President George Weah has defended his administration’s fight towards corruption despite a limited success story.
Speaking at the opening of a two-day national anti-corruption conference yesterday, the President said that his administration has acted without hesitation to prosecute corruption cases wherever “there has been sufficient probable cause to do so, regardless of who is involved.”
President Weah added that, despite some debates about corruption being laden with unsubstantiated claims and politically-driven propaganda, his administration will continue to ensure that the fight against corruption remains a top priority.
“This conference reflects yet another opportunity to tackle corruption, which is an age-old menace that continues to exist in the Liberian society. This is why my administration has made fighting this vice, in all its forms, a top priority from the onset,” he said.
“Actions on the part of the government have led to dismissals, resignations, arrests, and arraignment of many persons, including some of the high-ranking officials of this Government,” said President Weah in his remarks at the opening of the national anti-corruption conference under the theme: ‘Re-shaping the Perception of Corruption and Identifying New Approaches to Addressing Systemic Corruption in Liberia’.
The conference is being held at the Ministerial Complex in the oldest Congo Town.
The Liberian leader further stated that, upon his instructions, the Ministry of Justice last year began the process of recuperating lost and stolen assets of the Republic of Liberia, and it is a process that will continue equitably and impartially.
According to President Weah, the principal objective of his instruction is not only to retrieve public resources but also to serve as a deterrent to potential perpetrators.[We want] both past and present officials to account for resources that had been entrusted to them by the Liberian people. While these actions may not yet have gained the full traction they deserve, they rest well with our partners – both locally and internationally,” President Weah said. “For instance, we have received their plaudits for operating a very unique and transparent budget and financial management system. And Liberia’s ranking on recent anti-corruption surveys, which gauge public perception of corruption, has improved. But we should not, and will not, rest on our laurels.”
The President’s defense of his administration’s fight against corruption comes amid the fact that his administration has lost all but one high profile corruption case.
The most recent corruption case, which would have been the easiest for the government to win due to the availability of glaring evidence, was that involving the suspended Passport Director, Andrew Wonploe, who was arrested for passport fraud. The gravity of Wonploe’s crime had far-reaching consequences, which included the possibly aiding and abetting of non-Liberians who he may heve been involved in terrorist and human trafficking activities. Wonploe now walks free because the justice ministry failed to pursue the matter after Wonploe was snatched from the custody of court officials between the prison, where he was remanded, and Criminal Court C, where he was to stand trial.
After several months of no activity from the prosecutors to follow up the case on behalf of the government through the Ministry of Justice, all criminal charges against the Wonploe were dismissed by Judge Yamie Gbeisay of Criminal Court C. This was a case that the government coult have easily won, but because there were bigger hands believed to be behind Wonploe’s criminal deeds the case went cold.
In a much more complex case involving ex-officials of the Central Bank of Liberia over the handling of a currency printing arrangement, Judge Gbeisay ruled that CBL’s former Executive Governor Milton Weeks and other ex-officials were not guilty on charges of economic sabotage, criminal conspiracy, and criminal facilitation relating to the printing of the L$10 billion banknotes.
Judge Gbeisay ruled that the state lawyers from the Ministry of Justice did not prove beyond all reasonable doubts that the defendants printed excess Liberian dollar banknotes without the authorization of the Legislature.
Meanwhile, Liberia’s dismal performance over the last three years on the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index (CPI) is another glaring instance.
In 2016, Liberia ranked the 90th least corrupt out of 198 countries on the CPI, with a score of 37%. However, by 2019, the country’s ranking had dropped to being the 137th least corrupt out of 180 countries, giving it a score of 28%.
The CPI report affects Liberia’s international relations with donor countries and multinational organizations that support the country’s development agenda.
Meanwhile, President Weah has termed the issue of the alleged missing L$16 billion as “baseless allegation” but, for the sake of transparency, his government initiated an investigation that was executed thoroughly, professionally, and transparently.”
Accordingly, President Weah said he did not restrict the process only to local institutions, but reached out to the United States Government for assistance in this regard.
“The response was positive, and funding was provided to engage an internationally-recognized firm to investigate these allegations. At the conclusion of their work, they issued findings which showed that no money had gone missing, but that there had been irregularities in the procurement process on the part of the Central Bank,” he said.
President Weah further added that the investigation into the L$16 billion and other issues demonstrated his administration’s willingness to fight incidents of corruption and other forms of malfeasance, and also improve transparency and accountability in governance.
“However,” President Weah said, “in order to continue to achieve this, all the institutions of government involved with the fight against corruption ought to have a greater degree of autonomy and work collaboratively with each other.”
He indicated that Liberia is endowed with vast natural resources, but Liberians still have not reaped all of the benefits that can be obtained from their efficient and responsible use.
“From time immemorial, we have come to perceive corruption as a way of life as it plagues all aspects of the Liberian society. In response to these concerns, my Government’s four-pillar national development document, the Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development (PAPD), designates one of these pillars to improving governance and transparency,” President Weah said.
In a remark at the conference, Yusador S. Gaye, the Auditor General of the General Auditing Commission, indicated that poor schools and services are the results of corruption.
“Those entrusted with power or heading integrity institutions to fight corruption must lead with examples. We must also work together as integrity institutions to end corruption. Corruption affects development,” Madam Gaye said.
According to her, everyone has to be true to himself or herself even when no one is around, as part of the fight against corruption in Liberia. Madam Gaye stressed the need to work together for the betterment of the Liberian people.
“Let’s use these two days to bring innovation in the fight against corruption. This should not be just another conference. We should leave here with action points so that, during the next conference, we can say that these recommendations and suggestions from the last conference have been implemented,” she said.