Woods vs Sirleaf Again

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Appointment of members of Board of Directors in Liberia is one issue that continues to raise alarm, especially with Board members being close friends of the President of Liberia, a statement issued by the Liberia Law Society (LLS) under the signature of its founder and legal consultant, Attorney Samuel Kofi Woods II, has observed.

The statement was issued under the theme, “Board Governance: The Quest for Transparency and Accountability.”

According to the LLS statement, a past audit conducted by the General Auditing Commission (GAC) on the appointment of members of Board of Directors showed that board members were paid huge fees and other incentives, but did not exercise sufficient authority to help institutions manage waste and safeguard public
resources.

According to the statement, “The audit observed that at some entities board members were appointed by an individual who serves as Minister of State for Economic Affairs, with the letter of appointments of these Board members without the input of the President. Board of Directors at entities such as the National Port Authority (NPA), the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL) have failed to protect their institutions from taking decisions that exposed state resources to massive abuse.

“The Board of Directors at NOCAL which could not help management to make the entity viable developed a lucrative retirement package for its members and President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf later ordered that the plan be quashed,” it said.

The LLS is the latest institution to frown on the activities of Board of Directors of state owned enterprises (SoEs), autonomous commissions and other state institutions.

In the statement, the LLS said it wants the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) to look into the issue of Board members receiving double emoluments, serving their respective capacities in government and at the same time receiving compensation for serving as Board members on other agencies.

Quoting a recent newspaper publication, the LLS stated that it has gathered that President Sirleaf had instructed the Minister of State for Presidential Affairs to immediately liaise with all chairpersons of Boards of all SoEs to collate and report to her all resolutions which have been passed by these Boards especially on Board fees, benefits and other compensations.

The LLS indicated that the pronouncements of the President and the observations of the LACC, if reported correctly, requires further scrutiny to determine whether or not this conduct by Board members constitutes a violation of the Liberian Constitution in respect to the Code of Conduct for Public Officials.

According to the LLS, reports that the LACC is also in the process of closing a loophole, which government officials had apparently employed to engage in double dipping practices, is good news, which is needed to resolve some of the debates regarding Article 90 of the Liberian Constitution, Executive Order #38 and the Code of Conduct for Public Officials of 2014.

Article 90 of the constitution states in part, “No person holding office shall demand and receive any other perquisites, emoluments or benefits, directly or indirectly, on account of any duty required by government.”

“Consistent with LLS interpretation of Executive Order #38, and in anticipation of evoking a resolution of the intent of the Constitution and Executive Order #38, Atty. Woods, while serving as Minister of Public Works, wrote a letter dated November 6, 2012, addressed to the former Executive Chairperson of LACC, Cllr. Frances Johnson-Allison informing her of his decision not ‘to receive both Board and sitting fees as a member of all boards’ to which he was appointed.

He did so consistent with his interpretation of Part 9, Section 9.10 of Executive Order #38. He further informed her that his decision took effect as of the date of the signing of Executive Order #38. He agrees that even he must be subject of this scrutiny,” said the LLS statement.

The legal group stated that to date it has not seen or heard of any scrutiny or evaluation of the Executive Order in regards to its execution in this respect.

The LLS statement furthered, “It might be appropriate for the LACC to provide a full report on the enforcement of the Executive Order and its enforcement. Executive Orders have legal lifespan of one year. It has now been replaced by the National Code of Conduct.”

GC, CSA Positions

The Liberia Law Society decried the recent decision by President Sirleaf and the Ministry of State to collate all resolutions on Board Fees, describing it as misplaced.

“In the opinion of the LLS, the recent decision by President Sirleaf to direct the Ministry of State to collate all resolutions on Board Fees, Compensations and other emoluments is misplaced. Existing accountability institutions are well placed to undertake institutional reforms. These institutions, which include the Governance Commission and or Civil Service Agency (CSA), are more suited to address such matters consistent with their mandate and congruous with the reform process,” the LCC said.

The group wants the two leading transparency institutions (LACC and GAC) to conduct a comprehensive review of all past and present Board Actions.

The statement continued, “In furtherance of this, the LACC and GAC could also take the lead in conducting a comprehensive review of all past and present Board Actions on the issue of Board and sitting fees, emoluments, benefits and compensations. While such a review is being conducted, LLS propose a moratorium on all fees and other forms of compensation until the reform is completed and the relevant provision of the Code of Conduct, especially on double compensation, is properly interpreted.”

On the issue of asset declaration LLS stated that it is concerned about the Asset Declaration and Verification processes by the LACC, which commenced in 2012. The LLS stated that it is of the view that the processes were intended to enhance transparency and integrity in public service, but noted that these processes, however, remain inconclusive, with initial reports that some officials refused to comply while others were alleged to have made false declarations.

“In light of the foregoing, the LLS proffered that a full audit on the implementation and enforcement of Executive Order #38, especially in relation to the assets declaration and verification process and Board Compensation and a full audit and review of the implementation of the current Code of Conduct for Public Officials,” the statement said.

The Law group also wants a comprehensive reform of Public Corporations, adding, “Historically, public service has unfortunately been seen as an opportunity for the abuse of the public purse resulting in the acquisition of ill-gotten wealth. Corporations and their Boards of Directors have perpetuated a system of bleeding and pillaging the public coffer…All attempts at reforms have been ad hoc, at times perfunctory and discriminatory and at worst violate the public trust in their elected and appointed leaders.

“Successive governments and including this administration have not resisted the temptation of using Boards as a vehicle to reward friends, to perpetuate cronyism and patronage as well as income generation for supporters and loyalists,” the LLS stated.

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