“Integrity Institutions Key To Liberia’s Progress” -US Ambassador -Calls for political will, more funding

MONROVIA – The United States Ambassador to Liberia Michael McCarthy has said the existence of the integrity institutions created at the end of the civil war to rebuild the nation’s democratic institutions and provide safeguards for protecting its democratic governance are key to the progress the country will make and called on the government to provide more funding to enable the institutions live up to the expectations for which they were created.

Ambassador McCarthy made the assertion yesterday, December 6, 2022 when he spoke to the media to report on the outcome of the series of visits he paid on the various integrity institutions in the country. He named the institutions as the Internal Audit Agency, General Auditing Commission, Financial Intelligence Agency, Public Procurement and Concessions Commission and the Liberia Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, adding “these were not my first meetings with integrity institutions, nor will they be my last”

He said one of the main reasons he took the visits was to assess whether the integrity institutions had seen improvements in accountable governance in the aftermath of the US Treasury Department sanctions announced in August that affected 3 top former government officials, namely messrs Nathaniel Farlo McGill, Bill Tweahway and Saymah Syrenius Cephas, former Minister of State for Presidential Affairs, Managing Director of the National Port Authority and Solicitor General respectively.

“Over the past 20 years, the United States and Liberia have worked together to build a prosperous Liberia for the future of all Liberians. After years of war, Liberians came together in 2003 to rebuild the nation’s democratic institutions, as well as safeguards for protecting its democratic governance. Chief among these safeguards were Liberia’s integrity institutions which were built, funded, and staffed with some of Liberia’s best and brightest minds. These institutions were created by law and designed to be shielded from political interference. In combination with a robust civil society environment and a vibrant free media, they give Liberia unique strengths in maintaining its democracy. As Liberia built its post-war foundation on democracy and the rule of law, the international community took notice and multinational businesses returned to Liberia’s shores, and GDP growth accelerated from 2003 to 2011.

“However, over the past decade, momentum shifted, and as Liberian leaders gave less political and financial support to the nation’s vital integrity institutions, the economy slowed, corruption increased, and international businesses began to look elsewhere for investment opportunities. I believe these trends are related, and that there is a direct correlation between the health of Liberia’s integrity institutions and the health of the Liberian economy. Well-functioning integrity institutions reflect a country’s commitment to the rule of law, giving both foreign and domestic investors the confidence they need to invest and keep their money in Liberia and to lay the foundation for Liberia’s future prosperity. Liberia’s economic potential remains enormous, but this will not be realized without the accountable democratic governance that Liberia’s integrity institutions are meant to promote”, he said.

On the issue of funding, Ambassador McCarthy said the institutions need more resources to fulfill their legal matters adding that on the visits, he found out  that for the most part, the integrity institutions are_staffed by hard-working, dedicated people motivated to make Liberia a better country. “Unfortunately, I also saw that many of these essential organizations have much smaller budgets than they enjoyed years ago, and even less purchasing power, thanks to inflation and to make matters worse, most of them never receive the full amount appropriated to them by the legislature”

“If the goal is for more efficient, effective governance and genuine oversight of service delivery, I strongly encourage the Legislature to increase the budgets of these institutions. But at the véry least, the Legislature should exercise its rightful fiscal oversight authority by ensuring that the; amount appropriated to these organizations is the amount they actually receive. In Liberia’s constitution, only the Legislature has the power of the purse — the Executive Branch (through the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning) is responsible for distributing funds to government entities through “allotments,” but has no authority to alter the amount determined by the legislature in the annual budget”, he said

The tough talking Ambassador said his last take on the integrity institutions is that they cannot succeed without robust political backing for their work. He noted that democracies are only as strong as their institutions that provide checks and balances, and Liberia’s integrity institutions are vital to curbing corruption and ensuring good governance. “We have a saying in America that “you have to put your money where your mouth is,” meaning, in this context, that Liberia’s leaders can show their support of their integrity institutions by backing up their words with funding and actions”, he said. 

“It is one thing to say you support the work of public auditors, but it is another to allow full and complete audits, and to respond to the deficiencies they uncover. It is one thing to say you support corruption investigations, but it is another to allow investigations to be undertaken without political  interference. It is one thing to say you want transparency in Liberia’s extractive industries, but it is another to publicly disclose all government extractive industry concession and exploration agreements and revenue, publicly calling out illegal actors. It is one thing to support the Code of Conduct, but it is another to enforce compliance with asset declaration requirements.

“By now, I think you get my point, and I will conclude by saying that Liberia’s integrity institutions urgently need political will to fulfill their mandates. Integrity institution leaders told me that U.S. Global Magnitsky sanctions have given them more breathing room to fulfill their mandates; however, they need more than just breathing room, they need the full backing of Liberia’s political leaders. In this election year, I urge Liberia’s leaders to be bold in support of Liberia’s integrity institutions, as their fate will strongly influence the fate of the nation”, he said.

The Ambassador did not only discussed about the integrity institutions and their role in strengthening our nascent democracy but also have some good news for the government as he acknowledged significant improvements from the management of the Liberia Electricity Corporation (LEC) and the National Port Authority(NPA)

“It was a year and a half ago that others and I began to raise the alarm about the theft of more than half of the electricity that the LEC produces. I am pleased today to recognize LEC’s efforts to regularize accounts and distribute transformers and meters, bringing many customers into compliance. There are still too many consumers who are not paying their fair share, but the outlook is better today than it was, and we encourage the LEC to continue all efforts to ensure its financial sustainability by eliminating the scourge of electricity theft.

“I would also like to take this moment to single out the impressive progress made by the new Managing Director of the National Port Authority of Liberia. In only two months, she has already streamlined operations, reduced ghost employees, and helped accelerate the dredging project at the Freeport of Monrovia, allowing larger ships to enter the port, which helps lower the unit costs of imports. Her administrative reforms have brought new life to infrastructure planning across the country, and she is examining options to improve facilities at all four ports. The new Managing Director is an example of what a difference leadership can make, and what can happen when senior officials are fully focused on their portfolios”, he concluded.

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