MONROVIA — The Government of Liberia (GOL), through the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) has guaranteed that it will follow all necessary extradition procedures with the Government of the United States to ensure the prosecution of former and suspended Liberian public officials who are accused or indicted in audit and investigative reports released by the General Auditing Commission (GAC) and other anti-graft institutions operating in the country.
The LACC conducts investigations on acts of corruption involving public officials and institutions in Liberia, while the GAC conducts audits on public officials and institutions.
Addressing a news conference held at the commission’s offices in Congo Town, outside Monrovia on Monday, August 16, the Chairperson of the LACC, Counselor Edward Kla Martin, emphasized that the latest assurance given by the United States to the Government of Liberia and its people will be used to go after those who see the Americas as a safe place for them.
The US government, through its Ambassador accredited near Monrovia, pledged its unflinching support and commitment to the Liberian government towards the fight against corruption in the country.
He noted that the multiple investigative reports he inherited from his predecessor on the alleged involvement of some past and current public officials will not be swept under the carpet.
He maintained that international connections will be made to ensure that those who are residing in foreign lands either return home to answer questions relative to their alleged involvement into acts of corruption, or are taken to court for prosecution.
“We want to inform the press that upon my ascendancy as Chairperson, I inherited 73 cases and some of those cases make up the audit reports which we have with our Enforcement Division. I want to take this opportunity to inform you that all of those 73 cases will be investigated; there will be no room left and it will be absolutely investigated”.
“All those that are captured in those audit reports they have to come to the LACC to answer questions. If they are not in the country and our reports are ready, we will use our international connections through our foreign missions to assist us to make sure that they come to Liberia to answer questions”.
Cllr. Martin disclosed that the LACC will not hesitate to draw up indictment against anyone who fails to submit to investigation if there are culpable reasons to do so.
Buchanan Port saga
Recently, the management of the National Port Authority (NPA) suspended for time indefinite the Manager of the Port of Buchanan, MacArthur Charles Gull and Statistician Amara Kamara, for allegedly transferring the amount of US$300,000 into a private account.
According to the NPA, Mr. Gull voluntarily admitted to the commission of the act during an internal investigation conducted by the NPA.
Cllr. Martin said though there are reports that one of the suspects is at large, the LACC remains focused on investigating the matter.
“We are getting rumors that one of the accused in the Buchanan saga is at large. We don’t want to dwell on rumors, but we can certainly speak to the evidence to make sure that the issue is objective”.
There are reports that Mr. Gull has escaped the country, vowing not to sit and allow himself to be used as a sacrificial lamb, but expose higher-ups who are allegedly linked to the saga.
Cllr. Martin noted that when the information of Mr. Gull departure from the country is factual, the LACC will continue with its investigation in the absence of Mr. Gull if he does not honor or show up to invitations that will be sent to him.
He added that Mr. Gull will be forwarded to the Ministry of Justice for prosecution if it is established by LACC investigators that he committed the act of corruption because, the commission does not have prosecutorial powers to do so presently.
He said an indictment may likely be drawn up if probable cause for prosecution is established, with an arrest order expected to be issued by the court.
Cllr. Martin emphasized that government will declare Mr. Gull as a wanted person and will go through the process of extradition if the country he reportedly escaped to surreptitiously is identified.
“All those that will be investigated and held liable for corruption or misuse of public monies and are residing in the Americas-we want to say that, don’t feel that this is over because, we are in a new dispensation. America has given us their full support and we will adequately inform the American government through the proper extradition procedures. We believe that the Americans want due process and we can assure them of due process.”
Presently, Cllr. Martin pointed out that the commission, through its Enforcement Division, is currently investigating corruption allegations against the suspended heads of the Liberia Water and Sewer Corporation (LWSC), Duannah Kamara, Mr. Herbie McCauley of the National Transit Authority (NTA), and the dismissed Managing Director of the Liberia Airport Authority (LAA) Mr. John Allen Klayee.
He, however, clarified that the Managing Director of the NTA Mr. McCauley was never arrested or handcuffed by agents of the LACC, but he was only invited for questioning at the commission following a go slow action staged by scores of aggrieved employees of the entity.
According to him, Mr. McCauley and his team remain cooperative to the ongoing investigation and “sooner or later the results of the investigation will be released to the public”.
The declaration of assets by public officials is most often marred by claims and counter claims over the transparency of those assets declared.
In some instances, public officials renege on declaring their assets in a given time frame and provide flagrant and sugar-coated excuses as reasons responsible for their actions.
The situation has compelled the LACC to continuously extend the declaration of assets deadline.
Cllr. Martin stated that as of the beginning of 2021, only 59 public officials have declared their assets with females representing about 16% and 84% of males respectively.
Cllr. Martin announced that as a result of the outbreak of the Coronavirus disease in Liberia, the LACC has extended the deadline for the declaration of assets by public officials to additional two months.
“The LACC has taken note of the serious risk the Covid-19 pandemic and so what we thought to do is to grant two months grace period to public officials to declare their assets. We know that we are all affected by the Covid one way or the other so the issue of the declaration-we want to send it back to the public that we have given two months grace period”.
The voluntary restitution program was introduced by the government, through the LACC, to ensure that public officials found guilty of stealing, misapplying or misappropriating public funds make full restitution in government’s coffers.
Since the program was launched few years ago, not much has been heard about past or current officials of government restituting these misapplied, stolen, or misallocated funds into government’s accounts.
But Cllr. Martin announced that a restitution of US$18,000 has been made to the government’s account of 1602003653 from the case Munah Sieh and others.
According to him, the restitution of the fund by former Police Director Sieh and the others stemmed from a court judgment which held them liable of US$199,800.
He noted that each of the defendants was mandated to pay the amount of US$39,950 into government’s coffers, but only US$18,000 has been restituted so far.
Cllr. Martin described the move as a “good start” in the fight against corruption.
He said the latest move should serve as a warning to others who are reneging and waiting for the LACC to go after them before taking steps towards the commission’s restitution program.
He noted that anyone failing to voluntary adhere to the program will not have the opportunity to restitute stolen, misapplied or misappropriated monies if the commission goes after such an individual.
Encouraging the public
Cllr. Martin further released hotline numbers to the public to aid in the combat against the menace that is eating every fabric of the Liberian society.
The numbers include: 0555395728 or 4048, 0775600050.
He called on intellectuals, marketers, religious institutions, and members of the Liberian media, whistle blowers and others not to relent to report suspicion, signs or acts of corruption.
“This will help us to deter and prevent corruption. This is part of our education and prevention programs to make sure that public monies, properties or assets are properly guided and used for the purpose for which it was allotted or created. The people of this country can rest assure that with God above, we will deliver to their expectation”.
“We are calling on the Press Union, Civil Society, Student Groupings, Market Women, the Hatayee Shops and the general public that we at the LACC-we cannot fight this battle alone. It is a collective battle that requires the involvement of all Liberians. We want to see our country redeem; things that happened in the past should not happen presently”.
He promised that the commission would ensure that those exposing acts or semblance of corruption will be protected under the Whistle Blower Act of Liberia, noting that, “once you give us information, your name or identity will not be disclosed”.
He noted that the Liberian government and its partners, including the United States, World Bank and ECOWAS have been very supportive to the LACC to carry on its statutory mandate and responsibilities.
He stated that the Liberian government remains keenly concerned that the rule of law, including speedy trial of corruption cases, takes effect in the fight against corruption.
Cllr. Martin pointed out that the commission remains committed that those accused by investigative reports and forwarded to court for prosecution are appropriately investigated and prosecuted in keeping with the laws of the country.