By: Sylvester Choloplay

Liberia: A Conglomeration of Liberian Civil Society Organizations are calling on President George Mammeh Weah to reject and veto a bill passed by the Liberian Legislature intended to give persecutorial power to the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission or the LACC.
The CSOs include: National Civil Society Council of Liberia (NCSCL), Naymote Partners for Democratic Development, Center for Transparency and Accountability in Liberia (CENTAL), Integrity Watch Liberia (IWL), Institute for Research and Democratic Development (IREDD), and Accountability Lab Liberia.
The Group said the bill which has been amended and passed by both houses of the Liberian Legislature has some contradictions from the original version with recommendations from civil society organizations.   
According to them, section 11.4 of the LACC Act passed by the Liberian Legislature says the Commission has prosecutorial power but can exercise the same only after 90 days if the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) does not act on the case (s) received from the Commission.
The group revealed that direct prosecutorial power, without any strings attached, would empower the Commission to timely and decisively act on corruption cases that have been thoroughly investigated, with available pieces of evidence pointing to probable cause for indictment and subsequent prosecution of those involved/implicated.
The Civil Society Groups are at the same time urging the Liberian Legislature to rescind its decision and do the needful, by acting in public interest and not in the interest of those perennially stealing public resources and subjecting Liberians to extreme hardship, despite the country being naturally endowed.

Speaking at a press conference in Monrovia, the Executive Director for Integrity Watch Liberia, Mr. Harold Marvin Aidoo said the CSOS disagreement and disappointment in the actions of the House of Representatives and the Liberian Senate is based on the dissolution of the Commission and the creation of reputational issues and unnecessary financial liabilities for the Government.

“Based on a careful review of what the Lower House passed on and concurred with by the Liberian Senate yesterday on July 21, 2022, we like to express our deep disappointment about the decision and inform the general public that the action of the Legislature is generally not in good faith, as it undermines robustness and effectiveness of the LACC than strengthening it.

The amendment proposed by the President sought to make a simple amendment to the 2008 LACC Act to grant the Commission direct power to prosecute. What the Legislature has passed on repeals the law instead of amending it.

Unfortunately, also, it seeks to re-establish LACC or create an entirely new Commission, which will effectively get rid of all existing commissioners and staffs.
“Of course, this action will have serious financial and legal implications for the government that is already struggling for resources, when it should be directing much-needed resources to basic social services and other programs and activities that will directly improve the lives of the people. This will effectively get rid of all staffs, including Commissioners, thereby requiring re-staffing of the new Commission as well as payment of Commissioners and contract staffs for the full duration of their remaining tenures and contracts with the Liberian Government”, Mr. Aidoo intoned.
He said the bill limits the powers of LACC and citizens’ access to information and transparency and accountability of LACC to the public and stakeholders.
“The New Act limits the power of the Commission, as provided for in section 4.1 e of the 2008 Act of the Commission. The old law allows LACC “to cause the freezing of assets of a person or persons being investigated or prosecuted for alleged act or acts of corruption; provided the freezing of asset or assets of any accused person or persons is, at all times, authorized by a prior order or warrant issued by a Court of competent jurisdiction.
Unfortunately, the new instrument waters down said power in section 4.1e by restricting such freeze action to person (s) representing flight risk or those who has/have actually fled the bailiwick of the Republic of Liberia”, Mr. Aidoo asserted.
Mr. Aidoo said the Act amended by the Liberian Legislature is in violation of Article 20 of the United Nations Convention on corruption, which calls for state parties to work assiduously to confiscate assets of public officials that are gotten through illicit means.
“This is in violation of Article 20 of the United Nations Convention on corruption, which calls for state parties to work assiduously to confiscate assets of public officials that are gotten through illicit means.
The new act calls for seven (7) Commissioners, instead of the original five (5).

“This is a fundamental mistake. Serious countries around the world are struggling to reduce decision-making bottlenecks at anti-graft institutions by appointing a chairperson and a deputy, while Liberia is moving to create a bloated anti-graft office where seven (7) presidential appointees enjoy public resources for performing tasks that even four or five persons can do more effectively”, Mr. Aidoo concluded.

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