LDI Calls for an Independent & a De-politicized GAC in a Letter Sent to the Lawmakers
April 27, 2011
Auditor General John S. Morlu II
We extend our compliments and wish to draw your attention to the controversy that has characterized the fight against corruption, particularly the role of the General Auditing Commission. As you may know, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has declared her unwillingness not to re-nominate outgoing Auditor General John Sembe Morlu, II. While this communication is neither intended to evoke the uproar that triggered the President’s action nor is it intended to speak to the merits and demerits of the controversy over the work of the General Auditing Commission, we are inclined to raise a couple of professional and statutory concerns which are intractably germane to the fight against corruption and which will ultimately leading to lasting impact on public financial management and socioeconomic development.
The General Auditing Commission (GAC) is one of three autonomous commissions of state given birth to by the Constitution, the organic law of the nation. Article 89 (c) of the Constitution creates the GAC to be an “Autonomous Public Commission”. “Autonomous” that qualifies the GAC is defined to mean “an organization, entity, body or person that is politically independent and self-governing”.
It may be important to briefly recall the metamorphosis which the GAC or previously the General Auditing Office (GAO) has undergone over the years. It was in 1956 that the Bureau of Audits was amended under Chapter 32, Sections 740-744 of the Executive Law of Liberia for its scope of work to include auditing all accounts of the Government of Liberia according to the Revenue and Finance Law of Liberia. In 1972, when the Executive Law of Liberia was amended, it re-established the General Auditing Office (GAO). The 1972 Executive Law made the tenure of the head of the GAO 15 years, when presidential tenure at the time was two five-year term. It was in 1986 that the General Auditing Commission was formed in accordance with Article 89 of the 1986 Liberian Constitution. Throughout these years, the GAO was made to report to the President. In June 2005, there was a new amendment to the 1972 Executive Law of Liberia. Precisely Chapter 53, Section 53.2 was amended to make the GAC reportable to the National Legislature, but with the reduction of the Auditor General’s tenure from 15 to four years.
Indeed, the 2005 Amendment that makes the GAC report to the Legislature instead of the President is consistent with international best practice. International conventions, such as Principles of the INTOSAI Lima Declaration and Mexico Declaration of Independence (ISSAI 10) uphold that particular provision of the amendment. Unfortunately, the reduction of the tenure of the Auditing General by the 2005 Amendment from 15 years to 4 years not only heavily politicizes and eroded the independence of the office of the Auditing General but also GAC and seriously contravenes the Constitution of Liberia and international conventions and best practices that make the Supreme Audit Institution (SAI) an autonomous and independent public commission.
The wisdom of the Constitution and international conventions regarding the autonomy and independence of the Commission resonates in the recent controversy over the re-nomination of the outgoing Auditor Generalsomething that triggered the disinclination of President Sirleaf not to extend Mr. Morlu’s term to another four years. In an official statement heralding the President’s decision not to re-nominate Morlu on March 25, 2011, the President said: “We did not always agree with the way Mr. Morlu performed his job…Our disagreements over his mode of operation have never negated the fact that he has established a foundation that his successors can build upon in the fight against corruption.”
If the President who has the legal prerogative to nominate the Auditor General harbor “disagreements over modes of operations” with the Auditor General, it is highly naturally likely that the impact of those disagreements have got a role in determining whether or not a given President will choose to re-nominate the Auditor General every four years. Here, the autonomy and independence of the supreme audit institution has been out rightly and flagrantly tempered with in effect. It is therefore not a mistake that the Constitution of Liberia and international covenants and conventions grant autonomy or tenure of security to the office of the Auditor General. Even as corrupt as past successive political administrations of Liberia were perceived to be, the Executive Law establishing the GAO or the GAC granted the Auditor General a 15-year term, which by far outlast the two-time presidential term limits of the President, before the amendment of 2005. The amendment makes Liberia the only country in most part of the global community without a life or near-life tenure Auditor General and is likely to serve as a recipe for state revenue and resource abuse.
Notwithstanding the circumstances that led to the President’s refusal to re-nominate Morluand now that he’s gonethe country is left with a huge handicap and a burden in the fight against corruption, a pandemic we all consider a source of poverty, inequality and conflict. The handicap and burden, which don’t come to an end at the departure of Morlu, is a vulnerable and insecure Auditor General who is subservient to the Presidency only because he or she expects to get nominated every four years.
And it is time for this nation, and particularly the Legislature, to look beyond the moral and political boundaries and to see the imperative to take a relook at the amended Executive Law and ensure that Constitutional provision of autonomy assigned the GAC is not continuously negated and that Liberia gets on part with the rest of the international community.
Thus, I am urging the Legislature to do one of two things: restore provisions of Chapter 53 Section 53.2 of the 1972 Executive Law which grants the Auditor General 15 year tenure or make the tenure of the Auditor General lifetime as with the case of the Chief Justice and Associate Justices of the Supreme Court. Each of these options substantially de-politicizes the Auditor General and the Commission, puts the tenure of Commission above the combined Constitutional term limits of the President and grants true autonomy to the Auditor General and the Commission as demanded by the Constitution of Liberia and international covenants.
If the fight against corruption is to gain its true meaning and succeed, and if the country can “ill-afford needless controversies and distractions” every four years as President Sirleaf intimated in a statement disengaging with Morlu, this Legislature to whom the Auditor General of Liberia reports and which is the true representation of the Liberian populace cannot leave the 2005 amended 1972 Executive Law as is. The lesson learned from the Morlu’s saga brings upon you a demanding responsibility as representative of the people to prevent the continuous abrogation of the autonomy and independence of the GAC. You cannot leave the fate of the Auditor General of Liberia in the hands of the President of Liberia alone. This is so because the President who and her cabinet have a political agenda and character to protect is bound to come into disagreements with the Auditor General or the GAC’s modes of operations; and each time they disagree, there would be a change of head of the autonomous public Commission. Then, where then is the independence of the GAC? This will greatly derail the fight against corruption, if it has not already done so.
Hope you take this petition serious in the supreme interest of the people and Nation of Liberia.
Dan T. Saryee, Sr.
CC: Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights, Claims and Petition
CC: Committee on Public Accounts and Audits