President George Weah has signed into law a legislation that critics say will be used to suppress the fight against corruption in Liberia.
The law, which is a restatement of the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) 2008 Act, has been slammed by civil society organizations, opposition senators and the current chairperson of Cllr. Edwin Martin as having been dangerously “repealed” with the intent of undermining strides being made at LACC to expose alleged corrupt officials.
Critics of the legislation claimed that it represents a broader attack on the fight against corruption in a country that is already corrupt; and would undermine the gains made by the current LACC leadership in exposing corruption in the executive.
Martin, the current LACC chairperson, has gone even further with his criticism, threatening to sue the Weah administration once the Act, which seeks to re-establish an entirely new anti-graft commission, becomes law. It is unclear if he will move as intended, now that the act has become law.
“We are taken aback by the conduct of the Legislature to do a restatement of the law which, in itself, is to dissolve, abrogate and negate the relevant and the adequate effectiveness of the 2008 Act,” Martin said in an exclusive interview with the Daily Observer nearly a week ago. “I will challenge the new law in court. You cannot dissolve a tenured position to create another. Their action is not only a violation of the law but it provides a signal for a witch-hunt.”
The LACC restated act envisages the creation of a new anti-graft institution, which would result in the elimination of all existing LACC workforce, expanded scope of operation and a direct and immediate prosecutorial power, which the current LACC presently has, but with restrictions.
This, however, would create serious financial implications for the government, which is already facing resource constraints since the new LACC will require re-staffing as well as payment of existing commissioners and contract staff for the remainder of their tenures.
Part XVI of the restated LACC act, titled Transitional Provision, states that all “commissioners now serving the LACC shall remain in office after the enactment of this new law until their successors are appointed, but each is eligible to apply and be subjected to the appointment procedure provided for this law.”
Additionally, under the transitional provision of the Act, Commissioners now serving the LACC shall remain in office after the enactment of this new law until their successors are appointed, “but each is eligible to apply and be subjected to the appointment procedure provided for by this law.”
The legislature’s decision to wholly restate the LACC 2008 law came when Weah requested in 2021 that the legislature adopt a ‘minor adjustment’ to the act to give the commission direct power to prosecute.
But the legislature chose to abolish the statute altogether rather than amend it — even though the move granted the re-established LACC direct prosecutorial power.
The legislation, however, severely reduced the competence of the re-established LACC, contrary to what is allowed for in section 4.1(e) of the Commission’s 2008 Act.
The old law allows the LACC “to cause the freezing of assets of a person or persons being investigated or prosecuted for alleged act or acts of corruption; provided the freezing of asset or assets of any accused person or persons is, at all times, authorized by a prior order or warrant issued by a Court of competent jurisdiction.”
But this is no longer the case, as the legislature waters down said power in section 4.1(e) by restricting such freeze action to person(s) representing flight risk or those who have fled the bailiwick of the Republic of Liberia — imposing immense constraints and complications in the exercise of said power.
In the repealed legislation, the legislature also moves to limit people’s access to information as well as LACC’s openness and responsibility to the public and stakeholders: The new law (Section 10.9) limits the Commission by imposing unreasonable secrecy, which prevents it from sharing fundamental information with the public about its interactions until an indictment is issued.
Such a clause, according to critics, unjustifiably limits the Commission's capacity to connect with the public and provide updates on the progress of current investigations, which is more than required for openness, accountability, and other relevant reasons that best serve the public interest.
Critics, including Martin, have stated that the new legislation is only meant to violate the Liberian people’s right to know and understand the activities of the LACC in prosecuting suspected public officials who are discovered in the act of stealing public assets and resources.
The LACC boss, ahead of the President signing the restated act into law, has argued that the law in question would never be in the best interests of the country, but only of a small group of people who do not want to see corruption cease or curtailed in Liberia.
He noted that the sole flaw in the LACC Act of 2008 is the absence of prosecutorial authority for the Commission to move to court without the Ministry of Justice’s three-month (90-day) review clause on cases presented by LACC. But his criticism falls on deaf ears as the President has now signed the LACC act into law.
Additional provisions of the act include the number of Commissioners, which has been increased from five to seven with the process of appointment of the Commissioners, starting from nomination by an Ad Hoc Committee composed of representatives of the General Auditing Commission, the Governance Commission, the Liberia National Bar Association, the Press Union of Liberia, Liberia Business Association, Anti-Corruption Advocacy Civil Society Organizations, the Liberian Institute of Certified Public Accountants, and the donor community.
The Act further stated that at least fourteen candidates shall be presented by the Ad Hoc Committee from which list the President of Liberia shall nominate seven for presentation to the Liberian Senate for confirmation proceedings.
“The Commission shall be appointed for terms of office, but the terms shall be staggered to ensure that the terms of office of all Commissioners don’t end at the same time. The LACC shall have all powers and authority in its operations and also provide for financial autonomy; it prohibits interference in the affairs and operations of the Commission by any person.”