LET’S LECTURE: Perspectives on Liberia’s Corruption Problem

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The topic for this week is ethics and public service. I feel compelled to broach this subject because of all the financial scandals that have been surfacing in our public institutions of late—the National Oil Company (NOCAL), the National Port Authority (NPA), the Forestry Development Authority (FDA), my old stomping ground the Liberia Petroleum Refining Company (LPRC), the list goes on and on and on.

Why is it that those entrusted with leading our public institutions appear to be on a mad rush to run off with our money and nothing is being done to stop them? Is there something inherent in our DNA that makes us incorrigible rogues? I think not. Liberians are not born with any genetic predisposition to steal any more than, say, Americans, Frenchmen, Germans or the British. The difference is in our system of rewards and punishment. It is not that corruption does not exist in these countries. Just pick up the Washington Post or New York Times. On any given day you will read a story about some financial scandal somewhere. But in those countries, if you are caught, punishment is swift and certain. You are prosecuted and, if convicted, you go to jail. An illustration will suffice to make the point.

In the 1990s the FBI conducted a criminal investigation into the energy giant Enron. Top executives of the company including its chairman, Ken Lay, were found to have committed criminal offences. Lay was a golfing buddy of George “Dubya” Bush, then president of the United States. But that didn’t save him. Dubya didn’t even try to intervene on his behalf because he knew that, had he even made an attempt, he would probably have been impeached for obstruction of justice. The sad ending to the story is that Lay became so overwhelmed by the shame of what he had done that he committed suicide while in prison.

If we want to put a cap on corruption here, that is what has to happen. People have to know that if they are caught, they will be prosecuted, not merely fired or suspended from their job, and sent to jail if they are convicted. A few publicised convictions and jailings of big big people (not small small people) is all it would take to put a curb on corruption. Again, an illustration from personal experience.

The year was 1973. I was working in the law office of Cecil Dennis, having recently graduated from college. As a counterpoint to the normal practice of forcing civil servants to an involuntary contributions to worthy national causes by way of payroll deduction, in this case President Tolbert’s Fundraising Rally, Cecil founded an organization called the Big H Committee. Amongst other things, we organized a football tournament.

A very, very close relative of mine, whom I love dearly, was hired as a vacation student to sell tickets for the tournament. Unfortunately, he allowed himself to be influenced by his colleagues to dip into the ticket sales. The matter was brought to my attention. I investigated and found out that he and his colleagues had stolen ticket money. I left the others and grabbed my close relative first and slammed him into Central Prison, on South Beach. I was ready to throw the keys away, so angry was I. Others, not me, took him out of prison later. But he learned his lesson and never repeated that offense.

Another more recent example. Paramount Togar Glaygboe and others of Kokoyah Statutory District were involved in misappropriation of rental fees paid to the district by one of the GSM companies. I warned him repeatedly to desist. He didn’t. Eventually we had him indicted by a grand jury in Gbarnga. The county attorney in Gbarnga has been dancing around proceeding with the prosecution but we are not going to let this case die. We are seeking a change of venue. Even though I consider him to be a personal friend, I and other citizens of Kokoyah are absolutely determined to put Paramount Chief Glaygboe behind bars, not only to punish him for eating our money but, more importantly, as a deterrent to anyone else in District public service who might be thinking about doing the same thing.

And this brings me to a point. As leader of an organization or country, you have to be completely colour blind when it comes to matters of crime and punishment. You cannot pick and choose. Every human being on this green earth is a friend or relative or someone else. So, if you cannot take action against your friends and family when they commit criminal offences, you have no moral authority to take action against anyone else.

The writer is a Certified Public Accountant and businessman. He can be reached at .

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