Liberia: Anti-Corruption Paradox: Integrity Institutions Get Budget Cuts Despite Weah’s Pledge To Fight Graft
Monrovia – Most key anti-graft institutions suffered deep allocation cuts in the current fiscal year despite President George Weah’s promise to fight against graft
Report by Bettie K. Johnson-Mbayo, [email protected]
The Liberian leader recently told the United Nations General Assembly in New York that his government is recommitted his government to fighting corruption as a means of strengthening good governance.
However, fiscal decisions employed by the government are leading to deep cuts on the budgets of major anti-graft institutions.
Some of the institutions like the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC), General Auditing Commission (GAC), Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU), Internal Audit Agency (IAA), and Public Procurement Concession have complained that they were already underfunded and the aggressive cuts will derail efforts they had amped up to combat corruption and ensure good governance.
The LACC and FIU experienced the biggest cuts in the budget along with GAC.
The table above shows that there is a reduction of US$110,953 disparity between 2017/2018 2018/2019 allotments to the LACC.
The commission was established in August 2008 whose mandate is to implement appropriate measures and undertake programs geared toward investigating, prosecuting and preventing acts of corruption in both the public and private sectors of the Liberian society, including educating the public about the ills of corruption and the benefits of its eradication.
LACC objectives in FY2018-19 are to monitor and increase transparency and accountability of public and private institutions.
FY2017-18 achievements include the recording of indictments on concluded high-profile corruption cases; concluded and forwarded to the Ministry of Justice high-profile corruption cases; printed and installed anti-corruption awareness materials and billboards in Monrovia, Kakata, Grand Bassa, Bong County, Bo Waterside, Nimba and Cape Mount counties.
The chairman of LACC Cllr. James Verdier said the reduction in the budget should raise an alarm despite economic adding that the commission is struggling with a deficit.
“We don’t know how we will undertake litigations, intelligence gathering we have nothing, our economic spending is low, it is making work here difficult, the government has corruption as a major priority but we are not feeling that,” Cllr. Verdier noted.
The LACC said they are concern about the cut stating that it means a negative signal.
According to him, anti-graft institutions expected to be prioritized in ensuring accountability, and transparency as stated by President Weah, “We are just concern that the budgetary allocation doesn’t seem to translate the kind of signal.”
He said there is no money to pay lawyers, intelligence or money for operations, adding that it’s a huge burden to the entity.
Cllr. Verdier mentioned cases like the Bong County Community College, WVS Tubman University, and County Social Development Funds (CSDF) that may not be prosecuted due to low funding.
“Our investigators are not yet absorbed in the national budget, they were sponsored by UNDP, this means that seven of our trained investigators might be out of salary and job as well due to the same low funding,” he said.
“These cuts have reduced our capacity and ability to operate substantially, we aren’t able to pay our liabilities, undertake our mandate, our wage bill is US$1.7 million and the balance cannot take on operations, logistics.”
Cllr. Verdier continued: “This is serious that these institutions will be lame duck institutions if they don’t have resources, no funding to do what they are to do because Government commitment to fighting corruption should be reflected in the budget allocation, anyone can tell you that from the budget if it is real.”
“The president said the fight against corruption is going to be a noble fight and we expect to see it in all of the government anti-graft agencies.”
The second biggest cut in allotment is the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU), which has also experienced a cut of US$75,019 from 2016/17 and 2018/19.
The Financial Intelligence Unit of Liberia (FIU) was established as an autonomous agency of the Government of Liberia by an Act of the National Legislature in 2012 (FIU Act, 2012 approved on April 30, 2013, and published on May 2, 2014).
The FIU is the central national agency of Liberia responsible for receiving, requesting and conducting preliminary investigations, analyzing and disseminating information concerning suspected proceeds of money laundering, terrorist financing, and other financial crimes.
Its objectives FY2018-19 is to protect Liberia Financial System from abuse of financial crimes for the enhancement of national, regional and global peace and economic stability.
According to the agency, its achievements of FY2017-18 is to improved Investigation and prosecution of Financial crime; Improved correspondent banking relationship; Assisted LRA to increase Revenue; assisted Liberia regains its standing at a regional and international body.
Bobby Harris, Executive assistant at FIU, said the reduction of the budget has deprived the agency of regular Regional plenaries. He said the cut back in their budget has greatly affected the operations of the agency.
Harris said over 75% of the budget is allocated to wages and the remaining amount cannot help the agency.
Another agency is the General Auditing Commission that was created by law on June 5, 2005, with a mandate to serve as a watchdog to monitor and audit the use of public funds and program performance.
FY2018-19 Objectives of the commission is to strengthen the Legislature’s oversight of the Government regarding management of public resources and also to serve by having the commission carry out independent audits of all types and report its audit results to the Legislature with copies to the President.
The commission completed 21 audits during FY2017-18 and also commissioned 21 audits that are currently ongoing this FY.
There is US$22,112 reduction between the 2017/18 and 2018/19 budget allotment to the GAC.
Winsley Nanka, Deputy Auditor General of GAC, said 105 audits were expected to be done in this fiscal year but will be reduced due to no funding.
For the Public Procurement Commission Concession (PPCC) and the Internal Audit Agency (IAA), there is an increase in their allotments.
The PPCC was established in September 2005 and tasked to regulate all forms of public procurement and concession processes and to stipulate methods and procedures for public procurement and concession.
Its achievements in FY2017-18 shows that they conducted Procurement Plan hearing for ministries and agencies on their respective approved budgets.
The commission conducted Empowerment Workshop for the Accounting Services Unit Staff of the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning (MFDP) and the Department of Economic Affairs of the Ministry of Justice in Buchanan, Grand Bassa County in procurement compliance requirements for (sixty persons) under the sponsorship of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).
PPCC said they conducted Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply (CIPS) Level 2 and 3 for procurement officers from ministries, agencies and commissions sponsored by the UNDP at which is the first step to professionalization of procurement; and Launched Hand-Holding facility at PPCC to provide help desk services to procuring entities which may have challenges with their procurement processes.
The FY2018-19 will ensure that procurement processes are done in a fair, competitive, accountable and transparent manner throughout the country.
The budget shows an addition of US$168,154 to the PPCC budget.
The internal audit agency also has an addition of US$75,019 in its 2018/2019 budget.
FY2017-18 conducted a process verification audit of the Ministry of Transport of Liberia (MOT), in line with an instruction from the Office of the President.
The agency also conducted a comprehensive and independent audit exercise of the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning: PRESIDENTIAL APPOINTEE PAYROLL AUDIT.
A comprehensive and independent audit exercise of the Liberia Electricity Corporation along with an expansion of the internal audit functions to four counties as part of the county treasury operation, with the deployment of eight (8) auditors, two to each of the four-piloted counties (Grand Bassa, Margibi, Bong, and Nimba Counties).
The agency conducted payroll verification of the Ministry of Health to independently verify the information given by USAID to the Government of Liberia on healthcare employees of the Ministry of Health who are being paid by direct deposit and conducted a system audit of the Bong County Technical College on its construction, finances, and administration; and Conducted system and IT audit of the Liberia Electricity Corporation as its achievements.
The IAA was established September 13, 2013, with a mandate to establish and direct internal audit functions within all branches of government as well as within all public sector entities such as public corporations, autonomous commission, government ministries and the central bank of Liberia.
Promulgate and ensure that common internal audit standards and systems in keeping with best practices are established and maintained. Provide oversight, including managerial, administrative and supervisory expertise at each of the established audit functions.
Ensure that the ethics of internal audit according to internationally accepted standards are strictly adhered to and followed. These shall be, but not limited to competence, integrity, confidentiality, and professionalism.
IAA FY2018-19 objective is to support the Government’s Decentralization program through the management of associated risks and continuous capacity support to ensure compliance with laws, policies, and regulations.
Support entities with strong internal controls in their financial management systems to ensure accurate financial reporting, which is also in line with internationally accepted standards are carried out.
The Independent Information Commission (IIC) was created on September 16, 2010, to promote effective, equitable and inexpensive exercise of the right to information, provide clear and concise procedures in getting the information from the Government.
The commission did not outline any achievement of the 2016/2017 on grounds that the allotment was used for wages.
The commission is expected to train IIC staff and field workers in FOI requirements; monitor public institutions compliance with FOI requirements; collect annual reports and publish FOI status reports; set up offices in the 15 counties; receive, validate and hear FOI complaints; monitor government agencies compliance with the appointment of Public Information Officers (PIO).
It should also appraise agencies proactive disclosure of information; strengthen the tracking of appeals and decisions on FOI complaints from the public; appoint regional and county FOI officers, and increase public awareness activities on FOI record management.
At the right to know day over the weekend, Mark Bedor-Wla Freeman, commissioner, IIC stressed that obtaining information is key to fight against corruption.
“Access to information is a major tool in the fight against corruption. Integrity institutions such as the Independent Information Commission need to be strengthened so that they can make meaningful contribution in the fight against corruption. The government needs to strengthen the political will to support access to information,” she said.
The total government budget is US$562.2M, which shows about five percent increase compared to FY 2017/2018 approved recast of US$536.2 Million.