Liberia: Time For LEITI To Get To Work

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GABRIEL NYENKAN SPENDS most of his mornings and afternoons monitoring daily talk shows and responding to perceived critics of the George Weah-led government.

SINCE HIS APPOINTMENT in March, the controversial head of the Liberia Extractive Industries Transparency International(LEITI) has done very little to satisfy his job description.

REALITY FINALLY CAUGHT up with him Monday when the Extractive Industries Transparency International(EITI) which sets the standard for resource governance announced the suspension of Liberia from the global body overseen by a multi-stakeholder group that sets the tone by which information on the oil, gas and mining industries is published.

THE EITI BOARD says it took the decision on September 4, 2018 to suspend Liberia for not having published the EITI report for the fiscal period ending June 2016 within the 1 July 2018 deadline. The decision followed a request by the Government of Liberia to extend the reporting deadline, set by the EITI Standard.

THE EITI BOARD found that the request did not meet the criteria for granting an extension. “It is unfortunate that Liberia missed its reporting deadline. We are hoping that this is a temporary setback. We encourage the Government to consult all the relevant stakeholders and ensure that they are adequately represented in Liberia’s EITI multi-stakeholders group, in accordance with the EITI Standard”, said the EITI’s Acting Executive Director Eddie Rich. “The International Secretariat is ready to support”.

THE EITI PLAYED a major role during the tenure of former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf as Liberia became one of the first countries to implement the EITI and the progress it showed over the years was instrumental in the development of the EITI Standard in 2013.

THE END RESULT, millions of dollars in debts were waived for Liberia, international stakeholders and donors came in the droves to aid Liberia’s post-war recovery.

WHILE THE SIRLEAF administration had its issues regarding transparency, accountability and graft, agencies like LEITI, the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission, the General Auditing Commission, the Public Procurement Concessions Commission and others served as guiding tools through which international stakeholders could hold government accountable for aid money and other international assistance.

SINCE ASSUMING OFFICE, President Weah has turned a blind eye to a lot of these integrity institutions, choosing instead to settle for shady investment deals and falling prey to poor advice from his aides and advisors thereby putting his government in bad books with the international community.

EVEN THE LONDON-BASED watchdog group, Global Witness took issues with the government for the illegal removal of the internationally-vetted head of LEITI, Mr. Konah Karmo. The organization said the move violated Liberian law and severely undermines the independence of Liberia’s critical anti-corruption agency. Liberia’s LEITI Act states that only the LEITI Multi-stakeholder Steering Group (MSG) can appoint or remove the Head of Secretariat[i]. This safeguard is critical for the maintenance of LEITI’s independence, ensuring that the agency is not dominated by any of its constituent groups or subject to external interference.

LEITI HAS BEEN instrumental to Liberia’s post-war resurgence and could play an even bigger role in the country’s democratic transition. But it begins with how sincere the Weah-led government is toward ensuring what is best for Liberia.

PREVIOUS LEITI reports won praise for setting the tone. In 2013 for example, under the reign of Mr. Samson Tokpah, two of LEITI reports (2013 process audit concluded that some 66 agreements were deemed non compliant, and a reconciliation report) were triggers to USD12.5m direct budget support from the African Development Bank. The Tokpah report also recommended that more work needed to be done on compliance to the submission process. Roughly 60% or 65 out of 111 oil, mining, agriculture, and forestry companies in the fiscal period July 1, 2010 to June 30, 2011 submitted reporting templates required by LEITI. The mining sector had the highest rate of non-submission.

THE REPORT ALSO red flagged that the issue of accountability arose upon submission of reporting templates: Eight companies (12%) submitted reports without an external auditor attestation. “Further, twelve companies’ heads did not attest to their companies’ submissions, non LICPA Certified Auditors attested to six companies templates.

IT IS IMPORTANT that Mr. Nyenkan take the next few days, weeks and months strategizing how he and his organization can work the clock in beating the December deadline to come up with Liberia’s outstanding EITI Report and endorsed by the multi-stakeholder group (MSG).

THE ACTION TAKEN by the EITI Monday validates what we have been saying all along. President Weah has so far failed to insert technical people in key positions that could help his administration succeed. Now, nearly a year later, it is becoming clear that those wrong decisions are coming back to haunt the administration. It is a gauging point of consideration for an administration hoping to succeed on paper but simply failing to do what it takes to become successful.

THE WRITINGS ARE becoming clearly visible on the wall and while no one is predicting or hoping for a doom or misfortune to befall the Weah-led government as it did in the story of Belshazzar’s feast in the book of Daniel, we are all hoping and praying that President Weah simply do the right thing – and what is in Liberia’s best interest.

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