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Cllr. Gongloe proposed lifestyle audit and tackling corruption in Liberia

Appearing on the Focus on Africa  Talk Show On Tuesday, the 24th of May 2022, Presidential aspirant Cllr. Tiawan Saye Gongloe named corruption, mainly in the public sector as one of the main reasons responsible for the backwardness of Liberia and its citizens.  According to him, the main cause of Liberia’s underdevelopment is due, in large part, to the collective failure of Liberians to work for, demand, and make the necessary hard choices and sacrifices for good governance. Cllr. Gongloe argued corruption has become so embedded in Liberia. He declared corruption a threat to national security, arguing that it was crippling the economic and social development of the country. 

In 2020, Transparency International rated Liberia as the fifth most corrupt country in Africa.  Liberia’s audit general office which tracks the spending of public funds has conducted numerous audit reports showing most of the funds spent by various government institutions over the years could not be properly accounted for.  Corruption in Liberia occurred through the diversion of public funds, irregular payments, unauthorized expenditures, staff fraud, and bribery denying the citizenry crucial services like access to affordable healthcare, employment, and affordable education for the country’s young ones, etc.  But Liberia has found its saving grace in a new model that  Cllr Gongloe is proposing which is quarterly Lifestyle Audits for the public employees which involve an intensive probe into their lifestyles in order to detect sudden and suspicious affluence that may suggest fraud. According to Cllr. Gongloe, the salaries, and benefits of the President and all officials of the government in the three branches of government shall be published, and that any official of the government that interferes with the functions of the police or any law enforcement officer shall, upon summary fact-finding, be immediately dismissed. Cllr. Gongloe argued that the chronic deficit of leadership characterized by greed, a thirst for illicit wealth, and self-interest, as opposed to the welfare of the nation, is a significant factor in the current state of Liberia. 

Countries like Kenya and South Africa have been carrying out lifestyle audits. Kenya for instance has embraced lifestyle audits as a means to reduce corruption in both the private and public sectors. Government institutions in Kenya audit their staff by comparing the lifestyle of such staff with their income, to reveal any inconsistencies. The Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) of Kenya 2008 took a financial controller who was earning Kenyan Sh306, 000 (USD2, 623.42) a month to court. The EACC said he owned seven houses or plots, four vehicles, six bank accounts (one in London), and had Kenyan Sh4 million (US$ 34,290.61) in cash in his house. In 2018, the Kenyan Government intensified the war on graft by announcing that all public servants will undergo a compulsory lifestyle audit to account for their sources of wealth. In an article published by the Katiba Institute, Kenya, on 27 June 2018, it was reported that various corruption scandals have been exposed and over 40 persons have been arrested as a result of corruption scandals resulting from lifestyle audits in Kenya.

In South Africa, the government has carried out lifestyle audits for the public sector to curb corruption and fraud. However, lifestyle audit in South Africa is not limited to the public sector as the South African Revenue Service (SARS) has been carrying out lifestyle audits on private individuals and using them for several criminal investigations. The SARS encourages members of the public to report people living a lifestyle beyond their known means of income. The SARS would usually ask the individual to fill out a questionnaire to aid them in their inquiry.

Lifestyle audits in Liberia as proposed by presidential aspirant Cllr. Tiawan Gongloe will tell us who in the public service has eaten what, who continues to eat, who is likely to eat, and what they like eating. The audits, too, are about how as citizens we will stop the elite from chopping/eating our resources, about ending corruption by public officers, and about the implementation of the vision of the Constitution as regards the integrity of such public servants. Lifestyle audits are solidly anchored in the Liberian Constitution. Chapter 11, Article 90(a) (b) provides for values of integrity, transparency, and accountability while Article 15(c) provides for the freedom of information. There are two specific statutes enacted by the legislature to implement the vision of the Constitution on integrity, transparency, accountability, and freedom of information. They are the National Code of Conduct for All Public Officials and Employees Act 2014; the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission Act (2008) (for effective implementation of Chapter 11 of the Constitution) and the Freedom of Information Act 2010 (for effective implementation of Article 15(c).

The objective of the Liberian Constitution and the statutes is to make public employees transparent and accountable to the Liberian public about their assets and liabilities. Undeniably, the mischief to be cured was dramatically revealed in April of 2022 when Cllr. Gongloe called on President Weah to disclose the source of funding for the barrage of properties accumulated and constructed following his ascendancy to the presidency for the sake of promoting accountability and transparency and in keeping with the public right to know as enshrined in the Liberian constitution. Cllr. Gongloe maintained that the manner and form in which the President acquired these properties remain one of the main reasons his assets were not published by the General Auditing Commission (GAC). President Weah refused to respond to Cllr. Gongloe’s request even though a forensic lifestyle audit could have settled the issue. 

Lifestyle audits are also about conspicuous consumption reflected in expenditures of expensive capitalist toys, travel, residential housing, skyscrapers, charity and philanthropy, investing abroad, food and booze, and day-to-day expenses incurred in carrying out a particular lifestyle. The audit seeks to find out where the money to sustain such lifestyles comes from. If it is found that it comes from raiding and stealing of public resources, that is, blatant corruption then the public officer is criminally liable. One critical value in the Constitution and the statutes enumerated here is the participation of the people.

Lifestyle audits cannot be credible, transparent, and accountable without vigorous participation from the public. Conducting lifestyle audits also on the  President, the Vice President, Senators, Representatives, Ministers, Judges, and every public official will be a project that will perhaps be a first in Liberia, and among only a very few in Africa. Making public the declarations of the wealth of the President, the Vice President, etc. will usher in robust public participation. There will be public debates about the declarations and their respective veracity. The audit team will, of course, conduct a forensic lifestyle audit and address the issue of the veracity and integrity of these declarations. There will be consequences arising from this exercise. If taxes have not been paid, the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA) can demand them.  

If we are serious about fighting corruption in our country, we have to take Gongloe’s proposals seriously and got to borrow a leaf from Kenya and South Africa. When that is done and properties gotten illegally are confiscated, the trust that exists between the masses and our leaders will improve. Corruption hinders the ability of the state to provide a better life for all its citizens and robs communities of water to drink, shelter for their families, the supply of textbooks for pupils, medical supplies to save lives, job-creating opportunities, and other basic necessities needed to live a life of prosperity. We must wage a fierce and fearless battle against this demon of corruption and remove it from the public service. Lifestyle audits are a powerful tool that will aid us in this fight and will put Liberia on a democratic trajectory of accountability and transparency in our politics

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The New Dawn is Liberia’s Truly Independent Newspaper Published by the Searchlight Communications Inc. Office is located on The UN Drive in Monrovia Liberia. The New Dawn is a bilingual (both English & French).
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