In his inaugural State of the Nation address to the Joint Session of Congress on January 29, 2024, President Joseph N. Boakai emphasized the urgency of combating corruption, pledging to prioritize this endeavor and ensure its victory.
By: Rufus S. Berry II. MBA, Financial Expert & Anti-Corruption Activist
As a financial expert and anti-corruption advocate, I felt compelled to compile this corruption guide. It aims to elucidate the different forms of corruption and outline the responsibilities of citizens and public servants, particularly in fostering a societal shift towards eradicating corruption and promoting ethical conduct, with a focus on the crucial role our leaders must play in this transformational process.
Throughout the history of the Republic of Liberia, government officials have been able to enrich themselves at the expense of the public with impunity. When such a reputation persists for an extended period, it fosters a mindset where many within the government view accepting bribes as acceptable.
Even the public becomes complicit, adopting the belief that if officials can embezzle funds without repercussions and amass wealth, they too can engage in such behavior. The prevalent sentiment in Liberia is often summed up by the phrase, “Everyone does it and has always done it.” This culture of corruption has deep roots, perpetuated by citizens who turn a blind eye to governmental wrongdoing.
To comprehend corruption in Liberia, it’s essential to grasp its definition: the illicit utilization of public authority for personal gain or political motives. Throughout the years, rampant corruption has inflicted needless burdens on Liberia, eroding legitimacy and dissuading crucial investment. The nation grapples with a chronic, widespread issue of corrupt leadership, hindering its ability to evolve into a reputable nation post-war. Corruption has permeated the Liberian government since its inception, posing a significant obstacle to progress and moral integrity.
It’s widely acknowledged that corruption has inflicted devastating consequences on the most vulnerable, particularly within the public service sector. The government of Liberia incurs significant losses annually due to corruption, funds that could otherwise have been allocated to enhance education, upgrade healthcare facilities like the John F. Kennedy Memorial Hospital, and deliver essential services.
Moreover, corruption perpetuates inequality by granting unfair advantages to those who can afford to bribe officials for special favors. In contexts where resources are limited and many rely on them, corruption exacerbates deprivation by diverting resources away from those in need.
These are comprehensive definitions and examples of different forms of corruption in Liberia:
- Bribery: Accepting money in exchange for granting preferential treatment. Example: Officials accepting bribes to prioritize individuals on housing waiting lists.
- Embezzlement: Misappropriating funds or resources under one’s control for personal gain. Example: Using public funds to purchase personal items such as a car or airline tickets.
- Fraud: Making false claims for benefits or financial gain. Example: Falsely applying for social grants and pocketing the funds.
- Extortion: Coercing individuals to provide benefits in exchange for specific actions or inaction. Example: Police officers demanding money from criminals in exchange for suppressing evidence against them.
- Abuse of Power: Misusing one’s authority to unfairly benefit or discriminate against others. Example: A teacher demanding sexual favors from a student in exchange for passing grades.
- Abuse of Privileged Information: Exploiting confidential information obtained through one’s position for personal gain. Example: Informing a friend about government plans to acquire land for development, allowing them to purchase the land at a profit.
- Favoritism: Showing preferential treatment to friends when providing services or allocating resources. Example: A department head ensuring that only her friends accompany her on official overseas trips.
- Nepotism: Unfairly granting employment or opportunities to family members. Example: Awarding a training contract to a company owned by one’s spouse without following proper procurement procedures.
All the actions described above are indeed illegal in the Republic of Liberia. Public servants are prohibited from accepting anything from the public intended to bias their treatment in favor of specific individuals.
Moreover, misusing state property or using it for unauthorized purposes is illegal. It is also unlawful to offer anything to a public servant with the intent of influencing the performance of their duties. These regulations are in place to uphold transparency, fairness, and integrity in governance and public service.
Tackling corruption and unethical behavior
To address corruption and unethical behavior, the following anti-corruption strategy can be implemented under the Boakai administration:
Collaboration with the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) and other transparency entities to develop a comprehensive Anti-Corruption Strategy. This strategy should encompass:
- Strengthening rules and procedures in collaboration with the Public Procurement and Concession Commission (PPCC) to prevent nepotism, favoritism, and the improper awarding of contracts.
- Establishment of a hotline by the government of Liberia, facilitated by the LACC, where incidents of corruption can be reported anonymously.
- Conducting financial and lifestyle audits on public officials without prior notice to ensure transparency and accountability.
- Enactment or reinforcement of laws and processes to safeguard individuals who report corruption (whistleblowers).
- Provision of training sessions for all public servants on codes of conduct, ethics, and combating corruption.
- Pursuit of legal action against all offenders and blacklisting individuals found guilty of corruption.
Implementing these measures will contribute to fostering a culture of integrity, accountability, and transparency within the government and public service sector in Liberia.
Reporting corruption in Liberia
During the tenure of James Verdier Jr. and J. Augustus Toee at the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission, they spearheaded the drafting of the Whistle-blower’s Act, a bill intended to safeguard individuals reporting corruption in their workplaces. Had this legislation been enacted, it would have provided protection to whistle-blowers, shielding them from victimization or dismissal, particularly in cases involving entities or senior management implicated in corruption.
Furthermore, there are other forms of corruption that may not necessarily result in a jail sentence but can lead to dismissal in the workplace. These include misusing government resources such as vehicles, photocopiers, and computers; neglecting assigned duties as public servants; or engaging in misconduct like drinking on duty. Corruption, in any form, imposes significant financial losses on the government annually. When public servants fail to deliver the services owed to the people, it equates to theft from the Liberian citizens.
Corruption can permeate all levels of the public service, involving elected officials, senior government personnel, staff, suppliers, and the public they serve. Those in positions of authority, such as ministers and managing directors, pose high risks due to their decision-making power and comprehensive understanding of the system. Frontline staff, who directly provide services or handle public funds, are also vulnerable to corruption, as individuals may attempt to offer bribes for special treatment. Additionally, suppliers and contractors may engage in corrupt practices by circumventing proper tender processes or delivering substandard services.
While every public servant and member of the public has a responsibility to combat and report corruption, there are specialized personnel dedicated to rooting out corrupt practices. These individuals include auditors, security personnel, and compliance officers, who play a vital role in upholding integrity and accountability within the public sector.
Ethical behavior in the workplace
Ethical behavior in the workplace encompasses adhering to moral values and codes of conduct governing human interactions. Each profession defines its own ethical standards, such as the obligation of doctors to uphold patient confidentiality.
Beyond addressing corruption, workplaces must uphold various ethical standards, including refraining from sexual harassment, and maintaining respectful and professional conduct towards colleagues. Ethics encompass all aspects of our behavior in the workplace, guided by principles like Batho Pele and constitutional provisions specific to the public service.
Ministers and heads of government entities play a pivotal role in preventing, detecting, investigating, and resolving fraud and corruption. While the ultimate responsibility for addressing these issues cannot be delegated, leaders can seek expert advice from internal auditors and legal advisors. They also serve as role models for ethical conduct and are tasked with addressing unethical behaviors within their teams.
To fulfill their responsibilities effectively, ministers and heads of government entities must:
- Foster and sustain an ethical culture within their organizations.
- Assess the risk of fraud and corruption within their spheres of operation.
- Implement policies, strategies, processes, and procedures to prevent potential fraud and corruption.
- Establish appropriate controls to ensure adherence to these policies and procedures.