Tackling The Corruption Menace Whilst Re-Building A Failed State – The Experience of Ellen Sirleaf’s Liberia

A Presentation By: Eugene Lenn Nagbe| Liberia’s Minister of Information|



Brussels, Belguim October 26, 2017

Good Morning, ladies and gentlemen.I bring you greetings from Her Excellency Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of the Republic of Liberia. Her Excellency wishes us fruitful deliberations at this year’s forum. Let me begin by thanking the organizers for the opportunity to share the story of Liberia’s fight against corruption from the vantage point of our unique conditions.

It is also important to say that the forum organizers have been farsighted in spotting the important links between corruption and global security threats like national and regional conflicts and terrorism. Liberia sees this dialogue as very strategic especially because of our recent history and the current heart breaking rise of terrorism in our region.Liberia and its neighbours have experienced first-hand how corruption, abuse of public resources and economic crimes in general can fuel wars, undermine state authority and human security.

We have seen corrupt logging and mining concession deals pay for the purchase of illegal weapons which are in turn used to pursue senseless violence up and down our region- the so-called blood diamonds and timbers are apt reminders of this reality. In Monrovia we take the view that international security is national security and so we have demonstrated a real commitment to working with other players in the international community to create the legal and governance systems necessary to foster international peace and security.  Regarding the Liberia’s anti-corruption fight; I shall give you the context within which these efforts are situated, share with you some of the challenges, gains and lessons we have learned thus far and then pause to hear from others.

Juxtaposing the Fight Against Corruption with the Re-building of a broken country (The Context)

When President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was sworn in to office in 2006, the civil war which preceded her election had decimated the very fabric of the state. Not only were lives and infrastructure totally destroyed, but all the apparatuses of the state itself had crumbled. The country was on its knees. We had experienced the greatest economic breakdown any nation had since World War II. President Sirleaf inherited not a government to administer, but a failed state to rebuild. As onerous as the task was to bring back Liberia from the brink, the President did not for a minute believe that the fight against corruption, the prime culprit which had fuelled the war in the first place, should be left to wait. The fight to tackle the corruption menace was therefore carried out in concomitance with the even more herculean task of nation rebuilding.

There was zero accountability in the war ravished nation The President approach was to first build the institutional infrastructure to support a robust fight against corruption through prevention and prosecution.Toward this end the Public Procurement and Concession Commission (PPCC), General Auditing Commission (GAC), Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) and Liberia Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (LEITI) were all establishedor re-organized within the first term of this government.Our Government under the Leadership of President Sirleaf has leveraged these institutions, with marked progress, to prevent public sector corruption, waste and abuse. The GAC is equipped to perform audits of the system to unearth any weaknesses, supply evidence that could be used by the LACC to prosecute those who violate the public trust.

Foundational Precious Steps Forward- (The Gains)

It has been almost twelve years since President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was sworn in to office and announced an all-out war against corruption. The gains made are strong and foundational. We now have strong anti-corruption laws and institutions that can, with some additional investments and reforms, be used as a spring board for greater success in the fight against corruption. The Sirleaf led administration will bequeath to its successor, functional anti- corruption and transparency agencies that have benefited from years of experience and boast of improved investigatory and prosecution capacity.

Liberia’s embrace of the tenets demanded by world anti-corruption proponents by and through the establishment and operationalization of institutions like the Open Government Partnership, Financial Intelligence Unit, Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative, has further consolidated transparency in government and the private sector.

This has stymied the extensive outflow of illicit capital and has reduced waste and abuse in the public sector.Addressing the nation earlier this year President Sirleaf admitted that although strong gains were made, those had not attained the lofty heights she had aspired to. She however highlighted the fact that Liberia’s anti-corruption efforts have made the country credible again in the eyes of its citizens and international partners.

She said “our efforts to fight corruption were recognized as Liberia met eligibility requirements for Compact, under the Millennium Challenge Account, by consistently passing the rigid corruption index. Indeed, our administration has placed the nation on a path that will make it easier for successive governments to meet established anti-corruption targets. We have created more integrity institutions and formulated more laws and policies in the fight against corruption than any government in our history.

We have introduced an assets declaration regime, a National Code of Conduct, a Financial Intelligence Unit, and the Public Procurement and Concessions Commission. We have strengthened the prosecutorial arm of the Ministry of Justice, and established a Presidential Task Force to assist in reviewing and implementing recommendations resulting from internal and external audits’’.

Corruption fights back too (The challenges)

Despite a strong political will to fight corruption expressed by concrete actions such as indictment of high profile government officials and even ruling party’s executive amongst others, progress in the fight against corruption has been slowed by an opaque Judiciary and a push-back in the National legislature. Vested interest by the powerful in the political class has also hindered the anticorruption battle.

To consolidate the gains, the next government will need to deepen judicial reform efforts, form an effective partnership with domestic civil society to pressure elected officers into supporting ant-corruption policies and legislation.

In addition to the challenges mentioned, above there are also budgetary constraints and human resource gaps that need to be consistently addressed over the medium to long term if we are to see significant consolidation of the gains we have made in the space of 12 years.

What we would do differently (Lessons learned)

We have learned that corruption fights back and its reach cannot and should not be overlooked. We see that one of the main ways that the corrupt try to protect themselves is through the political system. Therefore fighting corruption requires building a broad political coalition across political parties, the media and civil society. We also see the need to invest more into improving compensation and capacity in the judiciary. Most of the cases the Government of Liberia lost in courts came down to the twin factors of judicial incompetence and the susceptibility of some court officials to bribes. Distinguished fellow panellists of the 19th edition of the world renowned Crans Montana Forum, ladies and gentlemen: I will conclude my initial remarks here and share more during the interactive session. Thank you for your kind attention and I look forward to the exchanges during the Q & A session.

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About Cholo Brooks 15363 Articles
Joel Cholo Brooks is a Liberian journalist who previously worked for several international news outlets including the BBC African Service. He is the CEO of the Global News Network which publishes two local weeklies, The Star and The GNN-Liberia Newspapers. He is a member of the Press Union Of Liberia (PUL) since 1986, and several other international organizations of journalists, and is currently contributing to the South Africa Broadcasting Corporation as Liberia Correspondent.