“Give Us the Teeth to Bite” -LACC Boss Tells National Legislature

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The Liberia’s Anti- Corruption Commission (LACC), the nation’s chief anti-graft institution, has underscored limited budgetary support as the major stumbling block standing in the way of fighting corruption in the country.

“The LACC has a limited budget of $1million. This amount does not allow us to move in a way that would be so robust in fighting corruption across the country,” LACC’s Acting Executive Chairperson Director Cllr. Kanio Gba-Gbala told the legislature joint public accounts committee.”

The LACC boss also asked for both financial and legislative support in order to effectively fight the crime in the country.

Cllr. Gbala did not say how much money the commission needs to successfully combat and eradicate corruption within the public sector, a vice in the Liberian society infamously regarded as “public enemy number one.”

In December 2018, the General Auditing Commission, Liberia’s leading public audit agency which issues findings of periodic reports on the operation of government institutions and agencies, outlined a number of problems confronting the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC), including other public agencies and institutions.

Among other things, the GAC’s corruption risk assessment audit findings underlined weakness in coordination and information sharing at the LACC, including no asset disclosure, no sanctions for non-asset disclosure, limited budget for the commission, inadequate monitoring and evaluation, etcetera, etcetera.

Following the issuance of the report, the Liberian legislature reacted by preparing a list of communications, inviting several public agencies named on the report to come and provide answers on what has been reported by the GAC. Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission is amongst public institutions that had been summoned by lawmakers.

The Liberian constitution gives the legislature oversight responsibility to carry out such inquiry as provided for under its oversight function. The GAC concluded in its report that the Government must do all it can to fund the LACC in order to robustly fight corruption in the country.

“We are here to give you give due process based on information that has been provided in the GAC risk assessment report,” Head of the Legislature’s joint public accounts committee Senator J. Emmanuel Nuquay said during Wednesday’s public hearing.

He said the hearing would benefit all parties concerned, as the process is expected to yield greater transparency and accountability relative to how public officials are managing public resources. “As a matter of fact, the process of accountability is in all of interest,” Nuquay said.

Liberia’s fight against corruption has been repeatedly undermined by the lack of political will in prosecuting corrupt officials, coupled with the issues of limited or scarce resources for the Commission to take charge of the battle to end the practice within the public sphere, according to previous media reports which quote Transparency International, an anti-corruption global watchdog.

From time-to-time, corruption has undermined Liberia’s political, economic, social and environmental regimes, also eroding public trust and confidence in those who lead public sector governance.

Wednesday’s hearing, like previous anti-corruption deliberations, was no exception in highlighting these points.

In particular, LACC Acting Executive Director Kanio Gba-Gbala expressed the Commission’s willingness in fighting corruption, though with a strong caveat that the necessary funding must be sought  in order to succeed in tightening grip on the vice.

“The Commission wants to vigorously fight corruption but our limited budget cannot allow us to decentralize our work in a manner that would require us to be as effective as it is required of us,” Cllr. Gbala said.

In spite of the situation, he said the LACC has already started to design other means to get things done. “As a team, and as a commission, we have started to act on those issues raised at the LACC,” the LACC boss said in response when asked about the commission’s commitment in fighting corruption.”

Despite spending just a little over a year at the LACC, Acting Executive Director(ED) Gbala assured the committee of administration’s commitment to improving the fight against corruption.

“With your backing and support, distinguished members of the Legislature’s joint Public Accounts committee, we are willing and ready to decentralize our activities to other parts of the country.”

Cllr. Gbala disclosed that the Commission is currently on drafting what he referred to as a powerful legislation that would tackle a broad range of problems confronting the LACC, including giving the anti-graft agency prosecutorial powers, nothing “there’re no problems without solutions.”

Expounding on the specifics of the key findings contained in the GAC’s audit report, Cllr. Gbala promised to delve into those issues and would address them on a gradual basis.

Responding to the committee’s inquiries on the issue of inadequate sensitization and limited intervention to fight corruption in the country, Cllr. Gbala replied to members of the Public Accounts Committee: “We made a notification to specific areas that we told our donors that we want to embark. They include LEC, LIS, and the LNP.

Relative to the issue of the commission putting in place a corruption prevention system, Cllr. Gbala also indicated to lawmakers: “It goes back to the issue of corruption assessment because we need to have an idea on the threshold. The preventative aspect is about manpower. We need preposition around staffing, preposition around legal framework.

What we are doing however is to create more public awareness. We look for preventive mechanisms. Indeed, the legislation we are drafting would resolve some of these issues in the soonest possible time.”

Regarding a report on the creation of social awareness on corruption, Cllr. Gbala responded: “We do this frequently. As a matter of fact, we have regularly engaged churches and Mosques, ‘hatai’ centers. The challenge we have now is the issue of limited resources to continue this nationwide.”

Cllr. Gbala: “We participated in a meeting a few months ago. But generally, we have been engaged in sectoral meetings. As we move forward, we will be reenergizing this front as we move along the way.”

On the creation of a corruption monitoring mechanism system, another key area of the GAC findings, he told the committee how the Commission is responding to this concern.

“There has to be some kind of monitoring asset disclosure and verification. We are still at a point of creating more awareness among public officials that they need to declare assets; we are still struggling to have public officials declare their assets. Since, 2014, we have had almost 400 such cases. Again, there are budgetary constraints to all of this.”

Cllr. Gbala, who began his cross-examination with an overview of his administration’s plan asserted: “When we came to the commission, one of the first things we did was to do an institutional assessment. We came to the realization that we needed to do a national strategy. To do this, we needed to have a national conference. We need to know what to do in order to respond to these things. Finally, we have a huge draft legislation which we are going to submit to the President. This legal framework would include and address all those issues you raised.”

He said the Commission currently has an investigative staff of around 30%, which include the legal and prosecution department, and the administrative department. “We need more investigators, more accountants to come over at the LACC.”

When talking about reaching to the Legislature to smoothen the Commission’s work, Cllr. Gbala admitted not doing so at least for time being. However, moving forward, he renewed his commitment to meeting the committee in a timely and gradual manner.

On the issue of the commission not imposing sanctions on corrupt public officials, Cllr. Gbala replied to the Committee and said: “Our approach has been socialization of the sanctions. But, having done this for some time and without result, we are now at a point where we can safely say that it’s time to create compelling compliance.”

He also commented on why the LACC has not been sanctioning public officials as expected. “I see this as a responsibility for public service. We are not vigorously going after people because we need to make public officials understand that this is public responsibility, but that does not mean that we will not go after people to fight corruption.”

In conclusion, Cllr. Gbala informed the committee that, “When we took over as Acting Executive Director of the LACC, we decided to task ourselves on which national agenda to pursue. Based on this set objective, we selected several government institutions in the fight against corruption, also based on the limited funding we have. As a matter of fact, we just received US$1million for the African Development Bank (AfDB), but the amount is going to go toward the limited targeted projects that we have earmarked and selected. In our new plans, we proposed decentralization of the LACC. There’s a challenge for monitoring. We don’t have money in the budget to be deployed all over the country.”

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