Transparency is a Taboo in Liberia
By: Martin K. N. Kollie
From the balcony of the Executive Mansion to the bicameral chambers of the National Legislature, there is an increasing wave of corruption, greed, bribery, nepotism and patronage. From the courtrooms of the Supreme and Subordinate Courts to the Correction Centers, justice is on sale at the detriment of those who do not have deep pockets as well as those who are far away from the power that be.
From the offices of various ministries to public enterprises and agencies, almost everyone who claims to be working for the good of the people is in hurry to get rich, especially with less than 15 months to a crucial electoral process in 2017. Transparency has become a taboo in a small and underpopulated country like Liberia as bribery remains a top priority for those at the helm of national leadership.
Today under a canopy of democracy, accountability to the people is prohibited as public dishonesty pollutes every echelon of our society. Sometimes, I am left to wonder whether our ‘leaders’ are really sincere about fighting corruption or they are pretending to be fighting it. This menace (corruption) continues to pose severe danger to peace, stability and national unity in Liberia.
From the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to Embassies and Consulates, the collective interest of the nation is mortgaged and sold cheaply in return for selfish gains. From the National Investment Commission to the National Bureau of Concessions, the natural resources of Liberia are rapidly commercialized without any plan to improve the living condition of those who own those resources.
These are routine and domineering trends in Liberia’s governance structure that continue to hamper national security, economic growth and genuine development. From every indication, corruption is now presiding as Commander-In-Chief (CIC) of Africa’s oldest republic. When those in authority siphon public resources, they are not held accountable or liable simply because they have big connections and deep pockets.
No one is yet to account for the US$60 million the European Union gave Liberia to improve its health sector. No one has been held accountable for the bankruptcy of the National Oil Company (NOCAL). Who has ever accounted for the US$10.5 million given by CHEVRON for social development? Nobody has ever been held liable for ratifying and approving over 66 bogus concession agreements. No one is yet to account for the US$2.6 million stolen Ebola fund.
The 65 audit reports released by former Auditor General John S. Morlu are getting dusty on the shelf. The Global Witness Report is gradually dying as Liberians remain curious to know who are Big Boy 1 and Big Boy 2. The half a million (US$500,000.00) clandestinely pocketed by Big Boy 1 and Big Boy 2 could build 5 modern primary schools or 5 public libraries. This money could equip 2 high-tech computer labs at the state-run university or any private institution of higher learning for that matter.
More than US$14,933,334.00 has been spent since 2008 just to renovate an eight-storey Executive Mansion, but this project is far from completion. The Ministry of State for Presidential Affairs must give an account of this money. The over US$16.9 billion foreign direct investment since 2006 has made no real impact. Life expectancy is still low while food insecurity remains high. The pace of unemployment, poverty, infant and maternal mortality, disease and ignorance is exponential as a result of unpatriotism and bad governance.
The nation is beclouded and eclipsed by a small group of born-again rascals and political hustlers. They are ruining our State and plunging its destiny into a ditch of entrenched paralysis. These mountebanks and micro-nationalists are on an expedition to leech onto Liberia’s wealth. Leadership for them is not about service, but self-gains. They are the real originators of the ‘Get, Grab and Go’ formula.
The Invisible Twins
On May 11, 2016, the invisible twins that Liberians have never known and seen before were given birth to suddenly by a damning Global Witness report under the caption ‘The Deceivers’. No twins have ever been given such a name (Big Boy 1 and Big Boy 2) in our history. What is even intriguing and mindboggling is that these twins are invisible. The Liberian people know them by pseudonym (Big Boy 1 and Big Boy 2), but they are yet to see them physically after more than 2 months of public outcry. These invisible twins covertly pocketed US$500,000.00 out of the US$950,000.00 Sable Mining bribery scandal in 2010 according to Global Witness.
Almost everywhere including market places, haita centers and street corners, the Global Witness report is being discussed. The Global Witness report further justifies that corruption has been given residential permit in Liberia. There is huge public anxiety currently for government to dig out the hard facts surrounding this report. The desire of the Liberian people to know who are Big Boy 1 and Big Boy 2 remains unquenchable. Every effort to detect or unearth the Invisible Twins (Big Boy 1 and Big Boy 2) seems futile. Even the Special Presidential Task Force headed by Cllr. Fonati Koffa is yet to identify these invisible twins.
It has been more than 2 months since Global Witness, an international anti-graft institution, released a shocking report linking top officials of the Liberian government to bribery. This report has brought national disgrace and embarrassment to our nation; thereby provoking many in and out of Liberia to call for an independent, speedy and comprehensive investigation. The Liberian people are still in doubt as to whether something will ever come out of this report and the culprits of such grave crime (bribery) will be dealt with in accordance with the law.
There are many other reports of similar nature linking top officials of government to bribery, conflict of interest, corruption, and unethical behaviors. Unfortunately, nothing has come out of those reports. Bribery in government is preventing millions of Liberians from accessing quality education, improved health care, better housing, electricity, safe drinking water, good roads, job opportunities, social welfare and other basic services. This unscrupulous practice is even detrimental than a venom.
Bribery is a grave crime. It is a second degree felony according to Subchapter D Section 12.50. Bribery also violates section 9.1 of the Code of Conduct and Chapter 11 Article 90(a) of the 1986 Constitution. Since this crime or offence is so injurious, then it means that Liberians must stand up to demand an impartial investigation in order to uncover hidden truths in this bribery case. Those who have been accused by Global Witness must be given an opportunity to exonerate themselves through a transparent legal process. On the other hand, Global Witness must also be accorded similar opportunity to prove its claims or allegations against those accused.
We hope this other case will serve as a turning point in the fight against corruption in Liberia. Corruption must come to an end – it has to! The Liberian people have endured a lot as a result of this menace. Moving forward will not just require the establishment of anti-corruption watchdogs like the GAC, LACC and IAA, but it will require strong political will and sincerity. Those who are in the constant habit of abusing power and misusing public resources must be held liable in accordance with the Law.
The Law is the only legal instrument that binds us together. Nobody is above the Law. The Law is above everybody. The proper and unbiased administration of the law is fundamental to sustaining peace and maintaining stability in the absence of UNMIL. Justice is not selective. It knows no one’s name, title, status, background, religion, or political affiliation. Justice must be dispensed without fear or favor to ensure that public safety or interest is guaranteed.
The Liberian people deserve to know who are Big Boy 1 and Big Boy 2. The government of Liberia must do all it can in the shortest possible time to unearth these invisible twins and ensure that the actual facts of the Global Witness report are revealed. Anything less than this, the confidence of the people in the government would diminish even further. As a means of fast-tracking this case and getting at its bottom, it is crucial for the government of Liberia to seek support or assistance from the United Nations, Transparency International, Carter Center, the US government, the British government, etc.
Liberia can get better if we begin to uproot economic vampires and vultures through a concrete mechanism of accountability and justice. Impunity has no space under the doctrine of democracy. From the largest slum of West Point and the top of Ducor, I see a new Liberia rising above the African Continent. Change is possible even in the midst of impossible odds.
Author's Statement: Martin K. N. Kollie is a Liberian youth activist, a student leader, an emerging economist and a young writer. He hails from central Liberia, specifically Bong County. Martin currently reads Economics with distinction at the University of Liberia and he is a loyal stalwart of the Student Unification Party (SUP). He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org