The Daily Observer welcomes statements attributed to President Weah charging that “corruption, waste, and the abuse of public resources have continuously undermined Liberia’s development since its existence”.
The President made the remarks on Monday, February 18, 2019 at a program marking the dedication of new modern State-of-the-Art facilities at the Internal Audit Agency (IAA).
Noting that “waste and abuse and pillage of public resources have continuously undermined Liberia’s development since independence”, President Weah pledged that his administration will spare no effort to fight corruption and end fraudulent fiscal practices in government.
President Weah further observed that “despite consistent and relentless efforts, officials of government continue to violate the public trust with impunity”. He observed that in order to nip fiscal malfeasance at government institutions in the bud, sustained support will have to be provided to anti-graft agencies to enable them discharge their functions to good effect.
These are indeed lofty and high sounding promises which, if actualized, could mark a departure from the ugly practices of the past. This newspaper conjectures that it is about time President Weah begins to take action to address the runaway corruption which appears to be taking root by the day.
And just as the President himself has admitted, officials of this government continue to violate the public trust with impunity. Consider the case involving bribery of former government officials involved in the negotiations of the ExxonMobil deal.
Former officials claimed the bonus payment to them by the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL) did not constitute bribery and did not violate the country’s laws. But their position was countered by the Special Committee set up by President Weah, upon his assumption of office, to probe into the allegations of bribery.
The Committee in its report recommended that those former government officials involved restitute amounts paid to them by Exxon Mobil thru NOCAL. Since the Committee submitted its report nearly a year ago, President Weah has failed to act on its recommendations.
In yet another example, even after a year in office, government officials have yet to declare their assets in keeping with the Asset Declaration requirement enshrined in the Code of Conduct for Public Officials. And it appears no amount of reminders or media reportage on their failure to comply has actually wrought any effect.
President Weah is on record in a recent interview with the BBC, in not so many words, leaving it up to his government officials to declare their assets. “They know it’s the law,” the President said, but did not say directly whether he would enforce their public declarations of assets. In the same interview, the President himself defended his own claim to have declared his assets but stop just short of making his assets declaration public. “It’s my privacy,” President Weah told the interviewer.
In still another instance, the disappearance of billions of Liberian dollar banknotes, explained mainly in half measures by concerned officials, remains a mystery although the government has since promised to release findings of the investigation which it had commissioned to probe into the disappearance of the money. That report has yet to be released to the public even though it is now close to a year since it was first commissioned.
Additionally, details of the supposed infusion of US$25 million into the economy to address liquidity problems still remains hazy and knowledge of the details has fallen into the realm of the arcane.
Some accounts claim that the money was distributed to money exchangers mainly in New Kru Town, yet there is no paper trail of the transactions and the public remains extremely doubtful of accounts provided by officials of this government.
And this government, particularly President Weah, should not lose sight of the fact that public concerns yet abound of what is described as a slew of construction projects being undertaken by him within this short period since his ascendancy to office.
President Weah should also be reminded of the danger of losing the groundswell of support he received from his Southeastern kith and kin whenever they should be hit with the reality that their most valuable asset (gold) which virtually covers the entire Southeast is being concessioned out to a broke company, Hummingbird Resources, under arrangements which offer little promise to the people of that region.
Research conducted by this newspaper when the issue first surfaced, revealed that the President Pro Tempore of the Liberian Senate, a native of the Southeast is a shareholder and stands to benefit immensely while the people of the southeast stand to benefit little or nothing from the concessioning out of their resources. This newspaper foresees and warns that conflicts between locals and concessionaires would continue to escalate.
And just what the nation is bearing witness to with the alleged illegal harvesting by locals of palm fruits from the Sime Darby plantations and the threatened pullout of the company should provide lessons on the implications of excluding local people from discussions in matters affecting their welfare.
Currently, Sime Darby is appealing to the government of Liberia to halt such illegal activities, most probably through the use of force. But given the weakness of the Liberian state to effectively exercise jurisdiction and control over its natural resources, it remains doubtful whether the government of Liberia would be capable of addressing their concerns without invoking the hostility and resistance of local people to Sime Darby’s extension.
All of this goes to say that official corruption often tends to alienate the people and it creates conditions that equally tend to drive people into extremist behavior such as the armed attacks on Sime Darby’s plantation security.
Corruption can also undermine the legitimacy of governments. In Burkina Faso, official corruption and repression eventually led to resistance and a people’s uprising that sent the once feared and powerful dictator Blaise Compaoré fleeing into exile. Today he faces an uncertain fate which may become even more uncertain when his benefactor, Ivorian President Alassane Outtara, leaves office soon.
Finally it must be said that, from experience in and around Africa, a sustained and committed fight against corruption always tend to engender solid mass support for that government. And it goes without saying that the effects of a corruption-free society can equally trigger the flow of beneficent redounds to the people.
President Weah must now turn his words into ACTION!