Liberia: Pul Union Reunites With LACC to Fight Corruption

12 April 2021
The NEWS (Monrovia)


It was a marriage of romance between the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) and Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) until Cllr. Augustine Ndubuisi Nwabudike was appointed by President George Manneh Weah as chairman of the National Elections Commission (NEC) on 21 March.

Cllr. Nwabudike was LACC chairman when controversies ensued over his Liberian nationality during a confirmation proceeding at the Senate.

The Liberia National Bar Association (LNBA) launched an inquest when it appeared that Cllr. Nwabudike dribbled the executive and judicial branches on government before he stopped by a legislative defender.

Despite repeated citations from the LNBA as demonstrated by his deliberate failure and refusal to honor the invitations, Cllr. Nwabudike was subsequently expelled at a national executive council meeting on 18 May 2020 for fraudulently acquiring his membership.

LNBA President Cllr. Tiawon Gongloe snubbed a two-day national anti-corruption conference in Monrovia in September 2020 and announced it will boycott all programs and activities of the LACC under Cllr. Nwabudike's stewardship.

The Press Union of Liberia (PUL), in solidarity with the LNBA, withdrew its support and suspended all engagements with the LACC.

It was now evident that the controversial lawyer was being marked at every turning point, prompting his resignation from the LACC on 26 February.

Following Cllr. Nwabudike's exit, acting LACC chairman Cllr. Kanio Bai Gbala embarked on what he terms as a mission to "rebrand the LACC".

That adventurous ambition led to a meeting with United Nations Resident Coordinator Niels Scott, Chinese Ambassador Ren Yisheng, Center for Transparency and Accountability in Liberia (CENTAL) as well as other stakeholders in the governance sector.

Cllr. Gbala also attended the ninth edition of the European Union-Liberia political dialogue in March where he presented the official anti-corruption stance of the Liberian government and promised that Liberia's rating in the global corruption rankings were set to improve in 2022 because of the many interventions being undertaken.

The latest of his rebranding mission paid-off the PUL and LACC renewed their commitment and public engagement to jointly fight corruption.

Addressing a news conference at the LACC headquarters in Monrovia on 7 April, Cllr. Gbala admitted that the LACC's relationship with the PUL and many integrity institutions had become strained over the last year for various reasons.

Cllr. Gbala disclosed that he made several entreaties to the PUL to start anew in the hope of building a vibrant working relationship that can aid the improvement of the Liberian democracy.

"The press is a very critical partner if we must fight corruption and fight it very well. We recognize that the media transmits information. The media is involved in discovering information. The media is involved in the analyses of information.

"Everything we do at the LACC is driven by the availability of information and also the sharing of information. So recognizing that critical nature of what the press union represents is part of the reasons why we are engaging today," said Cllr. Gbala.

The media, regarded as the fourth estate, has a watchdog role in society, which the LACC is all too familiar with.

"Even though we have a legal mandate to pursue certain things and to act in certain ways to curb corruption, most times the power of the press can even be more powerful than legal right to intervene.

"The press, as we normally say utilizing the written word, can sometimes even rain more havoc and get more accountability than probably judicial processes which we, at the LACC, are supposed to undertake," stressed Cllr. Gbala.

For his part, PUL President Charles Coffey said the union is happy to renew its partnership with the LACC.

"The LACC was being negatively profiled internationally [during the regime of the former chairman] but we have come to renew our relationship now that it has been resolved because we are to work with integrity institutions like the LACC, LNBA and National Civil Society Council of Liberia.

"Stability has returned to the LACC. The acting executive chairperson is now reaching out. We think that it is important that the union reinforces its working strategy with all integrity institutions, including the LACC.

"The fight against corruption is the perfect recipe for stability in the country. This fight will allow those who govern us and people in private and public sectors, to be accountable," said Coffey.

Coffey added that the union had no reason to hold back following an investigative report, which cleared Cllr. Gbala of all charges of corruption levied by former executive director Atty. Mohammed Fahnbulleh.

"If you want to investigate corrupt practices around the country whether it is true or false, when you are linked to any situation, it is good to submit to that process.

"And we welcome the decision that the investigation was done and findings have been provided. That is why the union has the confidence to be here. You should ensure the full implementation of your mandate.

"Your institution is not just going to help every Liberian but it is going to create an environment for confidence building from the international sector to infuse more resources in the development process of our country," Coffey concluded.

Senior LACC managers, including chief prosecutor Cllr. Francis Garlawolo and program manager Janet Sarsih, attended the press conference.

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