CORINA HOTEL, 26 STREET TUBMAN BOULEVARD, MONROVIA
WEDNESDAY MAY 25, 2022
Good morning! It is a pleasure to be here with you. I want to thank Reverend Hart and the Faith and Justice Network (FJN) for inviting me to join today’s event, and I commend FJN for its work promoting peace, good governance, and democracy in West Africa. It truly is an honor to speak on the topic of integrity and anti-corruption, particularly with an audience devoted to bringing up Liberia’s next generation of leaders.
Before I start, I cannot begin to talk about peace, good governance and democracy without calling out those who would wish to inject violence into the electoral process. We condemn ANY political actor who makes veiled threats of violence or attempts to intimidate through the implied threat of violence. Violence plays no legitimate role in elections – if you wish to show that you have large numbers of followers, do it through the many votes you receive at the ballot box.
We find ourselves in trying times globally and in West Africa. Not since the beginning of World War II has the United States and its democratic partners faced such strong resistance from authoritarian regimes. In times like these, character matters, and integrity is needed to confront the world’s greatest problems. Here in Liberia, 200 years after the arrival of the first Black American immigrants, the fate of your democracy is determined by the character of your leaders. For a democracy to flourish, a nation’s leaders must put service before self, and they must believe in the power of self-governance.
To all of Liberia’s current leaders, and the future leaders in this room, I ask you, are you willing to elevate the interests of your nation above your own interests? Are you willing to make the sacrifices required to allow democracy to flourish? The decisions you take today will determine the person you will be tomorrow. As educators, administrators, and leaders, you have an important role to play in laying the foundations of Liberia’s future. Liberia has the potential to prosper, and its leaders and citizens must work together to root out corruption and plant the seeds of moral fortitude in order to achieve this potential.
Liberia is a nation of great possibility, blessed with abundant rainfall, favorable climate, rich mineral deposits, productive fishing grounds, and huge agricultural potential. Chief amongst these resources is the Liberian people, particularly Liberia’s youth. The civil war devastated Liberia’s economy, and the Ebola outbreak, followed by the COVID-19 pandemic, further slowed growth. However, nineteen years after the war ended, it is not these historical factors, but rather corruption and misgovernance that are most responsible for Liberia’s continued ranking as one of the poorest, most underdeveloped countries in the world.
Speaking at the national bicentennial celebration at SKD Stadium on February 14, Ms. Dana Banks, Senior Director for Africa at our National Security Council, stated “Too many of Liberia’s leaders have chosen their own personal short-term gain over the long-term benefit of their country. The expectation, sometimes, is that the United States and the rest of the international community will step in to solve Liberia’s long-term problems. So let me be clear. The United States is a proud and dedicated partner and friend of Liberia. But ultimately, only the Liberian Government and the Liberian people can tackle corruption, fight for accountability and transparency, and move this country forward.”
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and former U.S. Ambassador to Liberia, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, recently struck a similar note, stating “Corruption is an act of robbery, plain and simple. It’s a cancer in our societies. It is government stealing from the people of Liberia, from the mouths of children…. Corruption is a democracy killer, and we cannot have that in a place like Liberia, which we’re counting on as a bulwark for Africa’s democracy.” Basically, integrity and character determine the path of a nation. Vibrant democracy cannot co-exist with rampant corruption, as one will root out the other.
Last year, the White House released the first-ever United States Strategy on Countering Corruption, which shines a spotlight on the insidious tendency of corruption to undermine development and increase the risk of violence and instability. That’s why President Biden has elevated the challenge of corruption as a U.S. national security priority.
President Biden assembled the world’s democracies this past December at the inaugural Summit for Democracy. At that Summit, President Weah made important pledges to amend the Anti-Corruption Act, establish a dedicated criminal court for corruption, promote fair and transparent elections, and push to make all legislative votes public. These are excellent commitments, and we encourage President Weah and the legislature to take steps to implement them as soon as possible to demonstrate progress before the second Summit for Democracy convenes early next year. There are areas ripe for examination when it comes to fighting corruption in Liberia, and I would like to call out the following areas for improvement.
- Asset declarations by public officials are required by the Code of Conduct here in Liberia. These are not complicated or difficult. For those public officials who complain that they are wrongly accused of corruption, the first question is, “have you complied with the code of conduct and officially declared your assets?” If not, why would we take your word for it? Declaring assets, as the Director of the LACC recently pledged to do, would also help answer related questions, such as “how are senior government officials, reported to have constructed mansions and apartment complexes in Liberia and elsewhere, affording such extravagances on government salaries?”
- Judicial and legislative independence are fundamental to the health of a democracy. Why do we regularly see stories in local media, and hear so often from Liberian officials themselves, that the integrity and independence of the judicial and legislative branches of government are routinely compromised by influence and pressure, including from the executive branch? As a Liberian NGO asked recently, why does the House of Congress refuse to undergo an audit of their finances, hold so many sessions closed to the public, and refrain from publishing their votes? I believe a new dedication by all branches of government to transparency and accountability would make a great impact on Liberian society.
- Integrity institutions are designed to strengthen the fabric of democracy in Liberia. But they require adequate funding and government support to fulfill their legal mandate. Instead, we are told repeatedly that Liberia’s integrity institutions suffer from inadequate budgets, cash flow interruptions and lack of government support that in many cases prevents them from meeting their mandate. Some of them even tell us that they are under political pressure to NOT fulfill their mandate. Many Liberians insist that integrity institutions do not prosecute politically connected defendants.
- Empowered local government is essential for addressing citizen needs and ensuring accountability for adequate public service delivery. Yet, despite the passage of the Local Government Act in 2018, why are county governments still not receiving timely and adequate funding from the central government?
- The Liberia National Police are severely understaffed and under-funded. Although police corruption may well exist, we have also heard of police officers asking victims or their families for gas money, not because they wish to enrich themselves but because their own government fails to provide the basic operational funding needed to fill a tank of gas to respond to emergencies. Although the Liberian government has announced plans to recruit 1,000 officers, the LNP has not yet received funds to start this desperately needed process. Each day’s delay maintains the status quo of insecurity in Liberia—and raises concerns that in the end, the recruitment process will be rushed and politically influenced, rather than a transparent process designed to train those who truly desire to serve and protect Liberia’s citizens.
As you know, power theft has been a major problem in Liberia, greatly impeding the country’s plans in the energy sector. I was very pleased at the emphatic, unequivocal words of President Weah last Wednesday, May 18 when he instructed his cabinet officials and the Chairman of the Board of LEC that he has zero tolerance for power theft, and LEC has his full authority to cut off electricity to any business or person who is stealing electricity, no matter who they know. It is only this kind of uncompromising determination that will break the power theft mentality once and for all.
As influencers over Liberia’s next generation, I want to encourage you to walk the walk and talk the talk. You are doing incredibly important work by laying the bedrock for a better society. Change starts with the individual, and every Liberian has a part to play in building up the nation on a foundation of integrity and character. I can assure you that the United States of America stands with all Liberians who refuse to give in to corruption. Guided by the new U.S. Strategy on Countering Corruption, we will support responsible governance; bolster Liberians in the government, civil society, and the private sector who are fighting for accountability and transparency; implement programs that build capacity in this area; and call out those who turn a blind eye or condone corruption and malfeasance.
In many ways, we have been providing this support for years. Whether through building capacity within the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission to investigate allegations of corruption; introducing digital systems at the Liberia Revenue Authority to reduce corruption risks and increase revenues; supporting Liberian journalists and media organizations to disseminate unbiased information and shine a light on corruption; or working with Liberian civil society organizations to advocate for reforms that enhance transparency and accountability, the U.S. Government has made substantial investments to promote integrity, transparency and accountability because we believe Liberia’s long-term development depends on a foundation of good governance and accountable institutions.
It is the students of today, with the help of those in this room, who will build that strong foundation. To help set the next generation on a path to success, we coordinate closely with the Ministry of Education and other development partners in Liberia to support evidence-based programs that improve learning in early grades and provide education and training for out-of-school youth. Because 70 percent of Liberians are under the age of 35, we are partnering with the Ministry of Youth and Sports to provide over 21,000 young people with the skills, experience, support, and relationships to productively engage with partners in their local economies, and to assist nearly 8,000 youth to transition to employment or start an enterprise.
Dr. Martin Luther King once said, “It is always the right time to do what is right.” Let’s take his sage advice to heart and join hands together in doing what is right today, tomorrow, and for generations to come.