OP-ED: The Integrity Team President Weah Needs to Fight Corruption

The voice of Africa’s first female president was towering on January 16, 2006 when she mounted the podium to deliver her first ever inaugural address to Liberians and citizens of the world. In her address, former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf made this solemn pledge:

“…Fellow Liberians, we know that if we are to achieve our economic and income distribution goals, we must take on forcibly and effectively the debilitating cancer of corruption. Throughout my campaign, I assured our people that, if elected, we would wage war against corruption regardless of where it exists, or by whom it is practiced…

Unfortunately, after 12 years under her rule, the president’s words became a mere bluff with corruption winning the war and becoming even more entrenched in her government than ever before. Transparency and accountability became taboos under Ellen’s administration.

Instead of corruption becoming ‘public enemy number one’ as promised, it became ‘public friend number one’ as a result of her refusal to firmly demonstrate political will and maintain an atmosphere of zero tolerance for corruption. The failure of the Sirleaf administration can be predominantly attributed to corruption and the mass looting of state resources, mostly by her cronies and pseudo-patriots.

The unholy marriage that existed between the Sirleaf administration and corruption must be immediately divorced by President Weah. It is time for the new government to sincerely marry transparency, openness, and accountability in public service. Anything on the contrary, Weah’s proclamation of a pro-poor government would be another farce and fiasco.

On January 22, 2018, Liberians felt a bit relieved from the chains of corruption as the Nobel laureate officially turned power over after 12 years of misrule. Liberia’s new president, Weah, took the oath of office and was sworn in as head of state and commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of Liberia.

Before going any further, I would like to congratulate President George M. Weah and Vice President Jewel Howard-Taylor as they lead our nation by example for the next six years. I am wishing them success, but this success can only be a reality if the fight against corruption is taken seriously.

In his inaugural speech, President Weah said to a jam-packed stadium of citizens and international guests:

“As officials of government, it is time to put the interest of our people above our own selfish interests. It is time to be honest with our people. Though corruption is a habit amongst our people, we must end it. We must pay civil servants a living wage, so that corruption is not an excuse for taking what is not theirs. Those who do not refrain from enriching themselves at the expense of the people – the law will take its course. I say today that you will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”

Like former President Sirleaf, President Weah is pledging to fight corruption head-on and he has my support in this drive if only he is sincere about these words. Yes, I agree that it is time to improve the livelihood of our people especially those who live in the slums and ghettos. We must give them a new meaning for being Liberians by adding value to their lives. This can only happen when the new president demonstrates the political will and ensures zero tolerance for corruption, nepotism, cronyism, and political patronage.

A corruption-free government could turn Liberia into a modern paradise and an enviable nation of prosperity and equality for all. It is time for all citizens to share in Liberia’s wealth regardless of creed, class, ethnicity and political affiliation.

As a youth activist, I have vehemently stood up against a corrupt and nepotistic system for 12 years, and my passion for a New Liberia remains unquenched. I am hopeful that this New Liberia can be achieved under President Weah if only he can appoint and commission a strong anti-graft team.

President Weah could massively succeed in his first year of presidency and beyond if he has a strong and patriotic team of anti-graft crusaders and champions. His primary responsibilities now should be:

  1. Set up a robust and uncompromising anti-corruption team. Appointing the right anti-corruption mechanics/campaigners to unknot or unscrew corruption is crucial.
  2. Ensure all appointees declare their assets before they can even be confirmed by the Senate. This is in accordance with the Code of Conduct
  3. Establish a fast-track corruption court and endeavor to prosecute all corruption cases initiated under President Sirleaf
  4. Organize a nationwide conference on corruption and economic sabotage. This conference would develop a concrete roadmap for fighting corruption at every level and promoting public transparency through openness and community participation.

Additionally, for the nine major integrity institutions, I would recommend to our president the following integrity-driven characters who could stamp out this national danger:

  1. Ministry of Justice – Tiawan Gongloe
  2. Solicitor General – T. Negbalee Warner
  3. General Auditing Commission – John S. Morlu, II.
  4. Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission – Jerome Verdier
  5. Internal Audit Agency – Augustine Kpehe Ngafuan
  6. Public Procurement Concession Commission – Boima S. Kamara
  7. Liberia Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative – Thomas Doe Nah
  8. Financial Intelligence Unit – Samuel Kofi Woods
  9. Office of the Ombudsman –J. Aloysius Toe and T. Dempster Brown

I am confident that this coalition of anti-corruption crusaders can aggressively deal with corruption throughout Liberia. I am not suggesting either that they are the only ones who have all it takes to combat this systemic menace, but from my lenses, they are impeccable characters whose appetite for public wealth is low and anxiety for a transparent public space is high.  Moreover, they are qualified, competent, and patriotic to subdue corruption under Weah’s presidency.

In addition, I would like to call for at least 15 percent increment in budgetary allocation to each of these anti-graft institutions. Currently (FY2017/2018), these are budgetary appropriations of anti-graft agencies which are far less than most public institutions:

  1. Ministry of Justice – US$36,511,697
  2. Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission – US$2,379,049
  3. Public Procurement Concession Commission– US$1,307,612
  4. General Auditing Commission – US$5,415,80
  5. Liberia Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative – US$617,700
  6. Internal Audit Agency – US$3,694,749
  7. Financial Intelligence Unit – US$827,000
  8. Office of the Ombudsman – US$250,000

I have no intention to usurp the function of the president, but in my opinion, this is the integrity team that President Weah needs to defeat corruption. Howbeit, it is up to the president to appoint whoever he thinks is capable and prepared to wage an unceasing war against corruption.

This time around, the war against corruption must be genuine, aggressive, holistic, and non-selective. Anything short of this, a pro-poor government, as envisaged by our new president, is a dead dream.

From the largest slum of West Point and the top of Ducor, I see a New Liberia rising above the African continent. Hope is blooming. Change is in sight. Liberia will rise.

Featured photo by Lloyd Massah

Martin K. N. Kollie

Martin K. N. Kollie is currently a student of the University of Liberia studying Economics, a stalwart of the Student Unification Party and a Lux-In-Tenebris Scholar. Martin is also the West Africa Bureau Chief / Editor of Globe Afrique, a Columnist of The African Exponent and Youth Ambassador of the International Human Rights Commission. He can be reached by email.

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