From A Toothless Bulldog To A Biting commission: A New Day For The LACC

By: Mohammed M. Bamba, Jr

The Centre for Democracy and Governance defines corruption as “the abuse of public office for private gain, it encompasses unilateral abuses by Government officials such as embezzlement and nepotism as well as abuse that link public and private actors such as bribery, extortion, influence peddling, and fraud”. 

Corruption in Liberia is defined as the act of doing something with an aim or intent to give some advantage inconsistent with official duly and the rights of others; a fiduciary or official use of a station or office to procure some benefit either personally or for someone else, contrary to the rights of other or in violation of the law. Any act or acts, decision or decisions or use of public resource or resources by a public or private office in the discharge of official duties and/or responsibilities which, to satisfy the selfish desire or interest of the said official or other person or persons, natural or legal, ignore the established laws, regulations, and thereby, denies, deprives, and prevents, the State or person or persons natural or legal, from receiving entitlement, consideration, and/or treatment (LACC act, 2022).

In all spheres, corruption is broad day dishonesty, modern-day thievery by a person or an organization that acquires illicit benefits or abuse power for one’s gain. Corruption has impacted the implementation of the rule of law and democratic values in our country. It has taken funding away from important infrastructure investments such as roads, schools, and hospitals, and deters international investors. It continues to take valuable investment away from educating the next generation.

According to Robert Klitgaard, an American academic, “corruption will occur if the corrupt gain is greater than the penalty multiplied by the likelihood of being caught and prosecuted.

He postulated further that, since a high degree of monopoly and discretion accompanied by a low degree of transparency does not automatically lead to corruption, a fourth variable of “morality” or “integrity” has been introduced by others. The moral dimension has an intrinsic component and refers to a “mentality problem”, and an extrinsic component refers to circumstances like poverty, inadequate remuneration, inappropriate work conditions, and inoperable or over-complicated procedures which demoralize people and let them search for “alternative” solutions.”

In Liberia, we have both intrinsic and extrinsic problems which have been around for decades. In both public and private sectors, there is this one mentality problem that the easy way to get things done is to bribe, show superiority or prove that you are connected to either the power that be or for personal benefits. Extrinsic corruption in Liberia goes beyond just the adjustment in remuneration but is more of a poverty dilemma. We all can argue that adjustment in remuneration could be a breeding ground for corruption but we ought to know that public Service is not a place of money-making to satisfy all the unlimited wants of humans but it’s a place where nationalists take the country above self-satisfaction. 

Even in our various homes, marketplaces, and our daily lives; one way or the other we are seen doing a favor for someone for our benefit or lying on behalf of our siblings to get them an undue advantage. Whatever the case it is, we are all somehow guilty of either petty corruption, Grand Corruption, or systemic corruption. 

• Petty Corruption occurs at a smaller scale and takes place at the implementation end of public services when public officials meet the public. Ex: Police, licensing departments, etc.

• Grand corruption occurs at the highest levels of government in a way that requires significant subversion of the political, legal, and economic systems. This has to do with the governance system of the state. For instance, Liberia has a unitary system of government divided into three separate branches legislative, executive, and judicial branches. The attempt for one to influence another at the detriment of the people or for personal gains is grand corruption. 

• Systemic corruption occurs due to the weaknesses of an organization or process. It can be contrasted with individual officials or agents who act corruptly within the system. This form of corruption is seen whether it’s a use of discretionary power, monopolistic powers, or abuse of power. 

For decades, corruption has been on the lips of every government in our country’s history. Some have failed, and some have been a victim of the intrinsic mentality problems this country has been confronted with. Liberia’s civil war from 1989 -2003 has much been attributed to corruption and abuse of power. This has caused our lives, properties, and many basic necessities for society’s survivability.

What have governments done from time to time to fight corruption? 

During the erstwhile government of the Unity Party, there was allegation everywhere of corruption and the President was seen on some occasions “putting her neck on the chopping board “ for some of her ministers. Corruption became the latest jingles on all public radios, nepotism begins the normal cliche for every citizen when the President has her sons, friends, and relatives serving lucrative positions and is constantly accused of corruption. She said in 2006 that corruption will be her “Public Enemy No 1” but sadly in 2017, during her final state of the nation address she admitted that corruption in Liberia was too great for her administration to eliminate.

Since President Weah took office, he has focused a lot on strengthening anti-graft institutions by submitting several legislations to the legislature for consideration. Though there are some constraints but these constraints are as a result of weak laws we have to hold people accountable for corruption. It’s no secret that President Weah has been tough on corruption and has shown his total commitment to combat this social menace. He has moved to prosecute all those who were associated with the alleged 16 billion Liberian Dollar saga, to hold former Defense Minister Brownie Samukai accountable for the misuse of the AFL funds and many other administrative decisions all to fight corruption.

Amid the presence of Anti-graft institutions in the country, corruption remains pervasive. What has been the role of these anti-graft institutions most especially the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission remains one of the frequently asked questions in the country’s fight for zero corruption.

This write-up focuses on the comparative analysis of the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission vis-a-vis the acts of 2008 and the restated act of 2022.

The Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission was established in 2008 by an Act of the Legislature as an independent organization to investigate, prosecute and prevent acts of corruption of public officials in Liberia. 

The Principal Functions are to lead the implementation of the Anti-Corruption strategy of Liberia, investigate corrupt conduct in the public sector, prosecute corrupt conduct in the public sector, actively prevent corruption in public sector institutions, and educate the citizens and public sector about corruption and its effects. 

According to Chapter 10, Article 89 of the 1986 constitution of Liberia the Legislature can enact laws for the creation of agencies as may be necessary for the effective operation of government. 

The aforementioned article of the constitution gives birth to the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission Act of 2008. 

What has changed in this new restated act of 2022? Has the LACC gotten teeth now to bit or it’s still a toothless bulldog? 

Let’s take a look at the LACC Act of  2008. I am highlighting some of the notable or contentions sections below. 

Composition of the Commission : 

“The commission shall be composed of Five (5) individual members known as Commissioners; one of whom shall be appointed as Chairperson, one as Vice Chairperson who shall act as Chairperson in the absence of the Chairperson “ (Section 6.1)

Appointment of the Commission 

“The Five (5) commissioners shall be nominated by the President. The President may consult the civil society pursuant to the partnership between government and said civil society in the fight against corruption “ (Section 6.2)

Qualification of the Commissioners 

“Each member of the commission shall be a Liberian citizen of not less than thirty (30) years of age, of good moral character in the community, and with proven records in anti-corruption advocacy or professional training and/or experience in Law, law enforcement, accounting, auditing or related field.” (Section 6.3) 

Tenure of the Commissioners 

 “ The Chairperson and Vice Chairperson of the Commission shall be appointed by the President for a term of Five (5)years each, and shall be eligible for reappointment for one additional term of five (5) years. “ (Section 6.6) 

Removal from Office 

“A Commissioner shall hold office during good behavior. A commissioner shall be removed from office by the President for any gross breach of duty, misconduct in office, or any proven act of corruption” (Section 6.8) 

Let’s take a look at the restated Act of 2022. I have highlighted provisions in the correspondence to the highlighted provisions in the 2008 Act. 

Composition of the Commission:

“The commission shall be composed of seven (7) individual members known as Commissioners; one of whom shall be appointed as Executive Chairperson, one as Vice Executive Chairperson, who shall be the principal deputy to the Executive Chairperson in the absence of the Executive Chairperson. “(Section 6.1)

Appointment of the Commissioners

“The seven (7) commissioners shall be Liberian Citizens, nominated by the President of Liberia, from a list of fourteen (14) candidates (two for each position ) pre-selected by an Ad-hoc Committee established by Section 6.10, and confirmed by the Liberian Senate. The Executive Chairperson shall be a lawyer with not less than five (5) years of active experience as a trial lawyer or judge and the Vice Executive Chairperson shall be a professional accountant or auditor, with not less than five (5)years of professional experience as a forensic auditor or accountant. The other five (5) commissioners shall be

a mix of lawyers, accountants, criminal justice professionals, and any

other Liberians of repute whose educations and professional qualifications span a period of not less than five (5) years. The President may consult civil society and/or civil society organizations pursuant to the partnership between the Government of Liberia, on the one hand, and civil

society and/or civil society organizations, on the other hand during the process of nominating any Liberian citizen for preferment as a commissioner.” ( Section 6.7)

Qualification of the Commissioners 

“ Each member of the Commission shall be a Liberian citizen of not less than thirty (30) years of age, of good moral character with education and professional training and/or experience in law, law enforcement, criminal justice, accounting auditing, internal control, compliance, transparency and access to information. Experience in advocacy for integrity and good governance, the prevention and combating of corruption, and its related social men will be desirable, but not necessary. The membership of the Commission shall also be drawn to reflect the broad spectrum of society, provided further that no two (2) Commissioners shall have the same County of origin and all seven (7) and not more than four (4) commissioners shall be of the same gender.” (Section 6.8)

Tenure of the Commissioner 

“For the appointment of the seven (7) Commissioners after the

effective date of this Act, the Executive Chairperson and three (3) of the

Commissioners shall serve for a term of seven (7) years. The Executive

Vice Chairman and two (2) of the Commissioners shall serve for a term

of five (5) years each. Thereafter, each Commissioner shall serve for a

term of seven years, unless it is an appointment to complete the term of

a Commissioner. In this latter event, the new Commissioner shall complete the term of the Commissioner whom he/she replaces. Each Commissioner shall be eligible for reappointment for one additional term except where the Commissioner is 70 years old; and in that case, such Commissioner shall retire from office.” (Section 6.14) 

Removal from office 

“Commissioner may be removed from office only in the event where he/she has become mentally or physically incapable of performing his/her duties, or is indicted for the commission of a crime, or engages in any act of gross and egregious misconduct. The evidence for removal of a Commissioner from office shall be presented by the President of Liberia to the Liberian Senate, and such removal shall take effect only upon the passing by a simple majority of a resolution of the Liberian Senate “ (Section 6.16) 

One can vividly see the difference between the two acts, with the restated act of 2022 being very holistic and leaving no room for ambiguity in the workings of the LACC. This new act clearly gives rise to a new LACC which gives teeth to the LACC to bit and be completely independent. 

Unlike the 2008 act that limits the prosecutory power of the commission to coordinate with the Ministry of Justice, the new act gives direct prosecutory power to the LACC with no limitation to coordinating with the Ministry of Justice. 

The new act gives rise to seven commissioners instead of the initial five commissioners and the qualification is more stringent, the removal process is not unilaterally done again by the President but by a simple majority of the Liberian Senate. The president doesn’t have to consult which was of course optional any Civil Society before any appointment of commission. All he needs to do is to set up an Ad-Hoc committee that will vet and select commissioners for onward  Senate confirmation. 

Furthermore, the new act is a very broad -gauge and gives the LACC enough teeth to bit than the toothless bulldog of 2008. As mentioned, the new LACC has complete oversight of prosecution and the monitoring of assets in sharp contrast to the previous act. The new act also gives a clear role to each commissioner with each person heading a department to avoid the total control of the Executive Chairperson on the functionality of other commissioners. This will give each commissioner an independent authority to exercise over their respective departments.

In 2013 the LACC received 25 cases, investigated 23, and recommended 4 for prosecution (2013 Human Rights Report-Liberia, US Department of states). This has been the normal routine of the commission year in and year out all because they lack the authority to independently prosecute cases. If we must fight corruption, we must give them teeth to bit but not to keep them like a toothless bulldog. The action of this President to have submitted this legislation for re-establishment of the LACC with teeth to bit couple with the wisdom of the Liberian Senate is a victory for our governance system. A society of ours that has suffered from the scourge of corruption which has denied a generation of better lives can’t downplay the importance of this new act.

The writer is a graduate of the Cuttington University School of Graduate and Professional Studies with an MPA in Local Government and Rural Development Administration. He is an Administrator and a Politician. He can be reached at mohammco2smart@gmail.com

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