Verdict on Verdier

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    Cllr. James Verdier has been Chairperson of the LACC since February 2014 following his nomination by former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and confirmation by the Senate. He was appointed as part of the five-member Commission with a mandate to “implement appropriate measures and undertake programs geared toward investigating, prosecuting and preventing acts of corruption and the benefits of its eradication.” Since his appointment, Verdier has had the privilege to serve under two Presidents: from February 2014 to January 2018 under Ellen Johnson Sirleaf; and from January 2018 to February 2019 under George Weah. This means, he has served his required five-year tenure. Although this can be renewed, on Tuesday President George Weah named Verdier’s ally Charles Gibson as Officer-in-Charge of the anti corruption agency. Before the Presidential statement, New Democrat asked independent experts, analysts and top political actors in relation to his performance and if he was fit to be retained.

    Should Cllr. James Verdier be retained?

     Yes!

    Jay Nagbe Sloh (Chairman Committee on Information, Broadcasting, Culture & Tourism – House of Representatives)

    There is no report and/or evidence of wrong-doing since he took over the LACC.

    He has the competence, pedigree, patience and level-head required by the tough job. He is neither weak nor compromising. He is not easily angered. He is not pompous. He is very respected among his peers in the legal circles of our country. Cllr. Verdier is not judgmental.

    He may not have moved the obvious mountains on the way to a corruption-free Liberia. However, considering the intricacies and dilemmas of our complicated political system where many put themselves above the law with impunity, I wonder what any other Liberian would have done differently and kept the country stable at the same time.

    Above all, his reappointment will help President Weah allay the widespread notion that he is about to replace members of NEC and the anti-graft agencies to give him the free will to do anything he wants without accountability.

     No!

    Clarence Farley (Executive of the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change)

    Cllr. Verdier no longer, not ever before, has the reputation required to lead a head-on fight against corruption since assuming office five years ago in 2014. It’s my urge to President Weah not re-nominate him, for doing so will be a replica of Verdier’s lame fight against corruption. The fight against corruption has overwhelmed Verdier, in action and reputation. He seems compromised by past regime, and there might be spill over effect under Weah’s administration, if he’s re-nominated. We’ll and must define our own roadmap to fight corruption, void of influence and political strains. I see these characteristics in John Morlu, if he’s nominated.

    No!

    Abraham Nyanti ( Legal and financial expert)

    Since his ascendency as Executive Chairperson of the LACC, Cllr. James Verdier has carried out series of arbitrary actions that have led the Country’s leading anti-graft agency to drift downward.

    DWINDLING UNDP SUPPORT

    At the start of the United Nations Development Program (Strengthening Transparency and Accountability Project) or STOAP, the LACC received up to US$500,000 annually in support. However due to mismanagement of the funds from the UNDP, that amount has been reduced to just over US$100,000. In fact, unlike in the past where the LACC was directly responsible to manage the funding, the UNDP has said it will now manage the funding directly. This was after the UNDP hired consultant Mr. Ndomani Saah Kanda was removed from the project and activities brought directly under the control of Chairman James Verdier.

    VERDIER STEPS ON CORRUPTION CASES

    Some Investigators leading investigations into corruption cases in the country have expressed frustration at the deliberate lack of interest on the part of the Executive Chairperson to pursue cases of corruption where in most cases pieces of evidence are glaring.

    Investigators complained of Chair Verdier heavy engagement with the corrupt individuals does leading to the compromise of corruption cases and in most instances when cases go before the Executive Director, these cases never see daylight again.

    According the section 11.4(a) of the Act creating the LACC, the Commission shall proceed to court directly in the event where the Ministry of Justice is unable to prosecute a case. However there are several cases in the hands of Cllr. Verdier that have been withdrawn from the Ministry and have never been prosecuted. Some of the cases relates to the LMA, Cuttington University, Missing Checks at the Ministry of Finance during the administration of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Lotteries, Donkan Gas Station and several others. LACC investigators have been highly frustrated by the decision of Chairperson Verdier to hold cases perpetually without getting to back to investigators or victims of these heinous crimes against the state.

    CHAIR VERDIER FAILED TO CARRYOUT EXIT DECLARATION OF PAST OFFICIALS

    According to section 10.1 of the code of conduct for public officials, public officials are supposed to declare their assets prior to taking office and thereafter at the end of three years, on promotion or progression from one level to another, upon transfer to another public office, and upon retirement or resignation.

    Chairperson Verdier deliberately refused to challenge past government officials on their legal obligation to do exit declaration before leaving office. He allowed these public officials to go away under the pretext of protecting the former president. It is believe that the exit declaration is one of the most important parts of the Assets Declaration process. It allows the LACC to seek clear understanding of what past government officials are leaving from government in comparison to what thy entered with. This has allowed public officials under President Sirleaf to go scout free without accounting for their stewardship during their tenure in government.

    GETRACO CASE

    GETRACO, a local company had claimed that government owes it up to thirty-five million United States Dollars (US$35,000,000.00) for services it performed for government. However the LACC Chief of Investigation at the time insisted that government should not paid the amount in question to the company because it sees no evidence that the services were performed and the Acting Chairperson had asked the Ministry of Finance under the leadership of Boima Kamara not to pay the amount to the company. Upon the return to the country of Chairman James Verdier, he ordered the Ministry of Finance to immediately pay this amount to the company-GETRACO. However, the Finance Minister at the time, Boima Kamara sensing foul-play and interest, wrote the LACC asking the Commission to submit a report to the Ministry of Finance clearing the GETRACO Company. Chairperson Verdier could not provide the report to the Ministry and thereafter the case closed.

    CHAIRPERSON VERDIER EATS STAFF BENEFITS

    Chairperson Verdier has been in serious tussle with both current and former staff of the LACC over the misapplication funds meant to pay staff from cuts to their salaries that were done by the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning. The government of Liberia had paid back thousands of United States Dollars to staff for inadvertent cuts to their salaries as contractors at the time.

    Chairperson Verdier refused to pay the staff salary and claimed that he wanted to buy generator for the LACC. It was later observed that the generator was never bought and the refunds for staff varnished in thin air. Commercial Court Judge Eva Mappy-Morgan ruled that the Chairperson and the LACC should pay the staff their money. Though Cllr. Verdier personally misappropriated the funds, the government of Liberia and the future leadership of the LACC are now under obligation to pay staff.

    ARBITRARY DISMISSAL AND FIRING

    Chairperson Verdier arbitrarily dismissed four staff of the LACC leading to the almost immediate death of two of the four staff that were dismissed. Mr. Diamond Cooper died days after his dismissal. Mr. Morris Ware died few months after his dismissal though the Ministry of Labor had said the dismissal of Morris Ware was illegal. Up to present Chairperson Verdier has failed to pay benefits to his family members.

    The LACC Manager for Investigation Mr. Aaron Henry Aboah was also dismissed following disagreements with Chairperson Verdier Protégé-Mohammed Fahnbulleh. The Case is currently before the Ministry of Justice for investigation.

    In a recent parting meeting with staff on the 22nd of February, Chairperson Verdier admitted that some of his decisions in the LACC were based purely on his instant and emotions. He apologized and said when given the opportunity he will do it in a different way. He does not need the opportunity to do it a different way, as his service at the LACC has shown that he does not have the integrity and commitment to fight corruption.

     No!

    Julius Kanubah ( Sweden based Independent researcher and governance analyst)

    I feel somehow uncomfortable to give him my vote of confidence for a second five-year term, although I must also point out with strong emphasis that I am extremely worried over the direction the LACC will take post-Verdier. First, the level of corruption and bad governance practices within the public sector, that is, the government has not improved since Verdier took helm of the LACC. Realistically, Verdier and his team of Commissioners have not been able to fully execute Part V, Section 5.2 of the LACC Act, with respect to its “Functions” as listed below: (a) To investigate all acts of corruption discovered or reported to have occurred in the public, private, and civil society sectors of Liberia subsequent to the passage of this Act with the aim of identifying the person(s) and the extent of the loss of or damage to any public and/or private property as a result of the subject act of corruption; (b) To investigate the conduct of any person, irrespective of office or status, natural or otherwise, if the conduct of the person(s) constitute corruption; (c) To examine and investigate any information, matter or report that indicates or raises suspicion that the conduct, action or decision of a public or private official in line of official duty and in the context of the definition of corruption herein provided; (d) To cause the prosecution in coordination with the Ministry of Justice, all cases of corruption in the manner provided in this Act; (e) To develop and/or adopt appropriate measures consistent with law to identify, trace and freeze any assets and/or proceeds of acts of corruption and ensure the confiscation, in court of law, of said assets and proceeds there from; (f) To serve as the agency of Government of Liberia authorized to make and receive requests for the purpose of international mutual legal assistance in the fight against corruption; (g) To adopt, design and/or implement appropriate administrative and legal measures as well as educational programs aimed at eradicating and preventing acts of corruption; (h) To advise and assist public, private and civil society institutions relative to designing and implementing procedures and systems that are appropriate to reducing the likelihood of the occurrence of corruption; (i) To encourage and foster the effective participation of civil society organizations and the entire nation in the fight against corruption, and in so doing work with them in developing sensitization programs about both the ills of corruption and the benefits of preventing, fighting and eradicating corruption; (j) To serve as the agency of Government of Liberia with primary responsibility for the investigation of all acts of corruption and, in so doing, to promote and coordinate the collaboration of all law enforcement agencies of government in the discharge of their activities as they relate to combating corruption, including but not limited to: (1) Tracing and monitoring the movement and whereabouts of persons accused of being involved in acts of corruption, and (2) building data-banks, maintaining of data bases, and sharing the contents of the data on persons or organizations convicted of acts of corruption without violating the fundamental rights of person (s) or organization(s) as enshrined in the Constitution of the Republic of Liberia; (k) To conduct research, survey and related studies about both (1) the dimensions, manifestations, and causes and effects of corruption; and (2) the practices, procedures and systems of governance and management that need to be adopted and promoted to combat, eradicate and prevent acts of corruption; (l) To lead the implementation of the Anti-corruption Strategy of Liberia, including the Code of Conduct for Liberian Public Servants; (m) To carry out and discharge any and all of its functions and operating procedures to be established hereafter by the Commission in accordance with law. As you can see from the above, unless the functions of the LACC are rigorously, robustly and expeditiously discharged without fear or favor, the fight against corruption and/or acts of fraud, waste and abuse of public offices and public resources are unlikely to be achieved in earnest. In this sense, the comparatively highly level of corruption and poor governance practices in the Liberian government since 2014 were or have not been strongly policed and decisively dealt with to a considerable extent by Verdier and his team of Commissioners. Verdier and his team of Commissioners are not to be entirely blamed as the larger political, economic and social contexts of governance in Liberia also matter. That is, “political will” or the demonstrated commitment of political leaders and institutional arrangements, such as the President and executive-agencies, the Vice President, Speaker of the House of Representatives, President Pro-Tempore of the Senate and the entire elected membership of the Legislature (Representatives and Senators), and the Chief Justice and Associate Justices of the Supreme Court and the Judiciary as a body, has been significantly lacking, if not, absence in the fight against corruption and bad governance practices in Liberia. It is not surprising that Liberia is today ranked as one of the most corrupt nations by Transparency International (TI). In fact, TI has noted that Liberia is among four other nations in sub-Saharan Africa that has “experienced sharp declines in their CPI [corruption perception index] scores.” This suggests that Verdier’s tenure as Chairperson of the LACC has not contributed meaningfully to improving Liberia’s poor performances in fighting corruption as perceived, but rather Verdier and his team of Commissioners seemed to have been sitting while Liberia’s CPI scores were failing sharply.

    Meanwhile, events at the Commission headed by Verdier have been sad, if not, troubling. There have been internal squabbles among the Commissioners with some accusing Verdier of serious financial malpractices, corruption and wasteful spending, even though he has rejected the claims. However, the accusations from within the Commission, especially from the Vice Chairperson, Augustine Toe, mean there have been “serious financial issues” at the LACC under Verdier as one staff of the Commission told me. Verdier has not realistically helped himself to gain my vote of confidence for another term; so, I do not think I would advice with boldness that he should be retained as I did with confidence in the case of the former Auditor General John Sembe Morlu, who faced similar situation with his tenure under Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Remember, as Assistant Secretary General of the Press Union of Liberia (PUL), I was a part of the Peter Quaqua leadership which issued a statement declaring the removal or refusal of President Johnson Sirleaf to retain or re-appoint AG Morlu as a “victory for corruption”, because AG Morlu was the lone commander in the battlefield against corruption which Madam Johnson Sirleaf had declared a “public enemy number one”, though this became a “mere posturing” to use her own words. So, with Verdier, corruption has been winning and will likely continue with or without him. This brings me to the worries I have post-Verdier.

    The George Weah administration has shown no strong commitment to the fight against corruption and bad governance practices in Liberia. I fear that once Verdier is out, the LACC which has been already weak, would potentially crumble and become a camouflage of continued abuses of public offices and public resources in the context of fighting corruption and ensuring good governance in Liberia.

    Liberian political leaderships like that of George Weah have a pattern of making empty gestures on the issue of fighting corruption. Like previous administrations, such as those of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Gyude Bryant, Charles Taylor, Samuel Doe, William Tolbert, William Tubman, the administration of George Weah has been very good with the mere rhetoric of fighting corruption. But in practice, this is not what is reflected. Remember, Weah has already made a chain of decisions and practices that undermine transparency, accountability, and responsibility in Liberia.

    To manifest one telling case, Weah’s first nominee for Justice Minister, Charles Gibson, pledged to “dissolve the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission” and “outsource the fight against corruption to private law firms in Liberia” during his confirmation hearing by the Senate. Luckily, Gibson, who considers himself as a “lawyer” with a “private law firm” was himself booked for dubious practices against his client. It speaks much to some of questionable characters with dangerous mindsets that Weah has lined-up to help him govern Liberia.

    I won’t be surprised if the next LACC Chairperson is the very Gibson or someone of his kind who has no regard for institutional arrangements meant to improve the poor quality of lives in Liberia. With or without Verdier, I am tempted to sadly say that Liberia will remain in a deep hole or what Professor Amos Sawyer calls “predatory rule” amid the continuing hopeless attempts to end the plundering and pillaging of public resources. Hope I have tried to answer your short question with a comparatively short answer compared to what you will publish! Thanks for the job, Mr Editor.