"Gaging Anti-Corruption Efforts in Liberia"
Keynote Speech by Cllr. Tiawan S. Gongloe
On December 9, 2016, at a program commemorating International Anti-Corruption Day organized by the Global Youth against Corruption-Liberia
Held at the Center for Exchange of Intellectual Opinion (CEIO)
On Carey Street, Monrovia
The leadership of GYAC-Liberia, Fellow campaigners and victims of corruption, ladies and gentlemen
Thank you for your decision to organize this event in commemoration of International Anti-Corruption Day. This day was set aside by the United Nations General Assembly by its Resolution 58/4 on October 31, 2003 as a day to promote awareness of the threat that corruption poses to peace and progress in the world and the principles and strategies contained in the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC). Since 2003, this day has been celebrated under various themes. In 2004, the theme was, “With Corruption, everyone pays”; in 2005 and 2006, the two year theme was, “You can stop corruption”; from 2007 -2010, the multi-year theme was “Corruption - you’re NO counts"; in 2011 and 2012 the two year theme was “ACT against corruption”; in 2013 the theme was “Zero corruption - 100% development” and in 2014 and 2015, the two year theme was, “Break the Corruption Chain”. The theme for this year’s anti-corruption day is “Corruption: An impediment to the Sustainable Development Goals"
In Liberia, the Global Youth against Corruption-Liberia (GYAC) and its partners are commemorating this day by holding a roundtable discussion under the theme: Gaging Anti-Corruption Efforts in Liberia”. The focus of the group is to use the forum to highlight efforts of integrity and anti-corruption institutions in the fight against corruption in Liberia.
But before speaking about the theme and the focus of the GYAC-Liberia, let me first briefly highlight what corruption is doing to the entire world. According to the Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon, “Corruption strangles people, communities and nations. It weakens education and health, undermines electoral processes and reinforces injustices by perverting criminal justice systems and the rule of law. By diverting domestic and foreign funds, corruption wrecks economic and social development and increases poverty. It harms everyone, but the poor and vulnerable suffer most.” According the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), every year $1 trillion is paid in bribes while an estimated $2.6 trillion are stolen annually through corruption – a sum equivalent to more than 5 per cent of the global GDP. In developing countries, according to the United Nations Development Programme, funds lost to corruption are estimated at 10 times the amount of official development assistance.”
Corruption is truly a threat to humanity and a real enemy of the people. The impact of corruption is felt by individuals, families, communities, nations and regions. For, example due to the endemic corruption in the governance of West Africa, air transport has increasingly become difficult over the years. Air Afrique, Nigeria Airways, Ghana Airways, Air Liberia do not exist today, largely due to corruption. Comparatively, other regions of Africa seem to be doing better. North, East and Southern Africa, although, not free from corruption, have at least kept their airlines functioning, thereby fast-tracking the movement of people and goods in their regions and facilitating the growth and development of the economies of those regions. Therefore, as a result of corruption, our ability to travel within West Africa as often as we want to is undermined by the unavailability of planes on a frequent basis for the routes within the region that we would like to travel on in pursuit of trade and other transactions. Given this sad state of affairs, we largely rely on planes from East Africa, Southern Africa and other parts of the world for traveling within the region. Corruption is truly an obstacle to human development.
Now what can we specifically say about Liberia in commemeration of the International Anti-Corruption Day? The Youth against Corruption has asked me to speak on the topic: “Gaging Anti-Corruption Efforts in Liberia” with the view of focusing on the work of the integrity institutions created by government. While corruption, as our president has observed on many occasions, can be found in the family, in places of worship, in community organization, etc, our focus in highlighting the issue of corruption is on government because it is government that leads a nation and signs international treaties and protocols, including those on combating corruption. It is official of government that take oath, committing themselves to seek the collective interest of the people, to obey the laws of the country, including laws against corruption and to maintain good moral good while serving the people. Additionally, the corruption for which this day is being commemorating is not corruption in the church, mosque or in the family. The corruption for which this day was set aside is corruption in public office.
Our focus here today will, therefore, be on the government of Liberia. In this regard, it is important to note that in 2005, our President used the issue of fighting corruption as the most important issue in her campaign for the presidency during general and presidential elections. Upon winning the presidential elections, she pronounced to the Liberian people and the world that corruption would be public enemy number one during her administration. My question to you today is, given all that has happened under administration of President Sirleaf, can we as Liberians truthfully say that corruption under her administration has been public enemy number one? My answer is a resounding no. While some progress has been made in terms of the establishment of anti-corruption institutions, the lack of political will from the highest office of the land has not made these institutions as effective as they should have been. The lack of political will is manifested in many ways. One way is the fact that most times, the President will say something and that thing she says will have a lot of public support, especially when it comes to fighting corruption, then after some days, weeks of months, she either does the opposite or stop moving forward with what she had told the public that should would do. For example, in 2005 one of the things that the president was that nobody with past corruption record would serve in her government. This statement was popular with the Liberian people and they truly felt that a new day in public service had now come to Liberia. She also said that those who intended accept positions of trust in her government should expect not to do business, because doing business while serving in a position trust bears a potential of conflict of interest. Again, the people were happy in every corner of Liberia for the policies that she was introducing. However, not long after those statements were made she proceeded to do the exact opposite, when she starting nominating people for appointment in her government. When NOCAL, which was seen as the post potent and viable public corporation suddenly, collapsed, our president took responsibility for what happened at that public corporation. Whatever that position taken by her meant in public policy, I really don’t known. But, what I know is that when the President of a country acts in the manner her action tends to prevent an investigation into allegation of wrong-doing.
When the President was accused of nepotism, she justified her action by saying that her children were qualified. Yet she is record for criticizing President William R. Tolbert for nepotism, when in fact his family members whom he appointed in government were equally or in some cases better qualified. Another example is the email scandal that involved people very close to her including family members. While, the President used the police and other investigators in Liberia to conduct the investigation regarding corruption allegations against the Late Gyudy Bryant and others, in the case of those connected to the email scandal, she set up a committee, largely, composed of people who were not professional investigators. Even with that situation, the report of the committee remains, mostly, unimplemented. Most when some people working in her government are accused of corruption, she tells them to resign or she appoints them to other positions, of less importance. She refers to this strategy as soft-landing for such people. Obviously, people who benefit from soft landing are friends, close associates and family members. Also, sometimes people are dismissed and after a while they are brought back into government, most often, without any explanation to the people for bringing such persons back into government. Fighting a war against corruption requires a true warrior that has a firm conviction-a leader with zero tolerance for corruption of any type or degree.
The government has said through its public relations arm that Liberia has moved-up on the anti-corruption perception index produced by the Transparency International. But, do the people of Liberia, who are affected by the actions of government employees and officials in the three branches of government, feel that way? Do visitors who come to transact business in Liberia feel that Liberia has become less corrupt? These questions, for me, are the critical questions that, when positively answered matters in the battle against corruption in Liberia.
Change is brought about by examples set by leaders or agents of change. In this regard, Mahatma Gandhi once said “be the change that you wish to see in the world”. On this important day in the global fight against corruption, let me clearly say that given the performance of President Sirleaf in her pronounced battle against corruption, when the history of Liberia is written, after her administration, the campaign against corruption will, certainly, not be one of her legacies.
On this day, let me urge you, young people to develop the courage to have zero tolerance for corruption and to resist all temptations to be corrupt. As a young leader, always remember that people are more concerned about what you do and not what you say, no matter how great what you say sounds to the ears. Learn to work hard in order to earn your means of survival and sustenance. That will make you to become independent and help to protect your integrity. Do not be disciples and praise-singers of corrupt public officials or corrupt politicians who want to run for positions of trust in our government.
You can honestly become rich in the same way that Bill Gates and others became rich. They used their minds and worked honestly to get rich. You do not have to steal. Stealing is not being smart. It is a crime and stealing public money is a grave crime and a gross violation of human rights because the money that is stolen from government belongs to the people and its theft, denies them the right to social services from their government. Choose integrity over wealth by any means possible and you will be truly great sons and daughters of Liberia.
May the struggle for better Liberia continue unabated until corruption is defeated. Backward never, forward ever to a better and greater Liberia for all Liberians.
I thank you.