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Liberia: ‘Toothless’ Code of Conduct Not Helpful in Fighting Corruption, Legal Luminaries Identify Flaws

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Monrovia – The Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) is still struggling to have defiant officials of Government to declare their assets. The LACC last week released a list of over 69 persons, including the current Solicitor General, Cllr. Syrennius Cephus, who are yet to declare their assets in flagrant disregard to the National Code of Conduct.

Ironically, Cllr. Cephus in his capacity as Solicitor General upon taking office in June formed the Assets Investigation, Retrieval, Reimbursement Team (AIRReT) headed by Cllr. Arthur Johnson to retrieve government’s assets and/or prosecute individuals who clandestinely amassed wealth from government.

President George Weah recently slammed Nobel Laureate Leymah Gbowee for her criticism of him and officials of his government’s failure to declare their assets and make it public.

“Mr. President, members of the Legislature, the fight against corruption is not in words, it is in action. You must walk your talk. You cannot preach against corruption and then not declare your assets and keep it locked up. Show us what you came with so that in a few years when you’ve got two houses, we can know that you already had those resources in the bank,” Gbowee asserted on Independence Day. 

However, in his reaction, President Weah said, “I respect the laws of the Republic of Liberia. The law of declaration tells me to declare at certain time. It did not tell me when you declare, you should give your receipt to organizations; it only tells me you declare when you’re entering, when you are leaving you declare. If you have more assets you can go to where you declare and add upon that.”

The National Code of Conduct which calls for the declaration of assets by public officials also states in Section 10.2 that “All such declarations shall be accessible to both the public employer and the general public upon a court order, as well as to the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) and the General Auditing Commission (GAC) for investigative purposes. 

The LACC in its recent statement said there have been continuous requests for copies of public officials’ declaration, which contain assets, liabilities, net worth, financial and family interest declaration; and constant condemnation from the public against officials for not publishing their assets.

According to the LACC, while such documents can only be obtained through a court order, it welcomes any official who would like to make their declaration public.

Former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf declared her assets upon taking office and shortly before leaving office, both declarations were made public. 

Many have questioned the essence of declaring assets while it would continue remaining a secret.

Powerless Code of Conduct

Former Chief Justice Gloria Musu Scott at the third edition of the African Anti-Corruption Day said the National Code of Conduct is not sufficient to satisfy the constitutional requirements for conflict of interest and the fight against corrupt acts in the country.

“I say so because the assets declaration according to the Code of Conduct, says the Executive deposits their assets declaration with GAC and the House of Representative’s deposit with the Chief Clerk, members of the Senate deposits with the Secretary of the Senate while the Judiciary with the clerk of the Supreme Court,” she said.

She said the code of conduct undermines the Constitution requirement to exposure, adding that the remedy for the justification of corruption was provided in the 1986 Constitution but it was defeated by the Code of Conduct.

“To get a copy of the declaration of any officials, you will have to get a court order and we talked about due process which you have to get a standing and the person concerned have the right to come to defend, so the effect of the Code of Conduct undermines the Constitution requirements of exposure,” she explained.

Justice Scott says if there is a public monitoring embodiment in the Constitution that serves as a deterrent such would prevent corruption.

According to her, Liberians must say if they want to fight corruption there is a need that the Legislature give the code of conduct teeth, “Because the code of conduct as it is powerless.”

She said the African Union convention and the other international bodies established to fight corruption and that started should have started from the immediate past government but nothing was done.

Cllr. Scott: “I recommend that we look at the Code of Conduct for public exposure because once you put yourself up for the public office, be it by election or appointment, you should serve as trustee and as a trustee, you must subject yourself to the public.”

 “So, nationally, the Code of Conduct defeats the Constitution and we should take it seriously because of the implications of corruption. The remedy for the justification of corruption was provided in the 1986 Constitution but the Code of Conduct defeats that so we need to say as a people whether we really want to fight corruption and if we want to do that, we must go back to the legislature and give the Code of Conduct teeth because as it is, it’s powerless.” 

Also speaking, the president of the Liberia National Bar Association, Cllr. Tiawon Gongloe, said the question in mind of most Liberians is whether the government of Liberia is committed to the recovery of access required through corruption.

“The other question is whether there is any legal framework for access recovery to enable the Government of Liberia to require all access of public officials through corruption?”

Cllr. Gongloe said there are records that the past Liberian governments did not show the serious political will to recover assets acquired by public officials through corruption.

“Most likely, the reason behind this reluctance to recover assets acquired by public officials through corruption was based on public officials’ interest to acquire wealth through the same method as their predecessors. There is a need to shift this thinking, otherwise, Liberia will not develop as fast as every Liberians want it to develop,” Cllr. Gongloe said.

The LNBA president recalled in 1980 the People Redemption Council recovered assets. “The PRC ceased all of the assets of officials of government under the True Wing Party. They actually acquired a bureau of acquisition that was managing rubber farms, buildings, and monies retrieved from officials of government.

Cllr. Gongloe said the current government has the opportunity to demonstrate the political will to recover assets from past and current government officials that are identified as proceed of corruption. “But the question is whether the government has the legal framework and the answer is affirmative.”

He said Liberia is a state party to United Nations convention on corruption and the African Union Convention on the prevention and combating of corruption that is applicable in dealing with access recovery.

Cllr. Gongloe recommended that the Magistrate and Judges should start to issue a search and seizure of items that are presumed to be fruits of crimes.

“Corruption is a means by which funds that belong to people are stolen hence proceeds to corruption are subject to search and seizure warrants which are powerful tools for criminal investigation and when used in a timely manner may be effective in the fight against corruption because it does not require notice in investigating a crime,” he said.

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