20 December 2013

Liberia: Corruption Is "Public Enemy Number One"

It appears that President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has clearly reneged on her 2006 promise to make corruption "public enemy number one," a public declaration the Liberian leader made January 16, 2006 when she took the oath of office as President of Liberia.

The Liberian leader was applauded by her fellow compatriots and the international community for initiating what was thought a bold and decisive public declaration against corruption.

President Sirleaf's corruption fight declaration appeared to be a charade because the Liberian leader is certainly not matching her words with deeds.

However, the corruption battle that Madam Sirleaf refuses to fight will now be undertaken by the World Bank, which has declared corruption "public enemy number one" in developing countries, such as Liberia.

According to a release, the World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim said Thursday that the Bank Group is stepping up its fight against corruption, and called upon developing world partners and the private sector to be part of the solution.

"In the developing world, corruption is public enemy number one," said Kim, speaking at an event hosted by the World Bank's anti-corruption investigative arm.

"We will never tolerate corruption, and I pledge to do all in our power to build upon our strong fight against it," Kim accentuated in a speech. He was joined on stage by former World Bank President James D. Wolfensohn, former Chairman of the US Federal Reserve Paul Volcker, the current Chair of Transparency International Huguette Labelle, and Secretary of Finance for the Philippines Cesar V. Purisima.

It was Wolfensohn in 1996 who publicly declared corruption a "cancer," the first time a World Bank President spoke openly about the issue.

In the press release, Kim described the pernicious effects corruption can have in developing countries. "Every dollar that a corrupt official or a corrupt business person puts in their pocket is a dollar stolen from a pregnant woman who needs health care; or from a girl or a boy who deserves an education; or from communities that need water, roads, and schools. Every dollar is critical if we are to reach our goals to end extreme poverty by 2030 and to boost shared prosperity."

When President Sirleaf publicly declared corruption "public enemy number one" she got the support of the international community. From the start, it seemed a genuine fight because most of the institutions needed by international best practice or by law to make her campaign succeed were established.

She did prosecute former transitional head of state, Gyude Bryant along with some of his cabinet officials on corruption charges. Although Mr. Bryant and officials were purged of the allegation, but most Liberians and international partners thought that President Sirleaf was committed to her campaign.

However, unexpectedly, her corruption fight collapsed. Even more poignant about the President's corruption fight was the failure of the Liberian leader to renew the contract of the country's leading anti-corruption czar, John S. Morlu or bring on an individual like university lecturer and esteemed auditor, Theo D. Joseph. Morlu was frustrated and never allowed to renew his contract.

Speaking at the occasion, the World Bank President said he was taking an important step to fight corruption and help more people lead better and build institutions with greater integrity.

He described three key elements in the World Bank Group's approach: "First, we need to improve the way we share and apply knowledge about building institutions with greater integrity; second, we need to empower citizens with information and tools to make their governments more effective and accountable; and third, we need to build a global movement to prevail over corruption."

Kim announced that the World Bank Group will be creating a single pool of technical experts in rule of law, public sector, financial and state management, and public procurement. He said this "global practice on good governance" will become a major player in the anti-corruption effort for years to come.

To show how progress can be made in anti-corruption, Kim gave specific examples of how the World Bank and its partners have had an impact on the problem.

"When corruption threatened to derail a critical power project for southern African countries, the World Bank intervened, preventing more than US$6 million from being misused. In Afghanistan, we supported the Network for Integrity in Reconstruction which trained 980 people who have monitored 281 infrastructure projects worth US$247 million dollars."

In addition to governmental action in anti-corruption, Kim called on other partners to join the fight, including the private sector.

Kim: "The private sector has to be part of the solution as well. Oil, gas, and mining firms are increasingly disclosing their contracts with governments. This gives everyone a chance to scrutinize the behavior of corporate and public officials."

He noted that through innovative solutions in key sectors like engineering consulting, the World Bank has convinced major firms to commit to clean business practices.

At the event, three recipients of the World Bank's "Integrity Awards" were honored: the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, whose cooperation in an investigation resulted in World Bank sanctions and legal action; a senior financial management specialist whose vigilance in reviewing a project prompted corrective actions in the audit and treasury functions of the local government in China; and a person working in Timor Lester who unveiled fraud and corruption affecting US$44 million of World Bank-financed contracts.

Inspired by these examples, Kim said the World Bank Group is more committed than ever to continue the fight against corruption -- and that will be a critical part of the bank's work to end extreme poverty and to boost shared prosperity.

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