Liberia: Dr. Toga McIntosh, Weah’s Last Straw to Restore Governance Integrity ahead of 2023 Elections?

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MONROVIA – Fighting corruption, expanding the civic space, and improving governance is at the core of many calls coming from Liberia’s international partners. Traditional partners like the United States have cautioned the George Weah-led government about upholding these values.

Like the US, Germany has also expressed concern about Liberia’s failure to tackle vices hindering good governance. In 2020, Berlin announced that it was dropping Liberia from its aid list due to its failure to satisfactorily show commitment to the fight against corruption and implement reforms

These calls and concerns, which have been continuously echoed, demonstrate the degree of importance the international community attaches to the tenets of democracy.

The Weah-led administration has made some strides in improving rule of law; thanks to the country’s performance in the 2020 Millennium Challenge Compact (MCC) scorecard despite failing to clinch another Compact.

Notwithstanding, the government was given hats off for ensuring rule of law and gender in the economy. Despite the slight improvement in the rule of law, the room for improvement in the overall governance remains overwhelming under this administration.

During a significant visit to Liberia in February, U.S. Congressional members headed by the House Foreign Committee Chairman, Rep. Gregory W. Meeks, met with accountability and transparency organizations to reinforce Uncle Sam’s interest in ensuring that the tenets of democracy are upheld in the west African nation.  

He reiterated that the people of the United States give more than US$110 million each year to help sustain Liberia’s democracy, practice free and fair trade, invest in their people, and build upon the results to produce a peaceful and more prosperous future.  The US lawmakers maintained that civil society organizations and governmental oversight are essential to ensuring efficient and appropriate use of support to benefit Liberians and assure justice.

The Germans are also wary about support to Liberia. In fact, Berlin named Africa’s oldest independent state as one of several other countries that have failed to improve governance.

Being the biggest economy in the European Union, Germany announced that it was part of its new reform to only “work more intensively where our commitment makes a difference and partners implement reforms.”

At that time, GIZ was carrying out several developmental projects in Liberia. There was no expansion guaranteed for most of these projects once they were completed. Up to December 2021, GIZ projects in the country focused on sustainable infrastructure, environment and climate, governance and democracy, and natural resource conservation.

Many other NGOs and INGOs followed suit, causing more citizens to lose their jobs – a situation that is still significantly impacting the economy.

The Lapses

Many of these issues unfolding under this regime could have been averted had the Code of Conduct, one of the major achievements of the Governance Commission, been adequately implemented.   

In March 2014, Liberia’s legislature passed a National Code of Conduct (CoC) for all public officials and employees of the government. This was 28 years since the legislation was mandated by Article 90 of the 1986 Constitution. The framers of the law included this provision to protect the integrity of public service and guard against conflicts of interest among officials holding public office. The CoC contains an exhaustive list of actions – including bribery, nepotism, lobbying, and unethical behavior – that could give rise to a conflict of interest or undermine the credibility of public policy.

It was an instrument meant to safeguard the integrity of good governance and rule of law. But like many legislations, the CoC has been shelved and heavily disregarded, especially under the Weah-led government.

This is clearly evidenced by the blatant failure of many officials of government to declare their assets, adhere to PPCC regulations, and the nearly insurmountable wave of corruption.

The judicial system remains one of the most criticized among the three branches of government and it’s seen as a major factor in the governance issues the country is challenged with.

Judges have reportedly been subjected to undue influence from the private sector and government officials. Corruption of judges and juries constitutes a major obstacle to fair and transparent trials. Judicial sitting days are effectively few, and the absence of judiciary personnel often leads to trial delays. The cost of accessing the judicial system is high, for the rural population. Expenses incurred by police and others, such as transportation of accused offenders, often must be assumed by the complainant.

The legislature also stands criticized for exercising its oversight functions poorly. Legislators’ interests in private gain often take precedence over national or even political party considerations.

How Could This Have Been Averted?

The Governance Commission was established by an Act of Legislature as an autonomous, professional non-partisan agency with the mandate of public sector reform, civic education and national visioning, legal and political reform and decentralization, monitoring, and evaluation, and promoting the overall national integrity.

In her eulogy of the late Dr. Amos C. Sawyer, former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf recalled how Dr. Sawyer set the pace of her administration when he accepted to head the Governance Reform Commission in 2006. He took on the task of reforming the entire national government architecture of a country that had just returned from a decade and a half of brutal civil war.

During his time at the Governance Commission, Madam Sirleaf recalled that he was able to address issues in the Constitution and law while working with civil society organizations and the Legislature to give the government more scopes, more authority, and more independence.

“Again, I am forever grateful that he remained in that position until my administration ended and today, I ask where the Governance Commission is in addressing current national issues,” she said.

Madam Sirleaf’s rhetorical question about the Governance Commission during Dr. Sawyer’s funeral was a “rude awakening” to the CDC administration, emphasizing how the regime is trailing when it comes to governance and public sector reforms.

Dr. Togar McIntosh – the Savior?

President Weah was quite swift in responding to what many considered as a “wakeup call” from his predecessor. Weah then appointed a former Foreign Minister in the Johnson-Sirleaf era – Dr. G. Togar McIntosh. McIntosh is not new to the GC. He worked there as Executive Director from 2004 to 2005 before taking a ministerial at the now-defunct Ministry of Planning and Economic Affairs. Dr. McIntosh has a strong education and work background in policy formulation and reforms.

Dr. McIntosh was one of the few under the wings of Madam Sirleaf who expressed support for a Weah-led administration before the 2017 elections. However, he was reportedly given a horse kick soon after the government settled.

Leaving him out of the government raised eyebrows over the administration’s decision to overlook one of its prized assets

What does McIntosh bring to the Table?

McIntosh served as vice president of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) for four years, where he coordinated the work of 13 Commissioners that were engaged in overseeing development work for the 15 member countries in West Africa. On the national stage, he served in various technical, administrative, professional, and managerial positions for a total of 26 years with five of those years serving respectively as Minister of Planning and Economic Affairs, and Minister of Foreign Affairs for Liberia. On the international stage, he was Executive Director for two years representing 22 African countries on the Board of the World Bank Group.

He also worked for nearly ten years as a Senior Economic Officer at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, advising African governments and building senior-level staffing capacities for the better management of their development agendas. Toga brings to the ADMA Team a high degree of dedication, commitment, and a rich basket of experiences and competencies in (a) socio-economic research and analysis; (b) policy and institutional reform; and (c) designing and executing workshops, policy seminars and conferences. He has written several technical papers and publications on development management and human resources development and utilization.

With these experiences and international connections, there is no doubt that Mr. McIntosh is well suited for the post to help the administration regain its drained integrity among the international community.

Reviving a Dormant Commission

However, the Governance Commission has relatively been dormant – almost non-existent and without much attention from the government. The Commission has been without a proper Chairman since Cllr. Nwabudike Ndbuisi who headed the Commission from 2018 up to his appointment as the Chairman of the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission.

In the absence of an appointed chairman, Elizabeth W. Dorkin was left as the Officer-in-Charge, but her critics say she was inept for the post.

There have been no publicized programs and government or public engagement.

During the 9th Political Dialogue involving the European Union last August, the issue of governance and reforms was at the center of discussions.

EU Ambassador Laurent Delahousse underlined that Team Europe (EU and Member States) remain committed to supporting the implementation of the Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development (PAPD), as trustworthy and durable partners, delivering to the people of Liberia.

He, however, stressed that the EU aims to bring its partnership with Liberia to a new level, addressing not only the EU proposals and commitments for the country’s development but also what the EU expects in return, in terms of good governance by Liberian State institutions.

This leaves so much burden on Dr. McIntosh should he accept and be confirmed to revive a seemingly dormant agency, especially with just 17 months remaining to the next presidential and general elections.

Would he get the political will from the executive and the legislature in making the massive U-turn in adherence to public policies, reforms, realigning priorities, and putting into force the Pro-poor Agenda?

Dr. McIntosh would also face the daunting task of dusting up the Code of Conduct and ensuring that it regains its sanctity as the living document meant to checkmate government officials and keep the rule of law in shape.

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