As corruption seems to overwhelm the CDC-led Government since its inception as the popular political party in the country, the Center for Transparency and Accountability (CENTAL) is calling on the Liberian leader, President George Manneh Weah to lead what it calls “By example in a fight against Corruption.
Addressing journalists at a well-attended news conference today, May 22, 2020, Anderson D. Miamen, Executive Director of CENTAL urged the Liberian, President George Weah to take concrete action against those who will be caught in corruption web, and not lip-service.
Below is the full statement delivered at the news conference today.
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen of the Press, fellow Liberians:
As Liberia battles the deadly Coronavirus, which has so far claimed 23 lives in the country, we commend government and partners for ongoing efforts and reiterate call for an inclusive, well-coordinated, and transparent COVID-19 fight. Also, we admonish the public to fully comply with all authorized relevant safety measures intended to eradicate the disease from the country.
Fellow Liberians and partners, the continuous inability of successive political administrations to sincerely tackle corruption and bad governance continues to stifle Liberia’s progress. After over fourteen (14) years of passing critical laws and establishing anti-graft institutions, it appears our leaders are yet to truly recognize Corruption as the leading cause of Liberia’s fragility, vulnerability and gross underdevelopment. Basically, all the country can boast of are multiple investigative audits, asset verification and other reports which are never timely and impartially implemented; recycling of officials at public integrity and other key institutions, some with questionable credibility and ability to lead and or serve in said positions or institutions; and largely selective prosecution of corruption cases, especially those involving persons seemingly opposed to a sitting government. An unfortunate consequence is that ordinary Liberians have resigned to frustration and have unduly gotten accustomed to the “Smell No Taste” concept, as their budgets, finances and other value resources enrich self-interest seeking politicians who assume state power under the canopy of reform, but continue with business as usual, becoming even worse than their predecessors in certain areas.
How long can this be allowed to continue? After nearly two years, the 25 million USD mop-up exercise is still being investigated, while reports into review of past concessions by the Government of Liberia is still being kept as a top secret. Also, recent investigation into discrepancies at the Liberia Petroleum Refining Company (LPRC), for which a senior official was dismissed in 2020, is still a privilege document for officials of government, while reported credential discrepancies by some officials of government are grossly ignored by the leadership.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen of the Press, fellow Liberians and development partners, we will now focus our attention on two issues: the construction of multiple expensive properties by President George M. Weah; and dropping of charges against some former officials of the Central Bank of Liberia implicated in the “missing 16 billion dollars saga”.
- Construction of Multiple and Expensive Properties by President Weah
Fellow Liberians, CENTAL is deeply concerned about the construction of multiple properties by President Weah, less than three years after assuming state power in 2018. This is extremely disturbing, as it sets a very bad example for his officials and others wishing to enter public service in Liberia. Does public service provide a magic wand to speedily transform the material conditions of public servants? Given the protracted history of corruption and bad governance in Liberia, and a weak and ineffective assets declaration regime, widespread public concerns about the sources of funding for the President’s mansions are genuine and must be addressed. Conflicting accounts from the Executive Mansion about ownership and sources of funding for the ongoing 9th Street Project is disturbing. On May 5, 2020, Deputy Presidential Press Secretary, Mr. Smith Toby claimed that the property was owned and financed by the President’s son, only to retract the statement one day after, fuelling citizens’ concerns about the use of public resources. What was he trying to conceal, then? And all this is happening when the President has decided against publishing his assets, incomes and liabilities, as was done by former President Sirleaf in 2006 and upon leaving office.
CENTAL joins the public in demanding clear information on the sources of funding for all completed and ongoing construction work by the President. We call on all relevant public integrity institutions, aided by international partners, to investigate and provide credible and timely information to the public on these constructions and how they are funded. And outcomes of such investigation must be published and fully implemented to address and or prevent any current and future misuse of public resources. We urge the President to refrain from acts that paint a gloomy picture of the Presidency and Government.
- Dropping of Charges against Charles Sirleaf and other Central Bank Officials
On May 13, 2020, the Government of Liberia petitioned Criminal Court ‘C’ at the Temple of Justice to drop charges including economic sabotage, criminal conspiracy and criminal facilitation against former officials of the Central Bank of Liberia, excluding former CBL Executive Governor Milton A. Weeks. Mr. Charles Sirleaf, former Deputy Governor, Dorbor M. Hagba, Director for Finance, Mr. Richard H. Walker, Director for Operation, and Mr. Joseph Dennis, Deputy Director for Internal Audit are those taken off the hook. State prosecutors have provided the rationale that these individuals were not directly involved with the management of the Central Bank, contrary to the earlier charge that co-defendant Sirleaf, while serving as acting Bank Governor, conspired with other officials of the CBL and the co-defendants, and that their actions have the propensity to cause serious economic instability, undermine the government and cause citizens to rise up against it.
What, then, is unfolding here? Incompetence on the part of state prosecutors or a deliberate cover-up scheme under a wider pretext aimed at appeasing an unsuspecting public? All these are happening when the government has used taxpayers’ money to prosecute those concerned, assuring the public that it had the quantum of evidence required to successfully prosecute the case. What has changed since the process begun? Is the government validating former President Sirleaf’s assertion of May 2019 that her son was unjustifiably and illegally charged? Could big hands be behind such action?
Liberians deserve better than a selective fight against corruption. In the midst of millions lost to corruption in Liberia, conviction has fast become a “Taboo”, with nearly all those implicated in major scandals and glaring abuse of public trust and resources exonerated, at the expense of public interest. This is a worrisome trend that brings into question sincerity of the fight against corruption and prosecution of those accused of corruption.
More broadly, we call for a robust, impartial and people-centered fight against corruption in Liberia. The system must work for the poor and not shield and or protect those in power. The Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission, General Auditing Commission, Public Procurement and Concession Commission and other public integrity institutions must stand up to independently play their required roles. At the moment, they are somehow complicit in the poor state of the fight against corruption in Liberia.