28 December 2012

Liberia: Slow Prosecution Discourages Battle Against Graft


Many officials accused of corruption, feebly attempt to justify their misdeeds by suggesting that corruption has existed in Liberia since time immemorial. That is most obviously meant to disclaim the notion of anyone blaming them to be the progenitor of corruption our society. This weak defense is usually meant to divert action and punishment against corruption by trying to convince public opinion to believe and accept that graft was part and parcel of normalcy in society.

Of course, people who make such unfolding statements without concrete statistics, do so believing they shouldn't be sanctioned because many others are likewise in their shoes walking with impunity. Why should they alone be penalized?

President William VS Tubman, was dubbed by his political contemporaries as 'the benevolent dictator' or "you eat, I eat." Pervasive corruption in a society which no one dared cast the first stone.

Unassuming William Tolbert, endured the system for 19 unbroken years and yearned for the day he would ascend onto the helm of power to change it all.

But his initial attempt to introduce a mechanism to deal graft a deadly blow was soon thwarted by gurus in the ruling True Whig Party who accused him of moving too fast. Tolbert later acknowledged their caution when he publicly advised Liberians to "move only with the speed they can control". Consequently, his National Force for the Eradication of Corruption (NFEC) that was meant to act and live to its name, quickly became a toothless bull dog in 1976.

Master-Sergeant Samuel Doe came on stage accusing the government of his predecessor of "rampant corruption" and threatening that anyone found guilty of corruption "will not live to tell the story."

His threats came without any meaningful mechanisms to investigate and punish corruption until he got entangled in the corruption web that choked him to cry: "Corruption can only be minimized; it cannot be eradicated."

A new Pandora Box opened when Mr. Charles Taylor, who schemed the removal of Doe, became president, reportedly made his private residence the custodian of the national treasury. Corruption was unheard of in officialdom until President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, in her first term, declared the vice as "public enemy number one".

But great regrets surely abound seven years later that corruption has not been given an undercut blow to keep it at bay. Despite major mechanisms like the General Auditing Commission, the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission, the PPCC and criminal courts established to fight graft, stakeholders in government and the private sector are agreed that the menace remains a major threat to economic growth and development.

Perhaps, Chief Zanzan Karwah, head of the Traditional Council of Liberia, reflected on this problem when he recently said in Gbarnga that government must first address corruption, nepotism and proliferation of political parties in order to pave way for success of the vision 2030 policy.

"When anybody eats government money, that person must be prosecuted; if that does not happen, vision 2030 would not be achieved," he observed at the Vision 2030 Conference.

Thousands of volumes of audit reports from GAC to the National Legislature and Chief Executive indicting several county and central government officials never landed any significant number of those accused in court for trial; but many were either promoted, transferred or untouched in impunity.

This, definitely, leads to the question: Then, what is the use of GAC, which receives heavy external and internal funding to unearth impropriety?

As for the LACC, it cries for adequate human and financial resources, and simultaneously laments that cases it submitted to government's prosecution arm have not been fully investigated and tried.

We insist that unless all anti-graft mechanisms work effectively with coordination and cooperation, our fight against corruption in government will remain a elusive task, especially when drastic examples are not set against people engaged in many forms of corruption in various strata of our society.

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