Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (EITI), a global integrity watchdog that promotes the open and accountable management of extractive resources, has suspended Liberia’s membership due to the “country’s failure to publish the EITI report for the fiscal period ending June 2016 within the first week of the July 1, 2018 deadline.”
The decision to suspend the Liberia Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (LEITI), which brings the country’s integrity into question and threatens its chances of attracting foreign investors, was reached by the EITI Board on September 4.
According to an EITI release, the decision followed a request by the government to extend the reporting deadline set by the EITI Standard.
The release quotes the transparency group’s Acting Executive Director, Eddie Rich, as saying that the Board found that Liberia’s request did not meet the criteria for granting an extension.
“It is unfortunate that Liberia missed its reporting deadline. We are hoping that this is a temporary setback,” Rich said, adding that EITI encourages the government to consult all the relevant stakeholders and ensure that they are adequately represented in Liberia’s EITI multi-stakeholders group, in accordance with the EITI Standard.”
Although Rich assured that the International Secretariat is ready to support Liberia, it is not clear as to what sort of support can help Liberia in this direction.
The LEITI has been engulfed with controversies since the CDC-led administration came into power early this year. This stemmed from the “illegal appointment” President George Weah made at that integrity entity.
The President, on March 5, 2018, announced former Montserrado County Representative Gabriel Nyenkan as the new head of Secretariat, replacing Konah Karmo, who was appointed by the Multi-Stakeholders Steering Group (MSG) of LEITI in 2014, following a competitive vetting of the applicant.
The President’s controversial appointment did not only spark a barrage of criticisms locally, but has also been initially reproached by international stakeholders, with the global anti-graft institution Global Witness (GW) calling for an immediate withdrawal of the nominee.
Before Global Witness condemnation, a local civil society group, the Center for Transparency and Accountability (CENTAL), also publicly criticized President Weah’s appointment of Nyenkan as LEITI’s Head of Secretariat.
CENTAL’s Executive Director Anderson Miamen said in a press release that the sanctity and credibility of integrity institutions must remain intact or else stakeholders will withdraw their support.
“The government, especially President Weah, must do nothing to undermine that, whether directly or indirectly,” Miamen said.
He said that the President overstepped the limits of his authority by ascribing to his office unassigned powers; “something which is worrisome and must have no place in the new Liberia.”
“The rule of law is a fundamental pillar of our maturing democracy, and such arbitrariness has the propensity to reverse gains made in strengthening governance and the rule of law in the country,” Miamen said.
But the President’s office defended his decision, indicating that he did nothing wrong. President Weah defended his action at a news conference recently in Monrovia when he said, “I have broken no law.”
The President said he was exercising his constitutional power in making an appointment at the LEITI, as the Liberian Constitution gives him the power to appoint officials of various agencies of the government.
However, with the latest development at the LEITI, its parent body, EITI, said with its set standard, the Board will lift the suspension once Liberia’s outstanding Report is endorsed by MSG and published within six months of the deadline (i.e. by December 31, 2018.)
The EITI Board said the extension requests had not been endorsed by Liberia’s MSG, as the group has not been reconstituted since the end of its term in October 2017.
The Board has, however, called on the government to reconstitute the MSG and revitalize the implementation of the EITI in partnership with industries and civil society organizations.
The EITI Board also declined Liberia’s request for an extension of its second validation deadline, noting that the request did not meet the criteria for an extension either.
In taking its decision, the Board noted that a reconstituted MSG could take stock of progress, publish the outstanding EITI Report, and consider whether to submit a request to delay the commencement of validation.
Liberia was one of the first countries to implement the EITI, and the progress it showed over the years was instrumental in the development of the EITI Standard in 2013. In 2016, Liberia demonstrated that it was making meaningful progress in implementing the standard.
It can be recalled that armed police accompanied Mr. Nyenkan to the LEITI office near the Executive Mansion, to ensure that Mr. Karmo hand over to him.
The police officers, Nyenkan said, were invited because Karmoh had refused to respect the President’s order as his post was a tenure contract given to him by the MSG.
Karmoh was hired by the MSG after a competitive recruitment process involving other Liberians.
After the drama at the LEITI offices at the time, the MSG had an emergency meeting and called on President Weah to reconsider his decision, to “enable the entity fully focus on the crucial task at hand before the country’s next validation due in a few months.”
In its statement, Global Witness said: “President Weah must immediately withdraw his appointment of Gabriel Nyenkan, allowing Konah Karmo to resume his duties as LEITI Head of Secretariat.”
“LEITI’s independence is fundamental to its mandate and for the political credibility of Liberia; it cannot be the playground of political appointments,” said Mr. Simon Clydesdale, Anti-Corruption Campaigner at Global Witness.