January 26, 2024
His Excellency Ambassador Joseph Nyuma Boakai
26th President of the Republic of Liberia
Liberia, West Africa
Ref.: Key Anti-Corruption Efforts and Reforms to Pursue
Kindly accept compliments from the Center for Transparency and Accountability in Liberia (CENTAL), the national chapter of Transparency International (TI). We congratulate you on your ascendency as 26th President of the Republic of Liberia.
Your Excellency, we wish you good health and wisdom, as you lead during this critical period of the Country’s history, whereby, despite appreciable progress, enormous governance and development challenges, amongst others, remain. While we are cognizant of the need for collective efforts of all players to move the country forward, as President and first citizen, we believe you need to provide very strong leadership by leading by example, adhering to the rule of law, setting high standards, and requiring the same of your officials and all others in the Liberian Society.
Mr. President, we welcome your bold public utterances and commitment to tackle corruption, one of the country’s major challenges. At the same time, we look forward to working with your administration to achieve this very important objective, which aligns with the vision and mission of CENTAL. Corruption remains a major governance challenge in Liberia, despite ongoing efforts to address it. Much more efforts are needed, with your office providing the necessary leadership at the top, exhibiting zero-tolerance for corruption and demanding your officials to do likewise through the required lawful administrative and prosecutorial actions.
Mr. President, we need actions that go beyond pronouncements. Leaders before you recognized that corruption is a plague and made several declarations against it. Yet, they did little to match those pronouncements with actions. This inertia has largely contributed to our dismal show in major indices, including the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) of Transparency International, showing a massive decline in the country’s score from 41 in 2012 to 25 in 2023. This is corroborated by our State of Corruption Reports, which indicate that, over the last three years, nine out of ten Liberians believe that corruption is high. Majority of citizens also believe that government’s commitment to tackling corruption is low. Lack of prosecution, rampant allegations of corruption, lack of political will and lack of transparency fuel these perceptions. For instance, government has failed to investigate and prosecute former and current government officials sanctioned by the United States Government for involvement in significant public sector corruption. Besides, corruption allegations involving high-profile public officials have been lingering for many years, with the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission not doing enough to either complete those investigations or prosecute the accused.
Mr. President, the responsibility is now yours to reverse this negative trend. This is because you have made very strong commitments to do so, during the election and recently, while delivering your inaugural address in Monrovia. There are already signs that the necessary conditions exist to support a robust anti-corruption effort. For instance, we have seen members of the House of Representatives voting through a resolution to declare and make their assets public—the publication goes one significant step beyond the declaration requirement. We have heard President Pro Tempore of the Senate, Madam Nyonblee Karnga Lawrence committing to declare and make her assets public within a month. We have heard the Speaker of the House, Cllr. J. Fonati Koffa’s open commitment to subject the House of Representatives to audit. We appreciate the open commitment of our elected officials to respect the tenant of good governance and accountability. While we believe these actions are steps in the right direction, we expect that members of the legislature will not rest on their laurels, but do more to make legislative dealings and activities more transparent.
Like all previous governments, we look forward to working with your administration to enhance the fight against corruption, especially by making impunity for corruption an issue of the past. We wish to recommend the following, which are important actions your administration can take, working collaboratively with other actors, to robustly tackle corruption and bad governance in Liberia:
- Lead by example and set very high standards for your officials and others to follow —There can be no successful fight against corruption if the Presidency does not lead by example, in words and in practice. Immediate past presidents made flowery speeches about fighting corruption. However, they could not follow them up by the required practical actions, such as timely declaring and publishing their assets, incomes and liabilities and taking timely and decisive administrative actions against officials accused of corruption. The office of the President, Vice President, Speaker, Deputy Speaker, President Pro-Tempore, and Chief Justice must take the first steps by fully complying with the law and requiring all other public officials to do so. Over the years, compliance with the law has been grossly weak and disappointing. Weakness in making full use of assets declared by public officials has rendered the process nearly meaningless. Besides, the declaration process has not been holistic, as the vast majority of senators and representatives have not been compliant with the law. We encourage you to lead by example by providing the necessary financial, moral, and logistical support to LACC to fully implement the law, covering all branches of the Liberian Government.
- Support public integrity institutions- If your administration must succeed in the fight against corruption, anti- graft institutions must not be left to fight alone. Your strong leadership and moral and financial support will be critical to help them succeed in pursuing their objectives. In time past, integrity institutions with specific mandates around anti-corruption have been undermined with matters falling in their domain referred to ad-hoc committees or other authorities. Sadly, said investigations lead to little or no outcome. Recognizing and supporting institutions with specific mandates would be key. To this end, we encourage you to reconsider your decision to outsource audit functions to international firms. Resources have been invested in the General Auditing Commission (GAC) and Internal Audit Agency (IAA) over the years. Any perceived gaps should be assessed and addressed, including through support by international firms. But ignoring these institutions outrightly serves to interfere with their mandates and continues the pattern of undermining began by your predecessors. We must add that these same institutions have been commissioned by donors to audit projects they fund. Assuming they lacked the capacity and professionalism required, we are convinced that international partners would not leverage their expertise.
Also, budgetary support to these institutions have been less than adequate. In many instances, salaries and administrative costs comprise the lion’s share of their budgets, with minimal amounts left for operations and programs. Additionally, Reports and recommendations from these institutions should be taken seriously, to send a very strong message to corrupt and would-be individuals and groups that corruption will no longer be tolerated in Liberia, especially in government and under your leadership. Having strong anti-graft institutions requires adequate moral, operational, and capacity support, which we encourage your administration to provide.
- Timely establish the office of Ombudsman to oversee implementation of the Code of Conduct for Public Officials – Passed in 2014 and amended in 2022, the Code of Conduct for Public Officials sets standards for what public officials and servants should do and not do. Due to the lack of political will, the Ombudsman has not been made functional. This has undermined enforcement of the law. For example, in April 2022, based on jurisdictional reasons, the Sixth Judicial Circuit Court at the Temple of Justice or Criminal “C” dismissed the indictment against National Elections Commission Chairperson, Davidetta Browne Lansanah, citing lack of jurisdiction. The Court opined that the LACC lacked the legal capacity to take unto itself the function of the Ombudsman in assuming original jurisdiction to investigate alleged violations of the Code of Conduct. The case would have been different, had the Ombudsman been appointed and staffed. Also, the absence of the Ombudsman has led to widespread abuses of public office during elections. As this void has been lingering for many years, we call on your administration to fully constitute and support the body to effectively and efficiently perform.
- Timely and impartial investigation and prosecution of corruption complaints/cases –Impunity for corruption remains very high in Liberia, thus undermining the fight against corruption. Credit to the Weah-led administration for passing additional anti-corruption laws such the ones on Witness Protection, Whistleblowing, and giving of direct prosecutorial power to the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission. However, the laws have not been scrupulously enforced for the good of the public. Many corruption cases involving high-profile former government officials are lingering, without adequate action (s). We call on your administration to follow through on your promise to make impunity for corruption an issue of the past. Encourage zero tolerance for corruption by fully supporting the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission and other anti-graft agencies to fully and independently implement their mandates. Besides, where necessary, suspend and dismiss officials of government accused of grave incidences of corruption, to send a very strong message/signal to others wanting to do likewise.
5.Investigate and prosecute former government officials sanctioned for Corruption – Over the last six years, the United States Government, under the Global Manitsky Act, sanctioned several government officials for corruption that undermined public interest. Of the 7 officials, only Andrew Wonploe, the former Passport Director, was taken to court. However, the government failed to pursue the case, leaving the court with no option but to drop the case. The lack of action from the government led to some of the sanctioned officials participating in and winning seats in the just-ended elections, mainly senatorial seats in Margibi, Nimba, and Rivercess Counties respectively. We strongly encourage your government to seek the support of the U.S. Government to investigate and where necessary prosecute those concerned, to bring closure to these matters. Furthermore, we ask your administration to take seriously and act on any allegations of corruption against your officials, including those emanating from citizens, civil society, media, and major development partners such as the U.S. Government.
- Prevent and Address Budget Corruption –The national budget is the primary tool for development, as it is that which the government uses to match its promises with reality, in terms of what is funded and to what degree. Hence, the integrity of the budget process is extremely important, as it will give hope to citizens and ensure that their taxes and other resources are being wisely allocated, expended, and accounted for. However, this has not always been the case, as the budget has been manipulated by actors in the executive and legislature to the detriment of the state. A classic example is when lawmakers orchestrate the inclusion of budget items, which often do not reach the target beneficiaries or institutions, but get diverted, following passage of the budget. Other key players include their private facilities in the budget for direct support, a conflict of interest that hurts the country. We call on your administration to work with the legislature to avert this situation. The national budget must work for all and not few persons in privileged positions, especially the lawmakers and agents of the executive associated with the budget process. Strong leadership from your office will be extremely important in robustly dealing with this situation, Mr. President.
- There should be no room for sacred cows in your administration — Too often, individuals have abused their proximity to the Presidency to disadvantage their colleagues and other citizens, in part through engaging into wide-scale corruption. Often than not, the perpetrators go with impunity, because of limited political will and poor decision-making by the Presidency. Your administration should not shield any individual accused of wrong doing (s), especially those perceived to be among your “kitchen cabinet”. This is where Liberians and development partners will see your true leadership and determination to tackle corruption. Your stance against members of your inner circle accused of corruption and misdealing will tell if your promised fight against corruption is genuine or not.
- Strengthen partnership with civil society and the media in fighting corruption and other issues— Most times, the work of civil society and the media is misconstrued. While there are bad apples among these institutions, the majority work to seek public interest and the good of the country. We encourage your administration to forge strong and mutually-beneficial partnerships with civil society and the media to fight against corruption and promote the culture of accountability, transparency, and integrity in Liberia, especially in Government. The Center for Transparency and Accountability in Liberia welcomes your promise to work with civil society and the media. We commit to playing our required independent research, capacity building, policy advocacy, and other relevant roles, in this regard.
- Audit all branches of government and Implement Audit Reports and Recommendations from the General Auditing Commission—We note with grave concern the very limited action on or utilization of audit reports to hold individuals accountable for their misdeeds. This has seriously affected the morale and work of the General Auditing Commission. Over the last few years, the number of audits conducted by the General Auditing Commission has significantly increased. However, these reports are still not fully utilized to hold those accountable for their actions against the state and the public. Further, there is no record that the Legislature has been audited, especially in the post-war era. We also have not seen audit reports affecting the Judiciary. The law requires audit of all institutions receiving public funds and these branches of government should not be exempted. Further, as these branches play a key role in holding officials accountable for corruption, it is important that they take the lead by being regularly audited. Also, we encourage more actions on reports produced by anti-graft and integrity institutions, as they are foundations for serious accountability and transparency-related decisions and efforts. The more audits and other reports are used to hold people accountable, the more motivated the Commission and other institutions become to perform or deliver on their mandates.
We conclude by reemphasizing the importance of the Presidency to provide true leadership in the fight against corruption and bad governance in Liberia. Once the top leads by example, the message is bound to filter down to your appointed officials and those elected. CENTAL recommits to maintaining her stance against corruption and bad governance in Liberia. With the support of Transparency International, our donors, citizens, and partners with whom we work, we promise to remain robust, constructive, and engaging, in supporting well-meaning efforts to tackle corruption and other governance challenges in Liberia.
Anderson D. Miamen