Media reports of official corruption continue to make headlines in Liberia. Quite recently for example, members of the Liberian Senate, perhaps acting on cue from a concern public have demanded that the head of the team that handled the COVID-19 emergency relief program provide proper account of funds and materials received.
Corruption literally means to destroy. It is often described as a type of behavior that deviates from tradition, morality, ethics, and law. It also leads to the abuse of power in decision making processes.
Influence peddling, bribery, graft, breach of trust by a public officer, nepotism, cronyism, patronage, extortion, kickbacks, embezzlement, robbery, extortion, are all forms of corruption.
Corruption today poses a development challenge for Liberia. And it is not new. Liberia’s 5th President Edward James Roye was overthrown by an armed mob on charges of corruption in 1871. Roye had contracted a loan with British bankers in 1871.
The value of the loan was placed at 100,000 British pounds equivalent to about 500,000 US dollars. But the terms of the loan agreement were very unfavorable to Liberia as many deductions were made from the loan before Liberia received it.
Eventually only about 20,000 US dollars reached Liberia and the reaction of the citizens was one of outrage. Roye’s situation was not helped by his attempt to amend the Constitution to extend his term of office by an additional two (2) years.
The angry reaction of the citizens to these developments culminated in his violent removal from office. This was Liberia’s first coup d’etat and was due to corruption charges.
A hundred years later, on April 22, 1980, thirteen (13) former government officials were publicly executed on charges of corruption following the April 12 1980 military coup. But the coup makers proved even more corrupt and oppressive and soon lost the popular acclaim it once enjoyed.
The government led by military dictator Doe was also removed violently. “What did you do with the Liberian people money?” was the question posed to him by his captors led by the mercurial Prince Johnson.
As evident, corruption has haunted this country from its infancy. Perhaps Liberia’s backward status can be attributed to the scourge of corruption which have made the achievement of development objectives rather elusive.
Former President Ellen Sirleaf upon assuming office declared corruption as public enemy number one. Sometime later, she was forced to admit to her inability to curb corruption which according to her was systemic and had become a virtual vampire.
Her successor, George Weah made a similar pledge in his inaugural address to deal firmly with corrupt officials. But this has turned out, it appears, to be not the case.
Many scholars, particularly those in development studies, agree that corruption tends to undermine economic development by generating considerable distortions and inefficiency in the national economy.
Aside from increasing the cost of business through the payment of under the table fees, the management costs of negotiating with corrupt officials also increase the cost of doing business.
However, there are those who argue that corruption reduces red tape and the cost of doing business. But they cannot deny the fact that the availability of bribes can also induce officials to contrive new rules, procedures and delays simply to exact the payment of bribes.
Business registration for example should be a one-stop affair. However, there are complaints from the public about how difficult officials of the Liberia Business Registry have made the process, all with the intent to exact bribes.
Further, there is a tendency to direct public investment capital into capital projects where kickbacks and bribes are more plentiful. Several audits of government agencies conducted by the General Auditing Commission (GAC) have revealed this tendency.
In some cases officials even increase the technical complexity of public sector projects to conceal or pave way for such dealings.
In some instances, compliance standards and other regulations are even lowered with a corresponding decrease in the quality of government services and infrastructure.
For example, many streets paved in Monrovia over the last 6 years are breaking up into gaping potholes. This simply suggest that the pavement was substandard although the public was led to believe that the life span of the pavement would have lasted for at least 10 years.
The situation of the 16bn missing Liberian dollar banknotes as well as the corruptly managed US$30m liquidity mop-up exercise are additional cases in point.
Well, some officials were criminally charged and tried but in the final analysis everyone of them got off the hook. Another is the recently completed Central Bank buildingIts initial contractor was paid in full US$20m as rebel forces approached Monrovia in 1990. Bank officials as well as the contractor and consultants, Wallace and Wallace are said to have received payoffs for falsely certifying that the bank had been completed which was a blatant lie.
Liberia and presumably other member countries of the Mano River Basin are characterized by weak governance structures and the virtual lack or absence of viable civil society institutions including political parties.
Under ideal conditions, such organizations would serve to place demands for accountability on their respective national leaderships.
This is because the propensity for public officials to indulge in acts of corruption either by commission or omission is indeed high and the absence or lack of viable civil society institutions only serves to enhance the wanton plunder of public resources.
Sadly, countries of the Mano River Basin find themselves struggling to overcome a legacy of failed leadership, official mismanagement, massive human rights abuse, impunity, rampant corruption, and official neglect.
What hope for Liberia, we ask. Are we content to see our nation further sink beneath the waves under the sheer weight of corruption?
This is a NATIONAL call to action.