MONROVIA – The Act passed by the Legislature which would see the establishment of a new Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission with truncated powers is not being greeted happily by many, including the current chairman of the existing Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission.
The Legislature sought to change several provisions of the existing Act rather than tackling the current limitations of the already established LACC which result from the limits of its powers such as the lack of direct prosecutorial powers.
The Legislature’s decision stems from a request from President George Weah in May 2021 when he wrote and requested the amendment of some provisions in the LACC Act of 2008.
What the President Requested
The President’s proposed Act was entitled “An Act Restating An Act to Establish the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission.”
The President at the time stated that his request was in line with the government’s anti-corruption policy and contained a comprehensive strategy that outlines the preventative, educational and enforcement measures to be taken to combat corruption in Liberia.
In the communication to the House of Representatives, the President said the proposed bill specifically calls for the establishment of an independent anti-corruption commission with defined duties and responsibilities to investigate and prosecute cases of corruption.
He also submitted additional proposed bills, including an act calling for the amendment of Part X, Section 10 of the Code of Conduct of 2014, to grant full authority to Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) to compile, verify, maintain and update a comprehensive asset declaration registry for all Government employees. It also includes specific sanctions for non-compliance, according to the President.
What the Legislature Passed
A review conducted of the final recommendations from the conference committee of the House of Representatives and the Liberian senates shows that the Legislature struck out several provisions of the current LACC which many view as having far-reaching negative effects on the works of the country’s anti-graft agency.
Part three of the recommendation from the Committee states the new LACC will be established to succeed the current Liberia Anti-corruption Commission.
There are concerns about why the Legislature will move to establish a new anti-corruption Commission against the express request of the president as he submitted a specific part of the Commission’s act that needed amendments.
In part four of the recommendations from the joint committees, the new act is completely scrapping the authority of the Liberia Anti-corruption Commission to seize assets of public officials. The Legislature is recommending that no public official assets should be freeze/seized. The Committee noted that this can be done only if the LACC notices that the person is of flight risk
The main crust of the current law by the legislature is not the direct prosecutorial powers, rather it is an inserted clause that says all the Commissioners currently serving at the Liberia Anti-corruption Commission should continue serving until their successors are appointed.
Part XVI- Transitional Provision, the provision is that commissioners now serving the LACC shall remain in office after the enactment of this new law until their successors are appointed, but each is eligible to apply and be subjected to the appointment procedure provided for this law.
This clause in the new LACC act completely renders the current leadership ineffective and subject to presidential dismissal and automatic replacement by the president.
This is coming at the time there have mounting public outcries that the president and his immediate surroundings intend to remove the current head of the Country’s anti-corruption following the release of damming reports on Corruption in the administration by the current leadership of Liberia Anti-corruption Commission.
Defeating the Corruption Fight
Speaking to the Voice of America, the current head of the Anti-Corruption Commission, Cllr. Edwin Klah Martin said the new legislation is purposely intended to weaken the fight against corruption which his administration has been very committed to.
“We’re taken aback that the Commission in order to ensure that we have independence to establish our prosecutorial powers, the Legislature as established an Act to create a new Commission that has usurp the function and will respectfully dissolve the administration of the present Commission with the sole intent of defeating the purpose of combatting corruption in the country,” he said.
He lamented that the new act calls for the appointment of new Commissioners to be appointed by the President.
Questioned whether he would continue going after corrupt government officials in the wake of the new Act, Cllr. Martin said, “This is a clever attempt to abolish the fight against corruption in Liberia. The Act of the National Legislature is purely intended to make sure that this Commission does not exist. The Commission was established to ensure that we prosecute corrupt officials consistent with the law in a certain time frame if the Ministry of Justice fails.”
H stated the powers of the would-be Commission are vague and the fight against corruption would not be fully achieved.
Seeking Remedy in the Law
Cllr. Martin further told the VOA that he is considering challenging the new Act at the Supreme Court. He said, under the rule of law, the Legislature is in error by amending, creating and dissolving a tenure position. “Our laws are progressive, they’re not retroactive so to do what they did is a clever attempt to witch hunt current administration,” he alleged.
He added that despite the “witch-hunting” he would not relent in ensuring that corrupt officials in government are brought to justice.
“We will fight this to the letter, we’ll not relent. The Liberian people will not relent. What we did, we did it in the interest of the Liberian people. We will make sure that resources and conduct of the Liberia people are fully protected,” he said.
The LACC chairman further told the VOA that the current nature of his security is unknown as he has on many occasions requested the Minister of Justice to beef up his security, but to no avail. According to him, he is only assigned a police officer which he believes is not sufficient to ensure his safety.