By Othello B. Garblah
It has been exactly two weeks since the United States Treasury Department designated three Liberian officials under the current Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) administration for acts of corruption.
Minister of State Nathaniel McGill, National Port Authority Director Bill Twehway, and Solicitor General Syrenius Cephus are among the first batch of more than two dozen allegedly corrupt officials within Weah’s administration to be punished for stealing the Liberian people’s money under the Global Magnitsky Act.
Although President George Weah has suspended the trio, followed by McGill penning a lengthy letter to Weah requesting to be furnished with evidence of his crimes, the debate about the sanction continues unabated and arguments unimaginable.
During these debates, there have been claims and counterclaims about the sanction, its effects on the designated persons, and its implications on the country and the entire Weah administration.
The Magnitsky Act, formally known as the Russia and Moldova Jackson–Vanik Repeal and Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012, is a bipartisan bill passed by the U.S. Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama in December 2012.
It was originally intended to punish Russian officials responsible for the death of Russian tax lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky in a Moscow prison in 2009 and to grant permanent normal trade relations status to Russia.
US Congress upgraded the Global Magnitsky Act in 2016, which is the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, allowing the U.S. government to sanction foreign government officials implicated in human rights abuses anywhere in the world, freeze their assets, and ban them from entering the U.S.
The Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, E.O. 13818 was issued on December 20, 2017. This was in recognition that the prevalence of human rights abuse and corruption that have their source, in whole or in substantial part, outside the United States had reached such scope and gravity as to threaten the stability of international political and economic systems.
Meanwhile, since its inception, about 243 individuals and entities, from 28 countries, have been designated for involvement in corruption or serious human rights abuse.
The overall general objective of the Act or sanction is to achieve U.S. foreign policy objectives. This is spearheaded by the Counter Threat Finance and Sanctions division (TFS).
TFS builds international support for the implementation of economic sanctions, provides foreign policy guidance to the Department of Treasury and Department of Commerce on sanctions implementation, and engages with Congress on legislation that advances U.S. foreign policy goals in these areas.
As in the words of US Ambassador Michael McCarthy, “These designations reflect our commitment to implementing the United States Strategy on Countering Corruption.”
Thus, while it is true that the sanction is not directly targeted at Weah’s administration or the country but these designated individuals, it inversely affects the reputation of the CDC government implying that corruption is at its zenith.
The argument that these designated individuals can contest the sanction in a court of competent jurisdiction does not apply in this instant case.
The Act under which these individuals and others to be named are being punished is a bipartisan act with foreign policy intent. On the other hand, this could be a wake-up call to President Weah that is if he truly wants to fight corruption.
President Weah rather than toying with the danger ahead of his administration as the noose of sanction hangs over key members should seize the moment and start removing square pigs from round holes.
According to Amb. McCarthy, “the U.S. government has taken this extraordinary step because extraordinary steps are necessary to tackle the cancer of corruption in Liberia. But ultimately it will be up to Liberians and Liberian leaders to take full advantage of this opportunity, and to make the kind of fundamental changes that perhaps are more possible now because of these sanctions than they were yesterday.”
In this regard, the sanction move by the US Treasury Department should be seen as complementing the fight against corruption here since our anti-graft institutions are not well-equipped or are still struggling to be void of conflict of interests.