Public officials are impressed with discretion, power and responsibility. We trust them to exercise their powers properly. No one can monitor every public official all the time. One way to ensure that they do not abuse their powers is for them to disclose their assets. Unexplained wealth can raise suspicions that they acquired it by abusing their public powers. If they know that their wealth is being noted and can be checked, they are less likely to act corruptly. The asset declaration system is controlled by the LACC. Public officials are required to complete forms (online or manually) about their assets and LACC officers check it and verify it. Public servants are entitled also to some privacy so, the LACC exercises strict controls over the confidentiality of the information.
- The Background and Basis for the Filing of Assets Declaration in Liberia
The Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) was established by an Act of Legislature on August 28, 2008 with the mandate to investigate and prosecute acts of corruption, as well as educate the public about the ills of corruption and the benefits of its eradication. The Commission is made of five commissioners, one of whom is the Executive Chairperson and Chief Executive Officer of the Commission. The Secretariat is comprised of four program divisions: Education & Prevention Division – which has as its oversight Commissioner, Madam Aba Hamilton Dolo, Investigation & Enforcement Division, Legal & Prosecution Division and Administration Division, and is headed by an Executive Director, while the program divisions are headed by program managers.
In addition to its investigative and prosecutorial mandates, the LACC is also mandated to design policy measures geared toward preventing acts of corruption and to strengthen the integrity systems of public institutions in Liberia. Hence, in 2014 the LACC completed and launched a four-year strategic plan (2014-2017), and has since been implementing programs geared toward achieving the objectives of the Commission within the framework of its Plan. Key in its strategic plan is working with other partners to achieve its goal of combating corruption through preventive steps that are in line with global best practices.
The government of Liberia printed into handbill on June 20, 2014, “An Act of Legislature Prescribing a National Code of Conduct for All Public Officials and Employees of the Government of The Republic of Liberia” in line with the 1986 constitutional requirement to curb certain vices which are inimical to the economic and social wellbeing of our common patrimony. Specifically, Article 90 a) & b) of the Constitution highlight those vices while article 90 c) quoted below echoes the antidote to eradicating them:
Article 90 c) “The Legislature shall, in pursuance of the above provision, prescribe a Code of Conduct for all public officials and employees, stipulating the acts which constitutes conflict of interest or are against public policy, and the penalties for violation thereof.” The legislation of a national code of conduct after twenty-eight years, since the coming into force of the Liberian constitution, finally created a legal framework through which the conducts of public officials could be monitored, examined and punished in relation to the use and management of public resources. In Part 10, of the Code of Conduct, it is required that every Public Official and Employee of government involved in making decisions affecting contracting, tendering or procurement, and issuance of licenses of various types sign performance or financial bonds and in addition declare his or her income, assets and liabilities prior to taking office and thereafter:
- At the end of every three years;
- On promotion or progression from one level to another;
- Upon transfer to another public office; and
- Upon retirement resignation.
Part 10.2 of the Code of Conduct also made provision for the repository of all declarations as quoted below:
“The declaration of personal interest, income, assets, liabilities and the performance bond as may be required shall be lodged with:
- In the Legislative Branch, with the Secretary of the Senate and the Chief Clerk of the House of Representative;
- In the Executive Branch, with the General Auditing Commission; and
- In the Judicial Branch with the Clerk of Supreme Court; and in the event such receipt shall be notified to the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC).
All such declarations shall be accessible to both the public employer and the general public upon a court order; as well as to the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) and the General Auditing Commission (GAC) for investigative purposes. The declaration shall be promptly updated by Public Officials and Employees of government upon subsequent changes in his or her interest and/ or assets. Each declaration along with the updates thereto shall include disclosure of income, assets, liabilities, net worth, financial and family interests held by the official”.
In line with public officials being truthful, Part 10.3 emphasizes Sanctions for False Declaration as quoted below:
“Every Public Official and Employee of Government shall declare and affirm that his or her declaration is accurate to the best of his or her knowledge. Any statement in such declaration found to be false upon verification shall lead to summary dismissal and other measures provided by law.”
The LACC in her wisdom also began engagement with the other two branches of government for the need to provide a single platform whereby the LACC would share knowledge with those charged with the responsibility of handling assets declaration in the other branches of government, so that the declaration process at the other two branches of government can be synchronized with that of the Executive branch and the LACC.
In this light, a workshop under the theme, “Remove the Perception, Declare your Assets” co-sponsored by our partner, the USAID/LPAC was held at a local hotel on July 7, 2017.
The workshop was in two parts, a) The Official opening and launch of the 2017 Assets Declaration cycle and b) the knowledge sharing session which brought together over sixty participants representing the office of the Secretary of the Senate, the office of the Chief Clerk of the House of Representatives, the office of the Court Administrator of the Supreme Court and the Clerk of the Supreme Court and other members of Executive branch from other designated ministries and agencies.
Due to the importance attached to this event by top officials of government including the former President and our development partners, the opening program was graced by H.E. Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, the former President Pro-Tempore of the Liberian Senate, the U.S. Ambassador, Madam Christine Elder, the DSRSG Waldemar Vrey, The European Union Liberia Office- Head of Cooperation, Hans Lambrecht, the World Bank-Liberia Country Director, Madam Larisa Leshchenko , along with an array of other dignitaries.
During the program, remarks were made in support of the Assets Declaration Regime in Liberia.
Personnel of the LACC, USAID-LPAC facilitated the training using lectures, power point presentations, and group participation allowing for the generation of suggestions from the participants.
- The Setting-Up of the Assets Declaration Unit
The ADV Unit was set-up in November 2015.
III. Composition of the ADV Unit
The AD & V Unit is embedded within the Education & Prevention Division of the LACC. The reliance for the LACC handling the assets declaration regime stands from a MOU signed between the GAC and the LACC owing to the fact the LACC had developed the Unit and personnel to handle such a delicate task. There are three staff within the unit and the unit is headed by Mr. Zobon A. Kolenky, Program Officer who reports to Mr. James K. Kingsley, Program Manager for Education & Prevention Division. Mrs. Patricia B. Brima is the Assistant Assets Declaration & Verification Officer and she supervises Mr. Trokon B. Wleyou, the Data Entry Clerk. Staff of the unit are bound by pledge of secrecy as it relates to keeping confidential personal information in their possession.
- Assets Declaration Received
Activities of the assets declaration prior to the Unit being formed was handled by the office of the Executive Director. During the period (2009-2015) all declarations filed were stored within fireproof cabinets. The Commission in fulfillment of her mandate to curb corruption set-up two teams (Freeman’s & Nagbe’s) to do verification of assets declared. Those reports were forwarded to the Office of the former President with recommendations for necessary actions to be taken. At the moment, the Unit is heavily involved with data entry of backlog of assets declaration filed, while at the same time leveraging on technology to ensure that individuals wanting to declare their assets can do the same online.
- Pending Verification
The ADV Unit has in its plan for 2018 the verification of assets for past and present officials of government. During the 2017 Assets declaration cycle which was launched by the President, the Unit received one hundred thirty-five (135) assets declarations prior to the launch, Three hundred thirty-five (335) within the period for filling, seventy-three during the grace period (73) and thirty (30) after the deadline of filing. Thus, bringing the total filings to five hundred seventy-three (573) during the 2016/2017 assets declaration filling period. The task to verify is very important and crucial. There is a need for support in this regard as the Unit is without mobile and the necessary logistics to verify assets declared.
While the unit awaits the supply of the necessary items required for a successful verification, the Commission through the support of her partner, The USAID/LPAC is planning a major media campaign to encourage newly appointed officials to commence filling their wealth declarations in fulfillment of the tenants of transparency and accountability. The Commission and her partner, USAID/LPAC is also planing a one day training which is expected to be held in early March for Human Resource Officers and Financial Comptrollers of selected ministries, agencies and commissions.