U.S. President Tightens Screws on Corruption; Targets Real Estate as Means of Shielding Ill-gotten Wealth

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MONROVIA – On Monday, December 6, the Joe Biden administration released the first-ever United States Strategy on Countering Corruption, which focuses on preventing bad actors using the United States and international financial systems to hide assets and launder money.

The 38-page which is intended to crack down on corruption was released ahead of the virtual Summit for Democracy, which the Biden administration is hosting on Thursday and Friday and will include over 100 participants from governments, civil society and the private sector.

Biden, according to western media, is the first president to establish the fight against corruption as a core national security interest. 

Different corruption strategy in Liberia?

In Liberia, America’s closest African ally, President George Weah, who came to power with a pledge to tackle corruption, has begun no successful prosecutions and has appeared to condone colleagues tainted by serious allegations.

The Liberian leader was elected nearly four years ago on a wave of disgust at the perceived avarice of the administration of former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf – but with two years left to his six-year tenure, efforts to bring corruption under control are widely seen as a failure.

Seen as a victory for Liberians over a political system viewed as ineffective or corrupt, President Weah’s election in 2018 brought with it the high expectations of not just his support base but the country as a whole.

However, despite early signs that he would take on bureaucratic excess and corruption, rebuild infrastructure and drive economic development, the Liberian leader’s three year in office have been haunted by the old guard of Liberian politics, hampered by limited resources and dogged by controversies over missing money. 

President Weah’s sudden wealth draws ire

The ongoing construction of President Weah’s Weah’s giant multi-million dollar construction projects continues to generate debate in Liberia.

Weah’s project includes a 41-unit state-of-the-art property in the Baptist Seminary Community on the RIA highway within the proximity of his Jamaica Resort, which many have described as a ‘magnet’ for public officials. 

President Weah’s 9th Street residence is reportedly valued at US$150,000, which was demolished for reconstruction.

All of these projects are being simultaneously implemented at a time when the country’s economy is allegedly broke.

Weah attained the presidency and failed to make his declared assets public; thus, raising eyebrows and prompting some Liberians to question why he waited until becoming president before embarking on these projects.

Declaration of Assets Still Remains Concealed

Amidst these numerous projects, Liberians say they don’t know what their President’s actual assets are since his ascendancy to the nation’s highest seat, which is sparking conspiracy theories.

However, in declaring his assets to the National Elections Commission (NEC) prior to the 2014 Senatorial election, President Weah disclosed that he had four properties: two in Florida, USA, one on 9th Street, Sinkor, Monrovia and another in Rehab Community in Paynesville. 

The 9th Street property, according to that declaration was worth US$150,000, the Rehab structure was valued US$100,000. The Miami, Florida property – US$1.4 million while the other property in Florida was put at US$900,000.00.

Liberia’s infrastructure gap is a further challenge, and one that has confounded successive administrations. According the World Bank, only five per cent of Liberia’s 11,423 kilometres of roads are paved, and many are often impassible in heavy rain.

In seeking swift solutions to these challenges, President Weah risks repeating the governance failings of prior administrations. 

In an effort to make quick progress on infrastructure, for instance, the president sought a loan of dubious provenance to finance a coastal highway in the southeast of the country, a region that strongly supported the Liberian leaderin the 2018 election. 

For many the two issues signify that President Weah’s government will prove to be no less incompetent and corrupt than the political system over which it claimed victory, a view compounded by frustrations by the worsening economy.

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