LIBERIA – The Center for Transparency and Accountability in Liberia (CENTAL), has called for the audit of the Liberia Institute of Statistics and Geo-Information Services (LISGIS).
Speaking during a press conference today, CENTAL boss, says the accounts of LISGIS be audited by the General Auditing Commission, especially those containing the Census funds from which the reported questionable disbursements/payments have been made.
Such Audit should be immediate and timely and the recommendations fully implemented to ensure proper accountability of public resources and assets, according to CENTAL.
CENTAL also recommends that President George Weah dismisses other officials of LISGIS named in the LACC investigative report.
“Those equally responsible for the mess at LISGIS cannot be allowed to continue presiding over activities related to the Census, including Mr. Lawrence George who has been named by the President to act as head of the institution”, says CENTAL.
See full text below.
Members of the fourth estate, for several months, the Liberia Institute for Statistics and Geo-Information Services (LISGIS) has been at the center of controversies, claims, counterclaims, and multiple allegations of corruption and financial malpractices. Of course, these developments have not augured well for the reputation of LISGIS, an institution that should be seen and known for credibility and integrity in collecting, processing, and communicating critical data and information for the country. That LISGIS presides over statistical processes in Liberia means that, at all times, its officials should exercise extreme caution in performing their duties to continuously enjoy the confidence of the public and partners.
However, this has not been the case for several months. The institution has been in the media for all the wrong reasons, mainly gross incompetence in managing activities and processes related to the delayed National Housing and Population Census. Additionally, multiple acts of corruption and financial malpractices reported by the media and even highly-placed individuals within LISGIS have not been treated with the required urgency by the President of Liberia, the Board of Directors and the Legislature. This is extremely sad.
In March 2022, the Liberian Media reported financial malpractices involving the top management and other executives of LISGIS, including but not limited to the Director General, Mr. Francis Wreh, Deputy Director General for Administration, Mr. Lawrence Geroge, Deputy Director General for Information and Coordination, Mr. Wilmot Smith and Comptroller, Mr. Dominic Paye. Meanwhile, following months of thorough investigation, in June 2022, the Liberia Anti-Corruption Corruption forwarded a comprehensive report to the Government of Liberia, through the Ministry of Justice for indictment and prosecution of those concerned.
Since then, the Board of LISGIS, the Ministry of Justice, and the Liberian Presidency have not acted on the report. Instead, the investigated officials were allowed to continue presiding over LISGIS and activities and processes related to the long-awaited Census. Not only that, individuals closely connected to some members of the Board of LISGIS’ are reported to have received huge payments for so-called consulting and other services provided to the institution.
This leads us to believe that the current Board of Directors is complicit in the unfortunate developments at LISGIS, as they have not shown strong leadership in decisively dealing with these matters. In part, the result is what the world witnessed on Friday, November 11, 2022, when President George Weah declared a National Holiday for Liberians to stay home and be counted, despite LISGIS not being prepared to begin the counting process.
Fellow Liberians, although belated, CENTAL welcomes the decision of President Weah to dismiss Mr. Wilmot Smith, one of the individuals primarily responsible for the mess created at LISGS, which has brought so much embarrassment to the Liberians, the Government, and the Country at large. Had the President listened to earlier recommendations from citizens, civil society, and other stakeholders for the dismissal and prosecution of those accused and investigated for multiple acts of corruption, the problems at the institution would not have degenerated to the current level.
Hence, while we welcome the President’s dismissal decision, we strongly believe that the action is limited in scope. It should be broadened to include all those who have been at the center of alleged and confirmed incidences of corruption and incompetence at the institution, including the Director General, the Comptroller, and other officials. Liberians deserve better from their government and those entrusted with specific responsibilities, the officials of LISGIS in this instant case.
Therefore, we wish to recommend the following as measures that will help to restore public trust and confidence in LISGIS, especially activities and processes related to conducting of the 2022 Census:
- That the accounts of LISGIS be audited by the General Auditing Commission, especially those containing the Census funds from which the reported questionable disbursements/payments have been made. Such Audit should be immediate and timely and the recommendations fully implemented to ensure proper accountability of public resources and assets.
- That President George Weah dismisses other officials of LISGIS named in the LACC investigative report. Those equally responsible for the mess at LISGIS cannot be allowed to continue presiding over activities related to the Census, including Mr. Lawrence George who has been named by the President to at act as head of the institution.
- That the Ministry of Justice be mandated by the President to timely act on the June 2022 investigative report from the Liberian Anti-Corruption Commission covering corruption allegations against the leadership of LISGIS. Had the recommendations of the LACC’s Report been fully implemented, the worsening state of the mess at LISGIS would have been averted.
- That the President of Liberia establishes an independent panel/committee with a mandate to review the entire preparatory processes around the Census to identify and recommend solutions to existing gaps that may further undermine the robustness, integrity and sanctity of the 2022 Census. Such committee should comprise of credible Liberians, civil society organizations, the Religious Community and other players not currently involved with the work of LISGIS.
- That the Board of Directors be warned against getting directly involved with dealings of the institution. Reports of individuals closely connected to some members of the Board of LISGIS receiving consultancy services from the institution undermines their ability to make timely and independent decision (s) on critical issues bordering on the entity.
We conclude by urging the President of Liberia to be more decisive and roust in dealing with corruption and other administrative malpractices when reported at any government institution, especially when such matters have been investigated by the Liberian Anti-Corruption Commission. The President’s poor handling of the initial issues reported equally contributed to and exacerbated the situation at LISGIS.