Liberia: CENTAL Questions LACC’s Vice Chairperson’s Credibility Over Series of Allegations Linking Him to Corruption

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Monrovia – The anti-corruption group, the Center for Transparency and Accountability in Liberia (CENTAL) said the continued association of top officials at  Liberia’s foremost anti-graft institution, the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) to alleged corruption cases is unbecoming of an institution of such importance in the Liberian society–a body charged with the responsibility of spearheading national efforts against corruption.

CENTAL’s statement comes in the wake of the ongoing investigation of the LACC’s Vice Chairperson, Kanio Bai Gbala over an alleged corruption scandal at the National Port Authority (NPA) involving him and other top officials including NPA’s Managing Director Bill Tweahway.

On Monday, FrontPage Africa reported that, Cllr. Bai Gbala, Twehway and others used money from the Port of Buchanan and established a company called the Creative Developers Inc. (CDI). And awarded to themselves, a lucrative contract- the handling services at the Port. They all have since denied the allegations. Cllr. Gblala stated that he bought a share in the company on behalf of his sister.

In the wake of the report, the LACC’s new Executive Chairperson, Cllr. Edwin Kla Martin, on Monday announced that the Commission has placed under investigation, its Vice Chairperson, after his request for a one-month leave was granted.

However, addressing a press conference on Tuesday, CENTAL’s Executive Director, Anderson Miamen said, Cllr. Gbala’s decision to request a leave of absence for a month in order to allow for investigation of the NPA matter and his responses to the FPA report raised more questions than answers.

“Is Cllr. Gbala’s leave of absence an acknowledgment of conflict? If so, why now?” he asked.

He continued: “If not, then Cllr. Gbala should not be granted leave of absence since he is not conflicted. In our opinion, Cllr. Gbala’s leave points to a potential conflict in the matter. Section 9.11 of the Code of Conduct requires that “where public officials and employees of Government have direct or indirect personal interests in a matter being examined, he or she shall inform the authorities of those interests and shall excuse himself or herself before deliberations are held and a vote or decision is taken.”

On Gbala’s claims that the share in the company belongs to his sister, CENTAL called on the LACC to consider this point in its investigation. According to the group, if report that the NPA’s Managing Director, Bill Twehway owns majority shares in CDI are anything to go by, then the admission of the LACC Vice Chair does little to exonerate him.

“Where reports of Twehway’s ownership of shares are true, we are of the position that as a lead figure in the anti-corruption fight, Cllr. Gbala ought to have known that Twehway’s ownership of shares in a company performing services for the National Port of Authority represents a clear conflict of interest, and was therefore under duty to alert the LACC of corruption at the NPA.

Section 9.6 of the Code of Conduct provides that “no public official or employee of Government should use an official position to pursue private interests that may result in conflict of interest”.

“By reneging on his duty to blow the whistle, while at the same time buying shares for his sister, the LACC Vice Chair would be an active participant of corruption at the NPA,” the group noted.

According to CENTAL, Cllr. Gbala’s decision to excuse himself at a time when the alleged conflict is reported, was belated and inconsistent with law; and called for a speedy investigation of the matter.

“… we strongly urge the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission, through its new Executive Chairperson, Cllr. Edwin Kla-Martin, to thoroughly and swiftly investigate this matter in order to retain public trust not only in the LACC but in all actors in the anti-corruption environment in Liberia. We urge the LACC to carefully consider points contained in this statement as it carries out its investigation and further call for openness with investigative findings and subsequent actions.”

Since his appoint by President George Weah, the embattled LACC’s Vice Chairperson has been embroiled with series of corruption allegations.

Early this year, Cllr. Gbala and the former Executive Director, Atty. Mohammed Fahnbulleh were engulfed in a thread of claims and counter of financial malpractice. The LACC’s internal investigation into the matter cited only ‘administrative lapses’ regarding the Vice Chairperson’s transactions and fell short of concluding that corruption had occurred.

Meanwhile, CENTAL also called on the Government of Liberia, especially President George Weah to show more Political Will and Commitment in the fight against corruption in Liberia; adding that among others, this entails provision of adequate financial and moral support to public institutions to perform their respective functions. Widespread allegations of corruption of public sector corruption does very little to increase public and stakeholders’ confidence in the governance process.

The group also called on the public, media, and civil society to remain constructively engaged with the fight against corruption by denouncing corruption themselves and consistently demanding accountability and transparency from national leaders.

“A better Liberia is only assured when corruption is robustly and sincerely fought with the required resources, commitment, political will, and citizens’ participation!” it added.

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