The New Dawn (Monrovia)

1 July 2013

Liberia: Undermining the Corruption Fight

The Government of Liberia much publicized anti-corruption drive is rapidly becoming a mere lip-service here unless a fundamental bottle-neck is urgently addressed - the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission prosecutorial power to legally deal with public officials suspected of siphoning state funds. The LACC was established by an act of the Legislature to battle widespread graft and corruption in the public sector, but relies on the Ministry of Justice to qualify suspects for prosecution, which in some instances is not forthcoming.

The Commission has twice sought legislations to be able to directly prosecute suspects, but denied by the first branch of government, specifically the 53rd Liberian Legislature. President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf recently submitted the bill to the Legislature to grant the LACC prosecutorial power to directly try government officials caught in corruption after preliminary investigation.

The House of Representatives passed the bill, but the Senate rejected same last week on grounds that the government already has its prosecutorial arm. Senate President Pro-tempore Gbehzongar Milton Findley defended that the Ministry of Justice is the government arm responsible to prosecute cases, and there was no need to legislate a specific power for another state institution to perform a duty that has been fully assigned.

The Executive Chairperson of the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission Cllr. Frances Johnson-Allison has described the Senate's decision as a bad news. "This is bad news because the rejection amounts to a lost opportunity for the Lawmakers to have demonstrated their political commitment to fight against corruption", Cllr. Johnson-Allison said Friday when she hosted the Commission's 2nd quarterly chat with the media in Monrovia.

Indeed, this is a lost opportunity not only by the lawmakers, but the entire government to demonstrate that the corruption fight is not just another political posturing to attract sympathy from international partners and foreign governments. We believe that the LACC should be given teeth to bite rather than running to the Justice Ministry every now and then for approval to go to court.

A drawback of such bureaucracy glaringly manifested itself sometimes ago when the LACC indicted former police director Munah Sieh-Brown and others for misapplying funds provided by the UNDP to purchase uniforms for police officers. The Commission investigated, charged and forwarded the accused to the Justice Ministry for subsequent prosecution, but the ministry cleared them on the basis of lack of sufficient evidence.

However, the Cllr. Johnson-Allison-led LACC, convinced that it had sufficient evidence against the accused, subsequently went to court and after trial, the pity jurors brought down a unanimous guilty verdict against the ex-police chief and others. But the judge set aside the jurors' verdict and sought a new trial. The case is currently before the Supreme Court of Liberia for interpretation.

The resilient by the Commission to prove beyond reasonable doubts that individuals indicted for corruption did indeed, carry on the cat, should be applauded by all members of this government, including members of the 53rd Liberian Legislature because success for the LACC is the success of the entire government, which comes with it huge credibility dividends.

Rather than acting in ways that could frustrate the sincere efforts of the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission to fighting this endemic in our society, particularly in the public sector, we urge both the Justice Ministry and the Senate to see granting the Commission prosecutorial power as a step in the right direction in redeeming the image of the entire government relative to transparency and accountability. It should not be misconstrued in certain sectors as an attempt to witch-hunt, but to save our country from graft and dishonesty, which undermine national growth and development.

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