Persistent calls for the fight against corruption in Liberia continue with the US Chargé d’Affaires in Liberia, Joel Maybury, challenging the administration of President George Manneh Weah to uphold standards of accountability and prosecute people responsible for acts of corruption in line with the rule of law.
The Deputy Chief of Mission spoke on June 23, at a stakeholders’ consultative gathering hosted by the Center for Security Studies and Development (CSSD) on corruption and its impact on Liberia. In his remarks, Maybury said not only the general public but the U.S. government is very well aware of the realities of corruption in Liberia.
“We are all very much aware of the realities of corruption in Liberia. The country is now in the bottom 25 percent of nations globally in the Corruption Perceptions Index. A recent report by the Center for Transparency and Accountability in Liberia showed that 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,” said.
The U.S. diplomat admonished that a “consideration for a more robust oversight of all levels of government to uphold standards of accountability as defined under Liberian law and that when corruption is uncovered, the responsible parties should be prosecuted — again as defined under Liberian law.”
“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,” Maybury added.
He continued that corruption “also blunts the effectiveness and impact of the billions of dollars of US 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 our renewed commitment to focus on addressing this problem in countries like Liberia.”
He noted that corruption is standing in the way of Liberia’s development and if nothing is done to curtail it, the post-war country might continue to tread on the path of underdevelopment.
“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 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.”
He said it is critical that attention is paid to implementing the laws which are already in existence, nothing more than 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. Maybury mentioned that Liberia’s Public Financial Management Act has established solid financial management reporting requirements for government entities but using the requirements to execute those financial reporting requirements is vital.
“In addition, Liberia’s Code of Conduct requires that public officials declare their assets. Unfortunately, many of these requirements — including issuing basic financial statements — are routinely ignored by 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,” he said.
Maybury emphasized that the absence of these foundational documents opens the door to corrupt practices and that there are records of good audit work conducted by the General Auditing Commission, which flags possible areas of corruption, but often goes ignored by the legislature and the government in general.
He commended the GAC and the Internal Audit Agency (IAA) for the good job they are doing as integrity government institutions.
“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, 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,” the U.S. diplomat said.
He expressed his disconcert that in the end, if the Liberian government is not serious about prosecuting those alleged to have committed crimes of public corruption and truly holding each other accountable, collective development initiatives, no matter how well-intentioned and properly designed, will fail to produce sustainable results.
“As I speak today, we are halfway through the ‘Year of Action’, following US 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 combating corruption which President Biden has stated is “nothing less than a national security threat in the 21st century.”
He reminded the audience President Weah participated in this Summit for Democracy and, like the leaders from the United States and other countries around the world, he 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.
He added that “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.”
He said 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 and that the United States Government continues to be firmly committed to assisting Liberia in these efforts.
He thanked CSSD for the gathering and expressed hope that such gathering continues to be a priority so as to provide more opportunities for not only learning but reflecting on whether or not the Liberian government is making strides in the fight against corruption.
Maybury’s recent open rebuke of the Weah administration for its failure to fight corruption was not the first of its kind as he registered his personal opinion as well as the opinion of the US government, condemning a decision by a court not to prosecute NEC chairperson on the basis of technicalities rather than the merit of the matter in which she was indicted by the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) for alleged misappropriation of almost US$200,000.
Maybury then said that when the rule of law breaks down in a country, development remains a far-fetched reality. He is not alone in this vocal approach to the issue of corruption as his boss, Ambassador Michael McCarthy in April alarmed that Liberia is failing in the fight against corruption. The US Ambassador said, “it is sickening to know that the country remains one of the poorest in the world despite its wealth potential to become successful.”
“It's been a problem for Liberia for 200 years and other countries that have a similar problem -- at some point realized that corruption was a problem at the time and decided that this was no longer acceptable. For whoever receives a bribe someone paid the bribe,” Ambassador McCarthy added.