Dear Fellow Compatriots:
In recent weeks, the pages of newspapers and the airwaves of radio and television stations have been saturated with talk about corruption in Liberia. On buses and in taxis, on campus in on market grounds – and even in churches the talk often turns to corruption. Institutions, public and private, some created to fight corruption and are expected to be more judicious and circumspect in their utterances, have joined the fray. Some have claimed that corruption is “undermining the government”, etc.
All of such utterances and loose talk could otherwise be understandable if those who make them could provide facts, real facts, to support their claims. Unfortunately and shamefully they do not, simply because they do not have the facts; they peddle gossips and innuendos, falsehoods, and hearsays. The tragedy, too, is that the public, our Liberian public, seems often unable decipher the truth from the mountain of falsehoods, or even challenge the purveyors of the idle, unsubstantiated gossips. Gossips about corruption usually take on lives of their own with each new gossiper embellishing the story, just a tad bit to suit his or purposes and self-importance.
My Fellow Compatriots: In such an environment, do we know what we ultimately accomplish? We turn many honorable public servants into “criminals”, because we claim that all public officials are corrupt, are greedy, are selfish? Secondly, we also create self-doubt amongst our public officials to the extent that they begin to wonder if they really are as corrupt as the public claims. Thirdly, we create the environment for a self-fulfilling prophecy.
In the final analysis, Liberians who have labored hard to build their name, reputation, self-image – and integrity, make the decision to avoid public service primarily because they want to protect these invaluable virtues. And our country, with huge human capacity challenge, loses.
Nearly two weeks ago, Transparency International, through its local Liberia office, seemed to have simply said to Liberians propagating the falsehood of a nation perceived by cynics and detractors to be consumed by the vice of corruption that they are wrong, or as my old high schoolmate, Martin Scott, would say, “shut up, you lying disciple”; look around yourselves, see the progress your government and country are making, and then acknowledge that while the cancer of corruption may be difficult to obliterate, it is not pervasive in Liberia; your country is making determined effort on the ladder of transparency and accountability. We all should applaud this!
In its Annual Report for 2012, Transparency International said that “Liberia has ranked 75 out of 175 countries” that were documented and reported on worldwide. Did you read what I read, Fellow Liberians? Do you see what I see?
More specifically, the Transparency International Report states that in “Sub-Sahara Africa, Liberia ranks 11 from the top, while in West Africa Liberia is placed at No. 3, also from the top. Imagine all the countries in Sub-Sahara Africa, African Union nations, 53 or more independent countries, and Liberia being placed at No. 11 based on what Transparency International press release said was its “cleanliness”, meaning how less pervasive corruption is in Liberia compared to all the other countries of Sub-Sahara Africa. Did you read what I read? Do you see the same meaning that I see in the Transparency International Report? Do you know some of these 53 countries, how many of them are at developmental levels much higher than Liberia’s?
Further, Transparency International reports that in West Africa, that is, the 16 ECOWAS Countries, Liberia is placed No. 3, meaning that in terms of the success of its fight against corruption, Liberia is ahead of 13 other countries of West Africa. Did you read what I read? Do you see what I see? Imagine the stages of development and material wealth of many of these countries.
This is therefore news that, as a nation, we should celebrate. But what I hear all the time is uninformed, self-appointed pundits making claims about subjects they know little or nothing about. Even illiterates are now caught in the wave of punditry sweeping across our country. This is good for our nation – and good for our young democracy. But, turn your radio on in the morning, and hear someone talking about an issue, often corruption, or about a subject about which he does not have the faintest idea. Then listen to the parroting that goes on. It is vexing and nauseating. I just turn off my radio rather than subject my sanity to idiocy.
The Transparency International report, according to a release published in the Wednesday, December 5, 2012, edition of the Daily Observer Newspaper, said in three successive years, 2010, 2011, and 2012, “Liberia’s CPI (Corruption Perception Index)ranking shows improvement year on year and speaks to efforts being made to address the menace, reforms being initiated and legislations passed…”
This is Transparency International, an international non-governmental organization noted for its crusading objectivity on matters such as corruption and other public service vices speaking. Did you read what I read? Do you see what I see?
My Fellow Compatriots: Please do not misconstrue me. My argument is not that in one clear sweep, the vice and demon of corruption has been swept from the face of our beloved country. No. Far from it. However, I believe, like many other right thinking Liberians, that when our country makes progress, our sense of patriotism dictates that we celebrate that progress, not pretend that it is nothing or that it was achieved without effort and sacrifice. Those who make the claim of corruption against the government, have they stopped for a minute to review the policies and programs that the government has initiated to fight corruption? Just talking and writing about corruption, as we do today, is the first major step toward achieving the progress that our country has attained – and continues to work toward attaining until the stubborn monster of corruption is tamed into the ground. Who initiated the conversation nearly seven years ago? President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who, as a candidate promised the voters of this country that if elected, she would make “corruption a major public enemy”. She has matched her campaign pledge with concrete, measurable actions. For example, LEITI, Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission, Public Procurement and Concession Commission, National Bureau of Concession, Whistle Blower Act, Code of Conduct for Public Officials, General Auditing Commission – and more! In addition, more periodic audits are being conducted on public agencies than in the past. But more needs to be done. And more is being done!
Does this mean that corruption does not exist in Liberia? No way, my friend would say. But progress is being made. Leadership is being provided by the President – and with time other national leaders will hopefully join her efforts, because corruption needs to be fought in many arenas. We need, for example, to operationalize fleet management of public vehicles. The growing number of non-standardized vehicles being bought by each and every public agency is one of the root causes of corruption and waste. The public procurement process could be more rigorously and uniformly enforced so that some agencies are not exempt. Perhaps in this area, the government may want to outsource fleet management and public procurement to an international group, perhaps from European Union. This should also include vehicle maintenance. Too often, we relapse into doing our “Liberian thing”, picking and choosing. The government could save tons of money from these exercises, money that the tax payers own – and lose daily.
My Fellow Compatriots: Liberia is making progress, progress in the fight against corruption. In the past, lip-service was paid to this fight. Now, it is not a fight. It is war – and however long it takes, however much the reinforcement, the war will be won, corruption will be defeated, because the Commandeer in this war does not tire.
For now, let’s take note of the progress. Let’s celebrate. Let’s thank and congratulate President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf who has remained relentless and courageous in the battle against this major public enemy!
Morris M. Dukuly, Sr.
About the Author:
Morris M. Dukuly, Sr. is a Communications Specialist and a national and international consultant. He holds a Master’s degree in Mass Communications and a Master’s degree in Education from Temple University in Pennsylvania and University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, respectively. He has served as a Liberian Cabinet Minister, more recently as Minister of State for Presidential Affairs and Chief of Staff to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Mr. Dukuly also served as Speaker of the Transitional Legislative Assembly of the Republic of Liberia from March 1994 to March 1997.
Disclaimer: The Author did not seek or receive any assistance from anyone. The views expressed and all factual and material errors are his and his alone.