The Missteps In Morlu’s Exit
A Press Release From The Liberia Democratic Institute (LDI)
April 5, 2011
Once again, the Liberia Democratic Institute (LDI) is pleased to comment on a very critical national issue having followed public discussions in the last few days. And this issue involves the email and President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s subsequent decision not to re-nominate Auditor General John Morlu.
We must begin with commending members of the Liberian public for their outspokenness in the debate that has ensued since the release of the AG controversial email. We feel very amused about some of the comments made. And we are amused because it sounds so interesting that Liberians would be divided so diametrically on the issue of corruption, which nearly everyone acknowledges to be a dangerous enemy, and how to fight it. The division and the manner and form comments are evolving around the debate over the AG re-nomination saga will surely go a long way in determining the final verdict in the fight between the forces of corruption on the one hand and the forces of probity and accountability on the other.
The question that pricks my mind as I listen to Liberians speaks, or as I read them write on the AG re-nomination debate is this: Do Liberians really knowand care aboutwhat they want best for this country? Do the people really need, and deserve, help to recover from the abyss of underdevelopment and conflict?
History is clear on the fact that corruption and those who perpetrate it have prevailed over the years. And every Liberian should know by now that the vicious cycle of poverty, exclusion and conflict, which has haunted this country from time immemorial, is underpinned by corruption and those who perpetrate it.
As far as this John Morlu re-nomination debate is concerned, it would be fair to the long struggle against corruption if we were to base our participation on the imperatives of empirical realities that are likely to underpin the President’s decision rather than looking at frivolous or isolated incidents.
We are of the opinion that the controversy that attended the AG re-nomination debate couple with the president’s decision represents unfortunate missteps in the fight against corruption by the political regime.
More besides, we strongly think it’s rather the tactical differences of AG Morlu which the President described as needless distraction and controversy that rather influenced the President’s decision rather than the email. Why do we think so?
The LDI surmise so because, from our research, the evidence is overwhelming:
1. Back in 2007, the then Minister of State for Presidential Affairs Morris Saytumah physically assaulted the Auditor General, Mr. Morlu, during a budget debate before the National Legislature. Saytumah’s attack followed Morlue’s revelation that a budget item inserted in the National Budget of 2006/2007 by the Ministry of State was replicated. Even though that discovery helped the Government to strike out a fraudulently driven budget item, the Government took no action against Mr. Saytumah.
2. In one of Mr. Morlu’s public presentations, he indicated that he once complained to President Sirleaf about a publication of the Nation Times newspaper which he alleged was masterminded by a confidante of hers, Madina Wesseh, as accusing Morlu that he’s a former fighter, a member of the notorious Small Boy Unit, of the National Patriotic Front rebel movement. Morlu said he later wrote the President who did nothing about the complaint.
3. The media reported uproar at the Roberts International Airport in December 2007. Morlu was accused of breaking a glass door at the RIA and prevented from travelling to the United States to see his family, particularly his wife who had broken her leg at that time. We understand Morlu was denied travel for a week until his lawyer threatened to take the matter to the Supreme Court. The apparent embarrassment caused such an official of Government was never investigated.
4. The first batch of GAC audit reports, which included the National Social Security and Welfare Corporation (NASSCORP), turned out to be menace for Mr. Morlu and the GAC. Apparently hired obscure pressure groups, including one ironically calling itself the Movement for Protection of the Down-Trodden, unleashed barrages of verbal attacks on Mr. Morlu and the GAC. Even though the audit exposed much fiscal filths at NASSCORP and other agencies at the time, the Sirleaf administration which is hypersensitive to criticism failed to come to the rescue of the fierce verbal attacks on Morlu and the GAC.
5. During an Audit of the Public Works Ministry in 2009, the GAC uncovered a check of US$4,000 written to the Movement of the Protection of the Down-Trodden, which had been on a smear campaign against Morlu and the GAC, by Public Works Ministry officials. The Sirleaf administration failed to institute investigation into the matter neither did it take any action against the Ministry’s officials.
6. The vilification and demonization of Morlu and the GAC, pioneered by the Movement for the Down-Trodden and its sponsors, gained wider acceptability in the corridors of the Sirleaf administration during the HIPC audit. Not only did top officials of the administration plotted media campaigns against Morlu and the GAC, they openly engaged into a verbal warfare, all threatening a long and decisive fight with Morlu and the GAC.
7. President Sirleaf herself took side against the GAC and Morlu and in favor of her officials. The President challenged, or essentially repudiated, GAC’s audit of the Administration’s outturn report, when she pronounced putting her “neck on the chopping board” for her Ministers, even without ordering alternative audit or investigation into the unaccounted for US$50m. Even in spite of the boldness of Mr. Morlu that he was willing to resign and refund EU all that it had paid in his hire as Auditor General, the President or the administration shoved the matter under the rug, leaving the bruises of verbal attacks on Morlu and the GAC.
8. Still in the aftermath of the HIPC audit and the County Development Fund, a former staff of the GAC accused Mr. Morlu of sexual harassment, even though it became clear subsequently that the Auditor General’s accuser is a wife of someone that President Sirleaf had appointed without knowing that the appointee, Alex Yeaher, was an audit indictee. It was not long when analysts became to expose a link between her accusation and Mr. Morlu’s campaign to stop her husband, an audit indictee, from being appointed by President Sirleaf.
9. In one of Mr. Morlu’s reactions to the accusation, he made it known that he had complained that his accuser, Mrs. Yeaher, was in the corridors of the President’s office on April 20 before making her sexual harassment allegation on April 22 suggesting therefore that while frontline commanders were combating public enemy number one (corruption), the Commander-in-Chief who declared the war was in a serious act of harboring “enemy forces”.
10. It can also be remembered that following a GAC announcement in the media that it was about to execute an audit of the Ministry of Women and Gender, a load of market women from the New George Estate community was taken to the European Union office in Monrovia to demand EU terminate its contract with Auditor General Morlu. A day later, some of the leaders of the women confessed they were paid and programmed by government officials to stage the revolt against Morlu. Mrs. Confort Bedell who reportedly led the campaign was later rewarded for good job with a presidential appointment to the post of Assistant Superintendent.
11. Noteworthy also is the recycling of officials of the Sirleaf administration who are auditees linked to various fiscal improprieties as per GAC audit reports. For example, the President appointed Lasannah Donzo former Public Works Minister as a special advisor on infrastructure. Others include Roderick Smith from Finance to Public Works, the appointment of Comfort Bedell the lady who led the foiled revolt against Mr. Morlu amongst many others. The recycling of GAC audit indictees has two purposes: either to denigrate the credibility of the audit reports or an outright demonstration of compromise with corruption and fraud in Government.
Perhaps at this stage, and from the backdrop of what we have just enumerated, we must highlight the constant correlation that often appears between very crucial audits of the General Auditing Commission on the one hand and violent verbal attacks against the Auditor General. And we use crucial to refer audits that involve officials and agencies of Government that are powerful bases and confidants or pepperbushes of President Sirleaf.
• The NASSCORP audit, for instance. NASSCORP is a very powerful state-owned enterprise both in terms of its financial base and its link to the Presidency and the ruling Party. The power of NASSCORP was demonstrated in 2006/07 when it survived strong media probes and reportagesprobes and reportages that laid bare documentary evidences of fraud, waste and fiscal irregularities at the Corporation. Insidersa group of former worker union leaderspublished volumes of dossiers on corruption at the Corporation. Not only did these empirical reports on corruption, which reached the President quashed by nonchalance, the poor whistleblowers were sacked and bullied into submission. GAC and Morlu had got their own shock from NASSCORP’s powers and influence in the officialdom. The Movement for the Down-Trodden was unleashed; supplements bearing apparently paid for articles to repudiate GAC Audit reports were planted in the newspapers, amongst other things.
• Ministry of Public Works audit also witnessed an uproarious attack. The Ministry of Public Works gets an annual lion’s share of the national budget. And during this particular audit, it reported that Mr. Roderick Smith who had been appointed or in fact switched over by President Sirleaf from the Finance Ministry after GAC audit linked him to numerous financial irregularities was a deputy minister at the Ministry of Public Works. It was this time that auditors were attacked. And importantly, the principle who was primarily being audited, Mr. Lasannah Donzo, got a reward of another high-level public positionadvisor to the President.
• There also was the HIPC audit in which the auditees were very high profile government officials and stalwarts of the ruling party. Like other crucial audits, the HIPC audit ironically became thorn in the flesh of Mr. Morlu and the GAC rather than being thorn in the flesh of auditees who were caught pants down by the findings. To make matters worse for the Auditor General and the Commission, the President passed a judgment of vindication on the auditeesa way of saying that the findings of the HIPC audit were rubbish. And it was principally the President’s verdict that energized the volleys of denunciation and vilification of the Auditor General after the HIPC audit. Interestingly, the HIPC was widely accepted both nationally and internationally as an trigger for debt waver.
• An unmistakable correlation can also be drawn between another crucial audit and attacks on the Auditor General and the GAC. This brings us to the audit of the Ministry of Gender and Development. Sooner the press release of audit landed in print than loud radio talk shows begun across Monrovia featuring verbal attacks on the Auditor General and the GAC. And this was climaxed by a stage-managed demonstration by market womena demonstration that turned out, or confessed to be, product of smear campaign in official government cycles.
• President Sirleaf once said corruption has the tendency of fighting back with its ill-gotten wealth. True to her words, as those recounted instances indicate, corruption has furiously fought back, but unfortunately, the President who summoned the GAC and Morlu to the fight, has stood rather aloof, if not supportive to the designs of those fighting back, in the controversies.
One critical thing that characterize the crises between Mr. Morlu and auditees, who are government officials, and which is absent from debates that subsequently evolve, is that the President or any branch of Government has never stood in defense or to the rescue of Mr. Morlu and the GAC. This shows clearly that there has been a huge buffer between Morlu and the GAC on the one hand and President Sirleaf and her administration on the other.
We must understand that the standoff is inevitable not only because Liberia has had a long history of lacking the culture of transparency and accountability, but also because many Liberians in government make a living largely from corruption under the patronage of presidential indifference to public audit.
There is no doubt that Mr. Morlu’s email which attracted all the controversies and tensions that form decision point of President Sirleaf’s decision not to re-nominate him is an epitome of an evitable standoff that naturally exist between a well-meaning auditing organization and a corrupt political administration.
The LDI is therefore of the opinion that the Auditor General’s email is an attempt not only to recount the sustained attacks from auditees and their supporters but also to bemoan the indifference of a President who after all summoned him to this critical fight against corruption.
The email, however its unpleasant words, did not come from the vacuum. It represents a candid natural expression of frustration and disappointment owing to the fact that the AG was left lonely and vulnerable in a fight even by the President who pronounced and declared the war against corruption.
Interestingly, in the runoff to the 2011 presidential and legislative elections, we are reliably informed of plans by the GAC to conduct major audits involving key Ministries and agencies including the ongoing Independence Day audit. Presumably, the predicted outcome of these audits is likely to be a serious potential source of fear and the non re-nomination decision particularly in the runoff to the forthcoming elections. Why the LDI do not want to venture into the business of forecasting, the trends and nature of responses that have greeted previous audit reports are sufficient to make a safe judgment on this debate. The crucial nature of this audit is found in the fact that it involves the office of the Presidentthe Ministry of State for Presidential Affairswhich is reportedly largely responsible for the receipt and disbursement of funds for the celebrations of the Independence Day.
Since the inception of this government, President Sirleaf has repeatedly announced the government’s plan for sound and prudent economic management of scarce state resources for the development good of all Liberians. Against this backdrop, the LDI has been consistently critical of government’s Independence Day celebration spending terming the projects to be of poor quality, substandard, driven by political interest and lack of any measurable development agenda.
On the issue of whether Mr. Morlu is indispensable or not, we want to state the following: We want to be cleared of the fact that Morlu is “Not Indispensable” but he is amongst the very few that have demonstrated moral, nationalistic and selfless commitment to fight corruption head-on than even the “General” who declared the fight. However, while he is neither sick, incapacitated none accused of committing any malfeasance, he is indisputably indispensible to the current war against corruption. And his discontinuity would hamper, if not derail, current progress made in the last four years against corruption.
Firstly, Morlu has come to the position of Auditor General with unprecedented zeal and energy, which many national and international groups and peoples acknowledge. We are sure his “mode of operations” and his seemingly “offensive” email to the President do not affect his determination to help push the war against corruption on an irreversible trajectory. The content and spirit of the email are typical of a frontline general who fiercely fought but always got shot in the leg by his/her Commanding General.
Secondly, given the controversy which has marred Mr. Morlu’s first four-year tenure, it is highly likely that the incoming Audit General would lessen the ferocity and rigors which Mr. Morlu has brought to the fight against corruption. Some people, including President Sirleaf, have complained of Mr. Morlu’s “mode of operations”. And the meaning of this “mode of operation” would not be far from Mr. Morlu’s publication of audit reports to the public; his aggressive audit procedures; and perhaps the discussion of audit reports in the media, amongst other things.
It is highly likely that the next Auditor General will strive, perhaps for the purpose of remaining on the job, by deviating from Morlu’s style of audit and this deviation, we are afraid, could thrust the new Auditor General in the bosomsin the whims and capricesof influential forces in Government, including the President and powerful auditees. Indeed the controversies and justification that characterize the exit of Morlu compromise not only the effectiveness of the next Auditor General but also the fight against corruption.
Conclusion & Recommendation
In our conclusion, we would like to make a final critical point here. And that is, about what the President said in the stating declaring her intention not to re-nominate Mr. Morlu“mode of operations”. Every reasonable analyst would expect the President to agree on a mode of operation of an Auditor General, particularly Mr. Morlu, who is widely regarded to be robust and uncompromising.
This brings us to the issue of the Auditor General’s tenure, which was reduced from fifteen years to four years. The original 1972 Executive Law which creates the Office of the Auditor General (OAG) gave the Auditor General a fifteen year tenurea near lifetime tenure. The intent of this reformed portion of Chapter 53 of the Executive Law was to put the tenure of the OAG above the political tenure of the President of Liberia whom the same Law grants the prerogative to appoint the OAG. Perhaps recognizing that the Auditor General and the President would not agree on a single mode of operations, the scrapped portion of the 1972 Executive Law put the OAG’s tenure above the Constitutional term limit of the President. In effect, the Law meant the President was only to appoint the OAG once without the prerogative or the right to re-appoint.
More besides, reduction of the fifteen year tenure law makes Liberia the only Country with an Auditor General without life tenure. In Sierra Leone, Ghana, Zambia, etc., not to mention developed democracies, auditor generals, like members of the Supreme Court serve life tenure.
We think the reduction of the fifteen year failed to acknowledge the fierce fight that would ensue in circumstances where there are robust and uncompromising Auditor Generals like John Morlu. We agree that the position of Auditor General is by law driven by tenurea four-year tenure. Nevertheless, the Law also provides that the tenure is renewable. Our Laws are meant to reward performance and excellence. President Sirleaf has acknowledged Mr. Morlu’s performance as being unwavering and dedicated, which is why we are surprised that the President tolerated, aided and abated the barrages of attacks against Mr. Morlu and the GAC for the past four years attacks that matured into the discontinuation of Morlu’s contract.
For obvious political reason, political leader like President Sirleaf would not always agree with the “mode of operations” of an Auditor General--particularly one who has demonstrated an unwavering attitude in the investigation and exposure of fiscal improbity. This is why Mr. Morlu needed, and future Auditor General needs, to be protected with security of tenure that is similar to that of the Supreme Court.
Now that Morlu is gone, we now need to begin to think making the tenure of our OAG life tenure. Indeed, if the battle against corruption is to succeed, Liberians must realize that those in the firing line of the war must be given protectionpolitical, moral, and legal.