Liberty Party’s Anti-Corruption Policy
That corruption is rampant in today’s Liberia is not in dispute! Liberia is now said to be one of the most corrupt countries in the world. The level of corruption is arguably of human rights violation proportion. Sadly, even though corruption in government was given as one of the reasons justifying the civil war, the level of government corruption today is unprecedented. The menace has now reached a level where it is a threat to the country’s recovery, and long-term peace and stability.
Corruption in Liberia is rooted in our indiscipline and our stubborn refusal, for example, to follow procedures, stand in line, or distribute anything fairly. A political system based on patronage reinforces it; impunity sustains it. Our socio-political culture is such that we continue to embrace corrupt government officials, instead of shaming and punishing them. We ignore their crime of corruption and betrayal of the public trust, forgetting that righteousness exalts a nation, but corruption is a shame or disgrace to any people!
To deal with the issue of corruption as is done by the current government—shielding and protecting the culprits who happen to be related to, or are political allies of the President—is a demonstration of a fundamental lack of appreciation of the role that corruption played in bringing about our national tragedies, and the threat that this cancer poses to Liberia’s national security.
The absence of the three “Ss”—System, Shame, and Sanction—in Liberia’s socio-political culture has led to the unabated growth of corruption. Our fight against public corruption must, therefore, have a generational perspective as well as focus on institutional and institutionalized challenges. By generational, we mean the long term strategic apportioning and ingraining of the anticorruption mentality in all generations of Liberians. To effectively attack corruption in our society, we must reform our socio-political culture and create ample opportunities for Liberians to get wealth through honest means. Public sector reforms designed to create and empower other tiers of government will be a significant plank in our effort to create wealth among Liberians and ensure popular sovereignty.
The nation’s fight against corruption must have a holistic perspective as well as an urgent focus on tackling the present challenges through social and institutional changes. By holistic, we mean looking at the Liberian society as a whole, and proffering solutions that would pervade every aspect of society, and confront and reverse the culture of corruption and impunity. By urgent, we mean immediately tackling the menace of corruption to check its growth and see a reversal of its gains.
Therefore, we will adopt a holistic, systematic, and long term approach to fighting corruption, but with strong and sufficient short term measures that will yield results upon which to build and sustain the momentum.
Understanding Corruption in Liberia
Corruption is not just about mismanaging and misapplying public funds and the lack of transparency, even though these are significant and widespread. 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 andgood old girls club—that we commit to stop and reverse.
A good working definition of corruption would be, “the improper use of influence, power, or other means for private gain at the expense of the public and the detriment of the people.” The average person generally thinks 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 and patronage, and influence peddling. In fact, these latter forms of corruption often encourage some of the former. And the worst form of corruption does not begin with the lower level civil servants, but is inherent in our institutional structures and the policy processes of government.
Conflict of Interest: Conflict of interest is pervasive in Liberia. Public officials, for example, are routinely involved in commercial enterprises that do business with Government. These public officials direct government business to their companies thereby depriving the government and people of Liberia of the benefits of competition— efficiency, lower prices, better quality of goods and services, among others.
Political Patronage: Political patronage occurs when the power to make appointments to government jobs is exercised for political advantage; that is, so that the recipient or recipients can provide political support now or sometime in the future to their benefactor.
Nepotism: Government officials routinely hire their unqualified relatives to government positions thereby depriving the Government of hiring qualified people on a competitive basis.
Institutional Corruption: Institutional corruption occurs when the structures of public agencies or policies are designed to benefit a select group of people. This results in a system of governance that not only guarantees concentration of economic and political powers along with excessive influence peddling and inside dealing in the hands of a few elites, but also condones a culture of impunity. Institutional corruption also occurs when the powerful manipulate the governance system to achieve predetermined ends, as is often the case with our judicial system. The following excerpt from Mr. J. Aloysius Toe’s remarks at the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, DC illustrates this form of corruption; Mr. Toe is a leading Liberian human rights leader.
…judges of lower courts regularly complain of interference from the Chief Justice who, they claim, instructs them to serve presidential or executive interest. And when they refuse they are dismissed, removed or assigned in rural villages away from their families. For example, Magistrate Milton Taylor of the Monrovia City Court was removed by the Chief Justice because he rendered a decision against the interest of the executive. Circuit Court Judge, James Zota vehemently and publicly resisted and refused interference from the Chief Justice to serve executive interest. The Chief Justice served the judge a letter of suspension, alleging that he was acting on the directive of the president of Liberia. The judge refused the Chief Justice’s order and contended that it was contrary to the Law for the president to request his suspension. His fate was removal and re-assignment in the most rural and remotest part of the country where he would be far from his family and no longer preside over high profile cases involving the executive. Again, another Circuit Judge, Blamo Dixon, was removed from the Capital and transferred to rural parts of the country after he entered a judgment against the interest of the executive. If this is independence, I beg to differ. On top of all of these, the judiciary is reported to be corrupt.” [Liberia: Elections, Justice, Corruption and the Role of the International Community, J. Aloysius Toe, Speaking at the National Endowment for Democracy, Washington DC, February 24, 2011].
Corruption in the Judiciary is the result of three principal factors: presidential influence, lack of knowledge of the law, and plain old fashion bribery. Allegations also abound of corruption in the legislature. But the President of a Liberty Party Government will work with members of the Legislature, using political persuasion and the “bully pulpit” to have bills enacted into law and concession agreements ratified, thereby tackling corruption in the Legislative Branch of Government.
Causes of Corruption
There are several factors responsible for public corruption in Liberia. Among them are the following:
Lack of Accountability and the Culture of Impunity: Those who commit acts of corruption such as stealing public resources are not held to account. Instead, they are often shielded and regarded as smart, or as having “used their heads.” When government officials commit acts of corruption without being punished or otherwise held accountable for their actions, a culture of impunity is developed in the nation.
Lack of Transparency: Many important government activities having little or nothing to do with national security are kept from public knowledge. This makes it difficult for the public to judge the performance of the government and its agencies. This shroud of secrecy encourages corruption. For instance, this
4Government does not publish concession and contracts it signed for public scrutiny. Instead they are kept secret. Even the salaries of some high level officials of this Government are kept secret.
Lack of Adequate Systems of Control: Accounting systems and controls of most government ministries and agencies are non-existent, inadequate or outdated, or not standardized from one ministry or agency to another. As a result, it is difficult to ensure the integrity of financial transactions. It is only when there are proper systems and controls that we can limit the opportunity to engage in corruption. For instance, after five years of being in office, this administration has not developed a comprehensive asset register to account for the vehicles, generators and other assets that are purchased year after year. This is simple control that could save the Government of Liberia millions of dollars, as it would identify ownership of the assets and hold people accountable for such assets. The current administration has also failed to produce bank reconciliations, creating opportunity for illegal transfers of funds, as have been witnessed over the last five years.
Lack of Sufficient Oversight: Senior government officials/political appointees engage in routine financial transactions such as signing checks and vouchers, thus limiting their abilities to provide oversight and strategic guidance in the management of their entities. In addition to undermining accountability and transparency, some of these officials are often implicated in audit reports by virtue of their involvement in routine financial transactions. As a result, audit report recommendations are seldom, if ever, implemented.
Undeveloped Institutions: The lack of developed institutions of government and defined systems for implementing the mandates of the various agencies of government have led to, and continue to plague Liberia with corrupt practices in government. Governance has always been personality driven, as opposed to being institutional based. This system of governance has led to the welfare of the people being conditioned on the personal character of a president, as opposed to the systems and institutions of government. This is historical!
Low Salaries and Salary Disparity: The salaries of civil servants are extremely low. Civil servants and low level officials, with the disposition to be corrupt, who are underpaid, are likely to embezzle funds that may be entrusted to them, or receive bribe as a consideration for performing their official functions. Also, salaries across Government and within institutions are also not standardized. Disparity in salaries has led to an “I do not care” attitude among public officials and civil servants. Disparity in salaries is also said to be a cause of corruption, as some political appointees and civil servants seek to make up the compensation gap by stealing from anywhere they can.
Lack of Tenure: Civil servants have no protections against arbitrary dismissals. Definite criteria such as qualification, competence, performance, and longevity of service which guarantee continued employment are either nonexistent or not followed. The fact that they could be arbitrarily dismissed provides ample incentives for theft of public resources in order to prepare for rainy days.
Lack of Retirement Benefits/Pension: Once public officials leave office or retire, the government has no responsibility for their upkeep, especially when they become elderly and unable to take care of themselves. Public officials as well as employees know that, no matter how much service they render to the government, once they leave office they are forgotten. Public officials and employees’ desire to provide for themselves and their families after active government service, often leads those who are predisposed to engage in corrupt activities.
Uninformed Public: Because the public is not informed about how government should function or what the rights of members of the public are vis a vis political appointees, elected officials, and civil servants, corruption does not only remain unabated, but continues to spread. An uninformed citizenry is less likely to be aware of corruption in governments or how to stop it. It is, therefore, easier for corrupt office-holders to conceal their corrupt activities and get away with impunity.
The Imperial Presidency: The “imperial presidency” is the single most alarming cause of corruption in Liberia. The imperial presidency trumps every other form of corruption. The government is, and has always been, the largest employer of Liberians, the biggest consumer of goods and services; and, every cent that is expended from the public treasury must have the prior approval of the president, prior budgetary legislation of appropriation notwithstanding. Article 34 (d) (ii) of the Liberian Constitution provides that “no monies shall be drawn from the treasury except in consequence of appropriations made by legislative enactment and upon warrant of the President.”
Presidents of Liberia have generally denied government payment to persons whom they perceive as political adversaries, notwithstanding the fact that such person may have been legally entitled to compensation. But, the vouchers of partisans, supporters, or relatives of the president are expeditiously approved.
Also, having the President as the chief executive, chief legislator, and chief judicial officer for Liberians living under our traditional system or customary law, is another source of serious corruption. Tribal customs and tradition are regulated, interpreted, and executed by the Executive Branch, making it impossible for the larger segment of Liberians to know what their rights are under the law. Under the Constitution, the President is authorized to remove chiefs from their elected offices for “proved misconduct.” The every action of the chiefs is therefore to please the President, whether doing so negates the rights of their constituents or otherwise corrupts the system of governance.
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 survive. It causes the poor to get poorer as the higher-ups in government get richer. Corruption prevents our children from getting the education that they deserve and civil servants from earning livable wages; corruption contributes to women dying in childbirth because of lack of proper medical care; and, corruption replaces one form of criminal exploiter with another.
Researchers and leading voices on corruption have chronicled the phenomenon’s impacts on nations, particularly developing ones. In a 2000/2001 World Bank World Development Report, “Attacking Poverty”, for example, 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. (WDR2000/2001: Attacking Poverty; Part III-Empowerment, http;//web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/TOPICS/EXTPOVERTY/, Accessed June 26, 2011).
In a January 2003 Management Systems International study on “corruption and poverty,” the authors’ review of previous studies on the subject found that “corruption, by itself, does not produce poverty. Rather, corruption has direct consequences on economic and governance factors, intermediaries that, in turn, produce poverty” (Chetwynd, Chetwynd, & Spector, Corruption and Poverty: A review of recent literature, January, 2003).
Even though Chetwynd, Chetwynd, and Spector (2003) described the link between corruption and poverty as an “indirect one,” their use of economic and governance models to explain corruption’s impacts on nations shows that corruption is no less insidious. Economically, corruption “affects poverty by first impacting economic growth factors, which, in turn, impact poverty levels” (Ibid) “Corruption impedes economic growth by discouraging foreign and domestic investments, taxing and dampening entrepreneurship, lowering the quality of public infrastructure, decreasing tax revenues, diverting public talent into rent-seeking, and distorting the composition of public expenditure” (Ibid.).
“Corruption affects poverty by influencing governance factors, which, in turn, impact poverty levels” (Ibid). First, “corruption reduces governance capacity,” in other words, “it weakens political institutions and citizen participation and leads to lower quality government services and infrastructure.” In this situation, helpless and poor citizens get the short end because high-level government officials prioritize capital intensive projects which benefit them rather than health and basic education which benefit the poor. Second, “impaired governance increases poverty by restricting economic growth and, coming full circle, by its inability to control corruption” (Ibid.). And third, “corruption that reduces governance capacity also may inflict critical collateral damage: reduced public trust in government institutions” (Ibid.). As in Liberia, for example, when the president directs ministers of government to dismiss employees in order to employ partisans, “trust—an important element of social capital—declines” and the “vulnerability of the poor increases” (Ibid.). Ultimately, when the people perceive their leaders as well as their social system as “untrustworthy and inequitable,” they find it difficult to muster the energy to “engage in productive economic activities” (Ibid.).
In 2008, in response to Ramesh Jaura’s question in Berlin about the link between corruption and poverty, Huguette Labelle, Chair of Transparency International, reiterated Chetwynd, Chetwynd, and Spector’s 2003 conclusion. She responded by noting 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. So yes there is a direct link between corruption and poverty.” (Ramesh Jaura’s interview with Huguette LaBelle, September 23, 2008; www.ipsterraviva.net/UN/, Accessed June 26, 2011).
Confidence in government is diminished when corruption is reacted to differently if committed by the privileged, as opposed to when it is committed by the average Liberian. When the law is broken to suit the need of a particular individual or group of people, it damages the spirit of the majority of Liberians, and is one of the principal reasons why Liberia has failed. This is a practice that a Liberty Party Government will end.
When the government refuses to act and the President fails to lead 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. And this is why people indulge in ritualistic killings to get government jobs; why they stage military coups and rebel incursions; why they rig elections, start civil wars, among other evils! With this perverted message, Presidents of Liberia along with 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.