Often, you hear some people say “The LACC is doing nothing. How many persons do you have in jail for corruption?” Unfortunately, such insinuations do not only come from individuals who lack knowledge and understanding about the process of investigation and prosecution, but from persons who should know better, including some media colleagues and elements in the civil society.
The perception of the ordinary person about corruption is understandable. They say this out of frustration and ignorance because every time someone is accused and prosecuted, that person is seen moving about as though nothing had happened. For them, once there is no accused and convict in jail, the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) is not working. But this mindset is wrong. Despite the challenges, the LACC has made significant progress in the fight against corruption in the core areas of investigation and prosecution; and education and prevention.
Education and Prevention
The public seems rarely inclined in this anti-corruption component and only wants to see suspects in prison because of the culture of impunity that long permeated this country. While this is true, awareness about the negativism of corruption and putting in place measures to prevent it from happening are equally important. “Prevention is better than cure.”
Over the period, the LACC in keeping with its responsibility has continued to develop and implement necessary educational and preventive programs. It has engaged in interactive forums with the leadership and key functionaries in the fifteen counties, public and private schools, markets, transport unions as well as religious groups.
The LACC and the Ministry of Education in collaboration with the USAID sponsored Legal Professional Development and Anti-Corruption (LPAC) Program also established the Student Integrity Clubs (SIC) in some schools and trained students who are currently managing the clubs. The initiative is part of measures aimed at providing and sharing corruption information among students as future leaders of Liberia. The program has afforded students the opportunity to understand the issue of corruption. The SIC was established based on recommendations contained in the report of a Corruption Risk Assessment conducted in the education sector. The exercise was sponsored by the UNDP. Similar exercise was conducted at the Ministry of Transport which was intended to assess the institution’s vulnerability to corruption and recommend appropriate ways to correct the system.
Radio call-in programs and publications in the print media highlighting the work of the LACC continue to be helpful. The Commission has erected billboards in strategic areas of the country and placed signposts in key public institutions. The exercise has helped give the public a better understanding about the work of the LACC and enhance its awareness program.
Unlike the dark days, the public can today freely and openly talk about corruption without being intimidated or put in jail. People have been motivated to reveal fraud, denounce and expose dishonesty. Are these not significant gains in the Commission’s sensitization and prevention efforts at fighting corruption?
Investigation and Prosecution
Undoubtedly, this area appears to be the public’s greatest interest. Despite the progress made, some segments of society do not still understand and appreciate the work of the LACC and often criticize it for not doing much in the fight against corruption. They argue that there isn’t a single person in jail. Therefore, the Commission is not working and its continuous existence is a waste of taxpayers’ money. But this is myopic. Though one tries to understand their frustration considering our long history of neglect and compromise in fighting corruption, they say so from a position of ignorance.
The process of investigation, particularly prosecution is a major challenge. In criminal proceedings, ‘due process’ for alleged perpetrators including the right to file a valid criminal appearance bond is guaranteed under our law. This is often frustrating, but it is the law. The judiciary itself has formidable queries to deal with. The docket of the trial court, Criminal Court ‘C’ – which is responsible to try theft and related offenses, is overcrowded; jury tampering grave; and the prolonged delay of cases on appeal at the Supreme Court are all very worrisome.
Notwithstanding, the LACC has made some significant progress. In the ongoing CCTV case at the 13th Judiciary Circuit in Kakata, Margibi County involving US$19,875, two defendants have made significant restitution of the amount in question following LACC prosecution of the case due to admission and plea bargain. The LACC also obtained a unanimous guilty verdict from the jury trial of the former Inspector General of Police Beatrice Munnah Sieh Browne, former Deputy Police Inspector Harris Manneh Dunn and businessman Prince Akinremi. They were accused of stealing US$199,800 intended to purchase uniforms and accessories for the Emergency Response Unit of the Liberia National Police. Final arguments were held awaiting ruling from the Supreme Court.
The National Port Authority case concerning its former Managing Director Matilda Parker and Comptroller which has been lingering at the Supreme Court for over two years has just been ruled for a new trial after ‘glaring jury tampering’. The amount involves US$847,000.
The US$71,022 Theft of Property and Economic Sabotage case of the former Managing Director of the Liberia Telecommunications Authority, Albert Bropleh, who was found guilty by the 11th Judicial Circuit in Bomi County, has been at the Supreme Court for over six years (since 2010).
The Japanese Oil Grant case has multiple dimensions. The Government of Japan gave a grant of US$13 million in oil to the Liberian Government to be sold below the market price and proceeds from the sales be used for national development. But Aminata, which was contracted to sell the oil, sold same at the market price, thus benefiting from an excess of US$5,764,110.84. The PPCC Law was also violated in awarding the contract to Aminata. The Ministry of Commerce and Industry and the Liberia Petroleum Refining Company (LPRC) were designated to oversee the sales. This case arose under a single indictment for five defendants who were charged with Economic Sabotage, Misapplication of Entrusted Property, Criminal Conspiracy, Criminal Facilitation and Violation of PPCC Law, but was splintered into five separate cases as a result of each of the defendant’s request for separate trial, which was granted by the trial court.
Two separate rulings in the Japanese Oil Grant case dismissing the indictment against the defendants, former LPRC Managing Director T. Nelson Williams and former Commerce & Industry Minister Miatta Beslow, are on appeal at the Supreme Court. The court granted Aminata & Sons’ request for a bench trial. The evidence to convict Aminata was overwhelming, but the presiding judge handed down a not guilty judgment in favor of the defendant.
Judge Emery Paye who presided over the entire case is currently undergoing a one-year suspension for his unethical conduct in the LIMINCO case. He was also suspended in 2013 for six months for similar reason in the Chauncey D. Karnga v. the Heirs of Trafina Gould case. In that ruling, the court further decided that should Judge Paye repeat any acts or violations of the Judicial Canon and the Code of Ethics, and be adjudged guilty in that respect, the court shall make the appropriate recommendations for his permanent removal from office as a judge, with the loss of all entitlements, benefits, emoluments, pensions, etc. to which he may be entitled if honorably retired.
Arguments into prosecution’s motion for change of venue in the US$95,500 corruption case involving former Sinoe County Superintendent J. Milton Teahjay recently took place at the 3rd Judicial Circuit in Greenville, Sinoe County.
The Supreme Court held arguments in the SABLE Mining case and reserved ruling and suspended the matter to make its final determination. The prosecution’s petition for a writ of certiorari indicated that the then presiding judge erred when he ruled that evidence will be marked temporarily until the appearance of the state’s main witness. Several current and former officials of government are being prosecuted for allegedly receiving bribe amounting to US$950,000 in order to change the procurement law of Liberia in favor of SABLE Mining to allow it acquire concession rights to the Wologizi Mountain.
The case involving the Communications Director at the Ministry of Public Works, Jesufu Keita, is also awaiting ruling at the Supreme Court. Mr. Keita was accused of signing a certificate of completion for media contract totaling US$12,600 awarded to the Flash Point firm, when the company did not perform. He was found not guilty at the lower court, but the prosecution appealed against the ruling.
Considering these initiatives by the LACC, it is unfair for anyone to suggest that the Commission is doing nothing. For heaven’s sake, the LACC is playing its role and cannot be blamed for cases being delayed at the courts, particularly the Supreme Court, which is the final arbiter of justice. The LACC has no control over this.
Theft of property and related offenses are bailable under our law. Accused persons have legal and constitutional rights to file valid criminal appearance bonds, which prohibits them from going to jail pending the outcome of their cases. That is why corruption suspects when taken to court are seen moving about their normal businesses as though they did nothing wrong. Can the LACC be blamed for this? We are yet to see the establishment of a fast track court on corruption. Several enabling laws including laws on Illicit or Unjust Enrichment, Whistleblower and Witness Protection and amendment to the LACC Act giving it direct prosecutorial power are yet to be enacted despite consistent advice, appeal and reporting by the LACC.
The LACC cannot succeed alone. This task involves the collective efforts of all stakeholders including the Executive, Legislature, Judiciary and the people of Liberia. Political will is central to this struggle. Well-meaning civil society organizations and the media have a responsibility to prevail on the Supreme Court to speedily rule on cases before it. They must also exert the necessary pressure on the Legislature to pass laws that will enable the LACC to robustly fight corruption.
Mansfield Y. Kolubah can be reached via email at [email protected]