Monrovia – A Memorandum of Understanding between the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) and the General Auditing Commission (GAC) signed on October 6, 2016 could keep Liberians from seeing the details of the assets declared by President George Manneh Weah last week.
By Lennart Dodoo, [email protected]
The two institutions in that MOU expressed that in order to ease filing, the LACC shall establish electronic points for filing with copies forwarded to the GAC. The two institutions have accordingly pledged to maintain the highest level of confidentiality in the handling of asset declaration documents in keeping with the MoU.
The GAC, in a statement last Friday, announced that it had received the declaration of personal interests, income, assets and liabilities forms from the President on Wednesday, July 25, 2018 at 6:05 PM but fell short of listing the assets the President had filed.
According to the GAC, the submission of the personal interests, income, assets and liabilities forms by President Weah is in fulfillment of Section 10.2 of the Code of Conduct which calls on public officials of the Executive Branch of Government to declare their personal interests, income, assets and liabilities to the GAC.
The statement adds that the GAC was forwarding the assets declared by the Chief Executive to the LACC in line with the MOU between the two integrity institutions.
While the declaration of personal interests, income, assets and liabilities by public officials is intended to enhance accountability and transparency, curtail corruption and acquisition of illicit wealth and to increase public confidence and trust in our governance system, many Liberians are still puzzled over the secrecy surrounding the president’s declaration.
The LACC-GAC ‘Secret’ Pact
FrontPageAfrica has learned that most integrity institutions, including Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA) and GAC signed MOUs with the LACC for criminal referrals in corruption-related investigations uncovered by their respective agencies.
It is unclear whether documents like the LRA/LACC MOU have anything to do with Asset Declaration, prompting many to wonder whether the GAC is confusing the public over the secrecy and what some observers say is an odd process of declaration by the President.
The confidentiality clause is not specified or detailed making it unclear whether the GAC or the LACC are required to make it public once the process stipulated in the MOU is completed
The MOU was signed by the respective heads of the LACC and GAC, Cllr. James N. Verdier and Madam Yusador S. Gaye, who pledged their commitment to its full implementation.
They expressed optimism for similar collaborations with other institutions in the fight against corruption.
In keeping with the MoU, the GAC designates the LACC as its authorized agent to receive Asset Declaration documents on its behalf as mandated by the 2014 Act of the Legislature Prescribing a National Code of Conduct.
The MoU also provides that the GAC shall, upon receipt of asset declaration documents for the Executive Branch of government, immediately forward those declarations to the LACC for inclusion in its database in furtherance of the spirit and intent of the MoU.
A Long Wait with Missteps
Until last week, President Weah last declared his assets in 2005 when he contested the presidency but lost to Madam Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. There were mounting calls for his asset declaration after his swearing in as President on January 22, 2018, but all fell on deaf ears.
In March this year, just over 40 days after assuming office, while President Weah was being reluctant to declare his assets, he embarked on the construction of his “dream home” and at the same time began the reconstruction of his 9th Street property while construction works were also ongoing at his Thinkers Village Jamaica Resort – all happening together.
Concerns surfaced, probing why did the President wait until his election before carrying out these personal projects?
The refusal to declare within the statutory period also left many disappointed, drawing massive criticism of the Liberian leader. Some alleged that the former soccer star was deviating from his promise to fight corruption.
But the Minister of Information, Lenn Eugene Nagbe, had struggled to provide justifications for the simultaneous constructions carried out by the President.
At a news conference, he said, “It is good that he is doing it now because if he had waited for one year they will say he has stolen the government’s money that is what he is using to develop his property but since he became President he has not taken pay. So, nobody will say that he is using government’s money.”
Min. Nagbe, at the time, said President Weah was putting all of his assets together so that when he is presenting them he would do nothing else but the truth.
“We all know the President played in Italy, he played in Paris and other places, and he may have an asset in those places. So, that process is ongoing,” Nagbe told the media.
Weah’s 2005 Asset Declaration
President Weah’s 2005 declaration put his overall income per annum at US$335,000.00 on properties in Liberia and the United States.
According to the declaration, he earned US$60,000 from his supermarket in Florida, USA; US$250,000 from real estate in the USA and US$25,000 from his real estate in Liberia.
President Weah in 2005 declared that his combined assets both in Liberia and the USA were more US$2.8 million. His residence in Florida, USA was said to worth US$1.5 million, while his Supermarket in Miami, Florida was said to worth US$1.2 million.
Documents obtained by FrontPageAfrica indicate that the Florida supermarket – Flavors West Indian Supermarket and Restaurant – which is registered in his wife’s name had been inactive.
His two residences in Liberia were said to be valued US$250,000, with the one in which he currently resides in the ELWA Rehab Road community in Paynesville being put at US$100,000.
The demolished residence on 9 th Street in Sinkor, Monrovia was valued in 2005 at US$150,000. He, however, failed to state his bank balances in the declared assets.
Several years later, Weah in 2014 won the Senatorial elections and became Senator of Montserrado for three years until his election as President in December 2017, earning a monthly income of somewhere around US$15,000. His total worth as Senator for the three years is estimated to be US$540,000.
Sirleaf Exhibited Transparency in Her Declaration
Former Liberian President Sirleaf declared her declared her assets twice during the course of her presidency.
President Sirleaf did not hesitate to make her last declaration public. Copies of her declaration forms were made available to the media for scrutiny via the office of her press secretary.
In that declaration, former President Sirleaf disclosed her total worth of her assets at US$1,707,279.64.
According to Mrs. Sirleaf’s declaration, she earned L$1,645,500 as gross salary per annum and US$72,000 in allowances per annum.
The asset declaration form also shows that President Sirleaf had US$49,933.76 in her personal checking account at IB Bank, EJS Farm account also at IB Bank has a balance of L$379,502.20 , EJS personal Account: L$630,363.31 and a saving account with a balance of US$9,777.72.
In foreign accounts, President Sirleaf had savings with Bank of America in Charlotte, North Carolina in the tone of US$153,006.00 and a UNFC account with a balance of US$7,300.
For treasury bills or investment in securities, President Sirleaf recorded having US$704,314.00 with Vanguard Mutual Funds in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania and US$61,003.00 with American Funds, Los Angeles in California.
For real estate, President Sirleaf valued her current residence – a one storey building with a swimming pool and a palavahut at US$164,100. She also owns a bungalow which contains a boys quarters, palavahut and an external kitchen at Corina Park, Congo Town, valued at US$117,300; a compound with two concrete buildings in Congo Town worth US$103,000.00; a vacant family plot on Broad Street worth US$50,000; a US$77,411 residential property in Caldwell, Bushrod Island; a structure on Benson Street valued at US$44, 016; a US$56,800 bungalow on Congo Town back road.
She also owns a vacant 513 acres of land in Todee District which she valued at US$51,300 and four acres of vacant land in Paynesville worth US$4,000. According to the President, her garden is also worth US$5,000.
Under the Sirleaf administration, appointees were ordered to declare their assets in keeping the law.
In August 2012, President Sirleaf suspended her son, Charles Sirleaf and 45 other government officials for failing to declare their assets to the Liberia Anti-Corruption authorities, in a step seen as a strong effort to battle corruption.
Charles Sirleaf, one of three of the President’s sons appointed to government posts, was suspended from his position as Deputy Central Bank Governor.