Information landing on our Issues Desk indicates that every Liberian leader, especially those ruling the country beginning with the era spinning around 1980, has given a cosmetic treatment to the fight against corruption, their harsh words notwithstanding. Simply stated, they or their administrations distance themselves from corruption in words, but they befriend it in deeds.
They all – history has recorded – have spoken very harsh words against corruption, words which could cause one, if he didn’t know the history of corruption in this country, to conclude that corruption would go and commit suicide upon hearing them, or corrupt men and women would rush to the Church of the Corruption-free to confess and ask for a regenerated life.
But, no, the words enable corruption to laugh conceitedly and embolden corrupt men and women in the practice of the act – that is, corruption. Almost all government officials have come to realize that supposedly harsh words against corruption are, generally speaking, a business-as-usual stamp for, and a go-ahead-with-corruption signal to, them. They reason that working in government is all about graft, suffering the masses in the process.
When our leaders fight corruption with sweet-to-the-ear speeches and words that are bereft of concrete actions aimed at minimizing the practice, corruption always advances. Differently stated, when our leaders fight corruption with empty words – when they make for-nothing-big mouth on corruption – corruption usually reacts with a force that is greater than the big mouth. Corruption hates frisky people, especially frisky leaders. Let’s consider some examples.
President Samuel K. Doe
Let’s take Mr. Doe, for instance. One of the reasons he and his men gave for violently toppling the Tolbert government and for brutally killing President Tolbert was rampant corruption. In other words, they were against corruption, and they would take serious and concrete steps to defeat it. In fact, it may be safe to say that it was Mr. Doe who made the harshest statement against corruption.
He said: “Anyone caught practicing corruption will not live to tell the story.”
But, as we all may know, Doe just wanted to act frisky on corruption. And when corruption realized it, it consumed Doe and his buddies-in-arms. Many believe they became more corrupt than the previous administration overthrown by them because of the practice. Mr. Doe, later conceding to corruption, said something like this: “Corruption is hard to fight-o.”
Indeed, when our leaders fight corruption with empty words, corruption reacts with a force that is greater than the empty words. The sad part is that such a situation worsens the common people’s plight and improves the corrupt people’s condition.
Dr. Amos Sawyer
Dr. Sawyer – the man whose campaign symbol in the 1970s was a broom, signifying that he would clean government of its usual dirt, including corruption – became President of the Interim Government of National Unity. He, too, fight corruption with empty words.
Dr. Sawyer, while speaking to journalists from the Swedish Television Channel 4 in 1991, made these statements against corruption: “Drastic actions, including dismissals and prosecutions, will be instituted against public officials who misapply and misappropriate the resources and facilities belonging to the government and the people of Liberia.”
Corruption, upon hearing these words from Dr. Sawyer, responded angrily, baptizing most of the officials of the interim government in the River of Corruption. At the end, Dr. sawyer, having realized the forceful response from corruption, sorrowfully conceded: “Corruption is a trade-off for peace.”
Oh, yes, when leaders like Dr. Sawyer bring friskiness around corruption, corruption always reacts with a force that is greater than the friskiness, a force which causes the condition of the common people to get worse, while the condition of the corrupt gets better.
Other Interim Administrations
I feel reluctant to say anything about other interim administrations, as they – in my mind – were conceived in corruption and for corruption. No one will force me to mention the corrupt deeds of the Bryant-led interim government or of any of the councils of state before it. In fact, many believe that the Bryant interim administration was the most corrupt interim administration Liberia has ever seen. Why? Well, they acted frisky on corruption. And, as it has been indicated, corruption hates friskiness – people using for-nothing-harsh words against it in public.
Mr. Charles Taylor
Mr. Doe stated that he deposed Tolbert because of rampant corruption; Mr. Taylor said he brought the war to remove Doe because of mismanagement and rampant corruption. In a sense, Taylor was opposed to corruption. But, as almost everyone now knows, it was a mere friskiness on corruption. And corruption didn’t take it lightly – it reacted forcefully. It’s no wonder many believe that the Taylor administration was nothing but a kakistocracy – a government run by criminals or the worst people.
Isn’t it a known fact that when leaders like Mr. Taylor fight corruption with empty words, corruption always responds with vengeance that is greater than the empty words, vengeance that worsens the condition of the common people and improves the condition of the corrupt?
Madam Ellen John-Sirleaf
For Madam Sirleaf, many believe that her empty words on the fight against corruption were a super-super big show. She’s the only president to have ever declared in an inaugural address that “corruption would be public enemy number one.” Some people, upon hearing this from Madam Sirleaf – exaggerators tell us – clapped until their fingers were numb. In terms of seriously fighting corruption, they reasoned that a leader different from Doe, Sawyer, Taylor and others had spoken. Later did they know, some say, that not all that glitters is gold.
That sweet-to-the-ear declaration coming from Madam Sirleaf was something that corruption wouldn’t wink at, especially where it was made publicly in full view of prominent world personalities. Corruption hates friskiness, especially when that friskiness comes from leaders.
How has corruption responded? Well, it has reacted as usual. Almost everyone in the government, many contend, has been baptized in the River of Corruption. Perhaps it’s no wonder that former Auditor General Morlu once said that the Sirleaf administration was three times more corruption than the previous administration. The US government said in its 2008 Report that the Sirleaf government was corrupt at MOST LEVELS. In its 2009 Report, it recognized the promotion of corruption in the government. The report said that the government was corrupt at ALL LEVELS. In its 2010 report, the US further recognized corruption’s unprecedented advancement. The Report said that corruption had been EXACERBATED and had PERVADED ALL LEVELS of government WITH IMPUNITY.
What a pity for a leader who promised the Liberian people and the world that, during her administration, corruption would be public enemy number one!
Madam Sirleaf (before Corruption’s reaction): “Corruption will be Public Enemy Number One.”
Madam Sirleaf (after Corruption’s forceful reaction): “To tell you the truth, it frustrates me. This is one thing [referring to corruption in her government] that is holding us back right now in terms of the progress of this government. I underestimated the strength of corruption. Corruption is as old as the country.”
Undoubtedly, when leaders like Mr. Doe, Dr. Sawyer, Mr. Taylor, Madam Sirleaf and so forth fight corruption with empty words, corruption always reacts with a force that is greater than the empty words. But the scary part is that when that happens, the condition of the common people gets worse, while the condition of the corrupt ones gets better. Corruption hates friskiness in general, but it really hates leaders who act frisky on it. No wonder Liberia has been like this all along, notwithstanding its old age and enormous and various natural resources.
Believe me, my people. We will never stop following the issues.