Liberia’s integrity institutions starved of funds
-Says U.S. Ambassador McCarthy
United States Ambassador to Liberia, Michael McCarthy, urges that in this election year, Liberia’s leaders should be bold in supporting integrity institutions in the country, warning that their fate will strongly influence the fate of the nation.
Ambassador McCarthy also underscores that Liberia’s integrity institutions urgently need political will to fulfill their mandates and discloses that leaders of integrity institutions have informed him that the U.S. Global Magnitsky sanctions of corrupt officials have given them more breathing room to fulfill their mandates.
However, he not in a press roundtable statement posted here Wednesday, December 21, 2022 on the U.S. Embassy’s official website that more than just breathing room, integrity institutions need full backing of Liberia’s political leaders.
He says it is one thing for leaders to say they support the work of public auditors, but it is another to allow full and complete audits, and to respond to the deficiencies they uncover just as it is one thing to claim to support corruption investigations and yet 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”, Amb. McCarthy further explains.
The Ambassador’s statement followed visits to several integrity institutions and meeting with leaders and employees of those institutions, including the Internal Audit Agency, General Auditing Commission, Financial Intelligence Agency, the Public Procurement and Concessions Commission, and the Liberia Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.
It also comes following U.S. President Joe Biden’s recent U.S. Africa Leaders Summit in Washington attended by President George Weah and other leaders on the Continent to discuss democratic governance, free, fair and peaceful elections, transparency and accountability, among others.
“One of my purposes for this recent round of meetings”, Mr. McCarthy explains, “was to assess whether the integrity institutions had seen improvements in accountable governance in the aftermath of the U.S. Treasury Department sanctions announced in August.”
He outlines three takeaways from those engagements notably; that Liberia will not prosper without well-functioning integrity institutions; that Liberia’s integrity institutions need more resources and that integrity institutions cannot succeed without political will.
The Ambassador also reveals that during these visits, he observedthat for the most part, the integrity institutions are staffed by hard-working, dedicated people motivated to make Liberia a better country, but that unfortunately, many of them have much smaller budgets than they enjoyed years ago, and even less purchasing power.
He says to make matters worse, most of them never receive the full amount appropriated to them by the legislature, noting that starved of funds and unsure whether, or when, they will receive their next allotment, they are nowhere near as effective as they should be.
The U.S. Envoy continues that in some cases, funding shortfalls are more than fifty percent of the amount granted to integrity institutions in the national budget, and that in many cases, these funding gaps lead to major cuts in operational funds, leaving them without fuel for vehicles or laptops for investigations and audits.
“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 very 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.”
He observes that in Constitution of Liberia, only the Legislature has the power of the purse of National Budget, as 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.
Yet he notes that in many cases, budgeted amounts are changed, and allocations are further reduced, often without prior input from the Legislature.
“I call on Liberia’s legislative and executive branches to work together to ensure that Liberia’s budgets, which have the force of law, are honored, and that Liberia’s integrity institutions receive their full budget appropriations”, Amb. McCarthy urges and hopes that Liberian lawmakers are regularly meeting with the Ministry of Finance to ensure that government expenditures are in line with national budget appropriations, while also urging lawmakers and civil society to hold the government accountable for any deviations.
He emphasizes 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, so leaders in Liberia can show support of integrity institutions by backing up their words with funding and actions.
He recalls that over the past 20 years, the United States and Liberia have worked together to build a prosperous Liberia for the future of all Liberians, and that after the civil conflict, Liberians came together in 2003 to re-build the nation’s democratic institutions, as well as safeguards for protecting its democratic governance, chief among which were the country’s integrity institutions that were built, funded, and staffed with some of Liberia’s best and brightest minds.
He says these institutions were created by law and designed to be shielded from political interference, and that in combination with a robust civil society environment and a vibrant free media, they give Liberia unique strengths in maintaining its democracy, as the country 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.
But Amb. McCarthy observes that 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.
He says 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, stressing “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.”
According to the Ambassador, 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. Story by Jonathan Browne