This newspaper’s attention is drawn to the latest action taken by President Weah to have LACC Chairman James Verdier replaced by Cllr. Charles Gibson and the instruction by Minister of State Nathaniel McGill to ensure that Mr. Verdier declares his assets in keeping with the Asset declaration provisions enshrined in the national Code of Conduct. But McGill, from all indications and contrary to law, has so far failed to declare his assets as required by law failing to realize that he who comes to equity must do so with clean hands.
This newspaper is however reliably informed that Verdier’s tenure has just about expired. The letter sent by McGill authorizing Cllr. Gibson to act until otherwise directed appears to however convey a distinct impression that Cllr. Verdier has actually been fired by President Weah. Interestingly McGill’s letter instructing Cllr. Gibson to ensure that Verdier remains compliant with provisions of the law requiring public officials to declare their assets before and after leaving office. Those provisions are contained in Section 10.1 of the Code of Conduct titled: “Declaration of Assets and Performance Bonds”.
Section 10.1 of the Code of Conduct says: “Every Public Official and Employee of Government involved in making decisions affecting contracting, tendering or procurement, and issuance of licenses of various types shall sign performance or financial bonds and shall in addition declare his or her income, assets and liabilities prior to taking office and thereafter: (a) at the end of every three years; (b) on promotion or progression from one level to another; (c) upon transfer to another public office; and (d) upon retirement or resignation.
While many in the public have expressed concerns that the President’s move against Verdier appears analogous to an attack on integrity institutions, the instructions to have him declare his assets as he leaves office is however in keeping with law, no matter the outpouring of concerns about what some see as an assault on integrity institutions.
That means Cllr. James Verdier does not have the luxury of deciding whether or not he abide by the President’s instructions. And in keeping with law, he is under obligation to declare his assets which he should be more than willing to do especially given his knowledge of the law and his background as a rights and justice advocate.
That said, this newspaper finds itself constrained to question just why President Weah has not made public his asset declaration as prescribed by law. This newspaper also questions why other government officials have not declared their assets and why President Weah has not seen it fit to compel compliance of his officials.
Further, his response to the BBC when confronted with the question why he has not made his asset declaration public, as well as those of his officials, President Weah appeared to have conveyed the impression that he had adopted a complicit posture in solidarity with those officials flouting the law.
A commonly accepted maxim in our jurisdiction hoary with age says “he who comes to equity must do with clean hands”. Why for example would the Minister of State who has yet to declare his assets, as required by law, not done so but at the same time insists that others should declare their assets?
Further, the choice of Cllr. Charles Gibson, an individual with serious integrity issues be appointed to head an anti-graft integrity institution. Why would the government shoot itself in the leg by appointing Cllr. Gibson to the post when it was well aware that the individual was beclouded with a host of integrity issues, which had cast a pall on his character.
As usual, this newspaper must warn President Weah that so much is expected of him that he cannot afford to fail. In this regard, he has to take a strong stance against corruption lest corruption takes a stand against him and undermine his government. The President is thus called to attention to start the ball rolling by making public the findings of the investigations into the missing money.
There are speculations aplenty in the public about the squandering of public resources for the benefit of a few individuals considered close to the President. Indeed, corruption, runaway corruption and the effects are being felt in the daily lives of the ordinary Liberian in the form of rising prices and a sharp decline in the provision of social services. President Weah has to take stock of the situation and adopt the appropriate mitigating measures to address the problem.
The Asset Declaration law is intended to help enhance greater transparency and accountability in the management of public resources. But it can only be effective and produce results if officials of government respect it and remain compliant with its provisions. And of this means there should be appropriate penalties applied against those who fail compliance checks.
All available evidence so far seem to suggest that government officials are not respecting the Asset Declaration law simply because President Weah has not met full compliance by making public his asset declaration and equally insisting that his officials become complaint or else face sanctions.