is the licencing process? Corruption is more likely to occur when:

  1. Steps in the licencing process are unclear
  2. Information in the licence register is missing or not publicly available
  3. The licencing authority is under-resourced
  4. Decision-making criteria are unclear or decisions are vulnerable to ministerial interference
Environmental and social impact assessment 4. Who gets the right to mine? Corruption is more likely to occur when:

  1. Due diligence on licence applicants is inadequate
  2. Controls to deter licence stockpiling are ineffective
  3. Regulation and disclosure of licence transfers are weak
5. How accountable are companies for their environmental and social impacts? Corruption is more likely to occur when:

  1. Verification of ESIAs is inadequate
  2. Criteria for environmental approval decisions are not clear or transparent
  3. ESIA reports are not publicly available
  4. Enforcement of licence conditions is weak
Community consultation 6. How meaningful is community consultation? Corruption is more likely to occur when:

  1. Rules for consultation are not clear
  2. Consultation only occurs with local elites
  3. Information about the project or its potential impacts is not accessible to community members
  4. Community agreements are not publicly available

Some of the African countries listed in the TI report are taking steps to mitigate corruption risks as it relates to the land and mining sector.

Mining in Zimbabwe
Mining in Zimbabwe

Kenya has recently taken steps to protect customary land rights. South Africa has been working to streamline its mining approval process but not without  some lingering bureaucratic hurdles. Zimbabwe is moving to install an online presence to ensure accuracy and ease of application in the mining sector.

Zambia has opportunities to de-politicize the mining committee to avoid undue influence and abuse from political appointees as is the case presently. Sierra Leone, in spite of legal requirements for the mining sector, has weak enforcement regimes which must be strengthened and include implementation of the Community Development Agreements which benefit local communities. Presently, the country’s National Minerals Agency is taking steps to be more transparent and is not publishing contracts on a dedicated website.

Conflict diamond
Conflict diamond

TI says governments, mining industries, the public must first understand the sources of corruption and then implement effective solutions and mitigating measures.

“Countries with robust approvals regimes can attract higher quality investments from major players who avoid corruption-prone jurisdictions, improve economic returns to their citizens and reduce rates of social conflict around mining projects,” the global corruption watchdog organization says.

 By Emmanuel Abalo

West African Journal Magazine