Recent comments by US Ambassador McCarthy expressing concerns about pervasive corruption in Liberia, even in this government, should be welcomed and not condemned.
Ambassador McCarthy traced the roots of corruption in Liberia to the founding of Liberia in 1822 under the auspices of the American Colonization Society. While some officials of this government have expressed strong disagreement with Ambassador McCarthy, the hard fact remains that just about 50 years following the Declaration of Independence in 1847, the then President of the Republic, Edward James Roye was in 1871, deposed in a bloody coup d’etat on charges of corruption.
Barely 50 years later, the Liberian government under the leadership of President Charles Dunbar Burgess King found itself in a crisis of unprecedented proportions. Faced with severe economic pressure and charges of forced labor akin to slavery, (the Fernando Po crisis) from the League of Nations, President King, and his Vice President Allen Yancy were forced to resign in 1930.
Barely another 50 years later, in 1980, the government of President William Richard Tolbert was overthrown in a bloody military coup d’etat. And despite having publicly executed 17 former officials on charges of corruption, the military junta proved to be even more corrupt than the government it had overthrown.
It commissioned the writing of a new Constitution but the junta leader, Master Sergeant Samuel K. Doe, bastardized the new draft Constitution, making sure to insert provisions to guarantee impunity. Only ten years later, in 1990, the military government was toppled by ragtag rebel armies led by Charles Taylor and Prince Johnson.
But whatever lessons learned or should have been learned was/is the danger that CORRUPTION and IMPUNITY pose to long term national stability and peace.
However, from all indications, it appears that there were or have been little or no lessons learned from the past. Just what is wrong with us is the question many Liberians have asked themselves over and over, time and time again. Former Vice President Bennie Dee Warner once said, “what’s wrong with us is us”.
That expression gained some traction and before long, the expression became trite-virtual catch-words for apologists of a corrupt ruling order and their hanger-ons.
According to them, even in the highly developed United States of America, there is corruption so what about underdeveloped Liberia, they argue. It is indeed true that there is corruption in the United States of America. But unlike Liberia where disrespect and disregard for the rule of law is rampant, the United States of America has laws that regulate the conduct of public officials while in office and those laws are enforced without regard for persons.
Public sector corruption in Liberia, for example, has been in the past and continues to be an issue of heightened public concern.
The case of the alleged missing L$16 billion, the US$25 million infusion and mop up exercise, the letter to GoL from the diplomatic community demanding restitution of money illegally withdrawn from their account, are but a few examples.
The Legislative, Judicial, and Executive branches of government are all publicly perceived to be riddled with corruption just as in predecessor governments as well. During the tenure of President Sirleaf, under the watch of the Executive and Legislature, 64 out of a total of 66 Concession Agreements signed into law were all bogus and they are haunting this nation today.
Although President Sirleaf in her first inaugural address solemnly pledged to fight corruption and treat it as enemy number ONE, she faltered.
She would later admit to failure declaring that Corruption had become a VAMPIRE. Family members and other close-knit friends including her officials were all reported to be heavily linked to corruption. According to the US State Department and other Human Rights Reports, corruption in Liberia especially in the public sector is rampant.
Bribery of Judicial officials, including Judges, is pervasive. Such corruption in the Judiciary was a principal contributory factor to the US Treasury Department sanctioning Grand Cape Mount Senator Varney Sherman under the Magnitsky Act.
In other instances, public officials, according to the state Department Report, routinely violate the Public Financial Management Law (PFM) with impunity. Currently, the economy is in a tailspin and downward slide with no signs of recovery on the horizon anytime soon.
Meanwhile, public officials continue to indulge in extravagant and wasteful spending, often flaunting their wealth in the faces of the people.
Public officials, according to many Liberians spoken to, appear obsessed with the accumulation of wealth by whatever means necessary, even if it means open stealing in broad daylight.
And there is a growing public perception, rightly or wrongly, that officials of this government appear prepared to do anything and everything including the use of violence to maintain its hold on power in order to preserve their ill-gotten wealth.
To recall, recent legislative and senatorial by-elections have been attended by violence resulting in serious injuries to persons and destruction of property. The Police, according to reports, have in most cases been unresponsive and perpetrators of such violence have often gone with impunity.
Against this backdrop, there are plausible reasons to assume that the 2023 elections will be violence-prone. In the opinion of the Daily Observer, officials of this government, especially President Weah, should step back for a moment and deeply reflect on the wider implications of Ambassador McCarthy’s statement.
No foreign Ambassador needs to tell the Liberian people that hospitals in Liberia lack drugs or that Liberians are suffering. Liberians know it because they feel it on a daily basis. Ambassador McCarthy’s statement is therefore a wake-up call to either “straighten up and fly right” or be prepared to face the consequences of being voted out of office in a little over a year from now.
Remember how Darius Dillon brushed aside Thomas Fallah although Fallah had spent lavishly to the point where he was jokingly referred to as an ATM machine? And lest it is forgotten, no one should harbor any illusions that the Liberian people will be cowed into submission by the threat or use of force when the time comes.