As Corruption Threatens Liberia’s Economic Growth, Where Do We Go From Here; Ahead Of 2023 Elections
By Joel Cholo Brooks
Three high profile officials in the Coalition for Democratic Change-led government recently submitted their letters of resignation to H.E. President George Manneh Weah after the United State Treasury Department sanctioned them for their alleged involvement in massive corruption, a situation that made some Liberians to call on the presidency for their ‘Immediate dismissal’.
The three officials, Nathaniel Falo McGill formally Minister of State for Presidential Affairs and Chief of Staff in the officer of the President, Bill Twehway who also served as Managing Director of the National Port Authority, and Cllr. Sayma Syrenius Cephus formally Solicitor General of the Republic of Liberia have since resigned after they were sanction designated.
From this writer’s perspective, corruption has become endemic at every level of the Liberian society, usually talked about as Africa’s oldest independence nation, making it as one of the most politically corrupt nations in the world. As such, corruption is not specifically a punishable crime under Liberian law, which further exacerbates the nature of corruption present in the country.
When the former Liberian leader, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf took office in 2006, she announced that corruption was “the major public enemy.”, and that she prepared to battle that “Public Enemy”, but instead that battle was yet to be won by then Africa’s first female president, and Iron Lady of Liberia.
In 2014, Deborah Malac, at the time the US ambassador to Liberia, stated that “Corruption remains a serious problem in Liberia. It undermines transparency, accountability, and people’s confidence in government institutions.”, this also degraded the former President’s fight against this public enemy.
In the US State Department’s 2013 Human Rights Report on Liberia, it was highlighted that corruption is not a crime in Liberia, although there are criminal penalties for economic sabotage, mismanagement of funds, and other corruption-related acts. According to a 2013 report published by the US State Department, low pay levels for the Liberian civil service, minimal job training, and lack of successful prosecutions have exacerbated official corruption and helped foster a culture of impunity.
In 2012, the Liberian central government dismissed or suspended a number of officials for corruption. Auditor General Robert L. Kilby and General Services Agency Director General Pealrine Davis-Parkinson were dismissed for conflicts of interest, also Deputy Justice Minister Freddie Taylor, Deputy Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization (BIN) Commissioner Robert Buddy, former solicitor general Micah Wright, and BIN Border Patrol Chief Wilson Garpeh were dismissed for alleged involvement in human trafficking.
Deputy Public Works Minister Victor B. Smith was suspended for allegedly violating the law but was reinstated a week later following an investigation. President Sirleaf dismissed the chairman and other board members of the Liberia Airports Authority amid corruption allegations. An assistant labor minister was also dismissed for issuing work permits to foreigners after allegedly taking bribes.
The 2013 US State Department report said that: “Judges were susceptible to bribes to award damages in civil cases. Judges sometimes requested bribes to try cases, release detainees from prison, or find defendants not guilty in criminal cases. Defense attorneys and prosecutors sometimes suggested defendants pay bribes to secure favorable rulings from or to appease judges, prosecutors, jurors, and police officers.”
Under the regime of Johnson-Sirleaf In 2012, the Liberia National Police (LNP) “investigated reports of police misconduct or corruption, and authorities suspended or dismissed several LNP officers.”
In 2013, Human Rights Watch released a report specifically about police corruption in Liberia. They interviewed more than 120 people who had said they had been victimized in their dealings with the police. They said that “police officers typically ask crime victims to pay to register their cases, for transport to the crime scene, and for pens and other items used in the investigation. Criminal suspects routinely pay bribes for release from police detention.”
Street vendors said they were often the victim of police raids, especially in Monrovia. Vendors said that police routinely steal goods, arrest vendors, and then require them to pay for their release from detention. Motorcycle and taxi drivers throughout the country described harassment and extortion along roads. Those who refuse to meet officers’ demands face violence and arrest. Elite armed units, such as the Police Support Unit, were frequently cited for violent abuses.
Human Rights Watch also interviewed 35 police officers of varying ranks for their study. The police described being given inadequate supplies, living on low salaries, and pressure to pay their superiors to obtain desirable posts and promotions.
In Liberia’s education system, patronage and bribery by administrators, professors, and students are widely reported. Abuse of resources, teacher absenteeism, and sex for grades are common. A culture of silence prevents reporting of problems and hence any constructive reform.
In 2014, the head of Liberia’s National Commission on Higher Education was under investigation by Liberia’s Anti-Corruption Commission for a second time, over allegations of the embezzlement of funds supposedly spent upon official travel which never occurred. The National Commission on Higher Education coordinates, monitors, evaluates and accredits all higher institutions of learning.
Amidst Liberia’s Ebola epidemic in 2014, some body-collection teams dispatched to collect the Ebola dead accepted bribes to issue falsified death certificates to family members, stating that their dead relative died from something other than Ebola. The body of the Ebola victim could also be left with relatives. Ebola carries a stigma in Liberia, and some families do not want to admit that their relative died of Ebola.
Another factor is that families wish to give their relative a traditional burial. An American NGO journalist reported that Liberian police threatened arrest and demanded bribes in order for him to be able to leave the MSF compound.
The Liberian Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) and the Ministry of Justice are responsible for exposing and combating official corruption.
An underfunded and understaffed Liberian Anti-Corruption Commission, created in 2008, is supposedly empowered to prosecute crimes that effectively amount to corruption. Human Rights Watch (HRW) noted in 2011 that though there had been a multiplicity of high-level corruption scandals during the previous year, they had resulted in “few investigations and only two convictions.” In 2013 the LACC received 25 cases, investigated 23, and recommended 4 for prosecution. There were no convictions.
The Anti-Corruption Commission, HRW complained, is “hampered by insufficient funds [and] personnel” and does not actually have the “authority to independently prosecute cases.” The failure of Sirleaf to deal with this issue has led to “the perception that the president lacks the will to address the problem,” it said.
In her final state of the nation address in 2017, President Sirleaf stated the corruption in Liberia was too great for her administration to eliminate it.
2013 US State Department report noted that President Sirleaf issued Executive Order 38 in January 2012 requesting officials of the executive branch to make financial disclosures and declare their assets to the LACC. Many officials only did so after the president threatened dismissal if they did not comply. All officials of the executive branch declared their assets by year’s end.[
The LACC initiated an asset verification process to review these declarations and in October 2012 summarized the results of the process, highlighting some discrepancies and instances of unexplained wealth accumulation. The LACC was not required to release the contents of the declarations, but it released aggregate information about officials’ cooperation and the overall results of the asset verification process.
The 2010 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) provides that the government should release government information not involving national security or military issues upon request. Some transparency advocates, including the head of the LACC, have suggested that the FOIA law needs to be improved to ensure that citizens can access information to verify that government funds were properly spent and accounted for.
Since the ascendancy of President George Manneh Weah-led government which approaching its six year now, the issue of corruption in public sector, and in the management of the country’s resources by some government officials, this situation has created serious concern locally and internationally with more questions than answers as to why this government has not taken action on those individuals reportedly linked.
including the government has reached ystemic Under the current Liberian leader, George Manneh Weah the acts of corruption in public sector and even central government seems to overwhelmed the popularity of the CDC-led government since its ascendancy.
The United States Department report of 2021 on Liberia’s Human Rights Practices
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government cataloged the number of human rights abuses under the CDC-government of President Weah, noting that the law provides criminal penalties for bribery, abuse of office, economic sabotage, and other corruption-related offenses committed by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year. Officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.
Corruption was a fact of daily life for citizens and businesses alike. According to the September Center for Transparency and Accountability in Liberia State of Corruption Report, 90 percent of citizens thought corruption was high in the country and 76 percent had witnessed corruption. The report also labeled the national budget as a tool for corruption in which public resources end up in the pockets of public officials through direct payments, indirect payments, or backdoor deals. As noted earlier in Section 1.e., there was also reportedly widespread corruption in the judiciary, in the form of bribery and extortion where favorable decisions were bought or in the form of direct government influence over judicial decisions.
The mandate of the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission is to prevent, investigate, and prosecute cases of corruption among public officials. On June 14, President Weah appointed Edwin Kla Martin as the new executive chairperson of the commission, effective July 22. Martin’s appointment followed the resignation of Ndubuisi Nwabudike as chairperson in February amid allegations that Nwabudike obtained his Liberian citizenship illegally.
Corruption: On September 6, Criminal Court “C” Judge Ousman Feika dismissed a five-million-dollar case of economic sabotage, theft of property, forgery, and criminal conspiracy against Secretary of the Liberian Senate J. Nanborlor F. Singbeh Sr., who allegedly used his position to obtain a government investment incentive package that he used unlawfully to import vehicles and equipment for personal gain, and 12 codefendants. Judge Feika dismissed the case on the grounds that the private coprosecutor for the government, Hans Armstrong, was also indicted for the crimes of theft of property and forgery in the Nimba County Court, including some of the same crimes that were part of the indictment against Singbeh and his codefendants. On August 9, Assistant Minister for Litigation at the Ministry of Justice Wesseh Alphonsus Wesseh requested that Senate President Pro Tempore Albert Tugbe Chie relieve Singbeh of his duty on grounds that he was criminally indicted. The Senate did not grant the request.
On July 16, the manager of the Port of Buchanan, Charles MacArthur D. Gull, and his chief statistician, Amara Kamara, were suspended for alleged financial impropriety amounting to more than $200,000. The two officials were allegedly involved in diverting monies intended for the government into their personal accounts both in the country and abroad.
The funds, according to reports, were remittances paid by ArcelorMittal and Equatorial Palm Oil for the exportation of iron ore and palm oil through Buchanan, a seaport in Grand Bassa County. Agents of the National Security Agency reportedly arrested the men. In a press release, the port authority confirmed the pair were suspended without pay for alleged financial impropriety.
Following interrogation by the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission and the National Security Agency, Gull and Kamara conceded to diverting port funds. Following that interrogation, Gull fled the country and subsequently provided substantial documentation, which was published by local media, that appeared to demonstrate the managing director of the National Port Authority, Bill Twehway, and other officials had colluded to illicitly award the loading contract for the port to a company they secretly co-owned via family members, Creative Developer Incorporated. Gull claimed he had confessed in order to avoid physical harm and said his arrest was meant to make him a scapegoat for diversion of port funds by Twehway.
On August 30, the anti-corruption commission and other officials announced that its vice chairperson Kanio Bai Gbala was under investigation for his alleged involvement as a beneficial co-owner of Creative Developer Incorporated.
On August 23, President Weah suspended Presidential Special Projects Coordinator Makenneh L. Keita for allegedly soliciting five million dollars from a businessman who was exploring investment opportunities. Keita was asked to report to the office of the Legal Advisor to the President for investigation. At year’s end the outcome of the investigation by the Office of the Legal Advisor was not made publicly known.
According to information gathered by this writer, up to date authority of this government has not been on record of taking serious action on those perceived to be corrupt and have been considered misusing resources of the country at the detriment of the majority.
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