Liberia’s president George Manneh Weah with French president Emmanuel Macron in Paris

        GLOBE AFRIQUE’S RESEARCH AND ANALYSIS–Liberia’s new president His Excellency George Manneh Weah, in crying out for European assistance, has said he inherited “a country that is very broke, and depleted as a political malfeasance”, reports AFP news agency. If this assertion is true, it means President Weah has also inherited a nation that has been poorly governed, managed and wrecked by the past Liberian administration and his immediate predecessor, Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.  It also means, that contrary to international perceptions, his predecessor did not do a good job.

            The former international soccer star, who is currently visiting in Europe, made these touching and politically salient remarks in France.  He also said he has ordered a complete audit of government agencies “to make sure that what belongs to the government goes to the government.”   Speaking on his first official foreign trip out of Africa, as president, he said health care and education are lacking in Liberia––a direct contrast to the standards established and used by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation in awarding retired Liberian president Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf with the 2017 Ibrahim Prize for good governance and leadership.

President George Manneh Weah and First Lady Clar Weah with French president Macron in Paris

Prior to President Weah’s remarks and subsequent thereof, Globe Afrique research and analysis team has reviewed the various levels of corruption that occurred during the past 12 years in Liberia under the most recent Liberian government. These reviews which are still ongoing detailed several actual and perceived acts of corruption that took place in the country from January 2006 to January 2018 when President Sirleaf’s Unity Party-led government ran the country.

           When Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberia’s and Africa’s first democratically elected woman president assumed office as head of state of Liberia, she inherited a monumental problem––a war-torn nation and looted country that was on the path to recovering. The decade-long Liberian conflict led to a breakdown in social services, the cessation of agricultural food production, and a dilapidated infrastructure.  There was also some degree of corruption in the country as officials of successive Liberian administrations, especially during factional periods, unsuitably amassed wealth at the expense of the Liberian people. However, one thing certain, and that had been far more observable under previous administrations prior to 2006, was that corruption in Liberia was not widespread, organized and endemic. True, it existed, it was not systemic, naked and heartless.

When Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberia’s and Africa’s first democratically elected woman president assumed office as head of state of Liberia, she inherited a monumental problem––a war-torn nation and looted country that was on the path to recovering. The decade-long Liberian conflict led to a breakdown in social services, the cessation of agricultural food production, and a dilapidated infrastructure.  There was also some degree of corruption in the country as officials of successive Liberian administrations, especially during factional periods, unsuitably amassed wealth at the expense of the Liberian people. However, one thing certain, and that had been far more observable under previous administrations prior to 2006, was that corruption in Liberia was not widespread, organized and endemic. True, it existed, it was not systemic, naked and heartless.

Under the Sirleaf’s Unity Party-led government, Liberia experienced widespread, organized, structured and inhumane acts of corruption in almost all sectors and at every level.  These acts of corruption included petty corruption, grand corruption, systemic corruption, government/public sector corruption, political corruption, and judicial corruption.  Hence, Liberians experienced naked and heartless greed.

           Petty corruption in Liberia occurred on a smaller scale and at the implementation end of public services when officials meet the public. For example, in many small places and activities in Liberia such as business transaction and in registration offices, at clearinghouses, police stations, state licensing entities, and in many other government sectors.  From 2007 to 2018, no basic government services were rendered without some form of bribe and other forms of corruption. In obtaining passports, national ID card, driver’s license; in shipping or clearing goods at the airport and seaports; in seeking employment, and in obtaining contracts, there has been some form of what is known in Liberia as the provision of “cold water.”

Former Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

          Grand corruption in Liberia and around the world is defined as corruption that occurs at the highest levels of government in a way that requires the weighty subversion of the political, legal and economic systems. Such corruption is generally found in countries with authoritarian or dictatorial governments but also in those without adequate policing of corruption.  Globe Afrique found that while the Sirleaf’s Unity Party-led administration would not be considered as authoritarian or dictatorial from a superficial perspective, and on the surface; in substance and practice, it was economically, and to a subtle extent, politically authoritarian and dictatorial. It was a government and a presidency that was bent on, and entrenched in, the logic of “My Way or No Way.”

Globe Afrique’s research noted that grand corruption in Liberia from 2006 to 2018 was excessive because the then Liberian government did not regard and value the separation of power and the formalities that attend to them.

The Liberian government system, as in many countries, is divided into the legislative, executive and judiciary branches. This system, modeled after that of the United States, is good because it facilitates oversight in an attempt to provide independent services that are less subject to grand corruption due to the independence of one branch from other.  

          Contrary to this co-equal political philosophy, the executive branch of government in Liberia, from 2006 to 2018, corrupted, interfered and rubber–stamped the other two branches of the Liberian government, using bribe and other incentives.

                 Consequently, an estimated 99 percent of legislative bills that went to the Liberian legislature, passed and implemented, including concession agreements, budgetary appropriations and allocations, government contracts and tax give-aways etc., came from the executive branch, and in most instances, financial inducements were used to coerce lawmakers into signing and passing the bills.  

          At one point, a former Liberian Senator Clarice Jah produced video and audio recordings that signified how the executive branch and the former Liberian leader, Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, used public funds to entice and lure lawmakers into making wrong public policies and passing bad bills, especially in approval and passage of bills pertaining to major and insignificant concession agreements.

Tony Praise Lawal receives an honor of recognition from former Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Lawal got away with more than $18 millions of dollars in Liberian taxpayers money and no investigation has been initiated because he is connected to powerful Liberians.

                 Systemic corruption (or endemic corruption) is a corruption which is primarily due to weaknesses in and of an organization or process. In Liberia, especially from January 2006 to January 2018, corruption was so widespread and conducted by both government’s officials and their outside associates, including foreign nationals. Most elected and appointed officials in the previous Liberian administration as well as family members of those in power engaged foreign nationals in looting the country.

         In some instances, those officials co-opted certain government agencies in granting Liberian nationality and other identifications such as passports, national ID card and more to these foreign nationals with whom they exploited the country’s treasury to launder funds abroad into personal accounts, or to purchase properties.  A classic case is that of a Nigerian con-man, Praise Tony Lawal, a retired soldier who served in the West African Peace Monitoring Force (ECOMOG) in Liberia.

With no background in engineering or construction, Lawal was aided by top-level Liberian officials and others with close ties to the presidency in setting up bogus construction companies and financial entities. Through these bogus entities, Lawal secured more than $18 million United States dollars in contract funds from the Liberian treasury.  That amount was  siphoned out on behalf of those Liberian individuals without attending to the main reasons why the funds were disbursed from the treasury.  Besides, Lawal was illegally granted a Liberian passport, national ID card, and even a voter identification while simultaneously remaining a Nigerian citizen.

Several Ghanaians have also secured or bought Liberian passports to come to the United States and seek political asylum as Liberians. Currently, the New York’s office of the USCIS has a case of a Ghanaian claiming to be a Liberian because he entered the US on a Liberian passport. When asked how and why he uses a Liberian passport and identity, he claims because he has lived in Liberia prior to obtaining a visa to come to the United States.

There are many other nationals that have bought Liberian passports and other identities. While naturalization is a good thing, granting nationals of other countries a Liberian passport and related identities has an adverse impact, especially when those people have not truly naturalized, or when they have hidden and dubious intent for wanting a Liberian document. For example, a good number of individuals arrested in violent acts across the world and with drugs abroad who are recognized as Liberians are not actually real Liberian citizens, but the arresting authorities in the countries such where such acts occurred regard them as Liberians because they have Liberian identification documents. This is among some of the reasons why we hear about Liberians being accused of drug trafficking and so on.

The negative impact these things have are severe.  For instances, carriers of Liberian passports and identifies were not scrutinized in past as it is today.  When other people who are engaged in dubious acts carry your nation’s passport, the consequences of their actions affects everyone.  In Spain, few individuals were arrested taking drugs to Liberia.  While they are not Liberians, they had Liberian passports.  The danger this poses is even unacceptable today, especially so in the days and time of regional and international terrorism.

These things happened due to systemic corruption. With systemic corruption, the citizens tend to disrespect government officials and institutions.  From 2010 to 2018, this lack of respect translated into widespread public distrust and the lack of confidence in the Sirleaf’s Unity Party–led government such that officials of government, including the Liberian presidency, were frequently condemned by the citizenry on national radio and in various social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

There are several factors that encourage systemic corruption and these include conflicting incentivesdiscretionary powersmonopolistic powers; lack of transparency; low pay; and a culture of impunity. Globe Afrique’s ongoing research has noted that former president Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf facilitated all of these factors in Liberia, mainly from 2008–2018. While specialists including doctors, nurses, engineers, teachers, police officers and civil servants received low pay, cronies and select elected and appointed government’s officials received unwarranted and dubious salaries as well as other incentives in addition to carrying out specific acts of corruption.

Some of the specific acts of corruption during the Sirleaf’s Unity Party–led government rule included “bribery, extortion, and embezzlement.” Globe Afrique’s research notes that in a system like Liberia where “corruption becomes the rule rather than the exception,” development becomes dormant and innovation is impaired. Globe Afrique’s ongoing research also suggests that Liberia, from January 2006 to January 2018, witnessed a centralized and decentralized systemic corruption. In such cases, it becomes very difficult for a leader to control, manage or defeat it.  And to her credit, former President Sirleaf admitted in her farewell speech that not dealing with corruption is her major regret in her 12 years rule.

Scholars have distinguished between centralized and decentralized systemic corruption. In the case of Liberia, centralized corruption was found in budgetary allotments to certain government offices and officials as well as projects. For example, travel expenses and per diem for officials to travel abroad and locally in Liberia; vehicles and gasoline allotment for officials; payment of rent for government officials to live in their homes; and salaries for the maids and other attendants who worked in the private homes of some officials.  These unwarranted and wasted cost to the Liberian taxpayers were in addition to pet projects that looted millions out of the national treasury.  Apart from the Office of the President having a “Special Project” funds, millions of dollars were appropriated annually to other “priorities” such as the renovation of the Executive Mansion––the official office and residence of Liberian presidents.  To date, the Executive Mansion remains inhabitable, unfinished and not renovated.

Government/public sector

From 2008 to January 2018, Liberia also became ingrained in Public sector corruption at a large scale and the former president gutted all major audits reports that would have mandated transparency and accountability. In some instances, she provided cover for certain officers who were accused of corruption or mismanagement by personally taking the blame.  She did it when millions of dollars were unaccounted for at the ministry of finance and she also did so when the lucrative National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL) was ruined by greed and widespread public theft.

Public sector corruption also includes corruption of political processes and of government agencies as well as corruption in the process of allocating public funds for contracts, grants, and hiring. From 2007 to December 2017, government contracts, grants, and hiring were all corrupt. One clear example is the numerous road construction contracts given to Praise Tony Lawal, a non-engineer and non-Liberian citizen. While several known and well-respected Liberian engineers and construction firms were seeking such contracts, the Liberian government thru the Ministry of Public Works unilaterally and frequently awarded Lawal multiple lucrative government’s contracts without considering national security implications, because there are just certain contracts that a government should not grant to foreign nationals without supervision, especially when such government has its own citizens that can fulfill such functions more satisfactorily.

Political corruption

Globe Afrique’s ongoing research has also observed that from 2006 to January 2018, Liberia saw an unprecedented political corruption. Political corruption is the abuse of public power, office, or resources by elected government officials for personal gain, by extortion, soliciting or offering bribes. Scholars have noted that political corruption can also take the form of office holders maintaining themselves in office by purchasing votes, and by enacting laws which use taxpayers’ money.

While it is true that former president Sirleaf adhered to the two-term rule in Liberia by leaving office after her second term, her administration used and abused public funds in her second term run and also used public funds in supporting certain candidates at legislative levels. Certain laws and actions were taken by the previous administration to the benefit of certain officials, their cronies, and the Liberian presidency.  For example, the tax incentive for the Farmington Hotel, granting that business a 30-year tax break is one of such concerns.  Many Liberian businesses have no such tax breaks.

Judicial corruption

Generally, the Supreme Court of Liberia has exhibited some degree of credibility in Liberia. It is constituted by individuals with an appreciable amount of dignity and honor.  However, the judiciary as a whole cannot be exempt.  From 2007 to January 2018, there were instances of judicial corruption, especially at the lower levels of the judiciary.  Globe Afrique’s ongoing research notes that certain lower courts’ judges were vulnerable to endemic corruption.  Notable instances include the rulings of these judges.  In fact, judicial corruption became so excessive at the magisterial and justice of peace courts’ levels.  Dozens of Liberians were thrown in jail by some magistrates and justices of the peace based on bribery.  The prisons became overcrowded such that it drawn the immediate attention of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Liberia, His Honor Francis Korpkor.   The chief justice took decisive action as well as admonished lower courts’ judges to refrain from such acts.

Tony Praise Lawal.  he even shot at Liberians and was let go free by powerful Liberians on whose behalf he laundered money from Liberian taxpayers.  Now, with $18 million dollars gone, Liberia is “broke.”

Another classic example is the application of the so-called libel lawsuits filed by powerful and corrupt individuals against members of the media and advocates for social justice and accountability. Respected Liberian journalist Rodney Sieh was locked up for weeks for simply reporting embezzlement and corruption allegations at a cabinet level.  Praise Tony Lawal, a known Nigerian hustler who colluded with some Liberian officials and others to dupe the country out of millions was said to have had a special judge in whose court he suds Liberians that tried to expose his bad deeds in the country.  That judge was said to have allegedly been on the payroll of Lawal and his powerful Liberian affiliates.  These and many other corrupt acts including the former president’s constant meddling in judicial affairs attempted to dim the good works that the Supreme Court of Liberia has and continues to do.

In Liberia and around the world, judicial corruption refers to corruption-related the misconduct of judges, through receiving or giving bribes, improper sentencing of convicted criminals and others, bias in the hearing and judgment of arguments and other such misconduct. While it is true that governmental corruption of any judiciary is mostly known in most developing and transitional countries like Liberia because the budget for the judiciary is almost completely controlled by the executive.

This process undermines the separation of powers, as it creates a critical financial dependence of the judiciary on the executive branch. This is why Globe Afrique notes that the proper way for national wealth distribution in Liberia including government spending on the judiciary should be in line with and subject to constitutional economics. That way, the citizens can expect absolute independence from the Liberian judiciary.

It is essential to distinguish between the two methods of corruption of the judiciary. In most developing and transitional countries like Liberia, the government (through budget planning and various privileges) can make the judiciary less independent.  While judicial corruption can be very difficult to completely eradicate or reduce, even in developed countries, there must be instruments to contain it practically and perceptually. Corruption in the judiciary also involves the government in power intentionally and willfully using the judicial arm of government to oppress civil society groups, advocates for human rights, the rule of law, accountability and transparency, and opposition parties to the detriments of the state.

Overwhelming evidence suggests that apart from the economic, social and development drawbacks that corruption has on any nation, it can have serious political consequences––when citizens are being asked for bribes they become less likely to identify with their country or region.

Globe Afrique’s ongoing research notes that while many of these things were not visible and rampant, semblance of them did take place at various levels in Liberia under the previous government.  Known political commentator and one of Liberia’s most accomplished talk show hosts, Henry Costa, was harassed and intimidated on numerous occasions for speaking out on prevailing political, social and economic conditions in Liberia. His radio frequency and broadcasting license were repeatedly censored.  These and many more left Liberia downgraded as a nation that should have excelled in its post-conflict recovery process.  It is hope that the new government will review lessons learned and do things differently.  Finally, President Sirleaf did some good but she tolerated so many bad things as well.




sarah Posted on October 09, 2018 15:58

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