LIBERIA – A U.S. Embassy official has disclosed that the United States government is very much aware of the realities of corruption in Liberia, saying because of the realities of corruption, Liberia is in the bottom 25 percent of nations globally in the Corruption Perceptions Index.
Mr. Joel Maybury, the Charge d’Affaires of the U.S. Embassy in Monrovia then referenced a recent report by one of Liberia’s anti-corruption watchdogs the Center for Transparency and Accountability in Liberia (CENTAL) that showed 90 percent of Liberians rate the level of corruption as high, and nearly two-thirds of Liberians lack faith in the government’s commitment to fighting corruption.
The U.S. Embassy official pointed out that corruption diverts public resources from necessary improvements in the quality and accessibility of crucial services, inhibits foreign investment, dampens prospects for private sector-led economic growth, and undermines the rule of law.
Adding, “It also blunts the effectiveness and impact of the billions of dollars of U.S. government assistance provided since the end of the civil war. This is one reason why the Biden-Harris Administration launched a new U.S. Strategy for Countering Corruption, signaling America’s renewed commitment to focus on addressing the corruption problem in countries like Liberia.”
Mr. Maybury speaking recently at the Center for Security Studies and Development in Monrovia said he was glad to speak on the topic of corruption and the way forward to address it in Liberia.
He commended CSSDI for bringing everyone together to focus on corruption and how it is standing in the way of Liberia’s development, adding, “I also commend the Center for producing Liberia’s First Civil Society Report on the Implementation of the UN Convention Against Corruption. It is full of important findings and critical recommendations.”
Mr. Maybury continued: “Today’s workshop is titled, “Strategizing to Ensure Speedy Passage of the Anti-Corruption Bills Submitted to the National Legislature by the Executive.” This is not just an important topic, but also a fitting one as there are important anti-corruption bills being developed and I encourage the lawmakers to present here today to give them timely and considered attention. I hope the day ahead is fruitful in putting together a plan for action to move these important initiatives forward.”
At the same time, the U.S. Embassy official said that it is critical that attention is paid to implementing those laws which are already in existence.
According to him, passing new legislation will help, but it is the lack of political will to fight corruption that is the real reason why corruption is such a powerful force in Liberia today, noting that Liberia’s Public Financial Management Act has established solid financial management reporting requirements for government entities.
In addition, he said Liberia’s Code of Conduct requires that public officials declare their assets. Unfortunately, Mr. Maybury noted many of these requirements – including issuing basic financial statements – are routinely ignored by the Weah-led government entities.
“These statements are an essential step to account for resources. They are an important first measure to prevent and control financial mismanagement and corruption. The absence of these foundational documents opens the door to corrupt practices. In addition, we have seen that the good audit work conducted by the General Auditing Commission, which flags possible areas of corruption, often goes ignored by the legislature and the government,” Mr. Maybury added.
According to a U.S. Embassy official, the Biden administration encourages more robust oversight of all levels of government to uphold standards of accountability as defined under Liberian law, lamenting, “When corruption is uncovered, the responsible parties should be prosecuted – again as defined under Liberian law.”
Mr. Maybury further said, “In the end, if we are not serious about prosecuting those alleged to have committed crimes of public corruption and truly holding each other accountable, our collective development initiatives, no matter how well-intentioned and properly designed, will fail to produce sustainable results.”
“I would like to highlight that in some areas there is important work being done. In particular, I congratulate the Internal Audit Agency and the General Auditing Commission for their diligence in conducting audits and in producing high-quality audit reports. These watchdog organizations play a critical role in identifying irregularities and potential corruption.”
Unfortunately, he said there is no follow-up on these audit reports and there are rarely any legislative hearings about audit findings as required under existing Liberian law. This is truly a missed opportunity.
“As I speak today, we are halfway through the “Year of Action” following U.S. President Biden’s first Summit for Democracy. The summit, held in December 2021, brought together democratic leaders from around the world, including Liberia, to recommit to strengthening democratic principles and practices. A key theme of the summit was the importance of combatting corruption which President Biden has stated is “nothing less than a national security threat in the 21st”.
He narrated that President Weah participated in this Summit for Democracy and, like the leaders from the United States and other countries around the world, President Weah committed Liberia to implement key pledges including amending the Anti-Corruption Act to grant direct prosecutorial powers; proposing legislation for the establishment of an anti-corruption court; and committing to fairness, transparency, and accountability in election funding.
“These commitments are commendable, but it is not enough to commit. The commitments must be implemented. Or as we like to say, “Actions speak louder than words,” Mr. Maybury stressed.
He concluded that this year of action is a key opportunity in Liberia for the government – as well as civil society and the private sector – to work together to cultivate a democracy based on integrity and accountability that delivers for all Liberians. The United States Government continues to be firmly committed to assisting you in these efforts.