Statement of Appreciation and Farewell to Mr. John Morlu, Outgoing Auditor General of Liberia from the Management and Staff of the General Auditing Commission

Read on April 30, 2011 by Sherman C. Seequeh, Chief Communications Officer/GAc

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
May 6, 2011


We are assembled here today to pay homage to Mr. John Sembe Morlu, II, outgoing Auditor General of Liberia. Mr. Morlu, a well-respected Liberian public servant, presided over the General Auditing Commission for four years: from April 27, 2007 to April 27, 2011.

To us, management and staff of the GAC, the four years was just like a single day in service. So short and so fleeting that it leaves us with greater thirst for the inspiration and esprit de corps which Mr. Morlu provided at the Commission.

In our collective and individual lives, the last four years was full of brainwaves. It was a time of renewal. It was a time of professional rebirth. Mr. Morlu, we shall never forget this period--and the cause—that brought us together yesterday and that is separating us today.

We recall with proud memory that it was in 2007 that you, at the age of 33, were recruited through a competitive international bidding process superintended by the European Union (EU) among a huge pool of over 90 applications of both Liberians and non-Liberians from over 63 different countries.

The recruitment of a competent and independent Auditor General with high integrity was special derogation by the European Union under the Governance Economic Management Assistance Program with EU financial support to the position of Auditor General. GEMAP is an international agreement between the Government of Liberia and the international community to ensure improved financial management in Liberia through limiting the opportunity for corruption and faulty systems and controls.

The involvement of these high profile world bodies in your recruitment process made you and your tenure at the GAC both a national and international project—a project thoughtfully midwifed to give Liberia and other stakeholders in our country’s recovery project relief from the menace of poverty, underdevelopment and conflict which corruption harbors.

And as both critics and supporters acknowledge, you grab with both hands the mandate and the trust imposed upon you, and with the commitment and integrity it so required, you executed the office of the Auditor General.

Starting 2007, you arrived at the GAC—and positioned us—in the forefront of Liberia’s macroeconomic crusade after over 160 years of fruitless national fight against corruption.

Before your advent, corruption was a mere wild ghost for which all Liberians were indiscriminately and summarily charged and blamed. The extent of the pandemic was then not quantified and qualified. It was not empirically documented, and culprits and the extent of your pillage were not clearly established.

Today, because of your character, persona and courage, there are mountains of credible reference documents from which Liberians, as well as friends of Liberia, can put their finger on the general picture of Liberia’s public financial management situation.

One hundred sixty years before your advent at the GAC, National Budget was a taboo. Liberians were kept in the dark, not knowing what their country worth in terms of its collectable revenues and how it was spent and by whom.

But your intervention in the Budget Debate of 2007/2008 broke the backbone of official secrecy over the state of national wealth and flashed the stunning rays of transparency and accountability in the nation’s previously opaque budget process.

That single intervention of yours is widely credited for the ballooning of the National Budget from US$80m in 2005 to nearly US$370m in 2011.

In 2007, you met the General Auditing Commission of Liberia on the periphery of Liberian’s economic transformation agenda and the fight against corruption. The GAC was a mere appendix on Liberia Government’s public sector architecture, virtually dormant in operation. It hardly had a space to sit.

But because you had a revolution to launch; because you wanted to make a radical departure from the past, you fought to get a headquarters that would herald the sanctity and virtuousness of the GAC. So, in spite of the temptation of taking the GAC headquarters to private buildings and instead of filling the pockets of real estate commercialists, most of whom are notorious for driving the knife of exorbitant rentals deep in the heart of the meager revenue of the Liberian state, you chose the Old Executive Mansion on Ashmun Street. In our view, this was your way of commencing the dictates of your mandate with the audit of the moral conscience of Liberia: evoking the sense of respect and reverence for national antiquities once cherished and giving priority to public assets over private ownerships.

Having got a foothold over the swarms of wild rats and cockroaches and mountains of garbage which had found habitat in the once elegant and majestic home of Liberia’s First Families, your next crucial challenge was to recruit and configure the workforce—staff and personnel who will be willing to uncompromisingly resist the temptation of the past and to bear the cross of integrity, diligence, teamwork and professionalism which form the bulwark and doctrine of your anti-corruption crusade.

Against all odds, you were able to summon an unprecedented courage and the sterling professional and moral acumen to put in the full glare of the public Liberia’s first audit report. Today, even despite the belligerence and aggression—talking about the cabal of accomplices—you were able to produce nearly 60 audit reports, placing them in the hands of policymakers and policy implementers, the international community, the civil society and media and even marketers in the streets.

The roadmap of your incumbency was not blur. It was not a hit and miss game. It was grounded and compassed on a comprehensive five-year Strategic Plan, an initiative that is not only an unusual strategy in Liberia’s public sector governance culture, but which largely accounts for the precision, accuracy and success of your administration’s programs and activities. It was your Blue Print that was dovetailed in the Strategic Plan of 2009 with support from the European Union, INTOSAI-IDI and AFROSAI-E

Today, training and re-training is the palm oil with which staff of the GAC eat their daily professional food. While the GAC conference room is a daily classroom of staff, there are scores of others who have pursued or are pursuing various training programs abroad. Over 100 GAC staff were sent abroad to attend workshops, seminars and secondments to other SAIs. Your capacity building strategy was recently crowned by the enrolment of nearly fifty (50) young staff at Universities in the United States and Kenya pursuing post-graduate degrees. Now GAC has close to 500 staff and 12 pursing graduate studies in the United States of America and 32 in Kenya.

Communication, as a centerpiece of your administration’s Five-Year Strategy Plan, moved to some significant position towards its supreme status target. The GAC Communication Department is regarded a model in AFROSAI-E.

Indeed, Liberia’s economic transformation drive with emphasis on anti-corruption fight which you launched in 2007, coupled with its fruits and beneficiaries, is not ours to recount. Well-meaning Liberians behold it—and will cherish it forever. The world community acknowledges it and will forever use it as trigger for continued partnership here.

United Nations Secretary General, Ban Kin Moon, in most of his reports to the Security Council, has repeatedly testified to your forthrightness and commitment in exposing government’s fiscal weaknesses; something the United Nations chief spokesman believes puts the government in a better position to find solution.

European Union (EU), less than 3 months back, during a visit at the GAC described your work as superb and expressed its unflinching commitment and support to you and the GAC.

Just few days ago, one of the international community’s respected watchdog organization, Global Witness, indicated in a communication to the President of Liberia, that it was impressed by, quote, “the quality of audits conducted by the General Auditing Commission (GAC) under the leadership of John Morlu and is concerned that the great work of the Commission may be jeopardised by Mr Morlu’s departure”.

A senior state department official last December paid tribute to your erudite leadership at the GAC which was able to, in his words, “effectively and sufficiently audit government ministries and agencies and tracked all government resources”.

Even in spite of President Sirleaf’s confessed disagreements with you on your “mode of operations”, she told the people of Liberia on January 25, 2011 that the GAC under your leadership, quote: “has been unwavering in its commitment and dedication to the fulfillment of its mandate”.

The Search for Common Ground/Talking Drum Studio of Liberia in its 2010 Survey on Public Perception and knowledge on Corruption on the General Auditing Commission(GAC) shows that 93.4% of those sampled either ‘agree’ or ‘strongly agree’ that “public confidence in the government has increased since the creation of the GAC.” In addition, 70% of the individuals surveyed feel that the actions of the GAC are reducing corruption in Liberia.

In 2009, Global Integrity, a revered international think tank, rated the GAC under you as the most highly performing Government institution. This survey report by the Global Integrity was corroborated by another international civil society organization, the Collaborative Africa Budget Reform Initiative (CABRI) which also recognized your efforts in budget and aid transparency, which the group believes has added significant value to public Financial Management reform in Liberia--playing central roles in shaping policies. You were a key ideologue in the evolution and development of PFM Law and its subsequent passage by the National Legislature.

It was during your incumbency and by your insightfulness as Auditor General that Government through support from the African Development Bank was able to adopt international public sector accounting standards. You personally oversaw the design, development and implementation of the Integrated Financial Management System (IFMIS) and the Charts of Accounts of the Government of Liberia.

You also played a lead role in developing internal audit strategy for the Government of Liberia, which was a pre-condition for Liberia reaching the Decision Point of the Highly Indebted Poor Country Initiative (HIPC). You were also instrumental in drafting and finalizing the Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA) a Memorandum of Understanding to assist in providing certification and support to internal audit initiatives of the Government of Liberia.

GAC, under you, produced the first set of HIPC audits of the five largest ministries in Government, which were selected by the Government and IMF on the basis of a Risk Index that you developed to concentrate audit efforts on the most strategically important, high potential and high impact institutions and programs to maximize the use of limited audit resources.

Again, the GAC under your leadership completed in March 2010 the second round of HIPC audits, which put the Government of Liberia in good standing in meeting the June 30, 2010 deadline to reach HIPC Completion Point.

Under your incumbency, and with support of the U.S. Embassy through USAID, the GAC completed the first ever detailed audit of head counts and evaluation of professional and academic credentials of teachers and support staff within the Ministry of Education, which saved millions of dollars lost to ghost workers annually.

It was you who saw the need for the GAC to formally adopted for the first time in Liberia’s history the INTOSAI standards on auditing are reintegrated into the GAC consistent with the INTOSAI, AFROSAI and AFROSAI-E standards. It was you who developed Financial Statement Audit Manual and Quality Assurance Manual.

It was you who sought funding from DFID to pay off long outstanding dues to INTOSAI, AFROSAI and AFROSAI-E. GAC is today, and because of your inspiration, an important and regular participant in workshops and other activities sponsored by these international bodies.

In further support Government efforts, it was you Mr. Morlu who created an Advisory Services Group to work with line ministries, agencies, the National Legislature and Judiciary to build better internal control systems. GAC, through your supervision, worked with the Chief Justice of the Supreme to design internal control system for the Judiciary as well as to train the Administrative and program staff on the implementation of these control mechanisms. This pilot project at the Judiciary started since July 2009.

In order to ensure that reforms are institutionalized across Government, it was you who developed three whitepapers with the support of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL’s) Department of Civil Affairs. An Audit Validation Framework was developed aimed at working with Government to implement audit recommendations, as per 2008 Mexico Declaration. A White Paper on Whistle Blower Hotline was also developed and submitted to the President to support her Executive Order in establishing a Whistle Blower Protection Law. A Whitepaper on Advisory Services was also developed and submitted to the President and international partners, especially EU and IMF so as to more formally established the parameters for GAC provision of advisory services while at the same time maintaining its independence.

Today, and because of the integrity, ethical standard and professionalism you brought to the fore, the GAC has become the number one place for recruitment by other ministries, Government institutions and private sector companies including banks.

Mr. Morlu, your achievements are countless. All we can say to you today, is we are unable to describe how proud and joyous we are to have been part of your economic transformation crusade. Together, and for four years, we are a big family in the battlefield against corruption. Together, we were taunted and tormented. Together we were bruised. But as you said in your departing press statement, with the protection of Providence we together survived the tribulation and turbulence in the fight against an archaic social order.

In your departing admonition to us, you asked us not to feel dejected or sorry for you because of your departure. This reminds us of the words of the Lord Jesus Christ when being whipped, tormented and scourged under the weight of his crucifixion cross. He told those who were shedding tears for his condition, “weep not for me; weep for yourselves, your fathers and your fathers’ fathers”.

You can rest assured that we are not dejected. The virtues of self-respect, determination and integrity—the unwavering anti-corruption fighting spirit—with which you have indoctrinated us remained firmly ingrained and deep-rooted.

The fight has just started. And anyone who thinks your exit will derail our determination to fight on must think twice.

For you, history has got a lasting epithet on its pages. The world is currently clamoring to acknowledge your good work.

Global Integrity and Global Witness say it has been impressed by the quality of audits conducted by the General Auditing Commission (GAC) under your leadership and that it is concerned your absence may be jeopardize the work of the Commission.

The News Newspaper in an editorial states that “despite the avalanche of attacks against him, he did not dessert his assignment as a fearless commander of the fight against corruption.”

The Analyst Newspaper in its editorial states that you take with you the credit you deserve for publishing the first audit report of Liberia for public reading and discussion. The Paper further acknowledged that you have broken, quote, “the backbone of the nation’s chief foe and has taken it and its perpetrators from the dark abyss of secrecy”.

The Heritage Newspaper in its editorial states, quote: “In spite of the copious attacks, the outgoing Auditor General never relented in the fight against corruption and held up on to his moral integrity as required by INTOSAI accounting standards.”

These immediate reactions from independent observers are only a modicum of public disappointment and sorrow over your departure.

We are proud that today young men and women of the GAC have demonstrated that they will go to the extra length to ensure that their Government is accountable and that the management of public resources and programs are done in a transparent manner with the highest degree of fiscal probity. This could be considered the biggest and lasting accomplishment for a new Institution like the GAC to gain such prominence in Liberia in such a short window of time.

We wish you all the best. Thank you.

© 2011 by The Perspective

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