Liberia: Anti-Graft Coalition Petitions Liberian Legislature to Enact Laws Strengthening Corruption Fight

Monrovia — The Joint Civil Society Anti-Corruption Initiative (JOCSAI) in Collaboration with the Center for Transparency and Accountability in Liberia (CENTAL) has petitioned the 54th Legislature to enact laws that will strengthened the fight against corruption.

On Tuesday, the groups led by CENTAL’s Executive Director, Anderson Miamen marched from Congo Town to the Capitol Building and presented their petition. They held huge banners and placard with anti-corruption slogans.

In the petition submitted to the House of Representatives on Tuesday, the anti-graft institutions called on the 54th Legislature to, among other things, pass several bills submitted by the Executive calling for the establishment of a special court to try all corruption related cases; revision of the criminal procedure law by removing the statute of limitations from cases related to corruption and amend section 10.1 of the Code of Conduct for Public Officials.

The groups also want the lawmakers to pass the draft revised act of 2008-Bill to give LACC the power to directly prosecute; the Whistleblower Act- Disclosure and Protection; and the bill to establish a Witness Protection Agency (WPA).

In the petition.

Reading the petition, Madam Monica Cee, member of the JOCSAI Steering Committee, called for the timely action on audit reports submitted by the General Auditing Commission; and for the legislature to lead by example by welcoming and facilitating a financial audit of themselves, covering the last unaudited years.

“Most importantly also, we petition you for the unequivocal and speedy passage into law the following Anti-corruption Instruments before you: a bill to establish a special court to try all corruption related cases and a bill to revise the criminal procedure law — thereby removing the statute of limitations from cases related to corruption.”

The group noted that the need for the removal of the statute of limitation on corruption and financial crimes related offences, and to amend and revise section 4.3 of the Criminal Procedure Law of Liberia remain very vital to the fight against corruption in Liberia.

The groups want part X, Section 10.1 of the Code of Conduct of 2014 to grant full authority to the LACC to compile, verify, maintain and update a comprehensive Asset Declaration Registry for all Government employees.

They want title 17 of the Revised Code of Law of Liberia, also known as the Judicial Law of 1972 to be amended by adding Chapter 26; establishing Criminal Court ‘F’ of the First Judicial Circuit, Montserrado County, and Special Divisions of the Circuit Courts of the other Counties of the Republic to have exclusive original jurisdiction over the crime of Corruption, including but not limited to, bribery, embezzlement, extortion, fraud, influence peddling, insider trading, misuse of entrusted public property and vested authority, money laundering, unjust enrichment, and any economic and financial crimes, is of key importance.

The Liberian Government has come under staunch criticism from large segment of its citizens and major development partners for “acts of rampant corruption.”

The 54th Legislature continues to come under increasing criticism for not effectively performing its constitutional responsibilities.

Naymote, in its first edition of “Legislative Digest”, a quarterly publication that assesses the Liberian Legislature in the performance of its three core functions of representation, lawmaking and oversight, as well as accountability and transparency, stated that the 54th Legislature needs crucial important reforms to effectively perform its constitutional mandates.

It accused the lawmakers of passing laws in their interest at the detriment of the citizens; citing the allotment of US$30,000 to each lawmaker for legislative projects and the secret enactment of law allowing them to work for only six months within a calendar year.

The Legislature has also come under fire for not subjecting itself to audit; despite being clothed with the authority to review all audits and make recommendations.

By the end of 2022, taxpayers would have spent about US$174.7 million –from FY 2019/2020 to FY22– on the Legislature. However, the first branch of the Liberian Government has not presented reports on its finances and expenditures, and demands from the public for an independent audit of that body has yielded no result.

The CENTAL’s Executive Director Miamen boldly accentuated the call for audit while addressing the Chairman of the House Committee on Claims and Petition, Nimba County District #4 Representative Gonpue L. Kargon.

“We are admonishing the Legislature, as the first branch of Government, and the direct representatives of the people to lead by example, to open themselves to audit, because the resources that you are using here are the Liberian people’s money. All other public institutions in the Executive and Judiciary are being audited, but the Legislature, to the best of our knowledge, has not been audited over the period. We are calling for more concrete and robust actions to fight corruption.”

In the Executive, leading members from President George Weah to junior cabinet ministers have been accused of accumulating questionable wealth since occupying public position.

In 2021, the Liberia Council of Churches (LCC), through its President Bishop Kortu K. Brown, called on President George Manneh Weah to reprimand public officials who are in the constant habit of flagrantly and mockingly flirting their wealth and luxurious lifestyles on social media to mock ordinary citizens experiencing extreme poverty and hardship in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic in the country.

The tough talking outgoing LCC President spoke when videos and photos of Assistant Minister for Logistics at the Ministry of State for Presidential Affairs James Emmanuel Potter, popping bottles of champagne on a new car he purchased as a birthday gift for his wife, Matilda Potter, and Mr. Nagbe’s consistent posting of fabulous and expensive meals and the purchasing of a 2021 Chevrolet vehicle worth about US$60,000 went viral on social media.

Barely a month later, several photographs of President Weah would popped on social media showcasing a customized slingshot – a three-wheeled vehicle sensation that reignites ones love for driving that is classified as an auto cycle. The price of the slingshot is about US$26,000. But President Weah may have spent additionally to have it customized with his middle name “Manneh.”

The President’s closest ally and Minister of State for Presidential Affairs, Nathaniel McGill had earlier sparked outrage when he buried his deceased mother in a state-of-the-art burial tomb.

While many see the tomb, which is situated in a building that has electricity and a large fenced compound as a waste of resources, Minister McGill stated that the much-talked-about burial is a fulfillment of the Bible’s Fifth Commandment which states: “Honor thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.”

The Judiciary too, has been hugely criticized for widespread corruption. The United States Department of State, in its 2021 Country Report on Human Rights, stated that judges and magistrates were subject to influence and engaged in corruption.

On the back of these reports of malfeasances in the public sector, Liberia is ranked amongst the world’s poorest countries on the Human Development Index (HDI).

Summing up the crippling effects of corruption on Liberia, former United States Ambassador to Liberia, and current US Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Linda Thomas Greenfield said: “Corruption is an act of robbery, plain and simple. It’s a cancer in our societies. It is government stealing from the people of Liberia, from the mouths of children. It takes away access to healthcare. It denies citizens their right to public safety. It stops young people of Liberia from getting the education they deserve. It takes the future away from them. It prevents the country from having the healthy business environment that it needs to lift Liberians out of poverty. It has denied Liberia its place in history, a successful and prosperous country with so many resources to contribute to its people’s well-being.”

She continued: “Corruption is a democracy killer. And we cannot have that in a place like Liberia, which we are counting on as a bulwark for Africa’s democracy. To me, this is the most pressing, it’s the most forward-looking challenge facing Liberia today. And it is frankly one that we need to work on and its frankly up to the leadership of Liberia to fix it. Only Liberia’s leaders, with the backing of and pressure from the people of Liberia, can create the environment of transparency and accountability the country needs.”

And it appears that the anti-graft institutions led by CENTAL are heeding to Ambassador Greenfield’s call as they outlined in their petition.

“We also urge you to ensure that the bills are not watered down in any form and manner; thereby losing their essence. Rather, any contemplated change (s) should be made by and through meaningful consultation with relevant civil society organizations and other stakeholders and must serve to strengthen the bills instead of detracting from them.”

“JOCSAI holds the belief and takes resolve from the fact that when the fight against corruption is buttressed by the effectiveness in the application of the laws that appropriately applied, victory in this struggle is certain, the welfare of the governed is prioritized while public resources previously susceptible to fraud, waste and abuse are managed in accordance with appropriate legislations.”

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