Cllr. Brumskine Delivers Anti-Corruption Speech

ANTI-CORRUPTION POLICY SPEECH

 

Delivered by Cllr. Charles Brumskine

Friday May 5, 2017

 

Understanding Corruption in Liberia

 

Corruption has been defined as, “the improper use of influence, power, or other means for private gain at the expense of the public and the detriment of the people.” That corruption is rampant in today’s Liberia is not in dispute!

 

Studies have shown that countries in which corruption is rampant tend to lose about 30% of national revenue to corruption. Given the state of corruption in our country, it is no longer sufficient to discuss corruption in terms of only “bad governance” or “economic inefficiency.” Corruption has now become an issue of human rights violation, social and economic oppression, and blatant discrimination by corrupt individuals, especially those with connection to political power against average Liberians.

 

Corruption is not just about mismanaging and misapplying public funds and the lack of transparency, even though these are significant and widespread. Generally, one is apt to think of corruption only in terms of money-related offenses such as bribery, extortion, embezzlement, and graft, which are easier to identify in government systems. But corruption also takes the form of conflict of interest, nepotism, patronage, and influence peddling. In fact, these latter forms of corruption often encourage some of the former. Certainly, the worst form of corruption does not begin with the lower level civil servants, but higher ups in government, as it is inherent in our institutional structures and the policy processes of government.

 

A political system based on conflict of interest, nepotism, patronage, and influence peddling reinforces the culture of corruption, and impunity sustains it. Our socio-political culture is such that we continue to embrace the perpetrators and beneficiaries of corruption, instead of shaming and punishing them.

 

Historically, corruption came to be the public face of a system of governance that guaranteed the concentration of economic and political powers in the hands of a few elites.  It is the re-emergence of that system, characterized by excessive influence peddling, inside dealing, impunity—protecting the good old boys and good old girls club—that the Liberty Party commits to stop and reverse.

 

Consequences of Corruption

 

Corruption is the most insidious tax imposed by those in power or with government connections upon average Liberians, who are already finding it difficult to make a living. It causes the poor to get poorer as the higher-ups in government get richer.

 

In a World Bank World Development Report, “Attacking Poverty,” the link between corruption and poverty was summarized as follows:

 

Corruption affects the lives of poor people… It biases government spending away from socially valuable goods, such as education. It diverts public resources from infrastructure investments that could benefit poor people, such as health clinics, and tends to increase public spending on capital-intensive investments that offer more opportunities for kickbacks … It lowers the quality of infrastructure, since kickbacks are more lucrative on equipment purchases.  Corruption also undermines public service delivery.

 

Huguette Labelle, Chair of Transparency International, noted that,

“In the poorest countries, corruption levels can mean the difference between life and death, when money for hospitals or clean water is in play. . . I am convinced that poverty does not cause corruption, but corruption causes poverty because if you are in a country with a lot of natural resources, with a lot of money moving into the government, but that money is being diverted into fiscal havens instead of going in for the development of a country, that does mean that the school will not be built, the health system will not be there, and the infrastructure will be weak, so that we will have poverty as a result.

 

When a government fails to act on such critical issues, the corrupt practices of the higher-ups permeate the society, and it becomes a free-for-all situation. The message that it sends is that this is the standard, we cannot do better; this is what government is all about. With such a perverted message, Liberia’s political classes have succeeded in coining a new definition for poverty reduction: become a part of a corrupt regime, take your share of the loot, and leave the victimized masses to fend for themselves.

 

Combating Corruption in Government

 

Liberians have developed a culture that tends to ignore the crime of corruption and betrayal of the public trust; but we must remember that righteousness exalts a nation, while corruption is a disgrace to any people!

 

The absence of the three “Ss”—System, Shame, and Sanction—in Liberia’s socio-political culture has led to the unabated growth of corruption. We will ensure that systems are not only in place, but also that personnel are trained to avail of the systems, and that the systems are effectively implemented and used. Such would indeed create the environment for transparency and accountability. Notwithstanding, those convicted of corruption charges will be shamed and sanctioned, as provided by law.

 

Should I be elected President of Liberia, and fail to arrest the growth of corruption, and begin the process of renewal within the first half of the administration, I commit to resign. I would not aspire to be President of our country, if we did not have the vision, the plan of action, and the political will to bring about fundamental changes in Liberia.

 

We, however, make no pretense about how difficult it will be to eliminate corruption in government because of its deep cultural roots, compounded by the fact that Liberia’s first post-conflict government, the Sirleaf-Boakai administration, has admitted that it has not done well in combatting corruption. But we may all agree that Liberia cannot afford to allow the cancer of corruption to continue to fester and grow, as is now the case.

 

Liberty Party’s vision for fighting corruption includes both structural and nonstructural means.  Structurally, the government will pay livable wages to civil servants and other government employees, develop systems of workable checks and balances in the management of the country’s resources, and prosecute those accused of corruption, regardless of status or relationship.

 

Non-structurally, the national leadership of a Liberty Party Government will lead by example.  This means developing a real public reputation for abhorrence of corruption, leading a government whose members’ life styles demonstrate the idea of shared sacrifice, and credibly waging a public campaign to discourage corruption. We are convinced that national economic tough times are easier to weather if there is a sense of shared sacrifice across all segments of the population.  The huge income disparities that now exist in Liberia, evidenced by the flamboyant and luxurious life styles of government officials combined with regular reporting of corrupt practices in government, not only remind most Liberians that they remain on the periphery of the Liberian society, but also generate resentment and anger.

 

To adequately combat corruption, a Liberty Party government will set out to resolve the underlying factors of lack of adequate systems and control, lack of sufficient oversight, low salaries and salary disparity, lack of accountability and the culture of impunity, nepotism and patronage, uncertainty of tenure of civil servants, and lack of transparency, which contribute to corruption in government.

 

Notwithstanding, we are convinced that the primary source of corruption in Liberia is the imperial presidency. Liberians may talk all they want about transparency and accountable and postulate about the many causes and effects, but until we deal with the issue of the imperial presidency, Liberia will remain a corrupt nation.

 

Summary of A Liberty Party Government’s Anti-Corruption Policy

 

A more detailed Anti-Corruption Policy Paper will be made available during our National Convention, but for the purpose of these remarks, a Liberty Party Government will do the following:

 

  • Institute Effective Systems and Controls: Liberty Party will ensure that there are effective financial management and internal control systems in place to ensure compliance with relevant GOL financial rules and regulations. But as indicated above, we will ensure that systems are not only in place, but also that personnel are trained to avail of the systems, and that the systems are effectively implemented and used.

 

  • Support the General Auditing Commission and the Internal Audit Agency: The General Auditing Commission and the Internal Audit Agency will be given the necessary support—political and financial—to ensure that it can effectively perform their mandate to determine how government resources are used. We will buttress the work of the two agencies by creating a National Integrity Office (NIO) within the Office of the President, demonstrating the resolve of a Liberty Party Administration to deal with corruption in government. The NIO will ensure that all audit reports, as well as reports submitted by whistle blowers, human rights organizations, and other watchdog organizations are promptly acted upon.
  • Avoid Conflict of Interest: To avoid officials of government and others in positions of public trust trading with government or otherwise interacting with themselves, every legal person desirous of doing business with a Liberty Party Government will be required to have the names of all its shareholders, partners, or members listed in its Charter Instrument, and published, so that the Liberian people will know who is doing business with their government. Moreover, every contract that the government enters will include a full disclosure form to be filled out by the entity indicating the names of equity owners and the extent of their business interests. Any change of ownership of equity of such a company, will be done through amendment of the charter document and publication in local newspapers. Furthermore, all entities wishing to do business with the government will be required to go through a prequalification process to ensure not only that they possess the capability to deliver the goods and services for which they are bidding, as provided in the Public Procurement and Concession Act (PPCA), but also to verify that they don’t have a prior record of bad business practice and that their operation will be free from conflict of interest. Any entity having connection, directly or indirectly, with a government official, will be delisted and not allowed to do business with the government. Each quarter, the Public Procurement Commission will be required to publish on its website names of, and relevant information about, all entities doing business with government. Information about such entities will include ownership composition, tax identification number, business registration number, the charter instrument.A Liberty Party Government will also scrupulously enforce the various provisions of law that govern assets declaration by officials of government.
  • Control Nepotism: Controlling nepotism must begin with the first family. The President of a Liberty Party Government will abide by all laws and regulations put in place to combat corruption. I commit not to hire any unqualified relatives of mine to government positions; and, certainly no child of mine will be employed in a position that is perceived as lucrative or money-making. The President will be required to place all his business interests in a blind trust during his presidency.
  • Merit Based Civil Service System: A Liberty Party Government will focus on developing a professional/merit based civil service that will be totally devoid of the influence of party politics, holding loyalty to the Constitution and people of Liberia. Civil servants will be encouraged to inform the Liberian Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC), and copy the NIO, of any government official or officer of Liberty Party (LP), who pressures, uses undue influence, or otherwise harasses him or her to become a member of or to support the LP.

 

Although every Liberian has the constitutional right to join any political party of his or her choosing and to participate in political activities, partisan politics in government will be completely eradicated to ensure that civil servants and officials of government are objective in the execution of their duties.

 

A career in the public service under a Liberty Party Government will be based upon a transparent merit based system, not only in words but also by actions. As such, civil servants will, in the short run, be paid adequate wages and, over a period, provided incentives with welfare packages, such as healthcare coverage.

 

  • Dismantle the Imperial Presidency: The imperial presidency trumps every other form of corruption, and historically has been the source and sustenance of corruption in Liberia. Liberia will remain a corrupt nation until the imperial presidency is dismantled. In this regard, an LP Government will propose the amendment of the Liberian Constitution, deleting the portion of Article 34 (d) (ii), which provides that no monies shall be drawn from the treasury except upon warrant of the President. This would prevent a president from withholding payments rightly due to creditors of the government because they are, or perceived to be, political oppositions or “enemies of the president.” Such creditors would be able to sue the Minister of Finance or other government functionaries to compel payment. We will also propose amendment of Article 56 (b) of the Constitution to delete the portion that authorizes the President of Liberia to remove chiefs from their elected offices for proved misconduct. As elected officials, they should be removed only by the people who elected them. The laws and practice that support tribal customs and tradition being regulated, interpreted, and executed by the Executive Branch will be changed. Such practice corrupts Liberia’s system of governance, as it encourages every action of the chiefs to be about appeasing the President. Every Liberian must be afforded the due process and equal protection of the law, regardless of whether they are rural dwellers or urbanites.

 

A president’s use of extensive appointment power, as conferred by law and custom, shall have due regard to the qualification and character of appointees, weighing against relationship and status—all indicating the will to fight corruption. And compensation throughout Government will be standardized to avoid discretionary determination, which leads to nepotism and other forms of corruption. Such would help to make public service an honorable path.

 

    • Strengthen the Ministry of Justice: It is the responsibility of the Ministry of Justice to enforce the laws of the country, which include ensuring that the President of Liberia does not overstep the bounds of what is allowed by law. But the officials of the Ministry are often torn between the laws they swore to uphold and pleasing the President. A Liberty Party Government will depoliticize the Ministry of Justice, allowing attorneys of the Justice Ministry to function independent of the office of the President. The Ministry of Justice will be required to establish several institutional checks governing when prosecutors should and should not institute actions, as a way of cutting down on potential abuses of discretion. To avoid these abuses, the Ministry will be required to established guidelines for contacts with the President or other officials of government about cases to be prosecuted, to avoid tipping the scale of justice in inappropriate ways. A Liberty Party Government will build the capacity of the Ministry of Justice by recruiting career prosecutors, who may not be political appointees, but engaged under contract for fixed terms with the right to recover against the government, if the contract of engagement is wrongfully terminated for political reasons or otherwise.
  • Generational/Long-term: To win the fight against corruption, Liberians must think and act with the long term in view. The fight for the integrity of our country cannot be limited to one political party, one administration or an individual president. The holistic components elaborated above must be passed down and embraced by each generation of Liberians. Measures must be taken to make sure that national policies are passed down from one administration to the other. In this regard, a Liberty Party Government will target the younger generations (from elementary school to college) for civic education and integrity awareness training. Youth integrity clubs will be established and supported by government in our schools across the country to promote the ideals of a corruption free society.

 

 

A Liberty Party Government will also establish an annual National Integrity Award Program to honor individuals, including students, with distinctive and exemplary character from elementary, high school, and college; civil servants, presidential appointees, politicians, and individuals from the private sector. We will showcase and reward integrity and honesty, as a means of making corruption something to be ashamed of.  We will work to make corruption an expensive crime.

 

Conclusion

 

Let us be clear; my personal commitment and that of an LP Government to fight corruption will not be compromised. The word will go forth from day one of an LP administration that the culture of impunity is over.  That message will go out both to those who will do business with the government as well as those who will serve in our administration.

 

We have a substantive plan to deal with the issue of corruption, drawing on our own experiences and based on research conducted by experts. We have a plan and a clear road map to reduce the high level of rampant corruption in government. Our solution is simple! It is based on a system of carrots and stick—reward and punishment—which will be supported by institutional reforms, leadership by example, and committed and dedicated services of those who will work in government.

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