Liberia: General Auditing Commission Under Scrutiny; Expiring Tenure Issues Raising Credibility Questions

Madam Yusador Saadatu Gaye

Monrovia – Yusador Saadatu Gaye and her principal deputy Wesley Nanka will be under the spotlight for the next two weeks after President George Weah ordered the General Auditing Commission to conduct an audit of the US$25 million which was intended for the mopping-up of excess liquidity of the Liberian dollars.

Commissioners Gaye and Nanka have just a year remaining for their five-year tenure to elapse, and the pending audit, some say, would define their credibility at the anti-graft body.

Meanwhile, opposition political parties are wary about the GAC exclusively investigating the US$25M since audit reports would not set the basis for criminal prosecution but could eclipse by political maneuvering.

Some observers say requesting the GAC to exclusively conduct the forensic investigation, while other bodies like Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission and the Financial Intelligence Unit are excluded, could create the basis for unnecessary delays thereby undermining the possibility of bringing individuals like Finance Minister Samuel Tweah and CBL Governor Nathaniel Patray to justice.

Last week, Liberia’s major opposition political parties called for the arrest and prosecution of Minister Tweah and Governor Patray. And their call was immediately followed by President Weah’s mandate to the GAC.

The opposition political parties, which include Unity Party, Liberty Party, Alternative National Congress, and All Liberia Party, that the Weah-led government is selective and partial in its prosecution of individuals mentioned in the two investigation reports into the ‘missing billions’ as well as the US$25 million mop-up fund.

Assertions and accusations are intensifying about an imminent ploy by the administration to subvert the prosecution of Tweah and Patray.

Some alleged that the Presidential Investigation Team (PIT) report formed the basis for the arrest and prosecution of Charles Sirleaf, Milton Weeks and others; hence, the same PIT report should set the basis for the prosecution for individuals responsible for the US$25 million.

The fear of the opposition political parties and others calling for the prosecution of Tweah and Patray is that the processes involved in conducting and acting on audit reports is time-consuming and might end up like hundreds of audit reports languishing in committee rooms of the Legislature since the 53rd Legislature.

Based on the law, reports by the GAC are sent to the Legislature and copies are served the President for review, endorsement, and action.

Article 4.2 b of the GAC Act of 2014: “The General Auditing Commission shall submit audit reports, individually or in groups to the Legislature with copies to the President of the Republic of Liberia periodically throughout the year as it deems appropriate. They shall contain audit reports, or executive summaries of them, that were completed since the previous submission. These reports may include recommendations, where warranted, as well as any other matters that are appropriate to bring to the attention of the Legislature.”

The Legislature will then discuss and debate “matters of public interest contained in the audit reports with the appropriate public officials in the presence of the Auditor General or his/her representatives.”

This means it would take several weeks or months to exhaust the legislative procedural before any plausible legal actions are taken.

Meanwhile, the LACC, which has the statutory jurisdiction to investigate corruption and recommend, has been sidelined in this matter.

Section 5.2 of the LACC Act requires that it investigate all acts of corruption discovered or reported to have occurred in the public, private and civil society sectors of with the aim of identifying the person(s) and the extent of the loss of or damage to any public and/or private property as a result of the subject act of corruption.

The LACC as per the Act, investigates the conduct of any person, irrespective of office or status, natural or otherwise if the conduct of the person(s) constitute corruption. It’s also the mandate of the LACC to examine and investigate any information, matter or report that indicates or raises suspicion that the conduct, action or decision of a public or private official in line of official duty and in the context of the definition of corruption herein provided.

Accordingly, the law states that investigative reports of the LACC are sent to the Ministry of Justice for prosecution and that if the Ministry fails to prosecute within three months, the LACC has the right to prosecute.

Some pundits believe the LACC is more independent than the Ministry of Justice in the prosecution of corruption cases, noting that it is in the interest of the country for the LACC to be involved in the investigation because it increases the likelihood that prosecution could ensue after the investigation.

The GAC Act indicates in Section 5.8 states that while the GAC is in the process of conducting an audit and uncovers matters that raise the suspicion of fraud or corruption, the GAC shall turn over same to the proper authorities, including the LACC or the Ministry of Justice for investigation.

In the same regard, the opposition political parties propound that the exclusion of the LACC and the FIU from the investigation is extremely problematic to the sincerely investigate the US$25 million. “The acts of both entities empower them to investigate acts of corruption or suspicions of corruption including money laundering, which both reports indicate might have marred the entire mop-up process. The PIT report speaks to scope and time limitations and therefore recommended further forensic investigation in order to delve deeper into the suspicious mop-up exercise,” they said in a statement. The PIT and the Kroll Reports point to the highly likelihood of money laundering during the mop-up exercise and the mandate of the FIU empowers it to investigate acts of money laundering and terrorist financing.