Article 15 a) of the Constitution of the Republic of Liberia speaks about the right to freedom of expression and it emphatically states that this right shall not be curtailed, restricted or enjoined by Government except during an emergency declared in accordance with the Constitution. In the same Article 15 c), it says that “in pursuance of this right there shall be no limitation on the public right to be informed about the Government and its functionaries”.
In Chapter II, Article 5 under the heading, ”General Principles of National Policy”, it calls for the Republic to “take steps by appropriate legislation and executive orders , to eliminate sectionalism, and tribalism, and such abuses of power as the misuse of government resources, nepotism and all other corrupt practices”.
The Daily Observer notes that in pursuance and fulfillment of these constitutional provisions, that President Sirleaf in January, 2012 issued Executive Order 38 mandating all government officials to make financial disclosures and declare their assets to the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC). Many of her officials remained unmoved until she threatened dismissals for any official found to be non-compliant with her directive.
And the magic worked because by the end of the year, all officials in the Executive branch had declared their assets. According to available information, the LACC initiated an asset verification process to review these declarations. In October 2012, the LACC, following review of the process, highlighted several discrepancies and instances where some individuals could not explain the source of their wealth.
Although the LACC was not required to release the contents of the declarations, it nevertheless released aggregate information about officials’ cooperation and the overall results of the asset verification process. Prior to 2012, however, the Sirleaf government in 2010 passed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
The Act provides that the government should release government information not involving national security or military issues upon request. There are concerns however, that the FOIA needs additional work to ensure that to ensure that citizens can easily access information to verify that government funds were properly spent and accounted for.
At his assumption of office in January 2018, President Weah, on oath swore to uphold, protect and defend the Constitution of the Republic of Liberia. This, of course, implied that he obligated himself to respect and uphold laws and statutes of the Republic as well. Strangely, President Weah displayed seeming reluctance to declare his assets in keeping with law, preferring instead to do so at the eleventh hour.
Even stranger is the fact that his asset declaration and those of his officials are being kept under wraps contrary to the Constitution, laws and statutes of the Republic. Without having declared his assets, President Weah immediately embarked on personal construction projects including the demolition of his 9th Street home and its reconstruction currently ongoing. He as well as his officials have been spending public funds as required by duties imposed by their respective offices.
Hence there is a critical need to ensure that personal funds are not being co-mingled with public funds. This newspaper recalls that prior to becoming President of the Republic, George Weah had under oath, in a child support lawsuit in the United States, declared that he was earning a mere 1,000 US dollars per month as Senator and did not have the required means to provide support to his child.
Well, the nation knew better because as Vice President Jewel Howard has recently disclosed, Senators earn 10,000 US dollars per month excluding benefits. Incidentally, Vice President Jewel Howard Taylor, as former Bong County senator was one of the crafters of the National Code of Conduct requiring government officials to declare their assets as well as sign the Code of Conduct.
Section 10.1 of the Code of Conduct 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 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”.
Section 20.1 of the Code of conduct requires signing of the Code by new employees at induction into public service. It provides that “All Public Officials and Employees of Government shall sign this Code of Conduct at his or her induction into the public service or at the commencement of his or her orientation program. Refusal to sign is tantamount to declining the appointment or offer of employment”.
The Code of Conduct goes even further, requiring those already in public service to sign it. In Section 20.2 the Code provides that “All Public Officials and Employees of Government already in the service of Government at the coming into force of this Code of Conduct shall be required to sign the Code”.
This newspaper has highlighted all this to remind President Weah that he is running and presiding over a government, not a secret society where such matters of public policy are considered arcane. The Public has the right to know everything there is to know about individuals who enter or are desirous of entering the public space.
Their financial standing and wealth must be publicly disclosed to ensure that public funds are not co-mingled with private funds. The fact that most officials of government have not declared their assets, coupled with the fact that President Weah and Vice President Taylor have only done so at the eleventh hour, suggests that these officials hold and share a common belief that they can flout the laws of the Republic and get away with it by virtue of their statuses as “Big Shots”.
This brings us back to this newspaper’s editorial of August 7, 2018 reminding President Weah that “It is Time to End Impunity’. President Weah and Officials Must Publicly Disclose Their Assets!