By Hun-Bu Tulay
“Lure of corruption is so DANGEROUS that we must be EXTREMELY VIGILANT”
The above quote is from the current Pope of the Catholic Church address on December 11, 2023 in Rome. The Pope went further to say, “invite all at the Vatican to help those responsible for the administration of the Holy See’s Assets to create safeguards that can prevent, upstream the insidiousness of corruption from materializing.” When the Pope served as a Priest in Argentina, long before being elected as Pope, he wrote many pamphlets on Corruption and he was aware of the corruption at the Vatican. For many years he advocated against corruption and he took the advocacy to the Vatican. But as can be observed from his December 11, 2023 write-out, corruption still exists in the Vatican. In fact, corruption has existed in the Roman Catholic Church for over 507 years. You all remember Martin Luther who condemned the excesses of corruption, especially indulgences for forgiveness of SIN. In 1517, he wrote his 95 Theses and this sparked the Protestant Reformation. We look forward to seeing President-Elect’s ‘95 Theses’ or Roadmap for the development of Liberia, a ROADMAP that would spark the much needed Transformation of the country. Liberians have waited for 176 years and they are very hopeful that the Boakai Administration will benefit all Liberians.
The NIGHTMARE the President- Elect faces has been in the Liberian Society from the foundation of the country. For many years, it was forbidden to discuss it at homes, churches, schools, community centers because Presidents, Legislators, Judges were actively benefiting from it. The late William R. Tolbert Jr. was the first President to encourage an open discussion on the topic. He established the first Commission to fight this NIGHTMARE. This act of Tolbert encouraged MOJA, PAL, SUP and other groups to discuss and educate the masses of the country and how it negatively affected their lives and that of their children and grandchildren. These groups gave the definition of the NIGHTMARE. Once the masses and the members of Armed Forces were educated, they decided to take action for their owe interest and safety. And this led to the April 12, 1980 coup d’etat that killed the President and many others. This was followed by the execution of the 13 former Ministers and Legislators. However, this did not put an end to the NIGHTMARE that hunts the country. In fact it got worse. One American Financial expert, who was assigned at the Ministry of Finance said, “During the Tolbert’s Administration, the door of NIGHTMARE was wide enough just to drive a VOLKSWAGEN through, but under the PRC, it is wide enough for Boeing 707 Aircraft to fly through.” This NIGHTMARE eroded all the good achievements of Madam Sirleaf. Later during her administration, she even called it a VAMPIRE. Madam Sirleaf’s greatest weakness was listening to the advice of her close friends and relatives. We remembered during a Cabinet Retreat in Kakata City, she commented as follows: “Each time I want to fire someone, people talk to me.” What we pick-up from such statement is that if people did wrong and she wanted to dismiss them, some people went to her and begged her not to dismiss the wrong doers. And those she dismissed were those who had nobody close to her who could vouch for them. We believe the President-Elect was at that Retreat and there are many people in President-Elect proximity today that were also at that Kakata’s Retreat. “President-Elect beware of the Art of March”. Do not repeat the errors of Madam Sirleaf. Those friends and relatives, who will advise you not to dismiss wrong doers are your enemies and people who want you to fail. We would like to summarize what this NIGHTMARE is just to remind you.
- This NIGHTMARE is the EVIL that is directly responsible for underdevelopment of Liberia and keeping its citizenry perpetually impoverished.
- This NIGHTMARE is a dream killer of young people seeking a better future.
- This NIGHTMARE is the single most contributor to the exodus of skilled manpower and inhibitor to meaningful diaspora contribution to Liberia’s development.
- This NIGHTMARE is the primary killer of Liberian entrepreneurship by creating a hostile environment for Liberian-owned businesses in favor of affluent foreign competitors who have created an illicit relationship with government officials willing to sell our country to the highest bidders.
- This NIGHTMARE is the single contributor to Tax Evasion, hence undermining the revenue base of the country for which the revenue cannot reach US$1.0 Billion.
- This NIGHTMARE has undermined the health and education systems, deplorable road condition, poor water and sanitation system, etc.
- This NIGHTMARE drives away serious investors from the country thereby creating youth unemployment crisis in the country.
- This NIGHTMARE is the cause for Capital fright and high foreign exchange rate.
- This NIGHTMARE is responsible for the DRUGS that are killing our youths.
This feature is about the NIGHTMARE that has kept the country backward for the past 176 years. This is the NIGHTMARE President-Elect will be inheriting. It is not a good Inheritance because it kills and increases poverty. And POVERTY in a WEALTHY NATION is a CURSE. The question is can President-Elect breaks or removes this CURSE? We hope he does. We saw demonstrations, uprising, civil disturbance during, Tolbert, Doe, Taylor, Sirleaf and Weah Administrations. The NIGHTMARE is called CORRUPTION and the best way to start, is talk about corruption globally. World leaders met on December 22, 2022 and estimated that 5% of Global GDP or US$2.6 Trillion is lost to corruption annually, read Till Johannes Hartman and Carlos Ferreyea or go to https://www.aljazeera.com, feature 2023/11/23. Those involve in Corruption are very rich and corruption is like a MAFIA Organization, the members go at any length to silent and anyone or group trying to EXPOSE them. Just think about the death of the auditors. This global loss is 1.53 times the annual budget of the United States of America for 2023 or 11.304 times the annual budget of China. And Africa loses US$88.6 Billion yearly in illicit financial flows, such as Tax Evasion and Theft. This amount is more than what African Countries receive in total Development Aid according to United Nations Study presented at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development UNCTAD). It seems that if African Leaders work together to fight corruption, they would not need to borrow money for the development of their countries.
But what is the simple definition of corruption? The United Nations defines corruption as the Abuse of Entrusted Power for Private Gain. We can go further to define Political corruption as the use of Powers by Government Officials or their Network Contact for illegitimate Private Gains. It is Political Corruption that we see in Liberia. Corruption can take many forms linked to different types of behaviors, such as Bribery, Embezzlement, Nepotism, Extortion, Kickbacks, Money Laundering, Fraud, and conflict of interest. Liberians have experienced and continue to experience three types of political corruption (nepotism, conflict of interest and bribery). These three are rampant in all sectors of our country. The Country’s National Budget is greatly influenced by Political Corruption. Just look at salaries and benefits, who gets the Lion Share of the budget? It is those, who have the Constitutional Power (Legislators) to distribute the resources including the budget. Some of them even think that they have the Power to waive taxes as was done recently referencing the case of VEDANTA-Western Cluster Limited. How can the legislators, the minister of Justice, and Minister of Finance waived US$13.6 Million in country that has been classified as one of the POOREST in the world. They must be INSANE. The majority of the 105 people we entrusted with political Power have abused the power we gave them under the Weah Administration. Liberia has been ranked as one of the most corrupt countries in the world, but that notoriety reached its lowest depth under Weah Administration. Because of the corruption, the current International Dollar: 17881 view Liberia GDP and Economic data, and Africa’s oldest Republic has been ranked among the POOREST Countries in the World according to their report released on December 25, 2023. This so because of the corruption in the country. Corruption is at every fabric of society (government-all benches, churches, mosques, educational institutions, health facilities, sports, market places, transport sectors, etc. Dealing with corruption will be the President- Elect’s Nightmare immediately upon his inauguration. The world will be watching him as he nominates the first set of cabinet ministers and heads of autonomous agencies. Considering that corruption erodes trusts, weakens democracy, hampers economic development and further exacerbates inequality, poverty, social division and environmental crisis, the President-Elect to should start the fight against corruption from day one in branches of the government from the highest to lowest. We wish to recommend the following:
- The President-Elect should request his senior ministers and heads of autonomous agencies provide financial disclosures to refuse any gifts worth more than US$500.00 or its equivalent in Liberian Dollars. In taking aims at matters, both large and small from real estate holding and investments to work-related gifts given to any government official.
- The President should require all senior ministers and heads of autonomous agencies to sign a declaration stating they have not been charged and convicted of CRIMES involving corruption, frauds, exploitation of minors, human trafficking, terrorism, money laundering or tax evasion. They should do such disclosure yearly before the 15th of February. Any false declaration by any person or individual should be dismissed immediately.
- Government officials should be encouraged to save their money in the local banks in Liberia. They will be allowed to transfer money abroad through local banks only.
- Senior ministers and heads of autonomous agencies will be asked to sign performance contract every six months.
- Before being commissioned, the senior ministers and heads of autonomous agencies should declare their assets and publish same in three local newspapers.
- Senior ministers, legislators and heads of autonomous agencies should be encouraged to seek medical treatment in country and should only be allow to go abroad upon recommendation from his/or her physician.
- Ministers and heads of autonomous children should complete secondary school before travelling abroad for advance education. This is what Tolbert did to all his children. In Tolbert case, the children completed undergraduate studies in Liberia.
The goal of a responsible government is to bring the government in accord with BEST FINANCIAL PRACTICES to ensure transparency and effort in fighting corruption. We believe to achieve transparency in the public sector, the President should ensure that public officials and institutions meet their objectives and standards, respond to the needs of the citizens and preferences are transparency, fair dealings, and human rights and that government activities are subject to scrutiny and sanction and the use of public resources prudently.
Even with all of the above the government needs to prevent corruption by:
- Exposing corrupt activities and indict individuals involved in such activities.
- Keeping the public sector honest, transparent, and accountable- to achieve this government should have opened data; meaning government data and information should be available for everyone to access and sharing is vital tools to enhance transparency, accountable, and can help to reduce corruption.
- Stopping dishonest practices in government by using the press, civil society, and the citizens. Empower these groups to monitor activities at ministries and agencies
- Ensure public sector employees act in the public interest as per the Acts creating these institutions.
An excellent way for a government to show commitment to transparency and accountability are as follows:
- Open Budget: The civil society organizations and the Press Union of Liberia should be invited to all hearings of the National Budget. Such hearing should be lived.
- Ministries and agencies should give full disclosures of their activities and their budget regularly at a regular press briefing.
- Ministries and agencies must give regular update on their activities (successes and failures). Give reasons for their failures.
- Provide online portal and databases for the public
We want the Unity Party Government under Joseph Nyumah Boakai Sr. to be characterized by four aspects and values (Independence, Attention to International Best Practices, Professionalism and Human Rights).
Mr. President-Elect, if you truly want these four aspects and values to be characterized in your government, we recommend that you do the following:
- Since the oversight responsibility given to the Legislators by the constitution is not working, that responsibility should be given to the people because they are the victims. High stake corruption is mostly in the infrastructural industry. Issue an Executive Order for the sitting up a National Bidding Committee for all infrastructure projects. The committee should have ten members, one from the procuring body, two from university professors, two from civil societies, two from the student bodies, one from the National Bar Association, and two from technical bodies. It will be very difficult, if not impossible, to bribe all members of the committee. Such a committee existed during the Tolbert Administration.
- All the budgets, be it national budget or agency budgets, should be PROGRAMME BUDGETS. It is easy to monitor such budgets. If the budget says, 25 kilometer miles of paved road for example say Western Liberia, the budget should give the coordinates (starting point and ending points) or the towns that the road will connect; same for schools, health centers etc.
- Develop a FIVE-YEAR DEVELOPMENT PLAN. Let this plan be funded by the National Budget. Ensure that minimum of US$100.00 million is allocated in the National Budget for the implementation of the plan. With this, we do not need to take high interest loans.
- Follow up on Bilateral and multilateral commitments made during the periods 2006-2023. If you follow up on these commitments, many of your projects will implemented using grants not loans.
If we really Love Liberia, Think Liberia, and want to build Liberia, the Legislators need to rethink their salaries, benefits and allowances. They need to ask themselves why they need ESCORT VEHICLES at government expense. Why do they need US$45,000.00 vehicle every three years? Why do they need 500 gallons of fuel monthly? In the United States, congressman lease vehicle at the rate of US$1,000.00 per month and if they lease a vehicle that cost above US$1,000.00 he or she pays different. In Nigeria, members of Parliament get a vehicle on mortgage and if the member failed, the parliament pays and the vehicle become property of the government. During the Tolbert’s Administration ministers and legislators and judges got mortgaged vehicles. This method saved the country millions of taxpayers’ money, which were used to provide essential services to the people. We cannot continue to pretend that we are rich by living large/extravagantly. The legislators can help to find the US$100.00 million annually in the National Budget. This FIVE YEAR DEVELOPMENT PLAN should supported by all Liberians.
For once, we ask the Legislators to support the President-Elect Five Year Development Plan. The plan will provide good healthcare, quality education, water and sanitation, electricity, Good paved roads, boost the tourism and entertainment industries, provide food security and the list goes on. We ask the legislators to work with President-Elect to raise the National Budget to US$1.0 Billon. We believe this is possible with your cooperation. It is for Liberia and her people not our individual self. We will be watching you and your activities.