Liberia: The Vaccine for Corruption in Government

By J. Patrick Flomo

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
June 24, 2006


Malfeasance is so deeply rooted in the Liberian government to the extent that its contagiousness has continued to affect every succeeding generation of politicians since William V. S. Tubman ascended to the presidency in 1944. Corruption is, in my view, insidious, contagious, and the greatest security threat to stability in developing countries, especially a “failed state” such as Liberia. It has this ominous characteristic because of its covert or stealthy nature. So, when it becomes overt or visible, the damage is already done and is irreparable. The impact on society is steady, slow, corrosive, and devastating.

With respect to Liberia, the evil of corruption robs the government and the society as a whole of the necessary resources to function efficiently and to provide essential social services which the public expects. As we have seen throughout developing countries, corruption is the fundamental cause of collapsed government and the source of many conflicts. The 1980 military coup in Liberia and the subsequent fratricidal war is a classic example.

The culture of corruption seems to be so embedded in Liberian politics that it leads one to believe it is part of politicians’ DNA that they seem incapable of functioning without it. It is so endemic that it seems to grow geometrically with each succeeding generation of Liberian politicians. And the status quo for dealing with corrupt officials from Tubman in 1944 to Sirleaf in 2006 is “fire the corrupt official/s.” I think the time has come for draconian measures if we want to create the next generation of “virtue and ethical Liberian public servants.” For a government which has been in power for less than six months, the discovery and firing of officials for acts of malfeasance is noble and attempts to show it is serious about eradicating corruption. But the root of corruption is so deep and extensive in the soil of Liberian politics that it will take several administrations to reduce it. This issue goes back to the middle of the 20th century.

The president who created the pathogenic mores of corruption in Liberia was President William V.S. Tubman. In his 27-year rule as president, he nurtured corruption to the point it was seen as normal behavior. The evolution of endemic corruption which began with Tubman in 1944 was revolutionalized by the Tolbert administration from 1971 to 1980. Tolbert had been vice president for 19 years before becoming president in 1971 on the death of Tubman. Corruption became so endemic that it formed one of the primary underpinning of the military coup d’etat of April 12, 1980. In fact it formed the centerpiece of the military pronouncement of the coup de grace---rampant corruption. But sadly, with the military government under Master Sergeant Samuel K. Doe and his subsequent civilian government, corruption became like the bubonic plague of the middle ages. Just like Tolbert before him, the state treasury became the personal bank account of Doe and his Khran cronies.

The evolution of rampant corruption beginning with Tubman in 1944 had been fertilized and taken very deep root in the psyche of most Liberian politicians and many low-level public officials. It is so widespread that it leads one to conclude the cancer of corruption has affected the entire social fabric of Liberian society. A case in point: six months into her administration, Sirleaf had axed several high government officials for corruption.

The status quo for eradicating corruption from Tubman in 1944 to Sirleaf in 2006 is “fire the corrupt officials.” The violation of “The Public Trust” is sacrosanct and requires the full weight of due process of law. If the Sirleaf government is very serious about reducing corruption in government, a draconian vaccine is needed to remedy the pathogenic mores of corruption in Liberian society. First, the legislature must pass laws making the violation of public trust a felony so that corrupt officials face prison terms for a minimum of five years’ hard labor, confiscation of properties equivalent to that of the stolen public funds, and five years’ ban on travel outside of Liberia. The fertile ground for corruption in Liberian politics is so deep that it needs to be irrigated with nuclear waste in order to kill it.

© 2006 by The Perspective

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