The recently appointed and confirmed Executive Chairman of the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC), Cllr. Edwin Kla Martin yesterday, Thursday, July 22, 2021, took over the mantle of leadership at the institution with a strong vow to wage the fight against corruption beyond borders.
Speaking at the turn over ceremony held at the Headquarters of the LACC, Cllr. Martin said his appointment at Liberia’s foremost anti-corruption institution will mark a new trajectory to combat corruption that has become a cancer in the country, impeding the development and progress of the nation.
“As we take on this new mantle of authority, it is our responsibility to inform the general public that any person in the past or the present that have actually invalidated the definition of corruption will not be exempted from prosecution. I have mandated the LACC to conduct an investigation of ministries, agencies, commissions, private houses, etc who have willfully selected to squander public resources for their selfish gain”, Martin said.
He said if any of these are found culpable, such people will be immediately arrested and charged according to law.
Cllr Martin told the audience that he will be emphatic to urge all past and present government officials who have mismanaged, misapplied and stolen public funds to immediately restitute the same. He also said that the same call goes to private individuals who also fall in a similar category.
To demonstrate his seriousness about going all out against those whom he said have robbed this country, Cllr. Martin gave information of a special account opened at the Central Bank of Liberia for those who want to restitute their loot to deposit the same. He gave the details as, Bank Name- Central Bank of Liberia, Account Name- Assets Recovery Account and Account number – 1602003653.
The new LACC boss said that the period for voluntary restitution starts from August 1 and ends November 30, 2021 and warned that at the end of the period there will be unannounced public arrest of defaulters to be carried out whether in their offices, homes or their secret hide-outs.
He vowed that the LACC under his watch will collaborate with other relevant government institutions as well as external partners, to extradite all those who are under investigation or charged and escape the country so as to face justice. He added that all those under investigation will be barred from travelling out of the country until they are cleared of all outstanding arrears with the state.
Cllr Martin who is the fourth substantive Chairman of LACC to be appointed and confirmed since the institution was created by an Act of the legislature in 2008, stated that by law, no other body has the right by law to investigate corruption and such arrangement should desist immediately.
“Additionally, I want to categorically restate that the LACC has the sole responsibility by law to investigate corruption, and no other agency is authorized to do so. As such, all security agencies in the habit of investigating corrupt cases are ordered to desist from doing so”, he said.
He extended thanks and appreciation to all donor agencies for the level of support rendered to LACC in the past and made a passionate appeal for support to make the institution viable to be able to combat corruption in the country. He stated that any assistance offered by the agency will be properly accounted for.
In conclusion, he called on the civil society groups, the Press Union of Liberia, women groups, labor union, students and other groups to provide useful information that will help LACC to build cases that dwell on corruption and other criminal activities. He said any information given will be treated as confidential and the source will be protected.
Earlier in his welcome remarks, the Commissioner in charge of Education and Prevention, George Dahn said he was excited that the transition at LACC has come to an end, stressing that during the period before Cllr. Martin’s arrival, the agency passed through some trying times but it remained steadfast and resilient. He extolled the leadership quality of Cllr. Kanio Bai Gbala, Vice Chairman, who acted as Chairman during the transition period.
He told the new Chairman that his assumption came with huge responsibility and expertise and therefore he should endeavor to take LACC to the new height of excellence and public confidence. He assured the boss of the unflinching support from the staff.
In his brief turn over statement, Cllr Kanio Bai Gbala, said he was elated to welcome on board someone he sees as an experienced expertise, a teacher and an elder brother who is joining LACC with a wealth of knowledge that will reinforce the resolve of the agency to combat corruption in the country.
He used the occasion to give account of his stewardship during the short period he acted as Chairman stating how he fought to restore public confidence in the works of the commission after public perception of it became so negative outside.
He also told the audience about the restoration of the relationship between the agency and the Liberia National Bar Association and the Press Union of Liberia which became dormant during the trying times of the commission. He said with the restoration, the two foremost forerunners against corruption have joined the LACC with renewed vigor to be strategic partners in raiding the country of corruption and other criminal activities.
“During the period we were able to build on regional ties with the hope we can bring the expertise to the LACC. Towards that end, we honor an invitation from the Anti-Corruption Commission in Sierra Leone through the Chairman, Ben Khafala to pay a working visit and as I was sharing with my big brother, to see the extraordinary things Chairman Khafala was accomplishing in Sierra Leone, and it is that learning and vision that can benefit LACC under your leadership”, Cllr. Gbala said.
Cllr. Gbala also said that he was able to reawaken the support of international partners who in the past gave huge assistance to LACC but declined doing so for the past two years or so. He said as the result of the renewed partnership, an amount of $500,000.00 in grant has been secured towards using technology to fight corruption.
The young lawyer also said among other things, what he considered as the most outstanding achievements were the national legislature accepting to work on a number of legislations proposed by the President that will strengthen the combat against corruption in the country such as giving prosecutorial powers to the LACC and the whistleblowers protection bill.
Amid thunderous cheers, he said information garnered from Capitol Building says that the lower house has passed all the proposals awaiting the senate concurrence.
Solicitor General of Liberia, Cllr. Saymah Syrenius Cephas who graced the occasion said he was happy for the appointment of Cllr. Martin as head of the LACC because he believes he is eminently qualified and competent to perform the task for which the President found it befitting for the job. He said he was opportune to have travelled with Cllr Martin to a number of countries in the sub-region and was wondering why it was hard for Liberia to accomplish similar feats fighting corruption like other countries.
He disclosed that the Liberia Asset Recovery Committee under his leadership has been able to secure forfeiture of $8 million in the UK on behalf of the government of Liberia from funds looted by some unscrupulous persons in the past. He said the money will be repatriated to the country to be used for development.
Also speaking at the program, a representative of the Center for Transparency and Accountability in Liberia (CENTAL) called on the government to fast track the appointment of the full bench of commissioners at LACC so as to enable them to effectively work. He said as it stands, only 3 commissioners out of 5 have been appointed and the imbalance is seriously affecting the functions of the commission.
For his part, the President of the Press Union of Liberia said that he was happy for the new development at LACC and pledged the support of the media to make the work of the agency easier. He said the restoration of the relationship between LACC and PUL will serve as an impetus for collective waging of war against corruption.