Liberia: Anti-Corruption Chief Slams Weah-led Government’s For Lackluster Effort To Root Out Corruption
Monrovia – The fate of Cllr. James Verdier, chair of Liberia’s Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) and Cllr. J. Augustine Toe, one of his commissioners is in the air as tenure for both men come to an end this week.
Report by Rodney D. Sieh,
Cllr. Verdier officially started his post after his appointment by former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and subsequent confirmation by the Senate on February 24, 2014, replacing Cllr. Frances Johnson-Allison.
Under the 2008 Act establishing the LACC, the Chairperson and Vice Chairperson of the Commission shall be appointed by the President for a term of five (5) years each, and shall be eligible for reappointment for one additional term of five (5) years.
“To ensure continuity, the President on a staggered term basis, subject to confirmation by the Liberian Senate, the President shall appoint three (3) additional Commissioners for terms as follows: (a) One (1) Commissioner shall be appointed for an initial term of four (4) years. (b) One (1) Commissioner shall be appointed for an initial term of three (3) years. (c) One (1) Commissioner shall be appointed for an initial term of two (2) years. Therefore, all subsequent appointments shall be for a fixed period of five years. Commissioner so appointed shall be eligible for reappointment once.”
While the current President could reappoint Cllr. Verdier and Cll. Toe for another term, multi sources around the presidency say that is unlikely.
This has been bolstered by a recent statement the LACC Chair made in an interview with Radio France International in which he took the government to task for its lackluster efforts in the fight against graft.
Said Cllr. Verdier: “The experience we’ve had in the first quarter has been terrible because we have not had funding and we have not had this administration put its stamp against corruption and make some bold statements regarding transparency and accountability and ensuring that we can fight corruption.”
The criticism of the government was a far cry for Cllr. Verdier who drew criticisms during the regime of former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf for not doing enough in the fight against corruption while investing much time and energy running after leaks within the LACC to the Press instead and sometimes going to war over those leaks.
Sources within the LACC say, Verdier is reportedly eyeing an international post which could explain his rare attempt at criticizing the government, something he never did during the last administration of President Sirleaf.
FrontPageAfrica has also learned that some within President Weah’s circle have been advocating for the dissolution of the LACC altogether.
This was evident during the early days of the government when President Weah’s first nominee to head the Ministry of Justice Cllr. Charles Gibson suggested during his confirmation hearing that the anti-graft body should be dissolved.
Cllr. Gibson told the Liberian Senate’s Committee on Judiciary that he would not hesitate to shut down the LACC, Governance Commission and the Law Reform Commission for their lack of performance over the years.
Cllr. Verdier at the time, took Cllr. Gibson to task charging that the LACC was compelled and charged with a responsibility to dispel and correct misinformation and misguided impression about its work, mandate, function and achievements over the last few years of its existence. “Particularly, when such faulty analysis and misinformation emanate from a person who the laws of this Republic rely on, in part, to ensure the mandates and functions of the LACC are carried out and achieved without hindrance and interference,” he said.
Cllr. Charles Gibson, who’s nomination was later withdrawn by President Weah, suggested to the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights, Claims and Petitions that the LACC in particular, despite an annual budgetary allocation of US$20 million, has not been able to prosecute a single case.
Cllr. Verdier’s dilemma comes as the Weah-led government is on the verge of dissolving tenure positions in government.
Late November, President Weah presented a bill to the House of Representatives to repeal all tenure positions in the executive branch of government.
The bill titled “An act prohibiting the tenure of all public officials within the executive branch of government” makes the case that it has become necessary that the provision of tenure granted appointed officials of government to be removed by appropriate legislation upon careful consideration of benefits and downside of security of tenure.
As the law stands now, officials serving in tenure positions such as the Executive Governor of the Central Bank of Liberia, Executive Director of the Public Procurement and Concession Commission and Commissioner General of the Liberia Revenue Authority cannot be dismissed by the president, except for specific causes relating to their ability to perform their duties or failure to adhere to specific ethical guidelines.
Other tenure positions are the heads of the National Social Security and Welfare Corporation; Liberia Telecommunications Authority; Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission and National Elections Commission, among others.
President Weah and his aides believe that tenure personnel in the government would likely impede, obstruct or materially or adversely affect the development agenda of the president.
If the bill is passed, tenure officials would only serve at the will and pleasure of the president, as provided for by Article 56 of the 1986 constitution.
Some critics, including Cllr. Verdier are not so sure that the move is good, particularly for the LACC.
During an Anti-Corruption Day speech in Buchanan, Grand Bassa County last December, the LACC boss averred that removing the protection of tenure from integrity institutions, especially the LACC, will undermine their independence. “Trying to remove security of tenure from LACC and other integrity institutions is not strengthening the institutions,” he said.
Besides the issue of whether or not the President could reappoint him to the post, the LACC boss is also faced with dogging questions of his leadership over the past five years.
Last year, he came under fire from Cllr. Toe, who accused him of “disrespecting his peers and taking them for fools” while insinuating and raising questions over withdrawal of operational funds for the Commission.
Toe, in an email exchange obtained and published by FPA last year, said a growing number of issues at the anti-graft body was “playing on his conscience” and he felt it necessary to bring those issues to the attention of the LACC boss.
He accused his boss of being involved in “suspicious secret clandestine” management of the LACC’s finances by Verdier in cohort with the entity’s comptroller.
According to him, Chairman Verdier after secretly receiving the operational funds instructed the comptroller to give the other members of the BOC few gallons of fuel.
He wrote to Verdier: “What a heartless act!! What have we done to you to be so heartless to us? This is greatly disappointing and unfortunate. Our cars cannot be serviced or repaired. Cllr. Payma does not have a chair to sit in and work; Cllr. Johnson sits in the heat because there is no air conditioner, the only vehicle for the prosecution division has been down for months, where my program assistant sits has no curtains. How can we expect productively from these employees when the conditions under which they work are deplorable? If these funds from government no matter how meager are applied with humanity, they would improve conditions under which the staff work. Let me say I do not intent to let this issue pass like before. I intend to raise my voice loud on this issue and other issues within my certain knowledge well supported by facts and evidence. But will do so when you return. If this issue will make all of us leave LACC in disgrace, I am prepared.”
The LACC was established in 2008 by an Act of the National Legislature with a broad mandate and functions to implement appropriate measures and undertake programs geared toward investigating, prosecuting and preventing acts of corruption, including educating the public about the ills of corruption and the benefits of its eradication.
As the clock toward the end of his five-year stint as LACC chair, Cllr. Verdier finds himself on the cusp of uncertainty, with his survival largely depending on the president who sources say, has not taken Cllr. Verdier’s criticism likely.