The past week has truly been very interesting. On Monday, April 25, 2016, local radio stations and the print media were dominated with stories on the preliminary report of the Auditor General (AG) of the Kenyan National Accounting Office (KNAO), Mr. Edward Ouko, which was very damning of the financial system and activities of the General Auditing Commission (GAC) over the audited periods of: 2009-2013, under the leaderships of former Auditor General John Morlu, Acting Auditor General Winsley Nanka, Auditor General Robert Kilby; and 2014-15, which coincides with the tenure of the current Auditor General, Yusador Gaye. The Daily Observer banner headline for the day was: “GAC Extremely Corrupt in 2009-2013”; while FrontPageAfrica carried a story on its front page captioned: “First Audit of the General Auditing Commission Reveals Shortcoming.”
In essence, Kenyan Auditor General Ouko stated that over the periods audited, the GAC did not have “a clear accounting system in place, no trial balance and no general ledger available. The four years to 2013 were years plagued with weaknesses, non-compliance with financial reporting laws, non-financial statement were being prepared on a timely manner. There were no supporting documentations on purchasing of equipment, staffs that were going for training and IT equipment. There was no evidence that acquired assets were being controlled and recorded.”
What was even more troubling to hear was the Kenyan AG’s assertion that there have been numerous “fraudulent” activities from 2009 to 2013, including the lack of considerable documentation for procuring vehicles, exclusion of donor funding from financial statements, as well as an extra, undisclosed account at Ecobank, among others. In sum, the Kenyan AG concluded that financial statements of the GAC over the periods audited were basically non-compliant with the International Public Sector Accounting Standards (IPSAS), which I have found out was adopted by the government of Liberia in 2009.
In a country as polarized as ours, it was not surprising that the Kenyan AG’s preliminary report generated mixed reactions in the Liberian society. Many Liberians were extremely discouraged to hear that their anti-graft house, that has been so active in fighting corruption in other government institutions, was itself deeply drenched in corruption; while others, especially those that idolized former Auditor General John Morlu, whose extremely controversial and eccentric style of proceeding with his professional duties earned him lots of admiration among Liberians genuinely fed-up with the growing culture of corruption in our society, immediately protested, stating that Morlu is too clean to be corrupt and that this was a ploy engineered by President Sirleaf to discredit Mr. Morlu because of his intention to contest the Liberian presidency.
Since the report was issued, I started following the issue very closely and conducting my own research, including finding and going through the Public Financial Management Law of 2009 page by page.
Over the weekend, I read on the website of the online Liberian news channel, The Perspective, a letter written by former Auditor General John Morlu to current Auditor General Yusador Gaye requesting a copy of the Kenyan AG Report, as well as the publication of the report for public consumption (click on the following link to read Morlu’s Letter: http://www.theperspective.org/2016/0429201603.php).
I fully support Morlu’s request that he be given a copy of the Kenyan Auditor General’s Report for his review and reaction, and that the report be published so that everyone can see its contents. But what turned me off about Morlu’s rather abrasive letter to AG Yusador Gaye was his subtle attempt to project himself as an unrelenting advocate for transparency and accountability in order to leave the unsuspecting public with the impression that he is a victim of a grand conspiracy.
The first thing I found troubling with Morlu’s letter is his attempt to cleverly and dishonestly diminish the extent of his culpability by trying to reduce the period of his stewardship covered by the damning report. Morlu writes, “It is reported that the audit covers (a) six-year period, including about a year of the time I served as Auditor General of Liberia.” By using the preposition “about,” which means nearly equal to, Morlu is stating that he is actually responsible to speak or account for less than a year of the six-year period audited. This I consider extremely dishonest.
Morlu served as Auditor General of the Republic of Liberia for four unbroken years from April 2007 to April 2011 (see Wikipedia article: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Morlu). If the period audited ranged from 2009- 2015, how can Morlu be telling intelligent people that he is responsible for about a year of the period audited when, no matter how you look at it, whether from a calendar year perspective (January- December) or a Liberian fiscal year perspective (July – June), Morlu would have to account for roughly two (2) years, not one (1) year, of the period audited. If we take it from a calendar year perspective, Morlu will be responsible to account for two years and four months (2009, 2010 and January-April of 2011). If we take it from a Liberian fiscal year perspective, Morlu would have to account for about two years (July 2009-June 2010; July 2010-April 2011) – one year and ten solid months, which can rightly be rounded up to 2 years. His successor, Acting AG Winsley Nanka, who led the GAC for the remaining two months of the fiscal year, cannot be expected to bear the burdens of the sins committed prior to his becoming Acting AG.
In order to project himself as a fierce and fearless crusader of transparency and accountability, Morlu writes, “I fought and succeeded in putting in the law the timely publication of audit reports. Section 37 (6) of the PFM Act reads: ‘The Auditor General shall publish the audit report in the Official Gazette and make it available to the Legislature and the public within one month of the completion of said audit report. This (is) the law of Liberia.’”
But what Morlu failed to cite is Section 37 Count 4 of the very PFM Act, which states: “Notwithstanding the provisions of Section 37(3)above, the accounts of the General Auditing Commission shall be audited, at least once in every financial year, by a registered and reputable firm of qualified public accountants and auditors appointed by the Legislature or possessing such other qualifications as the Legislature may deem appropriate, at such remuneration and on such other terms as the Legislature may determine. The remuneration of the auditor appointed under this section shall be defrayed from the funds of the General Auditing Commission.”
So I have a few questions for Mr. Morlu:
1) The law of Liberia that you quote so boastfully also states that the GAC should be audited at least once a year, but why did you run the GAC for four unbroken years without a single audit?
2) How did you feel auditing other institutions without standing on the moral high ground of a single audit of your entity? Or to put it another way, don’t you think that you needed to come to equity with clean hands? You may argue that the law states that the Legislature should appoint the auditor for the Legislature, so you should not be held responsible for the lack of audit of the GAC when you served as Auditor General.
3) But again, you say you are “a strong believer in public sector transparency and accountability,” why couldn’t you advocate for the Legislature to audit you even if they were reluctant to do so?
There is no record in Liberia of you, Auditor General Morlu, ever coming out publicly to express your disgust or disapproval of the Legislature’s delay in auditing the GAC. In Liberia, we say silence means consent. You consented to this anomalous situation to keep the Liberian people in the dark on activities at both the GAC and the Legislature because it was in your interest and that of the Legislature at the time to escape audits. Everyone knows that the Legislature is extremely corrupt to the extent that some in this country consider it the actual epicenter and manufacturer of corruption in this country.
One branch of the government that is key to the anti-corruption fight is the Judiciary. Every day, Liberians are crying out about the corrupt nature of our Judiciary. The Judiciary Branch benefits from a law called the Financial Autonomy Act that makes its entire financial system to be a black box that can only be opened by the Auditor General. Under the Act, the Judiciary, unlike other institutions of government, is given a lump sum amount to use and can only account to the Auditor General, not the Ministry of Finance, about the usage of the funds. But for the four years our “fearless” John Morlu ran the GAC; and even up to now, the Judiciary has never once been audited.
I can remember that after Phillibert Brown’s National Chronicle Newspaper wrote a critical article on Morlu, he immediately threatened to conduct an audit of the US$20,000 government subsidy provided the Liberian National Olympic Committee (LNOC) under the leadership of Phillibert Brown. Morlu had the time and the fortitude to audit US$20,000 but not the time and the fortitude to audit the tens of millions of dollars that went to the Legislature and the Judiciary. So Morlu appears to be fake, a double-character person who is only now being exposed by the recent audit.
Finally, I must state that I too am not a fan of Madam Sirleaf because she has institutionalized corruption and nepotism in this country, and will be exposed in the not too distant future. But it is completely unfair and insincere for some Morlu diehards to begin to attribute the Kenyan Auditor General’s report to a ploy engineered by President Sirleaf. What I have gathered is that the Legislature through the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), being faithful to the provision of the same PFM law Morlu often quotes, decided to work with the GAC to ensure that the GAC was for once audited. Knowing that selecting a local auditing firm would have raised concerns about independence and bias, it was mutually agreed that a peer of the GAC, the Kenyan National Accounting Office (KNAO), was best suited for the job. KNAO was appropriate because the GAC, even under Morlu, has had a professional partnership with the KNAO to the extent that the KNAO would second Kenyan auditors from KNAO to the GAC during Morlu’s tenure to give professional guidance. It was this strong partnership that encouraged Morlu to send almost fifty (50) auditors of the GAC to Kenya to pursue graduate studies. Therefore, any attempt by Morlu and his supporters to discredit the professionalism of Kenyan Auditor General Ouko and his KNAO will be hard to hold water at this point in time.
Morlu once upon a time made a vainglorious and extremely unprofessional statement at a Press Union of Liberia (PUL) event in Gbarnga in 2010 that if he indicted anyone in his audit reports, “only Jesus Christ can save you.” A more experienced Auditor General, Edward Ouku, from a superior auditing house as compared to the GAC, has “indicted” Morlu for a host of financial lapses and fraudulent activities including the operation of a secret, undisclosed account at Ecobank. I am left wondering who then will save Morlu. It certainly can’t be Jesus Christ alone. Maybe given the gravity of the situation and the professionalism and toughness of Kenyan AG Ouku, Morlu will need the Holy Trinity – God the Father, God the Son, and God the blessed Holy Spirit – to save him from an imminent big disgrace.
We continue to watch the unfolding event, eyes and ears wide open.