Liberia: The Current LACC Lacks the Legitimacy to Fight Corruption - - It Must Be Reconstituted!

On February 15, the Executive Director of the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) accused the Vice Chairman of the LACC board of violating the Constitution of Liberia, the national code of conduct and the LACC internal code of conduct. The core of the allegation was that the vice chairman committed acts of corruption, and that the LACC was investigating him. The vice chairman has since denied the allegations and accused the executive director of incompetence. This was the first time for the LACC, since its creation in 2008, to announce that it was now looking within to identify and investigate alleged acts of corruption committed by a senior member of staff. This development is sufficient to leave one second-guessing the reaction of President Weah given his promises to fight corruption; and questioning whether the current board of commissioners can command both the moral legitimacy and public support it would need to execute their mandate given the gravity of the allegation.

But the LACC's legitimacy crisis did not start with this revelation. We can trace it to the administration of James Verdier, a former chairman, who left the LACC amid accusations and counter-accusations of corruption between him and some members of the cabinet. Verdier's controversial exit left the commission struggling for prominence in the new Weah administration. This moment presented the best opportunity to reform the LACC and strategically position it to support the new administration in the fight against corruption. The opportunity was sadly lost when the government proceeded with the appointment of new commissioners without doing any due diligence investigation -- background character and competency checks on potential nominees. The appointment of Verdier's immediate successor, Ndubuisi Nwabudike, exposed the LACC to further controversy and public discontent.

Upon Nwabudike's nomination by President Weah, the FrontPageAfrica newspaper ran several news reports and editorials that shed light on his previous dealings and further questioned his credibility to hold such a crucial position. He was allegedly involved in scandals surrounding a wrecked ship at the Freeport of Monrovia. Both the executive and legislature ignored these reports and went ahead with his appointment. His subsequent nomination few months later (by the President) as Chairman of the National Elections Commission did not only fail, but revealed more about him: He could not prove his Liberian citizenship after presenting false citizenship documents and several other official documents with inconsistent dates of birth. Despite the public backlash (including his expulsion from the Liberian Bar Association) and failure to prove his Liberian citizenship, he was allowed to continue in the position of LACC chairman until he personally decided to tender in a resignation which takes effect on February 26, 2021. That the political leadership allowed him to stay at LACC up to this point beggars belief and brings to question their own credibility and the proclaimed seriousness they attach to the fight against corruption.

But the LACC's legitimacy crisis is not an isolated event. It feeds into a bigger crisis of governance and undue political interference confronting Liberia's integrity institutions. In 2018 President Weah violated statutes when he appointed Mr. J. Gabriel Nyenka as Head of the Liberia Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (LEITI) Secretariat, and despite criticism from the civil society, Nyenka was allowed to hold the post for over a year. Nyenka did not get the cooperation he needed from LEITI's domestic and international partners to deliver on his mandate since the process leading to his appointment was spurious. Nyenka's case further exposed the rashness of the President's decision to undermine the law and established institutional precedents. Left isolated by key partners, both Nyenka and LEITI lost their collective legitimacy. He was eventually dismissed and reassigned, thereby paving the way for a return to the status quo ante -- a competitive selection process with the participation of all LEITI stakeholders.

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