Transparency institutions or anti graft agencies in Liberia today are offshoots of post conflict public finance and governance reform programs intended to fight and or eradicate corruption, which has been the root cause of civil unrest in the West African nation of 4.5 million population.
Heads of those agencies are amongst the country’s well-paid public officials. But the aggregate output of those institutions that are statutorily obligated to prevent, investigate and apprehend public thieves had been underwhelming with troubling effect on the fight against fraud, waste and abuse.
For instance, the Liberia Anti Corruption Commission is empowered to investigate all corruption related matters in the country either real or based on suspicion and to design systems to track fraud and prosecute perpetrators.
Yet, the corruption watchdog has missed out on several high profile financial scandals while its staff and officials have been accused of corruption from outside and within.
In 2015, the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL) crumbled into financial mismanagement undetected. And even after the mess had occurred, the LACC demonstrated no known willingness to probe into possible financial wrongdoing and economic crimes.
Fast forward in 2018, an alleged $16billion was missing from the Central Bank and the LACC to date has no clue.
Statements and Decisions Inspiring Corruption
Since its establishment by an Act of the legislature on August 28, 2008 the LACC has had two Executive Chairpersons. Stunning statements and policy decisions they have made with respect to mode of operation had contributed adversely in the fight against corruption.
Cllr James Verdier in an astonishing and somersaulting move in 2015 trashed his entity’s investigative report into what appears to be one of the biggest procurement frauds that hit the Johnson-Sirleaf administration.
He said then the report, which the President cited as an authoritative reliance in dismantling the Board of Directors of the National Port Authority, and suspending its managing director was inconclusive and did not accuse anybody. “I did not indict any body,” he said.
In the same year Verdier disclosed that President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf will not be investigated for any form of corruption in the country.
In 2012, then LACC chair Cllr. Frances Johnson Allison said it was not good for the security of public officials to make public their declared assets.
Thus President George Weah was reading the LACC script when he told the British Broadcasting Corporation this month that he’s not making public his declared assets because he wants to protect his children.
In November 2012, the Center for Media Studies and Peace Building (CEMESP) requested copies of asset declaration forms of Cabinet ministers and their deputies. The Liberia Anti-corruption Commission (LACC) asked CEMESP to pay the cost of reproducing the declaration forms, but later denied the request based on Liberia Freedom of Information Act.
In particular, LACC alleged that requested information fell within the definition of personal information and according to Section 4.5 of the information act was exempt from disclosure (para. 9). Additionally, the disclosure would be in breach of the LACC’s duty under Section 10.3 of Executive order No.38, indicating that declaration was a classified information only accessible to the authorized personnel.
Lastly, the CEMESP was constitutionally privileged from disclosure in the absence of a court order (para. 11). In January 2013, CEMESP submitted a complaint to the Independent Information Commissioner about the LACC’s denial, seeking the commissioner’s intervention and grant of access.
Decision The information commissioner first referred to alleged exemptions provision of the Freedom of Information Act. While the commissioner agreed that asset declarations fall within personal information, applying public interest test it concluded that LACC failed to prove existence of “harm” that would be “greater than public interest in having information disclosed” (para. 14). With respect to Section 10.3 of Executive Order No. 38, the commissioner established that the latter act is inconsistent with Freedom of Information Act.
The commissioner concluded that in the event of clash of norms, according to section 1.7 of FOI, the latter has primary value and prevails over administrative orders (para. 16). Lastly, referring to the Article 16 of the Constitution, the commissioner concluded that the disclosure would not constitute “unwarranted intrusion” or disturbance of privacy rights, but rather strengthen the fight against corruption (para.17). Resources:
– Festus Poquie