Liberia’s Assets Declaration (AD) regime purposed to prevent and fight corruption can arguably be said to have rather been built on the principles of corruption.
The legal framework anchoring the process solely provides for one group of elected and appointed public officials to submit the list of individual incomes, liabilities, net worth and interest to another group of officials whose role is to keep it under keys and locks.
Individual members of the public wanting to know the material and economic worth of their officials are subjected to cumbersome bureaucratic procedures that require spending thousands of dollars to file Freedom of Information requests and hire lawyers to file civil lawsuits before there is any likelihood of gaining access to information about the declared assets.
In this case, it is the rich not the poor that is able to struggle to obtain records regarding the incomes and liabilities of public officials at the point of entry and exiting of government’s service. As witness to history, not a single FOI request has been honored in the more than five years existence of the AD regime.
As it stands, knowing the contents of assets declared by top government officials, so that their wealth and liabilities can be measured against what they would worth when stepping down from government jobs hinges on one’s willingness to divulge such information.
What the Liberia Anti Corruption Commission (LACC) as custodian of assets declaration documents has been doing since 2013, is to simply make available the names of officials who declare their assets without disclosing the contents of said declaration.
With this practice, the public is effectively denied the opportunity to mirror officials who have declared their assets in present government positions against what they worth in the future upon quitting their positions voluntarily or involuntarily.
In all fairness, the Assets Declaration law is the most defining statement on the spread and promotion of corruption and protection of the corrupt. It explains why corruption is the way of life in this dirt-poor tiny West African country.
While other laws including the Constitution are being flouted by the day, secrecy laws are sacrosanct in this Republic and there are unspecified consequences for those opting to challenge its harmful and unconstitutional nature.
A politician once said, “though corruption is a habit amongst our people, we must end it. Those who do not refrain from enriching themselves at the expense of the people – the law will take its course. You will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. I promise to do everything in my power to be the agent of positive change.” This politician is President George Manneh Weah of the Republic of Liberia.
If President Weah and his Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) are to deliver the “change” they promised voters eight months ago they must proceed differently and not business as usual. The President must set the tone at the top by firstly making public his declared assets in the absence of court order. Secondly, he should seek repeal of the Assets Declaration law as contained in the Code of Conduct for Government Employees and Public Officials because the law in its current form is unworkable and needless. Doing these would be demonstrable evidence that Mr. President stands for transparency and accountability in his government and that he is indeed an agent of positive change.