Monrovia - As Liberia and other countries in the West African sub region continue to struggle in the fight against corruption, the Executive Chairman of the Anti-Corruption Commission of Liberia, Cllr. James N. Verdier, Jr. says the sub region is plagued with similar experiences resulting from weak and nonexistent legislation of lack of sustained programs or policy that will protect patriotic citizens who are willing to provide credible testimonies to help convict public officials accused of corruption.
The Network of Anti-Corruption Agencies in West Africa (NACIWA) is conducting a three- day discussion under the topic “The Protection of Whistle Blowers and witnesses in the Fight against corruption in West Africa” bringing together sub regional anti-corruption institutions and individuals to deliberate on the path, challenges and benefits of adopting national legislation to encourage the protection of whistleblowers and witnesses in cases of corruption.
Cllr. Verdier speaking at the start of the discussion in Monrovia Monday said the current state of affairs does not promote the fight to minimize corruption, it only provides a continuous avenue for the pillaging of public funds and perpetuating impunity.
Specifically mentioning some of the challenges facing the LACC, Cllr. Verdier said Liberia is no stranger to the lack of legislation to protect whistleblower, commenting on the discovery of the body of Michael Allison who was a subject of LACC investigation prior to his mysterious death.
Said Cllr. Verdier “On February 12, 2015, the lifeless body of “Michael Allison” widely reported by the media to be a whistle-blower in an LACC investigation was discovered dead on a local beach in Sinkor. Circumstances surrounding his death remain unclear even though official autopsy pointed to drowning”.
He also said in January this year, without a reference to any supporting law, the LACC had to act swiftly to protect a key witness who began to face threat to his life and those of family members.
“In less than three days ago, another “whistle-blower” complained to the LACC of government’s failure to honor its promises after he blew the whistle on the commission of a crime. This information led to the rest of a Presidential guard. He also claimed that his life is at risk”, Cllr. Verdier disclosed.
In spite of these challenges, the LACC chair said Liberia has signed and acceded unto the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC); the African Union Convention Preventing and Combating Corruption; and the ECOWAS Protocol on the Fight Against Corruption.
All these international, continental and sub-regional instruments, the LCC Chair said have embedded an obligation by state parties to adopt appropriate and relevant legislation to protect witnesses and whistle-blowers.
Corruption suffers masses
Justice Minister, Cllr. Frederick D. Cherue making remarks at the start of the discussion described corruption as one of the greatest challenges and a major obstacle to development, saying it deprives people of many nations of the value of their money and it contributes to the mass poverty that many countries and their people experience.
“Where corruption thrives the masses of the people suffer and only a few people have everything”, said Minister Cherue.
Minister Cherue noted that being cognizant of the danger corruption poses to the legitimacy of government and the deprivation it brings to its people, many civilized governments and people the world over have made efforts and continue to make efforts in establishing checkpoints and to create the mechanisms to arrest the widespread of corruption and those who recklessly promote it.
He said in order to fight corruption information is very important and because people are reluctant to provide information for fear of reprisal, it is necessary to put in place protection mechanism for those who may provide information against corruption.
The Justice Minister said institutions including the General Auditing Commission, the LACC, Financial Intelligence Unit, Public Accounts Committee at the National legislature have all been established to help fight corruption and Liberia also passed into law an act creating the National Code of Conduct for all public officials and employees of government but he added that these mechanisms are not adequate and sufficient, calling for serious and mandatory regional protocols.
“Domestic statutes for the protection of witnesses and whistleblowers are necessary and important. But in my view they are inadequate to address regional concerns. I therefore propose that there be serious and mandatory protocols for the West African region on the protection of witnesses and whistleblowers; such protocols must be able to inform the enactment of domestic statutes”, the Justice Minister proposed.
Culture of Silence Around Corruption
Mr. Eyesan Okorodudu, Head, Governance and Democracy (ECOWAS) promised the regional body support in fighting the culture of silence around corruption in the region.
Mr. Okorodudu said there is an increasing need for protection of whistleblowers, through a dedicated and clearly enacted national legislation due to the growing challenges and threat facing both the whistleblowers and witnesses in the West African region.
“There are indeed glaring examples of how whistleblowers and witnesses have had threats to their lives or have even lost their lives as a result of corruption fighting back through its perpetrators”, said Mr. Okorodudu.
The ECOWAS Commission, Mr. Okorodudu disclosed in response to the afore-mentioned challenges have set-up two key platforms including the Network of Anti-corruption Institutions in West Africa (NACIWA) and ECOWAS Civil Society Organization Platform on Transparency and Accountability in Governance (ECSOPTAG) to act as vehicles for promoting and upholding the esteemed trinity values of accountability, transparency and integrity in the management of socio-economic and political affairs of the states.
Mr. Okorodudu implored members of NACIWA and civil society organizations taking part in the discussion to use the knowledge acquire to reinforce their efforts in the area of creating opportunity for whistle-blower to contribute to accountability, transparency and integrity governance in their respective member states.
The three-day deliberation is currently taking place at the Bella Casa Hotel in Sinkor.