The basic tenet of good governance is the election or appointment of individuals of high moral and ethical integrity to positions of responsibility, and the adherence to the rule of law. The lack of individuals of high moral and ethical integrity to govern Liberia in the past demonstrates the need for all the presidential candidates and those aspiring to public office to declare their assets before the elections in October 2005. In addition, the elected government should establish an independent ethics and public integrity commission to develop ethical codes of conduct that would guide the behaviors of public officials and government employees in the future.
The National Elections Commission (NEC) should amend the election guidelines to require all the presidential candidates and the other candidates to file the statement of financial interests (financial disclosure) forms with the NEC. The rationale for filing the statement of financial interests (financial disclosure) forms would be to avoid any conflict of interest and the disclosure of the candidates’ net worth. The declaration of assets would afford Liberians the opportunity to know what the candidates own or owe before occupying government positions. The presidential candidates and others need to declare their assets because Liberian public officials generally have a history of enriching themselves at the expense of the taxpayers.
It is also necessary for Liberia to establish an independent ethics and public integrity commission immediately after the elected government takes office in January 2006. The commission would help to bring about transparency and accountability in the management of public affairs in Liberia. The responsibilities of the commission should include among others:
A. Prescribing the statement of financial interests (financial disclosure) forms for filling. The purpose of these forms would be to avoid conflict of interest and to require the disclosure of the candidates’ net worth. The form would contain information on the filer’s real estate interest, all sources of income exceeding an amount to be defined by the ethics act, identification of any legal for-profit business in which the filer has a financial interest, and the filer’s creditors, among others.
B. The commission should also hold public hearings at least once a year to afford Liberians the opportunity to make input to the work of the commission.
C. The commission should have subpoena power, and any false statements made to the commission should be grounds for prosecution by the Ministry of Justice in a court of competent jurisdiction.
It is in the interest of good governance in Liberia for all those aspiring to public office to submit the statement of financial interests (financial disclosure) forms before the 2005 elections. Also, all newly appointed government officials including justices of the Supreme Court, cabinet ministers, among others should submit the forms to the legislature before their confirmations. Any official who refuses to declare his/her assets should be barred from assuming office.
Once the ethics and public integrity commission is established, all government officials and senior non-political appointees should be required to file the statement of financial interests (financial disclosure) forms on a yearly basis. The intent of these measures is to avoid government officials and employees using public money to enrich themselves.
Every Liberian should have the right under the act to file an ethics compliant against any public official or government employee who is covered under the ethics act to the commission. For example, if a man was unemployed in the United States and was appointed a cabinet minister in the Liberian government and after a year, the cabinet minister builds a home in Liberia, the minister’s action should trigger a complaint to the commission because Liberian cabinet ministers make an equivalent of 25 USD a month. Barring the sale of assets, redeeming retirement accounts or a gift from God, it is inconceivable that the minister could build a home in Liberia in such a short period of time.
In view of this, I am calling on presidential aspirants Varney Sherman, Charles Walker Brumskine, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, George Oppong Weah, Winston Tubman, George Klay Kieh, Togbah Nah Tepoteh, and others, to support the declaration of assets before the elections, and the establishment of an independent ethics and public integrity commission immediately after the “democratically” elected government is inaugurated.
Liberians’ failure to establish ethical safeguards before the civilian government takes office would greatly undermine any chance of good governance in Liberia because almost all Liberians officials have demonstrated little or no adherence to any ethical standards in government in the past. This is Liberia’s last opportunity to survive as a nation state. Consequently, every Liberian has the responsibility of contributing towards the building of a transparent society in Liberia.