National Audit as a First Step towards Pro-Poor Governance

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“It is my belief that the most effective way to directly impact the poor, and to narrow the gap between rich and poor, is to ensure that public resources do not end up in the pockets of Government officials”.
The above sentiments were expressed by President George Weah as part of his Inaugural Speech. The President was absolutely right in his assertion that the most effective way to narrow the gap between the rich and poor is to ensure “that public resources do not end up in the pockets of Government officials”. There is a preponderance of studies that have found a link between corruption and poverty. In this case, corruption adversely affects income inequality. Policies that reduce corruption will therefore most likely reduce income inequality and poverty as well.
Corrupt government officials use their positions to benefit from public expenditure which, in turn, limits the Government’s capacity to provide public services, worsening the plight of the poor. This is just one of many examples of how corruption benefits the better-offs and increases the poverty rate, since it reduces the level of social services available to the poor.
On another note, international aid is often directed to countries that have lower levels of corruption because aid agencies believe that such aid will have greater impact in such countries. Such countries have a greater chance of economic growth and poverty reduction in comparison to a country like Liberia where corruption is rampant.
In a country like Liberia, where the incidence of corruption is very high and endemic, the provision of social services such as low cost housing, subsidized education or even free food programs will not trickle down to the poor because those who are well-connected are likely to benefit more from services that were actually intended for the poor.
Corruption has serious implications for the attainment of George Weah’s Pro-Poor Agenda. He must therefore wage an all-out war on this ‘evil vampire’ if he wants his Pro-Poor Agenda to take off and be a success.
Unfortunately, since his Inaugural Speech, no measures has been taken to ensure that public resources do not end up in the pockets of Government officials, nor has he done anything to bring to book those who allegedly diverted public resources to their personal use.
If he wants to, President Weah could immediately take action to begin to recover the millions that have disappeared from the national coffers. He can then use that money to begin to narrow the gap between the rich and poor. Anything else that he does, will not have as much impact on his Pro-Poor Agenda and could be interpreted as mere talk and no action.
Failure on the part of the President to tackle corruption from the onset of his administration will damage prospects of his pro-poor agenda. If he succeeds in reducing corruption, as he promised in his Inaugural Address, he will then reduce the level of poverty and the gap between the poor and the rich.
An anti-corruption drive is not necessarily the only pro-poor policy initiative, but it is arguably the best mechanism for creating a room for manoeuvre so as to effectively tackle poverty. Furthermore, it can re-enforce other pro-poor policies. On the other hand, without tackling corruption head-on, no amount of pro-poor policy will have the intended output.
What President Weah needs to remember is that he will be held accountable for every promise he has made to the Liberian People. One such promise is the promise to end corruption in public service. This is the ‘overwhelming mandate’ that he received from the Liberian People.