Liberia: President Trump's Ambassador Nominee Tells Senate Foreign Relations Committee, He'll Engage Weah Govt. On Graft

Washington. — Mr. Michael A. McCarthy, President Donald Trump's nominee as the new Ambassador to Liberia made a promise to the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations Thursday that he would press the George Weah-led administration to change the damaging perception of corruption that has been dogging the government, now in its third year.

Pressed by Senator Bob Menendez(Democrat, New Jersey), a ranking member of the committee, on his assessment of the government's willingness and capacity to address corruption and what would he do if confirmed, to press the government to adequately address the corruption issue, Mr. McCarthy said he would devise a three-pronged approach toward making the case.

Corruption 'Very Important Issue'

Said Mr. McCarthy: "It is a very important issue and I would approach that from a three-part approach: Number one, we have embedded US Personnel experts, administrative experts in various ministries throughout the government of Liberia who are teaching their counterparts how to properly managed public funds."

At the same time, Mr. McCarthy said, if confirmed, he would publicly recognized governmental and non-governmental organizations that are focused on pushing for anti-corruption which is the anti-corruption commission of Liberia and the auditor general of Liberia and will probably support those organizations wherever feasible.

Third and most importantly, he averred, he would be clear to the president, to the government, how central it is to change the perception of corruption in Liberia, not just for not just for private investment but also for things like the Millennium Challenge Corporation - if there are interests in additional compacts.

"We are just wrapping the MCC compact of US$257 million in Liberia that the kinds of things in Liberia that the president and people have been asking for, additional electricity, additional water and build roads. However, to get the compact from the MCC they will have to pass the MCC scorecard which I'm sure you're aware, they have not passed in the last two years. So, I will highlight the absolute, essential importance of taking on corruption as a problem and resolving the problem and the perception of the problem - if they wish to move forward."

MCC Quagmire Looms

Since qualifying for the first MCC grant in 2015, Liberia has benefited immensely.

In 2016, Liberia received a grant of US$257 million from the United States through the MCC to enhance its electricity and road projects. A total of 85% of the Compact funds have been committed in contracts, while 73% of total compact budget has been disbursed. The five-year compact is already into its halfway stage and intends to impact an estimated half a million Liberians before ending in 2021.

Some of that money has been used to support the energy sector, providing access to reliable and affordable electricity and building the foundation for the periodic maintenance of primary roads in the country. However, following a dismal performance in the 2019 scorecard, Liberia appears to be hanging on a thread unless it can reverse some of the trends that cost the country to drop points.

Diplomatic observers say, in order for Liberia to remain in the program, several factors have to come into play and the Weah-led government, in response to the below performance on the 2020 scorecard, has acknowledged that it is challenged to work to improve in a whole set of areas.

Gauging on past numbers, the administration is hopeful of making improvements. For example, last year Liberia passed inflation but failed Health Care Expenditure. This year Liberia failed inflation but passed Health care expenditure. The rise in inflation took Liberia above the median score of its peers. Passing the Healthcare spending this year keeps Liberia at 8 out of minimum 10 indicators needed to pass.

The 2019 score prompted President Weah to suggest a paradigm shift in the way MCC conduct its scorecard. "We need a paradigm shift in the MCC," the President said last November when he broke ground for a US$18 million raw water pipeline at White Plains financed by the MCC.

While acknowledging that the MCC Compact is a good thing for Liberia, the President said at the time the paradigm shift is necessary for Liberia to gain the necessary experience and tutelage from the US, to enable his government successfully pass the scorecard next year - or at least improve. "I did not go to university to stay in school for the rest of my life - that's why I was doing homework and what have you. So, if we get homework to do and we have courses to take, please give us the extra study class and let teachers be there, so we can make an effort," President Weah said.

On Thursday, Senator Menendez's line of questioning was predicated on his assessment that there is a wave of dissatisfaction and high-profile scandals under the Weah-led government.

McCarthy's comments on the corruption climate in Liberia come just a day after Mr. Alexander Cummings, chair of the Collaborating Political Parties slammed the Weah administration as being corrupt.

"We know that the root cause of poverty is corruption. Where corruption thrives, as it is currently, poverty will rise. This government is very corrupt. In fact, it is the most corrupt we have had. This is not only the opinion of the Liberian opposition. It is the result of a global assessment. As a result, despite being blessed with many natural resources and endowments, our people are becoming poorer and even more destitute."

Additionall took aim at the administration for destroying integrity institutions created to fight corruption by either underfunding them or staffing them with incompetent loyalists. "Integrity institutions are receiving far less resources now than they were when this government took over. Comparing the approved budget of FY2017/18 to the draft appropriations for FY 2020/21, we see that PPCC draft budget has been reduced from US$1.4 Million to US$752,754; LEITI from US$553,356 to US$220,849; General Auditing Commission from US$5.3 Million to US$4.5 Million; LACC from US$2.3 Million to US$1.3 Million, and the Governance Commission from US$1.9 Million to US$1.1 Million."

Similarly, he said, allocations for basic services like health and education, for example, have also seen drastic cuts. "While the actual budget performance reports tell an even more alarming tale of underperformance, these cuts expectedly leading to lesser quality of services provided by government-run educational and health institutions. Under this government, not only are we not moving forward, we are actually sliding backward."

Corruption has been a nagging issue for Liberia since independence in 1847. Former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf once termed corruption as a vampire of development and obstruction of progress in her government.

In his Annual Address to the 54th National Legislature in January, President Weah renewed his pledge to intensify his administration's fight against corruption this year and beyond, adding that there "will be no sacred cows".

Both Sirleaf and Weah made the issue a central theme of their inaugural addresses.

At Thursday's hearing, Mr. McCarthy praised Liberia's post-war progress while trumpeting the ties between the two countries. "It has been a great privilege after 37 years of foreign service after working on African issues for more than two decades. "I can think of no higher honor than to represent the American people as the Ambassador to the United States of America in the Republic of Liberia, a country with whom the United States enjoys a special bond with our deep historical ties. In 2017, Liberia achieved a new milestone in its post-conflict journey when it undertook the first transition of power between two democratically-elected president in more than 70 years."

Nominee 'Will Work to Attract Investment'

He said the achievement followed Liberia's success in combatting the Ebola epidemic. "Liberia is currently contributing military personnel to the United Nations Peacekeeping Mission in Mali, making it symbolically an exporter of security and a contributor toward stability."

Mr. McCarthy declared that these are tremendous achievements for a country still coping with the after-effects of war and they single the promise inherent in Liberia's democratic future. "If confirmed I will lead our embassy's highly-cooperative team of nine agencies to ensure that Liberia remains on a path to self-reliance and that ordinary Liberians see the benefits of private sector growth and accountable government. I will work to attract private investment and technical assistance and I will strive to see that Liberia remains the United States most steadfast partner on the continent of Africa."

Due to a vote on the Senate floor Thursday, the session was adjourned with Senator Menendez announcing that he had a few more questions for the nominee regarding press issues under the Weah administration, which he would be submitting into the Senate records.

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