On Treating Corruption as the Major Public Enemy of Liberia

    Has President Sirleaf developed the political will and overcome her fear to confront her cronies?

    By

    J. Kerkula Foeday

    October 18, 2009 

    Rosanne Cash says, “The key to change is to let go of fear.” Judging from President Sirleaf’s latest decisive stance against indicted government officials, it seems as though she has developed the political will and overcome her fear to confront her cronies in government. For example, Harry Greaves, who, in some quarters, is believed to be the ‘godchild’ of the President and who for a long time was considered to be untouchable, was dismissed a few weeks ago for reported acts of corruption. Now the Information Minister – the public relations right hand man of the President – is being suspended indefinitely and two of his colleagues (i.e. two other top officials of the Information Ministry) are not only gone, but have been turned over to the Justice Ministry for prosecution for misappropriations of public funds!  

    If this is a true renaissance in the battle against corruption, that is, if the President has truly developed the political will and overcome her fear to confront her cronies, then I would like to unreservedly, warmly embrace the President and give her a pat on the back for overcoming her fear to demonstrate this change. If this is not the case, then I respectfully beg to dismiss these latest moves as, to quote the President herself, “mere posturing” or yet another political grandstanding by the President “to play to the gallery” and to bolster and polish her government image, especially now that we are just less than two years away from the 2011 General and Presidential elections in which the President may be going back to the Liberian electorate for re-election. Honestly, for me, I will not see these moves as mere posturing or as an attempt by Ellen to play to the gallery and to bolster and polish her government image only and only if, in addition to going beyond mere pronouncements of her desire and commitment to fight corruption, she will ensure that all indicted corrupt officials are publicly tried and prosecuted. But for now, I will give the benefit of my doubt to the President and say it appears that she is now ready to fulfill her promises!

    Every time the issue of public sector corruption in Liberia is raised, I am reminded by the portions of President Sirleaf’s 2006 inaugural address in which she made the following promises:

    “Fellow Liberians, we know that if we are to achieve our economic and income

     distribution goals, we must take on forcibly and effectively the debilitating

     cancer of corruption. Throughout the campaign, I assured our people that, if elected,

     we would wage war against corruption regardless  of where it exists, or by whom

     it is practiced. Today, I renew this pledge.  Corruption, under my Administration,

    will be the major public enemy. We will confront it. We will fight it. Any member

     of my Administration who sees this affirmation as mere posturing or yet another

     attempt by another Liberian leader to play to the gallery on this grave issue should

    think twice. In this respect, I will lead by example. I will expect and demand that

    everyone serving in my Administration leads by example. The first testament of

     how my Administration will tackle public service corruption will be that everyone

     appointed to high positions of public trust, such as in the Cabinet and heads of

     public corporations, will be required to declare their assets.”

    Similarly, whenever the issue of bad governance, of which corruption is a major component, is raised, Ellen’s undistilled assessment of the crises in Liberia readily comes to mind. In a report by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in Liberia captioned Liberia National Human Development Report 2006: Mobilizing Capacity for Reconstruction and Development, here’s what Ellen says:

    “I … concur with the report’s analysis on governance. Capacity building

                can only thrive in conditions of good governance, where respect for the rule

                of law and effective functioning of governance structures exist, buttressed

                by robust institutions, policies and laws. Liberia has suffered from a long

                period of bad governance and economic mismanagement. Urgent measures

                are now needed to address the systemic and structural malaise if we

                 [Liberians] are to put Liberia firmly on the road to recovery, reconstruction

                and development and meet our Millennium Development Goal commitments.”

                (UNDP/Liberia, 2006, p. 3)

    Admittedly, the issue of corruption in Liberia is a major concern for me. I feel so passionate about this issue, especially its debilitating effects. I believe this issue should claim the attention of every Liberian, because, as I mentioned in my May 12, 2009 Open Letter to President Sirleaf under the caption Where is the Fulfillment of the Promise, corruption is a serious issue with far-reaching ramifications or consequences. It affects everyone, including innocent children and women. It is costly; it undermines sustainable community development initiatives. Henceforth, every story of corruption in Liberia must or should claim the attention of all well-meaning Liberians.

    This is why the President needs to be constantly reminded of her pronouncements against bad governance, including mismanagement of public resources. By constantly reminding the President, I believe, will challenge her to act decisively in the interest of the greater good of our country. Remaining passive or keeping quiet, in my view, should not be an option, for doing so makes us tacit endorsers of corruption in Liberia. If we, out of exhaustion, disappointment, frustration, and hopelessness, resign to fate and fail to become and remain active in the fight against moral and fiscal corruption, we will be doing gross disservice to generations to come. This is our challenge as a people. As for Ellen and her government, they’ve got to develop and demonstrate genuine political will to confront bad governance practices, overcome the fear to confront their political cronies engaged into and/or abetting corruption, and of course take corruption head-on; otherwise, as Ellen herself has rightfully observed, it will be difficult for us to put Liberia firmly on the road to recovery, reconstruction and development and to meet our Millennium Development Goal commitments.

    It is also important to remind Ellen and her government that Liberians have expectations. And those expectations, as Ellen appropriately noted in her 2006 inaugural message, include but not limited to a government that is attentive and responsive to the needs and concerns of Liberians, the development and progress of Liberia, and real reform for durable peace and stability as well as holistic security and national prosperity. I think Liberians expect nothing less than the fulfillment of these expectations.