Corruption King Kong or Anti-Corruption Crusader – LACC Chairman on Hook?
His Excellency President George Manneh Weah said in his widely-monitored inaugural address on January 22, 2018 “Those who do not refrain from enriching themselves at the expense of the people – the law will take its course. I say today that you will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”
Instead of leading a robust crusade against CORRUPTION in Liberia, LACC has become a hub of financial improprieties and dishonesty. What institution then can Liberians depend on to combat corruption?
No wonder why this public nemesis (corruption) remains deeply entrenched at almost every stratum of public service. Those who we have entrusted with the anti-corruption batons have abandoned them and become even more corrupt!
Browsing through dossier of internally leaked emails from commissioner J. Augustine Toe of Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission pertinent to financial improprieties levied against LACC Chairman James Verdier, I was overly provoked as a youth activist whose ultimate interest has always been to promote public accountability, transparency, integrity and openness. Is LACC celebrating corruption or bathing in corruption?
These leaked e-mail exchanges between Executive Chairman James Verdier and Vice Chairman J. Aloysius Toe recently published by FrontPage Africa are not only damaging and deleterious, but they have brought the integrity and impeccability of Liberia’s premier anti-corruption watchdog (LACC) into question.
The grave allegation made by Cllr. Toe against his boss demands a full-scale and an independent investigation through forensic audit. We call on President Weah and the Legislature to act now!
According to Part V Section 5.1 of 2008 LACC Act, Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission was established with the broad mandate to implement appropriate measures and undertake programs geared toward investigating, prosecuting and preventing acts of corruption, including educating the public about ills of corruption and the benefits of its eradication.
The mandate of LACC as enshrined in its 24-page Act is being grossly undermined by ruinous accusations of corruption and financial indiscipline that have bedeviled the highest office of this anti-graft and autonomous commission.
The trust of the public has significantly dwindled in the Verdier’s Commission to aggressively undress CORRUPTION in public service.
As it stands, the Verdier’s Commission has no integrity and moral uprightness to question any institution or individual for corruption especially when its Executive Chairman is being hooked for financial improprieties.
Who then can Cllr. James Verdier question when his character is being mutilated by another high-ranking commissioner, Cllr. J. Aloysius Toe who is the Vice Chairman of the LACC. This is why President Weah and our National Legislature must act to redeem the image of the LACC.
Beyond Cllr. Toe’s allegation which has a speck of authenticity and reliability as a result of leaked e-mails, there have been a lot of allegations against Cllr. James Verdier since 2017.
Even some staffers of LACC have accused Cllr. Verdier of CORRUPTION, wasteful spending, and financial malpractices. The continuous smell of CORRUPTION from Verdier’s office has stained the untarnished record of Liberia’s leading anti-corruption whistleblower.
Is LACC under Verdier’s watch an anti-corruption whistle-blower or a pro-corruption watchdog? Is Chairman James Verdier an anti-corruption crusader or a corruption Kingkong? Only a full-scale and forensic financial investigation will unstitch the real answer to these critical questions.
Furthermore, it has been brought to the attention of the public that staffers at LACC who do not play to the tone of Verdier’s music are usually intimidated and dismissed without any genuine reason(s). Daniel Tipayson (former Executive Director of LACC), Aaron Aboah (former Program Manager for enforcement) and Blamo Kofa (former chief of investigation, MoFDP) are all victims of Verdier’s claws. We hope justice prevails in their case!
I am one of those who believe that Cllr. James Verdier needs to recuse himself or resign as chairman of LACC and face investigation for allegations against him.
If he refuses to willingly resign or recuse himself, President Weah and the Legislature must act to rescue LACC from ruining. Anything less than, the future of this anti-graft watchdog is doomed. The need to restructure LACC under this pro-poor government cannot be overemphasized.
Having thoroughly investigated and gathered reliable information from inside sources, these are scrupulous counts which further justify our call for Verdier to recuse himself or resign in order to face investigation with immediate effect:
- The amount of US$20,000 out of US$30,000 recently given as operational fund by GoL to LACC cannot be accounted for. Out of balance US$10,000, Verdier gave each commissioner 25 gallons of gas while the remaining amount went to the Comptroller, Chief Accountant, Internal Auditor and Executive Director respectively. The action of Verdier necessitated the exchange of e-mails between him and the Vice Chairman, Cllr. J. Augustine Toe.
- Chairman James Verdier diverted US$12,000 from LACC funding under the pretext of elevating the fence at his residence based on the outcome of a so-called EPS security assessment done at his home and a Board’s resolution.
- Chairman Verdier is yet to account for US$12,500 that was seized from Representative Adolph Lawrence by the Investigation Unit. Cllr. Verdier requested for this money after it was scanned and photocopied by LACC Investigation Unit.
- Verdier has intentionally placed the UNDP – STOAP Project under his office which should be controlled by a Project Officer recruited through a transparent vetting process. Unfortunately, this project is now controlled by his Executive Assistant, Atty. Mohammed Fahnbulleh. In fact, Cllr. Verdier unjustifiably terminated the contract of the former Project Officer (Mr. Saa Kanda). Up-to-date, no commissioner or program manager is aware about the actual fund being given by UNDP for this project (UNDP – STOAP). Scratch cards and gasoline from UNDP – STOAP Project are not properly distributed and accounted for.
- An extra of US$500,000 to support programs designed by the Enforcement Unit of LACC was allotted by former Minister Amara Konneh’s leadership. Out of this amount, Cllr. Verdier bought 2 luxurious jeeps costing US$140,000. Cllr. Verdier also expended US$60,000 to purchase ICT equipment which cannot even be seen. When Cllr. Verdier was queried by the Investigation Unit through an inter-office memo about the balance US$300,000, he verbally said that said amount was returned to the Ministry of Finance even though there is no financial document(s) to prove his claim.
- Chairman Verdier has been widely accused of demanding money from government officials accused of corruption. He allegedly demanded US$80,000 from former Port Manager, Madam Matilda Parker.
- Verdier habitually withdraws cases of corruption from Ministry of Justice and issues clearances to the accused in exchange of personal gains. Cases he has withdrawn for personal gains are: The missing civil servant checks involving Comptroller James Boker, LMA case, Duncan case, and the Deputy Foreign Minister Elias Shoniyon’s case.
- Verdier usually receives US$2,000 on a monthly basis for Intelligence gathering. However, not a dime has ever been received by the Intelligence Unit of LACC.
- Since Verdier’s ascendancy in 2013, a single case has not been won by LACC at the lower court which doesn’t even bother him.
- Chairman Verdier has been deducting money from remittances intended for staff whose income taxes were overly charged. Of the second payment of US$75,000 from the government, he personally deducted US$30,000 under the pretext of buying generator for the Commission. It was later realized that the generator was purchased from the regular LACC budgetary allotment. From the third payment of US$77,000 as staff remittance, he deducted US$26,500. Out of this amount, he shared US$11,500 among his commissioners while benefiting from US$18,000.
- Verdier is in the habit of arbitrarily suspending and dismissing staff with salary deductions made. He has also targeted staffers who have challenged his leadership and deducted money from staff for lateness. There is no evidence to show that these amounts deducted from staff were deposited into government’s revenue as required by law.
- The recruitment process under Verdier’s leadership has not been transparent and has lacked integrity. He usually interferes with this process by overruling the decision of the vetting committee and imposing his preferred candidate(s). Training programs intended to build the capacity of staff are often attended by Cllr. Verdier who usually travels Business Class, and not Economy Class.
- Verdier through Commissioner Charles Gibson and his then Executive Assistant Mohammed Fahnbulleh has been compelling staffers to shoulder the cost of celebrating chairman Verdier’s birthday in the following categories: Driver and other support staff (US$10), Sectorial Head (US$50), Manager (US$100), and Commissioner (US$300).
These counts and many others against Verdier must be investigated now before it is too late. Rebranding LACC and giving it a new look of integrity would guarantee public trust and confidence. As it stands, LACC is gradually drowning and needs life-support.
This is why, it would be legally prudent and expediently rational to not only investigate the Verdier’s commission, but to holistically restructure and overhaul the Liberia Anti-Corruption Corruption (LACC) in order for this leading anti-graft institution to meet up with its mandate and public expectation.
Martin K. N. Kollie is a Youth Activist and student of University of Liberia studying Economics. Email- [email protected]