A Code of Official Conduct for Liberia

By Mohamedu F. Jones

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

September 3, 2003

The citizens of Liberia are entitled to, and deserve fair, ethical, and accountable government. This is especially the case after the "wild adventures of Charles Taylor." Government officials and employees hold positions of public trust and their actions must remain above suspicion. In keeping with the obligation to excellence in public service, the effective and objective performance of democratic government requires that:

· Public officials comply with the letter and spirit of the laws and policies effecting the operations of government;
· Public officials be independent, impartial, and fair in both their judgments and actions;
· Public office be used for the public benefit alone and not for personal gain and;
· Public deliberations and processes be conducted openly in an atmosphere of respect, fraternity, and civility.

As the Transitional Government is on the verge of taking power, there is an imperative need for a Code of Official Conduct. Although, such a Code is not provided for in the Peace Agreement, a Code of Official Conduct is an essential ingredient of good governance for Liberia going forward. This is especially the case considering the "government jobs" for "peace" trade-off in the Agreement, which has alarmed many Liberians and foreign observers and heightened fear for the potential for resumption of Taylor-class corruption. Once the government institutes a Code of Official Conduct, violations of the Code of Official Conduct ought not to be tolerated and should be grounds for immediate termination and prosecution, regardless of which faction nominated them.

The Transitional Government should act to institute a Code of Official Conduct for public officials that will take effect immediately upon its assumption of power. Such a Code of Official Conduct should include, but not be limited, to the following general principle governing the ethics of government officials.

General Principles
Each official and government employee shall put loyalty to the highest moral principles and to country above loyalty to persons, party, movement or ministry. They shall uphold the Constitution, the Peace Agreement, laws, and legal regulations of the Republic of Liberia in all their undertakings, and shall always act consistently with the public interest. Officials shall never discriminate unfairly by the dispensing of special favors or privileges to anyone, whether for remuneration or not; and never accept for himself or herself or their family, favors or benefits under circumstances which might be construed by reasonable persons as influencing the performance of his or her governmental duties.

Duty to contribute to the country and the well being of the people
Each official of government has an obligation to protect fundamental human rights and to respect the constitutional rights of all citizens. In this regard officials are obligated to carry out their official duties in socially responsible ways that meet social needs, and avoid harmful effects to the interest of the Republic of Liberia and its citizens.

Duty to do no harm to the country
Harm" means injury or negative consequences, such as conversion of government resources, loss, misuse or abuse of government property, negligent property damage, or actions that bring about unwanted national impacts. This principle prohibits use of government authority in ways that result in harm to the government or the citizens. Harmful actions include corruption, unethical behavior, conflict of interest, and mismanagement leading to serious loss of resources or unnecessary expenditure of human resources. Officials shall engage in no business with the Government, either directly or indirectly, and shall not act inconsistent with the conscientious performance of his governmental duties. Officials shall expose corruption wherever discovered.

Duty to be honest and trustworthy
Honesty is an essential component of trust. Without trust government cannot function effectively. Government officials will not make deliberately false or deceptive statements and will only act in the best interest of the country, including making full disclosures to the public of matters that are appropriate for public disclosures. Officials shall make no private promises of any kind binding upon the duties of office, since a government employee has no private word that can be binding on public duty.

Duty to be fair and not to discriminate.
The values of equality, tolerance, respect for others, and the principles of equal justice govern this imperative. Discrimination on the basis of sex, religion, age, disability, tribal or county origin, or other such factors is an explicit violation of this Code of Official Conduct.

Accordingly, every public office holder (including Chairman and Vice Chairman) shall conform to the following principles:
Ethical Standards

Public office holders shall act with honesty and uphold the highest ethical standards so that public confidence and trust in the integrity, objectivity and impartiality of government are conserved and enhanced.

Public Scrutiny
Public office holders have an obligation to perform their official duties and arrange their private affairs in a manner that will bear the closest public scrutiny, an obligation that is not fully discharged by simply acting within the law.

Public office holders, in fulfilling their official duties and responsibilities, shall make decisions in the public interest and with regard to the merits of each case.

Private Interests
Public office holders shall not have private interests that would be affected particularly or significantly by government actions in which they participate.

Public Interest
On appointment to office public office holders shall disclose their property holdings, and thereafter, public office holders shall arrange their private affairs in a manner that will prevent real, potential or apparent conflicts of interest from arising but if such a conflict does arise between the private interests of a public office holder and the official duties and responsibilities of that public office holder, the conflict shall be resolved in favor of the public interest.
Gifts and Benefits

Public office holders shall not solicit or accept transfers of economic benefit unless the transfer is pursuant to an enforceable contract or property right of the public office holder.

Preferential Treatment
Public office holders shall not step out of their official roles to assist private entities or persons in their dealings with the government where this would result in preferential treatment to any person.
Insider Information

Public office holders shall not knowingly take advantage of, or benefit from, information that is obtained in the course of their official duties and responsibilities and that is not generally available to the public.

Government Property
Public office holders shall not directly or indirectly use, or allow the use of, government property of any kind, including property leased to the government, for anything other than officially approved activities.

Public office holders shall not act, after they leave public office, in such a manner as to take improper advantage of their previous office.

Avoidance of Preferential Treatment
(a) A public office holder shall take care to avoid being placed or the appearance of being placed under an obligation to any person or organization, or the representative of a person or organization that might profit from special consideration on the part of the office holder.

(b) In the formulation of government policy or the making of decisions, a public office holder shall ensure that no persons or groups are given preferential treatment based on the individuals hired to represent them.

(c) A public office holder shall not accord preferential treatment in relation to any official matter to family members or friends or to organizations in which they, family members or friends, have an interest.

(d) Ministers, deputies and assistants should not hire or contract with members of their immediate families, that is, their spouse, parents, children and siblings. As well, they should not permit departments or agencies for which they are responsible, or to which they are assigned, to hire or contract with members of their immediate families.

(e) Ministers, deputies, and assistants and the departments or agencies for which they are responsible should not hire or contract with the immediate family of another Minister, deputies, and assistants or party colleague except by means of an impartial administrative process in which the Minister, deputies, and assistants plays no part in the selection of a candidate or the negotiation of the contract.