Could affected integrity institutions be weakened?
President George Weah’s recent pronouncement to cut salaries of government officials, especially appointees and some civil servants, may undermine the independence of anti-graft institutions such as the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC), General Auditing Commission (GAC) and Internal Audit Agency (IAA), documents in the possession of the Daily Observer reveal.
The Ministry of Finance and Development Planning (MFDP), particularly the office of the Comptroller General, in a memo to line ministries, agencies and commissions said “The payroll deduction will be effective from May 2018 and anticipate your usual cooperation.”
President Weah indicated that appointees and civil servants who make US$1000 to US$1,500 will take a 3.5% reduction, US$1,500 to US$2,500 will get a 5% shaved off their salaries, US$2,500 to US$5,000 will make 7.5% less and those making US$5,000 to US$7,861 will get a 10% reduction.
The Daily Observer source said anti-graft institutions like GAC, IAA and LACC can accomplish their tasks objectively and effectively only if they are independent of audited entities and are protected against outside influence.
“President Weah needs to ensure that the salary cuts do not affect our independent institutions like Internal Audit Agency (IAA), and the General Auditing Commission (GAC) in order for them to maintain their independence,” said the Daily Observer source who welcomes the salary cuts.
Section 2.1.4 of the General Auditing Commission (GAC) says “The Auditor General shall be paid a remuneration package that is commensurate with equivalent regional heads of Supreme Audit Institutions, as determined through an independent and transparent salaries and remuneration vetting process.”
The Observer source said there is a need for Liberia’s anti-graft institutions, particularly GAC and IAA to be free of politics especially if President Weah is to succeed in the fight against corruption.
“The GAC has helped the government to save lots of money and has also recommended to government the way forward to reduce or end corruption in the public sector and must be taken seriously. Government has invested in these anti-graft institutions and must be supported,” said the Observer source.
The inclusion of GAC, LACC and IAA in President Weah’s salary cuts, the Observer source said, will help to undermine the independence of these institutions.
“The salaries of heads and staff of these institutions must not be cut. They must be free of politics. We don’t need to have people working at these institutions under the influence of President Weah,” the source added.
According to the International Standards of Supreme Audit Institutions (ISSAI), of which Liberia is a member state, “Although state institutions cannot be absolutely independent because they are part of the state as a whole, Supreme Audit Institutions shall have the functional and organizational independence required to accomplish their tasks.
The ISSAI, which is called The Lima Declaration, further states that “the establishment of Supreme Audit Institutions and the necessary degree of their independence shall be laid down in the Constitution; details may be set out in legislation.”
The Center for Transparency and Accountability in Liberia (CENTAL) in its recent 100 Day Assessment report of the Weah led-Administration said although President Weah has vowed to support anti-corruption efforts, key integrity institutions with major anti-corruption mandates have little access to the President.
Gerald D. Yeakula, CENTAL program director who presented the findings said the President has met with the Governance Commission but is yet to hold similar dedicated meetings with institutions such as the GAC and LACC.
At the Cabinet retreat held from May 17-18, Yeakula said “Integrity institutions were afforded the opportunity to make first-time presentations. However, such gatherings fall short of providing integrity institutions the space and access to the President, whose political will and support is critical to fighting corruption.”
He said the President recently constituted a committee to investigate corruption around the sale of Oil ‘Block 13’ as reported by Global witness, but failed to include on said committee, the LACC, which has a Statutory mandate to investigate corruption. These developments weaken the morale of the integrity institutions concerned, he added.
Mr. Yeakula emphasized the issue of limited moral support to integrity institutions by the Weah led-Administration.