Auditing the Auditors: A Startling, but not Unexpected Revelation

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We have not yet seen the Kenyan Auditor General’s report on his audit of Liberia’s General Auditing Commission (GAC). We are, however, not surprised at what he said—that the GAC between 2009 and 2013 had been “extremely corrupt.”

Without actually knowing what he meant by that, we can begin with Kenyan Auditor General Edward Ouko’s first substantive statement: During the period 2009-2013, “the GAC failed to comply with rules governing international financial best practices.”

No one who knew and carefully observed how the first Auditor General appointed by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Mr. John Morlu, II, operated the GAC would doubt the Kenyan Auditor General’s assessment. Remember the first major statement which Auditor General Morlu made following his appointment? He said the government of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was “more corrupt than any other government in Liberian history.”

Remember, too, that this was
only a few weeks following his appointment—that is, before he and his team at GAC had conducted a single piece of audit. So how did he come up with such a sweeping indictment against the President and her government?

That remark showed that Morlu could “shoot from the hip.” Is that what Kenyan Auditor General Ouku called “international financial best practice?” No. Auditing is a scientific procedure just as the mathematics on which auditing is based. It cannot and should not be politicized. Yet, that is exactly how John Morlu ran the GAC.

He had a direct link with certain media institutions and journalists, whom he regularly fed with sensational bits of “information” that made great—and sometimes dangerous—headlines. That was long before he submitted a single report to his employers.

The European Union, which volunteered to pay his salary—some say US$60,000 per annum—must have been completely embarrassed by all this. But the rules of diplomacy, which govern such international organizations, prevented the EU from making any comment. All they could do was wait until the government that employed him acted.

As Mr. Morlu continued throughout his tenure to act more as a politician than a professional auditor, the only thing President Sirleaf could do was to wonder and wait. For any action against him before his contract ended may have been interpreted as though the government had something to hide.
But once his six-year contract ended in 2011, President Sirleaf did not renew it. Mr. Morlu tried to make some noise, even threats, but no one paid him any attention.

Then came Robert Kilby, who first submitted credentials that the Liberian Legislature, mainly the Senate, found questionable. He, however, eventually won confirmation. But he no sooner began to behave like some of Liberia’s erstwhile all powerful Attorney Generals. Kilby soon decided to fire or retire en masse the GAC staff, who quickly ran to the Legislature and he was stopped.

Then it was discovered that many of his decisions and actions were viewed as conflicts of interest. Kilby behaved like a maverick (eccentric, individualistic). He did not, unlike his predecessor Morlu, make spurious utterances. But Kilby took strange actions, such as his attempt to “clean sweet” the GAC. He lasted barely a year and was replaced by Madam Yusador Gaye.

By the time she got there, a letter was on file from Robert Sirleaf, President Sirleaf’s son, the new Chair of the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL). This appointment of her own son as head of one of the nation’s most financially lucrative institutions was immediately greeted by public hostility and criticism. The people called it a pure case of nepotism. It immediately provoked an open split with President Sirleaf’s own Liberian sister and fellow Nobel Laureate, Leymah Gbowee, who also criticized Robert’s appointment. The Daily Observer quoted one female World Bank official as saying most of the Bank’s female employees blamed Ellen for the split with Leyma.

But main reason for our mention of Robert Sirleaf is his letter to the Auditor General, advising that there should be no audit for now at NOCAL until certain procedures were put into place.

And who was any Auditor General to deny Robert Sirleaf his wish? That would be tantamount to saying No to the new Steve Tolbert of Liberia. For no one in the early 1970s, not even Rocheforte L. Weeks, Foreign Minister and Dean of the Cabinet, could say no to Steve. Steve and Rocheforte clashed during President William R. Tolbert’s visit with United States President Richard Nixon in 1972. While Weeks was yet in Washington, President Tolbert fired him on radio, calling him all kinds of names.

The GAC has yet to audit NOCAL—an audit that may never take place, especially with so promising an enterprise now in disarray and bankrupt. When Robert Sirleaf took it over from former NOCAL Chairman Clemenceau Urey, there was US$31 million in its bank accounts. By the time Robert Sirleaf departed after approximately 18 months, the company was bankrupt.

We do not know whether the Kenyan Auditor General took any note of Robert Sirleaf’s letter to the Liberian Auditor General.

A great deal of auditing has gone on, and continues in Liberia. The public is wondering whether and when NOCAL will ever be audited.

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