12 December 2012

Liberia: Ellen 'Unresponsive' to Audit Reports

A monthly forecast of the UN Security Council has indicated a concern of the UN Secretary General that the government of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has failed to take action on anti-corruption cases and that her administration remained unresponsive to audit reports that highlight corruption in public institutions.

But Deputy Information Minister for Public Affairs, Issac Jackson when contacted, told this paper that he is attending the Vision 2030 conference in Gbarnga, Bong County.

The Council expressed concern about this issue, particularly after the Secretary-General's special report sharply criticized President Johnson Sirleaf's government for shortcomings in the areas of governance and reconciliation, both of which bear directly on security.

It said politics in Liberia have remained somewhat fractious, pointing to recent events including the resignation in October of Leymah Gbowee, co-winner of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize with President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as head of the Peace and Reconciliation Commission, a group set up by Johnson Sirleaf a year ago to promote dialogue among Liberians of different political leanings, as well as peace and security.

Gbowee cited "differences in opinion on the pathway for national healing and reconciliation" and criticized the President for condoning corruption and nepotism.

However, speaking Tuesday on the Truth Breakfast Show on Renaissance Radio, Madam Gbowee reechoed her previous statement she made in Paris during the launch of her book, stating that she was disappointed in Madam Sirleaf because the President failed to address the issues of corruption and nepotism. According to Madam Gbowee, these issues were vices Madam Sirleaf stood against during the Tolbert regime and are mentioned in her book, "This Child Will Be Great".

Earlier in August, Johnson Sirleaf suspended her son, Charles, as central bank deputy governor for failing to declare his assets. Another son, Fumba, is head of the National Security Agency, while the third, Robert, is senior adviser to the President and Chairman of the state-owned National Oil Company of Liberia.

"The Secretary-General's 16 April special report (S/2012/230) had previously stated that Johnson Sirleaf had failed to take action on anti-corruption cases and that her administration remained unresponsive to audit reports that highlight corruption in public institutions, the council indicated.

Apart from the corruption issue raised by the Council, the report also highlighted concerns raised by the Committee on children and human rights regarding violation of international conventions and protocols.

According to the Council, among the areas of concern was that Liberia has not taken actions against armed actors operating along the borders who have continued to recruit children into their ranks. The committee recommended that Liberia implement necessary measures to prevent the recruitment and use of children, as well as investigate those recruitments and providing necessary psychosocial support and recovery assistance to child victims.

"The key issue for the Council is to deny anti-government forces and mercenaries access to resources and weapons with which to destabilize Liberia and its neighbours, the report recommended. An increasing concern for the Council is the strong link between former Liberian fighters and the growing pro-Gbagbo militia activities in Côte d'Ivoire.

"The recent security developments along the Liberia-Côte d'Ivoire border have once again alerted the Council to the volatility of the region. Council members are particularly worried by the easy movement of arms and militias across the borders of Liberia and other countries adjacent to Côte d'Ivoire, especially in light of the fragility of most of the countries in the region- including Guinea and Sierra Leone.

Based to the fragile movements along the borders, the report alerted the council about the volatility of the movement of people along the Liberia-Côte d'Ivoire border. Council members are also particularly worried by the easy movement of arms and militias across the borders of Liberia and other countries adjacent to Côte d'Ivoire, especially in light of the fragility of most of the countries in the region-- including Guinea and Sierra Leone.

The Council says it is worried about violations of these measures, in some cases with the apparent complicity of the Liberian government. Since these measures were designed to protect the government and the Liberian state, some Council members have tended to conclude that they are probably obsolete.

The report cited the progressive delisting of individuals in Liberia from both the travel ban and asset freeze lists. Moreover, it indicates that the measures may no longer be relevant or effective, and some Council members appear to be keen on dropping them.

However, Audit reports submitted to the Legislature and Executive Branches of Government by the General Auditing Commission (GAC) is said to be undergoing rigorous scrutiny by the Ministry of Justice.

Latest reports filtering into our offices indicate that the Liberian Government through the Ministry of Justice has constituted a team of lawyers to review audit reports from GAC.

There are indications that the audit reports have indicated several local government officials of corruption and other financial malpractices in the expenditure of their county development and social development funds.

The GAC, after its thorough investigation in the various counties, submitted its findings to the Executive with recommendations for the prosecution of those implicated in the reports.

Deputy Information Minister for Public Affairs Isaac Jackson confirmed the review of the audit reports by the Justice Ministry.

He said in order to effectively and professionally tackle corruption cases, a special team of lawyers from the Justice Ministry is reviewing the GAC audit reports from the various counties.

Minister Jackson said the team has already completed the review and visitation at project sites in Grand Bassa, Margibi and Montserrado Counties, while investigation continues in Bomi, Sinoe, Nimba, and Rivercess counties.

He said officials implicated in the findings will be indicted for prosecution as a way of strengthening transparency.

He alluded that government has already obtained conviction in the case, Republic of Liberia vs. Albert Bropleh despite appeal to the Supreme Court.

Minister Jackson spoke Friday at a roundtable discussion on the prospects and challenges in the fight against corruption organized by the LACC as part of activities marking this year's official celebration of the International Anti-Corruption Day which was officially celebrated yesterday.

Also speaking at the roundtable discussion, Deputy Justice Minister for Administration and Public Safety, Freddie Taylor, said the Justice Ministry has received the GAC audit reports and sent independent investigators to seek further facts, confirmation and clarity where there are doubts.

"Our investigators are looking at the various projects that were partly and fully completed along with assessors from the Finance and Public works Ministries to give a professional determination of the project costs and value", Minister Taylor noted.

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