Many Liberians, owing to their low level of social consciousness, perceive that development comes by magic from God the Father. Such perception belie commonly heard declarations/statements like “In the name of Jesus it will happen; prayer is the key, God will do it for us” and so forth. True, God the Father is there and, according to Scriptures, He has promised to be with us wherever we are if only we believe in Him and do what He says.
But He also attaches conditions; which include hard work and self discipline in line with His word. As the Scriptures say, faith without works is empty and virtually useless. “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11).
On hard work the Scriptures have this to say: “All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty” (Proverbs 14:23-24). Are we Liberians doing what He commands us? This is the point at which many Liberians, regardless of their professed commitment to serving God and their often bandied claims about their nation being founded on Christian principles, abysmally fall short. In recent public statements attributed to newly elected Bong County senator, Henry Tokpa, he frowned on those public officials who lack integrity and have failed to declare their assets in keeping with law.
In spite of all the good laws and integrity institutions established to monitor and control possible errant behavior of public officials, the nightmare of corruption, dishonesty and insincerity on the part of public officials appear to be increasing by the day while the masses of the people continue to wallow in abject poverty and disease. “Thou shalt not steal” is not only a biblical commandment, it is also forbidden according to the Holy Quran. Proverbs 20:17 says, “Food gained by fraud tastes sweet, but one ends up with a mouth full of gravel”.
In the Holy Quran, the Hadith on theft says: “Allah will severely punish the one who steals a span of land”.
But these religious ordinances, not withstanding, appear to mean little to public officials in the performance of their duties. Under the Code of Conduct, public officials including the President, Vice President and Ministers amongst others are obliged to declare their assets before taking office and thereafter.
The Code of Conduct Section 10.1 states: “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.” Sadly, this law has been disrespected and virtually disregarded by many government officials clothed with the authority to make decisions. In fact, many of them begin building up their assets upon getting into public positions.
They unconscionably abuse their authority, steal public funds and they do with impunity. These mindsets also apply to those seeking elected office as Senators and Representatives in our country. These areas of public service have become, in a way, “Paradise” for fortune seekers. Once there, they become virtually laws unto themselves, engaging in unlawful behavior such as the passage of bogus concession agreements which they do with impunity.
Public officials are on record for unashamedly encouraging corrupt behavior. The “I eat you eat, and the law is made for the people and not for us,” were the words of a legislator. Also, “this is our time to eat”, is attributed to the second highest official in the land. In yet other instances, there are those whose official positions bar them from being involved in contractual business but are, instead, surreptitiously operating construction firms in the names of front-men and women, and awarding public contracts to them without a transparent bidding process.
Further, it has been observed, especially since the end of the civil war, it has been a practice for departing lawmakers to expropriate all office equipment bought for their use in office by the General Services Agency (GSA). This newspaper, for example, recalls that when the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Administration was turning over in January this year, many officials of government attempted stripping (taking away) vehicles that were assigned to them.
So, where are we with integrity in this country? Former President King, commenting on impropriety in government, once said, ”the fish begins to rot from the head”. It is often expressed by some that Liberia will become better through prayers in the next generation to come. What a myth! This newspaper holds as true that in the realm of human experience, great and successful societies are generally not built on weak foundations.
But building a strong foundation encompasses and requires hard work and discipline. Other countries that have made development strides on the African continent and other parts of the world have done so on strong foundations of hard work and a principled stance on corruption, leaving little room for impunity to thrive. For Liberia, there is a growing tendency to hail people who steal public funds and orchestrate war and violence against us.
We reward war criminals and others of tainted public records with prestigious and lucrative positions that see them arrogantly parading the corridors of power with brazen impunity. Strongly agreeing with Bong County Senator Henry Tokpa, this newspaper maintains that adherence to the Asset Declaration law and integrity in public service can very well serve to minimize corruption and enhance efforts to break the hold of the culture of impunity in Liberia.
But whether public service officials, especially at the highest levels, can set the right examples, yet remains questionable.
This is our predicament!