Liberian Leader Dismisses LACC Chair, Appoints New Batch Amid Growing Wave Of Corruption
Amid growing wave of corruption in Government, the Liberian leader, President George Weah has with immediate effect nominated a new batch of commissioners for the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC), Act passage into law
In June 2022 the Senate and House of Representatives joint amendment of the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission Act (LACC) was slammed by four Senators and termed as “an effort that undermines the Country’s fight against corruption.”
The amendment, which the Senate supported with 20 votes in favor, claims that it empowers the anti-graft institution to fight against corruption but, for the first time, gives it the power to prosecute corruption both in the private and public sectors. It also scraps the LACC of its current authority to seize public officials’ assets or freeze them even if indicted, except if the Commission proves the person is of flight risk.
But critics of the act, which includes four Senators, have argued that it represents a broader attack on the fight against corruption in a country that is already corrupt; and would undermine the gains made by the current LACC leadership in exposing corruption in the executive.
In his reaction in June 2022 of his colleagues’ decision, Montserrado County Senator Abraham Darius Dillon decried the majority vote as one that is not entirely in support of the fight against “endemic corruption”.
The Senator noted that the bill only intends to undermine the LACC’s fight against corruption, despite granting the Commission prosecutorial power, as it contains a clause that renders all the former Commissioners that served subject to presidential dismissal and automatic replacement by the President.
Dillon’s position was as a result of Part XVI of the LACC amendment act, Transitional Provision, states that all “commissioners now serving the LACC shall remain in office after the enactment of this new law until their successors are appointed, but each is eligible to apply and be subjected to the appointment procedure provided for this law.”
Backing Dillion, River Gee County Senator Jonathan Boye Charles Sogbie asserted that when the act comes into effect; it, will not only lead to the termination of all the Commissioners’ tenured positions, but a “breach of contract which may likely lead to legal action against the government” which is bad for the country’s fight against corruption.
Lofa County Senator Steven Zargo also lamented that the passage of the Act is not in the interest of fighting corruption, but only targeted the former leadership of the Commission for their stance against corruption which, he asserted, President George Weah and his officials feel very uncomfortable with.
And for Senator Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence of Grand Bassa County, the Senate erred in recreating the LACC when their own rules forbid two Senate laws to be merged and passed into one.
“The current law is not only amending and restating the Act creating the LACC, but it is also recreating the LACC,” Sen. Karnga-Lawrence argued.
The four senators openly opposed the passage of the act and argued that the passage was unnecessary.
The amended act, according to the Legislature, empowered the LACC to investigate and prosecute acts of corruption as well as strengthened the Commission to prevent and combat corruption in Liberia. It also empowers the LACC with powers to investigate acts of corruption both in the public and private sectors of Liberia and to prosecute those determined to be culpable of committing acts of corruption.
Under the amendment, the number of members of Commissioners has been increased from five to seven and additional departments have been created in the Commission. The departments are Administration and Supervision, Monitoring and Investigation, Prosecution, as well as Education and Prevention — with a commissioner or two assigned to head each of these departments.
The process of appointment of the Commissioners, according to the Act, starts from nomination by an Ad Hoc Committee composed of representatives of the General Auditing Commission, the Governance Commission, the Liberian National Bar Association, the Press Union of Liberia, Liberia Business Association, Anti-Corruption Advocacy Civil Society Organizations, the Liberian Institute of Certified Public Accountants, and the donor community.
The Act further stated that at least fourteen candidates shall be presented by the Ad Hoc Committee from which list the President of Liberia shall nominate seven for presentation to the Liberian Senate for confirmation proceedings.
“The Commission shall be appointed for terms of office, but the terms shall be staggered to ensure that the terms of office of all Commissioners don’t end at the same time. The LACC shall have all powers and authority in its operations and also provides for financial autonomy; it prohibits interference in the affairs and operations of the Commission by any person.”
Additionally, under the transitional provision of the Act, Commissioners now serving the LACC shall remain in office after the enactment of this new law until their successors are appointed, “but each is eligible to apply and be subjected to the appointment procedure provided for by this law.”
The LACC was created by an Act of Legislature in 2008 with the mandate to investigate acts of corruption and report findings to the Ministry of Justice for Prosecution. In a separate development, the Senate has ratified an Agreement between the Government of Liberia and the OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID) for the encouragement and Protection of Investment in Liberia.
Liberia, as a member of the OPEC Fund for International Development and other member countries, has established OFID to provide financial support to member countries in addition to the existing bilateral and multilateral channels through which OPEC member states extend financial assistance to other developing countries.
President Weah Appoints Cllr. Bernard Chairperson of Ad-Hoc Pre-Selection Committee of LACC Commissioners
Despite criticism over the passage of the New LACC Act by four Senators, in August 2022, President George Weah appointed Cllr. Archibald Bernard as chairperson of an Ad-hoc Committee charged with the responsibility to pre-select candidates to serve as Commissioners of the amended Liberia Anti-corruption Commission (LACC).
Cllr. Archibald Bernard was named as chairperson of an Ad-hoc Committee charged with the responsibility to pre-select candidates to serve as Commissioners of the amended Liberia Anti-corruption Commission (LACC)
Cllr. Bernard’s appointment by the President was consistent with Section 6.10 of the Act to Amend and Restate an Act to Establish the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission and to Re-establish the LACC. The new Act empowers the President to carry out pre-selection of candidates for the position of commissioner.
President Weah mandated the Ad-Hoc Committee to submit the list of candidates to his office within thirty-five working days from the deadline for submission of applications.
The Act also provides that the Ad-hoc Committee shall be composed of nine (9) persons, a Chairperson appointed by the President of Liberia, and the eight others (one each) from the General Auditing Commission, the Governance Commission, the Liberian National Bar Association, the Press Union of Liberia, and the Liberia Business Association.
Others include the anti-corruption advocate of the Civil Society Organization, the Liberia Institute of Certified Public Accountants, and the international donor community which provides technical assistance to Liberia in the area of prevention of and combatting corruption.
The Chief Executive insists that persons elected to the Committee must possess impeccable business and professional reputation, high moral values and qualities, excellent public reputation, and must never have been convicted of any crime.
The Act also states that the Ad-hoc Committee shall pre-select two (2) candidates for each Commissioner position and submit said list of candidates to the President of Liberia for his nomination to the Liberian Senate for confirmation.
President Weah Appoints New LACC Commissioners, Relieves former Commissioners
President George Weah has relieved Cllr. Edward Martin, the Executive Chairperson of the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission, of his post.
Martin, who had previously served in the Weah government as Montserrado County Attorney, has been on the firing line since he lost a lawsuit against the government for dissolving his tenured position and recreating it.
The former LACC Chairperson, however, had been on the red line of the government with his corruption probes, which led to the indictment of some high-profile government officials for corruption.
Two of Martin’s high profile indictees were the Minister of Agriculture, Jeanine Cooper, and the Chairperson of the National Elections Commission, Davidetta Browne-Lansanah.
Martin’s investigation claimed that Cooper, awarded contracts to her brother Zubin Cooper and diverted agricultural materials for personal use. The minister was also accused of awarding contracts to Farbrar- a company in which she has beneficial ownership.
Lansanah was also accused of conflict of interest, and money laundering in the leasing of twenty facial recognition thermometers at a total cost of US$182,320 from a family firm.
The NEC Chair, however, had the case thrown out of court without prejudice to the state on grounds that Martin’s team overstepped its bounds to investigate the issue of conflict of interest, which should have been carried out by an ombudsman.
The anger became visible at a cabinet retreat in Ganta, Nimba County, sometime last year, when he was heckled several times by some cabinet members in the presence of the President while presenting the anti-graft institution’s achievements in the fight against corruption.
However, the President succeeded in replacing Martin, whose fate was sealed as the restated LACC Act calls for the dissolution of the Commission’s executive leadership and the appointment of new ones.
Martin and his fellow commissioners, however, were not excluded from the re-application process, which was carried out by an Ad-hoc committee set up to pre-select new commissioners.
If the Act had not been amended and restated that way, Martin would have still been on his job since it is a tenure position, and cannot be sacked until there is a breach of trust.
Part XVI of the restated LACC act, titled Transitional Provision, states that all “commissioners now serving the LACC shall remain in office after the enactment of this new law until their successors are appointed, but each is eligible to apply and be subjected to the appointment procedure provided for this law.”
However, it remains unclear whether Martin will reapply for the position. The Ad-hoc committee was chaired by the legal advisor to the president and other members of the Governance Commission, as well as others.
The President, while announcing the new commissioners of the LACC, refused to thank Martin for his service or even mention him in the press release.
Cllr. Alexandra Zoe and Ernest Hughes have been appointed as Chairperson and Vice Chairperson of the reinstated LACC, according to the Presidency. The new LACC chairperson currently serves as the chairman of the Board of Directors of the state-owned Liberia Telecommunications Corporation (LTC).
His other co-workers are commissioners Randolph Tabb, Dr. Miatta Jeh, and Atty. Samuel Dakana and they are expected to be in charge of monitoring and investigation. The two others are Oretha Davis and David Wilson, for the prosecution departments, which they are going to head.
Meanwhile, Martin might still hang on to the job for a few more weeks, pending the Senate’s confirmation of the LACC’s new officers.
His days on the job were numbered after the Supreme Court of Liberia earlier this year ruled that he erred in challenging the Legislature’s constitutional power to make and alter laws without limitation.
The court ruling was in response to a petition from Martin asking the court to declare sections 16.1 and 16.2 of the amended LACC Act unconstitutional, saying it was an abuse of power for a government to dissolve a tenured position and recreate the same.
However, the Court in its unanimous verdict delivered by Chief Justice Sie-A-Nyene Yuoh, ruled that the Legislature has the “unquestionable power to amend, modify or abolish the LACC as deemed expedient in the interest of the state, and its action cannot be said to violate the constitution.”
Martin’s lawyers had argued that Parts 16.1 and 16.2 of the restated LACC Act were not in accordance with the norms and concept of ex post facto law as entrenched in Article 21 of the Constitution and that allowing the sections to remain would be a grave breach of the Constitution.
Article 21 of the 1986 Constitution, which Martin’s lawyer is quoting, states that “no person shall be made subject to any law or punishment which was not in effect at the time of the commission of an offense, nor shall the Legislature enact any bill of attainder or ex post facto law.”
The Court Justices, however, disagreed and ruled that no public official has the vested right to a public office except for those officers or offices that are clearly and expressly protected by the Constitution, “which is not the case in the present petition.”
The Court added that “however, should it become necessary to terminate the services of the petitioner and others similarly situated before the expiration of their contractual rights, the sanctity of contract as enshrined in the Constitution should be given due consideration.”
According to critics, the new LACC was intended to undermine Martin’s effort in exposing alleged corruption — with some of the alleged culprits being closer — to the president.
However, the President and his supporters justified it as one that is long overdue and that it broadens the scope of operation.
Meanwhile, the amended LACC Act however limits the anti-graft agency’s capacity to connect with the public and provide updates on the progress of investigations.
It also significantly limits the re-established LACC’s ability to “force the freezing of assets of a person or individuals being investigated or prosecuted for alleged acts of corruption.”
Freezing of assets is now restricted to persons representing flight risk or those who have fled the bailiwick of the Republic of Liberia.
Section 10.9 of the restated act restricts the Commission by enforcing undue confidentiality, preventing it from disclosing vital facts about the inquiry to the public until an indictment is announced.
In June 2021 when President George Weah updated the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on the strides being made by his Government in the fight against corruption and graft many Liberians and international had second thoughts because the Liberian government had reneged on several occasions to prosecute public official indebted through audits conducted by the General Audit Commission or investigation conducted by the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC).
LACC outgoing Executive Chairperson Cllr. Edwin Kla Martin
Acknowledging that corruption constitutes a huge challenge in Liberia, the Liberian Leader told the UNGA via a pre-recorded statement that his administration had made enormous strides in purging the country of corruption. He said his commitment to the fight against corruption remained unwavering, evidenced by several anti-corruption measures instituted since assuming.
President Weah told the UNGA that he reconstituted the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission in 2019 to assess the framework of Liberia’s fight against corruption, with a mandate to submit proposals to his office that can lead to a more effective national regime.
He reaffirmed his zero-tolerance stance on corruption, vowing to ensure transparency and accountability across his administration.
Besides reconstituting the anti-corruption commission, the President disclosed that several proposals to reform the inadequate legal framework were submitted to the national legislature in late 2020. “For example, the National Anti-Corruption Commission does not possess powers to exclusively prosecute acts of corruption, and cannot independently compile and verify assets declared by public officials,” President Weah said, noting that it was against that backdrop that bills were submitted to the Legislature to strengthen integrity institutions.
“In response to these severely binding constraints on the fight against corruption, I have recently submitted several legal instruments to the National Legislature, seeking to drastically improve the Anti-Corruption Legal Framework in Liberia,” the President briefed the United Nations General Assembly.
He added: “The passage into law of these proposals will make it easier to prevent acts of corruption, and if corruption is committed, easier to ensure accountability.”
Other legal instruments submitted to the National Legislature, the President said, included Vest Direct Prosecution Powers for Acts of Corruption solely in the LACC, Vest Powers to Compile, Verify and Recommend Sanctions in regards to Assets Declarations by Public Officials solely in the LACC, as well as the passage of a Whistleblower’s Act and Establish a Witness Protection Program, amongst many others.
As part of the government’s anti-graft measures, President Weah said, his government ensured that monies stolen from the national coffers were restituted coupled with the convictions of former high-level government officials for acts of grand corruption while in office.
“Most of these positive strides do not get to make the international media,” President Weah said, assuring the UN that his government will continue to re-intensify support to the major anti-graft institutions and engender increased coordination and collaboration.
He declared: “We will also begin to aggressively court international support and collaboration now that we have set into motion the proper legal framework that can lead to a successful anti-corruption fight.”
The Liberian Leader said he was pleased to participate in the Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly by virtual to discuss challenges and measures to prevent and combat corruption and strengthen international cooperation.
He said since the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) and the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption (AUPCC were adopted in 2003, the dangerous effects of corruption have been widely documented in various forms across the globe.
Government’s Failure to Prosecute Public Officials Investigated for Corruption Undermines Fight
The Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission in June 2022 released its findings into several government institutions on allegation of corrupt practices. The LACC after months of intense investigations deduced that a variety of government institutions, including the Ministry of Agriculture, the Liberia Water & Sewer Corporation, and the Planned Parenthood Association of Liberia etc fell short of government’s integrity policy. The LACC submitted the alleged culprits to the Ministry of Justice for prosecution.
Several months later, President George Weah publicly stated that the LACC did not inform him about the outcome of their investigation before going public with their findings, which indicted Ministry of Agriculture, the Liberia Water & Sewer Corporation, and the Planned Parenthood Association of Liberia.
Since those the LACC indicted have never faced the law to exonerate themselves through a court of law. The President has been accused by critics of protecting those who are engage in corruption but on the contrary says his government is bent on clamping down on corruption.
Political pundits say the President and his government’s refusal to prosecute corrupt public officials have undermined the fight against the menace and has open more doors for public officials to engage in corruption.
What remains to be seen is whether the Ministry of Justice will still implement the recommendations of the LACC. The LACC has always asked for prosecutorial powers to prosecute economic crimes, but the Legislative has failed over the years to pass that into law. But now the new LACC Act has given it prosecutorial powers and with the naming of new commissioners will they prosecute those public officials who over the years have been indicted by the LACC for corruption?