Finance Minister Samuel Tweah in his address to the nation on Independence Day, July 26, 2018 informed the Liberian people that the Weah Government had resolved to undertake a review of all past audit reports with the view to implementing their recommendations which was indeed a welcome assurance.
In the same vein, however, the Minister appears to express a preference for not implementing the recommendations of the various audit reports prepared by the General Auditing Commission (GAC). He said, “whether the present Government should spend scarce human and financial resources on going after former Government officials or whether the Government should focus on the big economic problems that burden our people is an interesting choice to make”.
Continuing, the Minister declared, “It is very obvious that investing resources in preventing new acts of corruption in the economic transformation of the country should be preferred. First, this approach minimizes the new Government’s exposure to accusations of witch-hunting. To the extent that evidence of such corruption exists, delaying these prosecutions does not prevent the demanded prosecutions from happening at some time in the future.”
Given the Minister’s assertions, the public is left with the impression that the Weah Government, despite lofty pronouncements about committing to the fight against corruption, it appears to be treading in the very footsteps of the Government of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf who soft-pedaled on runaway official corruption during her 12-year tenure of office. At her first inauguration in 2006, she pledged to treat corruption as public enemy Number One.
She faltered and instead accorded corrupt officials a pride of place in her government — a government under whose watch, over 60 bogus concession agreements were illegally concluded and passed into law, one of them being the 2013 ExxonMobil Agreement. But Finance Minister Tweah may not have realized that the Liberian public is more than anxious to see a turn-around in the management of the nation’s finances, amid strong hopes that stern action will be taken by the Weah government to deal with corrupt officials.
Accordingly, this newspaper finds it troubling to hear the Finance Minister declare that implementing or enforcing audit recommendations is tantamount to a witch-hunt. Does Finance Minister Samuel Tweah not believe in the independence and integrity of the personnel at the Audit Commission? Auditors are required to be competent, independent personnel and should be under good supervision.
Auditors usually follow the Auditing Standards and apply Generally Accepted Accounting Principles in determining if those audited violated any of the rules and regulations of his/her employer.
Is Minister Tweah telling the Liberian people that he is in agreement with his former boss and Liberia’s former Finance Minister, Amara Konneh, who has yet to provide information on the whereabouts of the 13 million United States dollars the European Union provided for healthcare under former President Sirleaf, that this Weah led government’s call for a review of past audit reports as tantamount to witch-hunting?
The Minister in his address stated that, “Corruption has been a root cause of the conflict[s] that have run through our history. This generation of Liberians and this new government must renew its pledge to fight and end corruption.” If the Minister’s assertion is to be taken seriously then why does he suggest that the Weah government should postpone submitting the audit reports to the appropriate agency for investigation and, or prosecution?
Does the Minister not realize statutes of limitation may run out in case prosecution does not follow within statutory time? Further, was President Weah’s political party (CDC) not one of those opposition parties that called on former President Sirleaf to prosecute those individuals mentioned in the various audit reports without delay? Did CDC militants not parade the streets of Monrovia with coffins in protest against official corruption and other vices?
Additionally, a delay in sending audit reports to the appropriate agency might embolden other individuals to commit more unsavory acts, and may not only dampen morale at the Audit Commission but serve to further entrench impunity. Moreover, the audit staff might view the delay in implementation of their recommendations as a blatant disregard of their efforts, which could prove counterproductive to the success of the institution.
On the other hand, moving the case forward will test the performance of the Audit Commission and allow the Audit Commission to review and correct their shortcomings. For example, a third and independent agency reviewing the audit report would ask the following questions. Did the auditor ask the right question; did those audited understand the issues and related questions; was an opportunity provided to those audited to discuss the auditor’s preliminary findings; did the auditor have the authority and use the laws, rules and regulations in accordance to his duties and responsibilities?
Also, the idea to postpone the implementation of the audit findings, including resolving financial issues, might create the possibility that an accused individual’s character might be tarnished unjustifiably. And, audit reports sometimes create the possibility for an accused to provide evidence that is contrary to the findings of the audit report. While it is true that the Audit Commission has an independent, competent and professional staff, it is possible that human error might be found in some of the audit reports.
Therefore, it would be prudent to resolve these audit issues in order to minimize the possibility of destroying the good character of some otherwise credible individuals which will constitute a denial or travesty of Justice.
Lastly, according to the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) President Weah has finally declared his assets in keeping with law, albeit at the eleventh hour.
The LACC has however not disclosed the contents of his asset declaration. Neither is it known whether his lieutenants have also done so in keeping with law. It is the view of this newspaper, however, that Asset Declaration is required by law as reflected in the National Code of Conduct and it applies to all three branches of government. And this information should be publicly available.
Part 10 of the Code of Conduct specifically requires that “every Public Official and Employee of government involved in making decisions affecting contracting, tendering or procurement, and issuance of licenses of various types sign performance or financial bonds and in addition declare his or her income, assets and liabilities prior to taking office and thereafter”.
The question therefore remains, is the Executive Branch, headed by the President, required to perform its duties such as forwarding audit reports to the appropriate agency and/or ministry? Or, better yet, is there any constitutional provision that gives the President the choice to cherry-pick, to discriminately enforce or restore the law by punishing violators? In short, is an audit report submitted to the appropriate agency based on the merits of the case or based on the discretion of the executive branch?
Meanwhile the Daily Observer Welcomes President Weah’s Asset Declaration!