Liberia: GAC - an Enemy or Ally - in View of the Near-Abandoned 78 Audit Reports Released

analysis

The General Auditing Commission (GAC) is one of several institutions berthed out of war, to straighten Liberia's governance process. It is a brainchild of the Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA) signed by head of warring factions, political party leaders and civil society groups to end month-long streets battle between forces of the then Charles Taylor-led administration and rebels of the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD). The National Transitional Legislative Assembly (NTLA) did the paper work to give birth to the organization whose mandate was clear and simple: to help in the fight against corruption by conducting professional audits of government agencies where deemed necessary. Upon taking office in 2006 after a landmark election, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf named John Morlu to head the Commission whose mandate was viewed as crucial considering the challenges to get Liberia back on track, to win the hearts of partners who were also keen on transparency and accountability. 78 audit reports have been released thus far but with practical action to act on those, thereby emitting concerns whether the GAC is being as an enemy or an ally in curtailing corruption is the question that begs answers. The New Republic, reports.

In spite of the exceedingly enormous energy the GAC has put in its work to rake Liberia of the nuances of corruption and acts of fiscal indecency often perpetrated by public officials, much remained to be seen in terms of 'scrubbing the bottom of the pot' to get the unwanted sludge of grains out.

Out of the total of 78 audit reports released by the GAC, an institution supported from Liberian taxpayers' monies and backed by huge international financial and material assistance, there seems no end in sight; thus the GAC appears to be alone fighting a battle it could lose.

Former AG John Morlu

In all of this, the question that keeps resonating across all spectrums of the 350,000 square miles of the country is whether the GAC has become a burden of embarrassment to the government, which came to power on the platform of making corruption the "Osama Bin Laden" of Liberia.

John Morlu and the GAC

The GAC began operations under the watchful and John Morlu, the first Liberian to occupy the hot seat of Auditor General, but had to face extreme opposition in some circles apparently because of his style of professional administration.

He struck a chord before the assuming the office of AG and many said the grudging opposition he experienced in his work hinged on the beforehand perception he provided about the government.

Morlu told the Voice of America at the time that the Ellen-led government was "three times corrupt than the Gyude-led transitional administration," out of which most Liberians have become the "Bill Gate" of the time.

An American trained accountant, he kept his head above troubled waters and executed the duties assigned with precision of strong determination.

Under his regime, the Ministry of Agriculture, National Social Security and Welfare Corporation, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Planning and Education Ministry were among several institutions and agencies that went through the x-ray of GAC audits.

All of these audit reports released by the GAC under Morlu, uncovered and revealed serious financial and administrative malpractices.

Thousands of dollars went in the breeze as far as the GAC audit report released on NASSCORP was concerned but the National Legislature which has oversight over the GAC exonerated the entity without subjecting it to due investigation.

The same is the Ministry of Finance where it was discovered by the GAC that about US$5 million in fiscal outturns of the period the audit covered could not be accounted for.

Two former finance ministers, in persons of Dr. Antoinette Sayeh and Augustine Ngafuan were held accountable but they both denied any wrongdoing and their denial was buttressed by President Sirleaf who came in their defense later.

Since then, no official step toward retrieving the amount has been taken, and attending inference is also that the amount has gone in vein and that the GAC was made a spectacle of public taunting.

Of all the audit reports released with overwhelming abuse of public monies by those in whose care entrusted, records showed, that the government was only able to try one former official, namely Albert Bropleh, former head of the Liberia Telecommunication Authority (LTA).

Dr. Chris Toe, former Agriculture Minister who was accused of wrongdoing in the Caterpillar worms attack in parts of Lofa and Bong Counties, only lost his job but not subjected to prosecution.

Another important audit released by the GAC concentrated on the use of County Development Fund (CDF), a new approach initiated by the Ellen-led government to expand development to all parts of the country, which the Ministry of internal Affairs had oversight over.

The audit discovered widespread financial malpractices and out-of-system awarding of bogus contracts by certain officials, to the extent that Ambullai Johnson, a relative of the president was forced to relinquish his post, instead of trying him to exonerate himself or not.

At the expiry of his contract, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf declined renew Morlu's contract and the GAC was placed in the caretaker hand of Wesley Nanka, who served as deputy the departed Morlu, credited for the success of the GAC in a short period of time.

Under the caretaker reign of Nanka, the GAC did not lose grip on the performance index as it launched deeper to find the hidden skeletons.

Nanka and his team worked twenty-four hours around the clock, criss-crossing the country to delve into the application and management of the CDF of few counties, coupled with the audit of strategic public agencies.

Grand Bassa, Grand Gedeh topped the rest of the counties audited by the GAC to establish how they managed public monies given them for development purposes.

Those audits have since been completed and the result showed massive abuse of the trust imposed in two local officials, namely Christ Bailey, Grand Gedeh, and Julia Duncan Cassell, Grand Bassa.

So far so good, it is only Chris Bailey that is being charged and indicted in connection to the similar audits in which others are linked to have acted outside of the rules.

Before the taking over of a new AG, former Acting Auditor General Winsley Nanka submitted to the National Legislature and the President of Liberia the Japanese Petroleum Non-Project Grant,, the first Investigative Report on the Japanese Petroleum Non-Project Grant extended to the Government of Liberia, and the Performance Audit Report on staffing Regulations at the University of Liberia for the operating period 2008/2009 and 2009/2010.

Again, there is too much noise in the air regarding the prudency and timeliness of those audits, with suggestions in some quarters that it was released out of malice and prejudice, because the president failed to name Nanka as head of the Commission.

Besides GAC audits recorded, dozens of other reports remained uncounted for, or are yet to be acted upon.

New AG in charge

Now that the GAC is under the control of new Auditor General, someone many are trying to compare to the first man who managed the affairs of the institution that means so well for Liberia as far as pinning down corruption is concerned.

Robert Kilby, like John Morlu, is a high-profiled American trained accountant with exciting worth of experience in all spheres' of the accounting profession.

He bragged of having a vault of knowledge which he hoped to use to transform the GAC and make it one of the best in the world, a statement which suggests that his predecessors had some shortcomings in meeting the contemporary challenges that come with the work.

Kilby did not appreciate his distant predecessor when it came to the handling of audit reports, but when asked recently on his perception of Morlu's work at the GAC, he stuttered, saying "it is unprofessional to praise or criticize."

But the difference between him and Morlu is that he did not criticize the government corruption records before and after he was named to the post, something Morlu did without fear or favor.

Whether he is in agreement with the way things are proceeding in government as shown by audit reports released by the GAC before him, observers say he is playing the game well to his chest, and in that way, he may bang in the needed breakthroughs which could lead to government taking firm actions against would-be indicted officials.

What remains clear is that too much audit reports are released by the Commission, no matter under whose administration the government is under obligation to act upon them as a affirmative way of curtailing the greatest threat to peace, security, development and social harmony, corruption.

Whether the GAC is an enemy or an ally in the fight against corruption will be proven in time to come under the newly approved AG, Kilby.

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