Abandonment Of Transparency & Accountability: A Dangerous Precedent For Liberia

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THE RECENT PEACEFUL TRANSFER of power from one democratically-elected government to another signalled a major feat for Africa’s oldest republic, marking the first of its kind since 1944 when President William V.S. Tubman took over from President Edwin Barclay.

THE ELECTION of George Manneh Weah of the former opposition Coalition for Democratic Change over Joseph Boakai of the former ruling Unity Party drew rave reviews from many of Liberia’s international partners who trumpeted the feat accomplished 70 years after the last time as “a major milestone.”

LIBERIA HAS ENDURED a lot over the last century, marred by a one-party dominance and a culture of corruption, nepotism, greed and cries over the wanton disregard for accountability and transparency.

THIS WAS CLEARLY EVIDENT in May 2013 when an audit by London-based accounting firm Moore Stephens discovered that almost all the concessions – sixty-two out of sixty-eight to be exact awarded by the Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf-led government since 2009 had not been compliant with the law.

THROUGHOUT THE PAST twelve years of her reign, the Sirleaf-led government repeatedly expressed a strong commitment to tackling corruption and pledging transparency.

TO HER CREDIT, the previous government did commission the audit which found that only two out of 68 resource contracts worth $8bn (£5.1bn) were conducted properly. Concessions granted in agriculture, forestry, mining and oil – including a lucrative deal with oil company Chevron – were either wholly or partially flawed.

SINCE THE WEAH-LED government assumed power in January, the president and members of his government have rejected several calls to implement the declaration of assets as stipulated in the code of conduct and the guidelines of the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission(LACC).

THE STIPULATIONS ARE CLEAR that no one can monitor every public official all the time which is why in a bid to ensure that elected and appointed officials do not abuse their powers, they must disclose their assets. “Unexplained wealth can raise suspicions that they acquired it by abusing their public powers. If they know that their wealth is being noted and can be checked, they are less likely to act corruptly.”

IN THE PAST 24 HOURS, supporters of the president have been trumpeting reports in the government-owned New Liberian newspaper that the President has undertaken a personal project roof a few homes in the Gibralta.

THIS FOLLOWS reports of a number of personal projects undertaken by the President shortly after his election in January. These projects include the construction of a dream house on off the Robertsfield highway, the demolition of an old building on Sinkor 9th Street which is reportedly being replaced by a hotel and the Jamaica Resort renovation project also on the Robertsfield highway.

THIS HAS BEEN the major problem responsible for leading Liberia down a spiral path of poverty, greed, corruption and disease, a patronage system well-chronicled in Ayodeji Olukoju’s Culture and Customs of Liberia in which the author states that the Liberian political culture is a product of its history and reflects the characterization of the country as a high-context society.

“The Liberian political culture is founded on a patronage system, where there is a pecking order in which leaders disbursed largess to retain the loyalty and support of lower-ranking members. The big man politician or bureaucrat cultivates the image of a rich, generous, and accessible leader who assists his clients in securing jobs, getting children into choice schools, reaching a higher government official for favors, and solving personal financial problems.”

The author adds: “More emphasis is placed on the survival of the group and its leadership than on the sensibilities of the individual. Given the centrality of the leader to the survival of the system, criticism of the leadership is discouraged as having the potential to destroy the entire system. Any attempt to remove the leadership is taken as a fatal challenge to the system built around the leader. Accordingly, opposing views are treated as dissent that has to be suppressed for the good of the whole. The individual thus suffers for the sake of the stability of the group.”

THIS IS WHY WE FEEL STRONGLY, that in the absence of declared assets, and a strong and accountable system of government, it becomes nearly impossible for a country to keep track of the financial assets of its leaders.

A CASE IN POINT is the recent trip to Asia by a Liberian government delegation for the signing of a US$536 million Memorandum of Understanding. At the time, reports around the president suggested that the money would be directed toward pavement of the southeast. Many of the government’s defenders took to social media to defend the idea of breaching existing guidelines of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to assume a loan above the country’s budget, for the sake of undertaking new road projects.

NOW COMES an explanation from Senator Albert Chie (Grand Kru) that the expected money from the MOU is in fact not going toward the Southeast road project but will instead go toward paving and improving existing roads.

ALL THIS when the Weah-led government has not made the MOU public or offered any concrete explanation to the Liberian people about this deal and what the government is pondering giving up in a bid to secure this loan.

PRESIDENT WEAH is treading a very dangerous path and risk ruining his legacy if he fails to put a system in place that properly tracks government spending and separates his personal projects from that of the government.

ALL LIBERIANS DESIRE to see various communities developed and improved but taking a trip down the memorable lane of a patronage system that has done nothing but brought Liberia bad luck and decades of bad governance, does not bode well for the country’s future.

THE WEAH-LED government must begin to exercise transparency and accountability in every project, down to the last penny. This is the only way that international stakeholders will take Liberia seriously and the only way those who elected the current government into power will have faith in its ability to deliver and trust in its leadership.

TOO MANY Liberians have died and too many continue to linger in abject poverty with very little sign that light is at the end of the tunnel.

LIBERIA WILL ONLY emerge out of the ashes of its ugly past if the current leaders commit themselves to straying away from the old way of doing things and embrace a new way and approach to governance.

THE CURRENT PATH of abandoning and neglecting transparency and accountability is not only dangerous for Liberia; but sets a bad precedence that will likely haunt generations yet unborn. For the sake of Liberia’s future and in the interest of preserving our peaceful transition from war to peace and successful transfer of power, it is important that the current government go above and beyond in doing all it can to preserve Liberia’s hard-fought peace and restoring economic sanity.

 

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