Economist says, the government is the carrier of the aggregate preference of the governed. But where corruption is described as “wide spread” “systematic” and or considered “vampire”, it speaks volume of severity of corruption which undermines the aggregate preference of the citizens from being achieved.
But where this started from and what have we done as a nation and people to defeat this “Public Enemy Number One”? Historical account points to 1864, seventeen years down the road of our statehood, when the first major corruption case was reported. According to G.E. Saigbe Boley book titled: “The Rise & Fall of the First Republic”, a Special Committee on Public Accounts was empowered by the National Legislature to investigate the Secretary of the Treasury on allegation of corruption and the Committee reported that enormous sum of money paid out of public account went unreported.
By October 1871, another big corruption case was reported involving a sitting President who according to some report was deposed over allegation of obtaining a loan on behalf of the country without approval from the Legislature. He was accused of embezzling $90,000 United States dollars.
Following these incidents, Liberia experienced many other issues of corruption, financial malpractices and corruption, the Firestone Agreement; the Fernado -Po crisis that led to the resignation of another President Charles D.B. King in 1930.
Dishonesty and corruption became “wide spread” in government. By 1956, the government established its first anti-graft institution called “Bureau of Audit” as demonstration of efforts to fight corruption, and in 1976, the “National Force for the Eradication of Corruption” was established. The creation of these institutions was meant to reduce corruption in public sphere and promote accountability and honesty in the governance system.
Presumably, these efforts did not materialize and in 1980, the military Junta used corruption and bad governance as the basis of the undemocratic and bloody change of government.
In an effort to address issues of corruption, and during the period of re-writing our Constitution of 1986 which is current in use; the framers of the Constitution articulated the doctrines of transparency, accountability, and integrity in public service, and requested the establishment of the General Audit Commission and other institutions for the promotion and improvement of our governance system.
Much was not done to address the issue of corruption which has become deeply rooted in our governance system. Then came 2005, when the current President, Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf made a well-intentioned corruption elimination speech out of which both local and international media institutions developed multiple headlines for weeks. Her critics described her speech as “Another empty” promise from another Liberian president. Some political historians equated the component of speech on corruption to the second inaugural address made by former President Joseph Jenkins Roberts on January 1, 1872 who described the governance crisis as “Gross official corruption and lavish misapplication of public fund” by his predecessor, and vowed to change things.
Being true to her words, Madam President in 2005 ensured the creation of the General Audit Commission and the Public Procurement Commission. In 2008, the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission came into existence. In 2010, the Independent National Human Rights Commission was established. Most recently, a National Code of Conduct was passed into law covering all three branches of government.
The creation of these institutions and operationalization of these key integrity institutions are welcoming efforts towards mitigating corruption in public service. Research has shown that in order to fight corruption, the proper architecture and structures should be developed and platform created for sustainable engagement. Further to this, much has been done to meet the second component required to fight corruption, which is capacity building.
According to the World Bank, countries that suffer from chronic fragility, conflict and violence are often the one that have fewest international resources to combat corruption. This description is unique to the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission. The Commission had to seek training for its staff to boost its capacity. Today, like the GAC, some staffs of the Commission have returned from Austria where they persued master degree in anti-corruption disciplines and are now back re-enforcing the Commission’s capacity
Minimum strives have been made, but noticeably, the parade is on; there is demonstration of political will by the power that be. When perceived” Associates” of the President have been investigated void of her influence and or manipulations, it demonstrates commitment! When for the first time in our current political history, a sitting speaker has been investigated twice on allegation of corruption and an indictment obtained against him, it’s remarkable!
According to the World Bank, for a nation or its anti-corruption institutions to fight corruption, citizens should be engaged at all levels. The LACC through its outreach programs has done this and continues to do so. But the irony is that, the citizens in whose interest corruption is fought, come in defense of the accused and in some instances attempt to prevent arrest of individuals of interest.
Campaigners for anti-corruption witnessed a drama at the Criminal Court C during the trial of the former Managing Director of the National Port of Authority, Madam Matilda Parker and Comptroller, Christiana Kpabar Paelay, both charged with multiple acts of corruption including Economic Sabotage and Theft of Property. Citizens wore solidarity T-shirts, danced to praise songs in favor of the accused.
Shouldn’t I agree that corruption is “systematic” by this experience? Before the trial started, a church gowned one of the accused in solidarity and heaped praises on her as a “honest” person. Doesn’t this speak to corruption been “wide spread”?
In the words of the Executive chairperson of the Liberia Ant-Corruption Commission, we are “a Nation against itself”.
Corruption fight is everybody business yah! Let’s support the fight!