A ranking Senator has suggested that all confirmation hearings for nominees who are audit indictees or implicated in audit reports be put on hold until the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) conducts public hearings and makes final recommendations on the cases of those individuals.
Grand Bassa County’s outspoken Senator, Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence, in a letter dated May 21, 2015, reminded her colleagues through Senate Pro Tempore Armah Jallah that the Senate, which is referred to as the “house of elders” is charged with the responsibility to ensure that people who are appointed to serve the country are competent and credible.
“Knowing that Liberia has been labeled as one of the most corrupt countries in the world and we have a huge challenge to foster transparency and accountability, it is very important that the Senate continues to be very supportive of the fight (against) corruption by ensuring that all confirmations for people who are implicated in audit reports or audit indictees are put on hold…”
For over three hours, the Senate Chamber was transformed into an auditing, accounting and a legal theater as Senators gave varying arguments for or against Senator Lawrence’s letter.
The heated debate that ensued resulted to some Senators accusing one another of corruption and human rights violations. A case in point was the argument that took place between Senators J. Milton Teahjay (Sinoe) and Prince Y. Johnson (Nimba), forcing the latter to clarify that there was no proven evidence before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) implicating him in any human rights violation.
It was an apparent reaction to the Sinoe lawmaker’s argument that the suggestion to suspend confirmation proceedings on GAC indictees must also be extended to those among them who might have violated people’s rights. Interestingly, Teahjay himself was once implicated in a GAC audit report while he served as Superintendent of Sinoe.
Others reminded their colleagues that before they start dealing with the Executive Branch, they must first deal with themselves. “There are some members within our Chamber who were indicted by the GAC report, so we should rather be fair enough and the first thing we should do is to deal with ourselves,” Senator Daniel Naatehn(Gbarpolu) argued.
Maryland Senator H. Dan Morais, who decided to follow the legal path, warned his colleagues to be careful not to violate the fundamental rights of individuals without the provision of due process in a court of competent jurisdiction and concluded that the matter be handled in executive session.
Senator Morais’ argument was supported by Morris Saytumah (Bomi), who clarified that neither the GAC nor the LACC has the power to indict, but rather the Justice Ministry or County Attorney. He said it was unnecessary to discuss the letter.
Several Senators, including J. Milton Teahjay (Sinoe) and Chie (Grand Kru) cited legal concerns such as the fact that those who are implicated in audit reports are not necessarily guilty until they are proven so through due process of law.
Senator Kangar-Lawrence explained that her reason for writing the letter is to ensure that the Senate now focuses on corruption which she described as a virus that is seriously affecting the country.
“If we have never been vigilant and aggressive before, we have to be now. The budget that we passed in this country does not prioritize the needs of the people.”
In a motion leading to the electronic voting system, 12 Senators voted to send the communication to Committees on Judiciary and the Public Accounts Committee, while five voted against and one abstained. The committees are to report to plenary within two weeks.
Sen. Kangar-Lawrence’s letter comes in the wake of pending confirmation hearings of nominees Tolbert Nyenswah to the post of Deputy Minister of Health and Dr. Bernice Dahn, Minister of Health.
Mr. Nyenswah who served as head of the country’s Incident Management System (IMS), the organization that coordinated the government’s Ebola response efforts, has been implicated by the GAC in financial and administrative malpractices at the Ministry of Health during the audit of the Ministry for the 2006/2007 and 2007/2008 fiscal years.
A document seen by this paper shows that during the audit of the Ministry of Health’s financial transactions for the fiscal year 2006/2007, the GAC observed that checks of over US$1.09m for the National Malaria Control Program (NMCP) were written in the name of Ms. Ruth Ricks, Program Finance Officer instead of the service providers.
According to the GAC, Ms. Ricks, who is ‘B’ signatory to the NMCP bank account, raised the checks in her name, signed them and they were then approved by the Program Director (who is now deceased) and Tolbert G. Nyenswah/Acting Program Director (main position, Deputy Program Director). Ms. Ricks enchased the checks and the bulk amount was brought to the NMCP where she carried out transactions such as payment of salaries, purchase of goods and services, workshop expenditures, etc.
The GAC observed in the 2006/2007 audit that the Ministry failed to disclose Ecobank account number 10210140220-15 entitled MOH/SW/WHD to the GAC during the audit. The account was used by the Division of Women, Health and Development, and the signatories to the account were Beatrice B. Duana, Phyllis Nguma-Kimba and Dr. Bernice Dahn.
According to the GAC report, the amount of US$20,250 was withdrawn from the account during the audit period. The GAC therefore recommended that Madam Beatrice B. Duana, Phyllis Nguma-Kimba and Dr. Bernice Dahn account for the amount of US$20,250 withdrawn from the undisclosed account.