I was a member of the 52nd Legislature when the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) was established on August 28, 2008. Our decision to create this institution was influenced by two factors: (1) the demand by some international partners for the establishment of an integrity institution to deal with issues of corruption as a precondition for aid, and (2) the consciousness of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and the lawmakers that the lack of successful prosecutions exacerbated official corruption and promoted impunity. Under part II of the Act, we defined acts of corruption as bribery, embezzlement, extortion, fraud, influence peddling, insider trading, misuse of entrusted public property and vested authority, and any economic and financial crimes which are now provided for under the Penal Code of Liberia, or may, hereafter, be defined and enacted. We went further under Section 5.2 (b) of the LACC Act to empower the institution to investigate any person irrespective of office or status, natural or otherwise if the conduct of the person(s) constitutes corruption.
The legislature was also fully cognizant of the broader historical consequences of corruption and the culture of impunity. We understood that the struggle between the Progressives (PAL, MOJA …) and the ruling True Whig Party in the 70s and early 80s was based on corruption – real or perceived. We also realized that Master Sergeant Samuel K. Doe and the PRC summarily executed President William R. Tolbert and thirteen government officials because of what they termed as rampant corruption. Mr. Charles G. Taylor started a rebellion against the Doe government in 1989 because of alleged corruption while the LURD and MODEL created the condition for Taylor’s departure because of corruption. Simply put, we knew that corruption was the underlining factor that led to the civil war which took away the lives of more than two hundred and fifty thousand Liberians.
As a member of the Judiciary Committee, I was particularly concerned about the huge task we were assigning to the Commission in the wake of historical complexities. How could we give teeth to the Commission? What should be the fate of LACC investigative reports? What role should the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) play in criminal procedures bordering on LACC findings? How can we make the LACC fearless in a post-war society where some of the violators may still have blood on their hands? We struggled to answer these questions by conducting several public hearings. The bill was read three times in plenary but we still did not adequately address the authority of the commission to prosecute. As a matter of fact, Section 5.2 (d) of the Act instructs the LACC to cause prosecutions in coordination with the Ministry of Justice. By not defining the scope of coordination between the LACC and the MOJ, we erroneously left the prosecutorial power to the MOJ. We also overlooked the material fact that decision makers at the Ministry of Justice are holding their offices at the pleasure of the President in keeping with Article 56 (a) of the 1986 Constitution.
Now after fourteen years of existence, the LACC is once again under the blades of political surgeons. They are piercing its organs with the hope of curing the malady of corruption. They are promising to correct the errors of the past government by strengthening the LACC prosecutorial power. The Senate recently concurred with the House of Representatives on the passage of an Act To Amend And Restate An Act To Establish The Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission And To Re-Establish The Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission. This bill is currently before the President where any of the below outcomes may conclude the debate on the LACC:
1. The President could sign the new LACC bill into law;
2. Alternatively, he could leave the bill on his desk without any action and the new LACC bill will automatically become law after twenty (20) days, unless the legislature by adjournment prevents it;
3. The President could veto the entire bill (or certain items). It will then go back to the House in which it originated for further deliberations (in the LACC matter, the bill will go back to the House of Representatives);
4. A vote of two-thirds of the membership of each House can override the President’s veto. They could do this by the passage of the LACC bill; Finally,
5. The lawmakers could pass a new version that takes into consideration the President’s veto. Or, in the worst case, they could just send the new LACC bill to committee room for the second time and encourage the committee members to kill the bill by not reporting to plenary and the Speaker never placing the matter on the agenda.
In any case, the real benefit will come at the end of the process if the LACC’s power to prosecute is unimpeded. Government lawyers should also look at the issue of whether or not the tenure of the current commissioners as provided under Section 6.6 of the 2008 Act can be quashed by the restatement and re-establishment of the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC).
Amb. Rufus Dio Neufville is the Executive Director of the People Action Network (PAN-Liberia) and a former Member of the House of Representatives, Republic of Liberia. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.