The General Auditing Commission (GAC) has described statements attributed to the Minister of Justice, Madam Christiana Tah, the Deputy Minister of Justice for Economic Affairs, Mr. Benedict Sarnoh, the Solicitor General of Liberia, Madam Betty Larmie Blamo, the Minister of Information, Mr. Lewis Brown, and the Deputy Minister for Information, Mr. Isaac Jackson, which they were said to have "rubbished" reports issued by the General Auditing Commission as not competent for prosecution, as an affront to its efforts to ensure accountability and transparency in public sector financial management in Liberia.
According to local media reports, The Solicitor General, and the Deputy Minister of Justice for Economic Affairs also indicated during their public pronouncements that the Auditor General does not have the authority to recommend prosecution, only the Solicitor General has that authority.
It is very unfortunate that because of political expediency, senior government officials can make utterances which undermine the sacrifices the GAC has made over the years to ensure that accountability and transparency are the hallmark of public sector financial management.
The GAC, in a release issued in Monrovia, made specific reference to the statement attributed to the Deputy Minister of Justice for Economic Affairs and the Solicitor General, that the Auditor General is not clothed with the authority to recommend prosecution, as sad and regretful.
The GAC said it appears that the two senior Justice Ministry officials lacked a basic understanding of the Executive Law of 1972 Chapter 53.7 which specifically states among others that "When appropriate, the report (Auditor General's report) shall also include recommendations for executive action or legislation deemed necessary to improve the receipt, custody, accounting and disbursement of public monies and other assets."
Additionally, the Public Financial Management Act of 2009 Regulations A.20(4-5), stipulates that "on the recommendations of the Minister or the Auditor- General, disciplinary action for misconduct shall be taken against the head of government agency who has contravened any instruction specified in these regulations or accounting manual.
The release said recommendations for executive action could be prosecution, restitution or anything the Auditor General deems necessary to cure deficiencies noted in the reports.
The release also said that what happens in other jurisdictions - which either due to a lack of knowledge or a dereliction of duty by the Justice Minister and her Solicitor General - is to have GAC staff to sit with Justice Ministry's lawyers to review pieces of evidence for those cases which are prosecutable and ask the GAC to provide additional evidence in its working papers file, if necessary.
The release also said the Justice Minister and new Solicitor General have never contacted the GAC about any case needing additional evidence, except during the tenure of the former solicitor general; yet, they chose to go on the airwaves to disparage audit reports prepared with the technical assistance and expertise of European Union (EU), World Bank, USAID, Auditor Generals of Ghana, Zambia, South Africa and other international partners.
The GAC said that it appears that senior Liberian Government officials who have of late been making public utterances against the GAC audit reports lack an understanding of the fundamental role of the GAC and the reports it issues.
According to the GAC, majority of the audit recommendations are systems and controls issues relating to material weaknesses, reportable conditions and significant deficiencies which are meant to improve operating efficiency in public institutions, if implemented by auditees.
If the government ministries and agencies were implementing the recommendations in the GAC audit reports, the fraud, waste and abuse in Government would not only be minimized, but would mitigate re-occurrences of identified deficiencies.
The GAC release said only minority of the issues in the audit reports are prosecutable. Therefore, what the Justice Minister and her Solicitor General need to do is to work with the GAC to provide additional persuasive audit evidence the Ministry needs for the prosecution of those cases.
According to the release, there is sufficient evidence to prosecute those cases that are prosecutable. For example, what additional pieces of evidence the Minister of Justice and her Solicitor General need to institute legal action against the former Managing Director of the Roberts International Airport (RIA), who without following the Public Procurement and Concession Act of 2005, took US35,000 of public money and wired it to a purported company in London for a pathfinder which was never received. The RIA management has admitted to this claim.
"The Ministry of Justice should hold itself responsible for its inability to prosecute applicable corruption cases. It is an open secret that the Justice Ministry is weak and does not have the capacity to prosecute difficult corruption cases; this is why officials of the ministry hide behind their inadequacies by always claiming that there is not sufficient evidence to prosecute.
For example the Justice Ministry refused to prosecute the case involving the former Inspector General of Police as recommended by the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) on grounds that the case lacked sufficient evidence. The GAC notes that the LACC took on the case the Justice Ministry claimed lacked sufficient evidence and won."
"During one of the very few important corruption cases the Ministry of Justice won against two young men who transferred US$1.1 million from the Central Bank of Liberia to Ecobank in 2009, the GAC paid almost US$30,000 for a signature analysis expert, a former FBI officer from Chicago, the United States of America, to come to Liberia to analyze the signatures of the President of Liberia, the former Deputy Minister of Revenue and others, who signatures were forged in the matter.
The Central Bank of Liberia later underwrote the cost of the expert to come to Liberia for the second time to testify during the case. If it had not been for GAC's audit report, the government would not have won this case."
The GAC release further said that as for Information Minister Lewis Brown and his Deputy, they do not have any effective communication strategy for the Government, therefore to remain relevant, they make pronouncements about issues they have little or no knowledge about on talk shows and hold press conferences that achieve nothing for the Government.
The Liberian anti-graft office said it is saddened for institutions in government to intentionally vilify its hard-earned credibility, thereby sending a discouraging signal to the Liberian people and outside world, especially our international donor partners.
These wild assertions, by highly placed Government officials, who obviously know very little or nothing about the Auditing Profession, must by necessity lead one to wonder about their motivation.
Where were these officials when the GAC audit reports were one of the primary international requirements for Liberia to reach Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) completion points, which led to the forgiveness of the more than US$4 billion of external debt, the release said.
The Commission reminds these government officials that all of its audits meet international standards, including International Standards of Supreme Audit institutions (ISSAIs) and International standards on Auditing (ISAs), promulgated respectively by International Organization of Supreme Audit Institutions (INTOSAI) and International Federation of Accountants (IFAC).
The General Auditing Commission remains committed to conducting credible audits to ensure an accountable and transparent public sector financial management system.
The GAC is therefore assuring the Liberian people and the international partners that there is no statute of limitation, particularly on cases relating to constructive fraud with respect to the relevance of audit reports. If the Christiana Tah led Justice Ministry does not consider it necessary at this time to take appropriate actions on GAC audit reports, then another Justice Minister in the future could revisit the contents or merits of these reports and take actions as appropriate under the law, the release concluded.