On behalf of the U.S. Embassy, I am very pleased to be here with you all today. I thank the Center for Security Studies and Development for the invitation to speak about the important topic of corruption and the way forward to address it here in Liberia.
We are all very much aware of the realities of corruption in Liberia. The country is now in the bottom 25 percent of nations globally in the Corruption Perceptions Index. A recent report by the Center for Transparency and Accountability in Liberia showed that 90 percent of Liberians rate the level of corruption as high, and nearly two-thirds of Liberians lack faith in the government’s commitment to fight corruption.
Corruption diverts public resources from necessary improvements in the quality and accessibility of crucial services, inhibits foreign investment, dampens prospects for private sector-led economic growth, and undermines the rule of law. It also blunts the effectiveness and impact of the billions of dollars of U.S. government assistance provided since the end of the civil war. This is one reason why the Biden-Harris Administration launched a new U.S. Strategy for Countering Corruption, signaling our renewed commitment to focus on addressing this problem in countries like Liberia.
I commend the Center for Security Studies and Development for bringing all of us together today to focus on corruption and how it is standing in the way of Liberia’s development. I also commend the Center for producing Liberia’s First Civil Society Report on the Implementation of the UN Convention Against Corruption. It is full of important findings and critical recommendations.
Today’s workshop is titled, “Strategizing to Ensure Speedy Passage of the Anti-Corruption Bills Submitted to the National Legislature by the Executive.” This is not just an important topic, but also a fitting one as there are important anti-corruption bills being developed and I encourage the lawmakers present here today to give them timely and considered attention. I hope the day ahead is fruitful in putting together a plan for action to move these important initiatives forward.
At the same time, it is critical that attention is paid to implementing those laws which are already in existence. Passing new legislation will help, but it is lack of political will to fight corruption that is the real reason why corruption is such a powerful force in Liberia today. Liberia’s Public Financial Management Act has established solid financial management reporting requirements for government entities. In addition, Liberia’s Code of Conduct requires that public officials declare their assets. Unfortunately, many of these requirements – including issuing basic financial statements – are routinely ignored by government entities.
These statements are an essential step to account for resources. They are an important first measure to prevent and control financial mismanagement and corruption. The absence of these foundational documents opens the door to corrupt practices. In addition, we have seen that the good audit work conducted by the General Auditing Commission, which flags possible areas of corruption, often goes ignored by the legislature and the government.
We encourage more robust oversight of all levels of government to uphold standards of accountability as defined under Liberian law. When corruption is uncovered, the responsible parties should be prosecuted – again as defined under Liberian law.
In the end, if we are not serious about prosecuting those alleged to have committed crimes of public corruption and truly holding each other accountable, our collective development initiatives, no matter how well-intentioned and properly designed, will fail to produce sustainable results.
I would like to highlight that in some areas there is important work being done. In particular, I congratulate the Internal Audit Agency and the General Auditing Commission for their diligence in conducting audits and in producing high-quality audit reports. These watchdog organizations play a critical role in identifying irregularities and potential corruption.
Unfortunately, there is no follow-up on these audit reports and there are rarely any legislative hearings about audit findings as required under existing Liberian law. This is truly a missed opportunity.
As I speak today, we are halfway through the “Year of Action” following U.S. President Biden’s first Summit for Democracy. The summit, held in December 2021, brought together democratic leaders from around the world, including Liberia, to recommit to strengthening democratic principles and practices. A key theme of the summit was the importance of combatting corruption which President Biden has stated is “nothing less than a national security threat in the 21st”
President Weah participated in this Summit for Democracy and, like the leaders from the United States and other countries around the world, he committed Liberia to implementing key pledges including amending the Anti-Corruption Act to grant direct prosecutorial powers; proposing legislation for establishment of an anti-corruption court; and committing to fairness, transparency and accountability in election funding. These commitments are commendable, but it is not enough to commit. The commitments must be implemented. Or as we like to say, “Actions speak louder than words.”
This year of action is a key opportunity in Liberia for government – as well as civil society and the private sector – to work together to cultivate a democracy based on integrity and accountability that delivers for all Liberians. The United States Government continues to be firmly committed to assisting you in these efforts.