By: Jones Nhinson Williams
Liberia has more serious problems that demand more serious attention, a more serious leadership and more serious people with integrity, honesty and above all, a fear of God. So while it may be true that the Auditor General of Kenya, Mr. Edward R.O. Ouko, seems to be a very nice, serious and perhaps honest man, his recent participation in the unending mockery and hypocrisy that keep unfolding in Liberia and under the Unity Party-led administration raises more questions than answers, and provide more doubts than clarity.
John S. Morlu, II
According to several news outlets, the Kenyan Auditor General went to Liberia to audit the General Auditing Commission of Liberia (GAC), a fiscal watchdog institution. At the end of Mr. Ouko’s unseen, if not hidden, auditing work, the highly regarded Kenyan auditor general gave the Liberian media a sensational news headline that reads no different from known political tricks that are rooted in the baseline vengeance that our nation and people are used to. Hence, the Kenyan auditor general generated headlines reads: “GAC Extremely Corrupt in 2009 – 2013”. Mr. Ouko’s report was quoted as saying that; “the General Auditing Commission (GAC) of Liberia from 2009-2013 was extremely corrupt and failed to comply with rules governing international financial best practices”. With this very loose proposition, one wonders as to what kind or type of audit Mr. Ouko conducted. Was it a fiscal audit, operational audit or administrative audit?
We may not have greater reason to doubt Auditor General Ouko’s competence and qualifications, but we have serious problems when individuals compromise their education, competence and credibility either because of financial gains, or because they are grossly deceived in doing something that they would rather not do, if thought through with sincerity. Why was Mr. Ouko asked to perform an audit of the GAC? Why did the Liberian administration agree, support, publicize and sensationalize the GAC audit report without publishing the report verbatim? Were the people in charge of the GAC during the years under review consulted, contacted or asked for any data, feedback or records? What new improvements are available at the GAC currently that were not available during the time under review? How much, in terms of fiscal waste and fraud, that the GAC cannot account for with respect to the period under review? Why didn’t the GAC provide copies of the report to the individuals who headed the institution when these alleged abuses and frauds occur?
Even though the Liberian legislature, the second branch of government with oversight, frequently portrays itself as an irresponsible cache and an arena for people who act childish and incompetent, Liberians in general are not fools. We know better than Auditor General Ouko from Kenya would think. We know a scam from reality, a joke and fraud from a serious-minded attempt and effort. The recent GAC’s audit does not appear to be a serious-minded attempt or effort. Either it is a game of usual distraction from serious concerns and issues facing our country and Liberians in general, or it is just another of those pathetic and un-strategic cover-ups. Reasons being that talking about corruption in Liberia is nothing new or hidden. The entire world knows that our nation is very corrupt. President Johnson Sirleaf herself has stated that corruption in Liberia has become “systemic and endemic“. That means our leaders know the problem but there is no leadership to address the problem, because even in times of budget shortfalls, our nation parades and furnishes praises on non-achievers and lousy managers. In addition, the former U.S. ambassador to Liberia, Deborah Malac, talked about corruption repeatedly and openly [Liberia: Corruption Is Liberia's Problem, U.S. Ambassador to Liberia Alarms] according to FrontPage Africa, a local daily. Several international organizations - from Transparency International to Global Witness, Human Rights Watch and several United Nations’ agencies have all frown on corruption under this regime. Western governments are fatigued in singing about it.
Here is what is sad with this whole picture. The Kenyan auditor general did not say anything new about Liberia and the Sirleaf-Unity Party-led administration except that he chose to fall prey to the con-artistry that is going on in the country by going after an institution that, in the first place, does not rank high, if not mention at all, on the corruption index of Liberia. Millions of dollars have gone missing in Liberia, and institutions that supposed to be admirable and profitable in our nation have gone down the toilets while finances for major infrastructural and agricultural initiatives end up unaccounted for. The most worrying aspect is, here is a country and an administration that have folks that could not, for God’s sake, fully account for the Ebola relief assistance donations. Yet we are another level of distraction. Besides, the country has been run on a continuous deficit platform despite tremendous revenue collection and major international support. And instead of looking at the seriousness of Liberia’s fiscal theft and the squandering of our natural resources, we are bent on auditing an independent agency that is funded by the European Union and to whom the agency sends periodic reports, detailing its operation. Does the Kenyan auditor general and his Liberian accomplices believe that the European Union has senseless people who give resources without requesting for accountability?
First and foremost, Auditor General Ouko made several vague assertions in his taboo audit report, a report which has become an unpublishable instrument. If this report is supposedly genuine and not intended as one of those constant distractions and stripped aggression of vengeance from those who requested it, or those who are the masterminds, then why not put it online so that we, the Liberian citizens, can see it as well as pass judgement on the culprits? It is much easier for anyone, even a farmer in River Gee County without a CPA, to make a sweeping statement such as “the GAC, during the four years under review did not have any clear accounting system in place, and no tangible documentations existed to support goods and services procured”. This empty thesis in Mr. Ouko’s report means nothing and does not amount to any sound reasoning other than a failed attempt to cause unnecessary alarm and point figures in the wrong places.
If Mr. Ouko and team were brought to Liberia to audit the Ministry of Finance, the Central Bank of Liberia, the funds allocated for road construction and other development projects, the maritime funds and all the waste and fraud since 2006 then one would have taken this animal farm game a bit seriously. From all indications, it seems our country is becoming noted for bringing in ‘international experts’ as in the case of all those much-to-be desire pathologists who, when encountered real pathologist developed a second thought and ran for cover, prompting the dismissal of a justice minister under the auspices of “resignation”. Maybe we need to sponsor a CPA from somewhere else to conduct a side-by-side audit with Mr. Ouko, the Kenyan “expert” so that we know that it is not a game similar to the pathologists who ran away from a young pathologist from the United States during the late Harry Greaves’ alleged mysterious political assassination.
The National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL) went broke and millions flown to purgatory. Foreign travels sucked millions more dollars out of our country, and a sea of poor guys and gals as well as other individuals have become millionaires overnight. Cases involving cronies, loyalists and friends who have stolen thousands of dollars are now a way of making fun of the Liberian judiciary. Besides, every single international fiscal and public policy watchdog group as well as foreign governments, including the United States State Department, have termed Liberia as very corrupt. The culture of corruption in Liberia today has consumed the soul and fabric of the country such that from the police to the hospitals, from schools to every aspect of civil service is undesirable to upright men and women in our land.
The fact is Liberia was a corrupt nation before, then and now. However, the only difference this time is that the level of corruption in Liberia today is different from prior acts of corruption in the country for several reasons. Corruption in previous Liberian administrations had some degree of shame and pity for the Liberian people and nation. The one we see and know today in Liberia and under this administration is not. The corruption in Liberia today is institutionalized, organized, structured, manipulative, cruel and heartless than anything Liberia has ever known. So instead of Auditor General Ouko being invited to focus on the real soul of Liberia’s public theft, our government wasted resources and its pressure time on auditing an institution that is not a revenue receiving nor generating entity.
Kenya, the home of Auditor General Ouko, is not a perfect country. However, despite its imperfections, we know from the Kenyan’s government website, that, “The Office of the Auditor-General of Kenya is an Independent Office established under the Constitution of Kenya to audit Government Bodies and report on their management of allocated funds. This mandate gives the office the right and weight to audit every facet of the Kenyan government without interference, games and double-dealing. Liberia is a different animal. To date, NOCAL which sold our nation’s birthright remains to see an audit in any form and shape. The Ministry of Public Works where millions of dollars were stolen remains to see an audit. The Ministry of Finance is in its own league with perpetual budget shortfalls, and the list goes on.
Furthermore, from the website of the Office of the Auditor General of Kenya, there are many fancy quotes: “The Office of the Auditor-General is a corruption free zone. This Office is committed to integrity, professionalism and prompt service delivery”. The most interesting one is “Promoting Accountability in the Public Sector”, a quote which is annexed to the Office’s logo. Unfortunately, Liberia is not a corruption free-zone, Auditor General Ouko. There are several pseudo businesses, pay-to-play consulting firms and more in our nation. Some of these are managed or chaired by former and current officials, closed family members of the powerful people in our land. Even accused persons are regarded in Liberia and thus sit on boards. Example includes Ms. Matilda Parker, a corrupt former managing director of the National Port Authority in Liberia. She serves as acting chairperson of the First International Bank (Liberia) limited. Who owns this bank? Where did it get its resources from? All this remains a mystery.
One would agree with Blair Glencorse, Executive Director of the Accountability Lab, when he said in his analysis: “At the root of Liberia’s problems is a deep lack of accountability……The problem is not that the legal framework for accountability does not exist. A host of institutional changes have created bodies to fight corruption – ranging from the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC), to the General Auditing Commission (GAC), to the Public Procurement and Concessions Commission (PPCC). However, the formal structures set up to build integrity largely lack the mandate, powers and resources to combat graft. Within public bodies, information and opportunity are often jealously guarded, which can make collaboration and cooperation very difficult”. Instead of the Liberian government creating a smokescreen and paying thousands of dollars while also wasting your time, Mr. Ouko, and the time of the Liberian people, it would have been much better if the initiative was done with some honesty with the view of seeing Liberia as an accountable nation. That means we must audit the real elephants in the room, as that would be a good starting point.
Many dictionaries and ideologies defined corruption in a similar but slightly different manner. Generally though, almost of them agreed that “corruption is a form of dishonest or unethical conduct by a person entrusted with a position of authority, often to acquire personal benefit. Corruption may include many activities including bribery and embezzlement, though it may also involve practices that are legal in many countries”. Did the recent GAC’s audit report find anything of this nature and magnitude?
According to the 2013 U.S. State Department’s report, it is noted that “President Sirleaf issued Executive Order 38 in January 2012 requesting officials of the executive branch to make financial disclosures and declare their assets to the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC). Many officials only did so after the president threatened dismissal if they did not comply. All officials of the executive branch declared their assets by year’s end”. That exercise became a joke. In fact, some of the people who were realistically valued at less than US$5,000 can now afford to purchase fleet of vehicles, build mansions and duplexes and send their teen-age school side-squeezes to the United States, Europe and Asia for jolly ride cum vacations. There are officials of the Liberian administration who have never worked nor lived in the United States, Canada and Europe, but they have bought homes [cash down] and took their wives and children to these countries. Others can afford to pay tuition for their school-age fiancé in these countries.
Putting all of these elements together and considering the degree of distractions we are becoming immune to as Liberians under this Unity Party’ oligarchy-plutocratic regime, the Kenyan Auditor General’s effort does not alter our position and perception nor creates any reason to consider the GAC’s audit a serious project. Even though it is very late for the Unity Party-led administration to reestablish credibility in the eyes of Liberians, and for our leader to be considered a reformed president, it is better to do something credible than doing the same more thing over and over and expect a new and different result. Lastly, because the failed Unity Party-led administration’s strategy remains unchanged, the tactic remains unguided, the process remains doubtful, and the results remain constant, Liberians will have no reason not to conclude that the Kenyan Auditor General’s undesirable work on corruption in Liberia is an indication of mockery and hypocrisy.
About the Author: Jones Nhinson Williams is a Catholic educated philosopher and an American trained public policy professional. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org