The Triumph of Secrecy And the Long Road to Transparency & Accountability In Liberia

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secrecy cartoon

 

No word or group of words has been more widely used in post-conflict Liberia than transparency, accountability and fiscal discipline.

But amidst the loud talk about transparency and accountability in Liberia, the verdict from rating agencies is that this country falls below the minimum standards for fiscal transparency.

All of this happened under the leadership of former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf who pride herself with standing for and promoting transparency.

Since 2004, with the assistance of international aid, Liberia had benefited from numerous reforms principally introduced to address century-old economic mismanagement and bad governance, which had generally been considered the causative factors for the country’s civil war that killed over a quarter million people and destroyed infrastructure.

In the financial sector, exists the Public Finance Management and the Public Procurement and Concession laws designed and approved to ensure fiscal discipline, accountability, and openness in public financial transactions coupled with deriving efficiency, economy, and value for money relative to government’s procurement.

While setting up these schemes was promising news, its effective implementation has been disappointing with public financial transactions in many instances still bearing the outlook of pre-reform era.

On 28 March 2015, International Public Finance’s Matt Andrews made the following assertions about public finance regime in developing countries with a conclusion that it was introduced to mainly gain international legitimacy.

“Governments from Afghanistan to Liberia and Uganda showed improvement on overall measures of PFM processes – like Public Expenditure and Financial Accountability (PEFA) scores.

“But these governments often lacked better outcome scores on these and other indicators – budgets were not more reliable than they had been in the past, and money was still not flowing effectively to foster the kind of service delivery countries needed,” he said.

Other components of the PFM regime include MTEF (Medium-Term Expenditure Frameworks), IFMIS (International Financial Management Information Systems), and IPSAS (International Public Sector Accounting Standards).

In spite of these reform instruments, there continue to be documented instances of financial mismanagement and corruption. Officials sidestepped the law, causing the country to lose millions of dollars intended for national development.

On awarding of contracts and natural resource concession, the use of the sole sourcing method of procurement has been cited by people including those in authority as the porous route to procurement fraud.

It was therefore not surprising but disappointing when the United States of America rated this country and its government as not transparent with respect to awarding government contracts and licenses for natural resource extraction and having key budget documents that are publicly available, substantially complete, and generally reliable.

In its 2018 report, the US Department of State concluded that, of the 140 governments evaluated pursuant to section 7031(b) of the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, 68 nations including Liberia did not meet the minimum requirements of fiscal transparency.

Of these 68, countries, while 11 governments made significant progress toward meeting the minimum requirements of fiscal transparency, Liberia is the only Mano River Union country that has made no significant progress toward improvement.

Achieving fiscal transparency and accountability has been the Achilles heel of successive Liberian governments. The George Weah administration that promised change to voters in 2017 must take keen interest in the US government’s fiscal accountability report with specific emphasis on findings and recommendations.

Weah and his administration must heed the US government’s advice that Liberia’s fiscal transparency would be improved by ensuring the budget is substantially complete and off-budget accounts are subject to adequate audit and oversight; making the supreme audit institution’s audit reports publicly available within a reasonable period of time, and ensuring the criteria and procedures used to award natural resource extraction contracts and licenses are consistent with the requirements set by law or regulation.