Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen of the Press, fellow Liberians:
The attention of the Center for Transparency and Accountability in Liberia (CENTAL) has been drawn to recent developments bordering on the fight against Corruption in Liberia. With dismay, CENTAL has observed that Liberia’s foremost anti-graf t institution, the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC), has again appeared in the media for reasons unbecoming of an institution of such importance in the Liberian society–a body charged with the responsibility of spearheading national efforts against corruption.
Early this year (2021), there were accusations and counter accusations of corruption involving the Vice Chairperson of the LACC, Cllr. Kanio B. Gbala and the then Executive Director, Atty. Mohammed Fahnbulleh. LACC’s internal investigation into the matter cited only ‘administrative lapses’ regarding the Vice Chair’s transactions and fell short of concluding that corruption had occurred. And on Monday, August 31, 2021, Liberians woke up to a Frontpage Africa (FPA) publication, labelling the Vice Chair of the LACC, Cllr. Gbala as “conflicted” regarding a corruption scandal at the National Port Authority (NPA). CENTAL sees the initial action by the LACC to investigate Cllr. Gbala’s alleged Conflict as welcoming and a step in the right direction.
However, Ladies and Gentlemen of the Press, Cllr. Gbala’s decision to request a leave of absence for a month in order to allow for investigation of the NPA matter and his responses to the FPA report raise more questions than answers. Is Cllr. Gbala’s leave of absence an acknowledgment of conflict? If so, why now? If not, then Cllr. Gbala should not be granted leave of absence since he is not conflicted. In our opinion, Cllr. Gbala’s leave points to a potential conflict in the matter. Section 9.11 of the Code of Conduct requires that “where public officials and employees of Government have direct or indirect personal interests in a matter being examined, he or she shall inform the authorities of those interests and shall excuse himself or herself before deliberations are held and a vote or decision is taken.” CENTAL, therefore, sees Cllr. Gbala’s decision to excuse himself at a time when the alleged conflict is reported as belated and inconsistent with law.
Moreover, according to FPA, Cllr. Gbala admitted to buying “shares in Creative Developers Inc. (CDI) on behalf of [his] younger sister, Zarylee Gbala upon being invited by his friend, Sidiki Fofana who established the company and is the CEO.” The question which emerges border on beneficial ownership—who ultimately owns or controls the 10% share Cllr. Gbala reportedly indicated buying for his sister? CENTAL encourages the LACC to consider this point in its investigation. Also, if reports that the National Port Authority’s (NPA) Managing Director, Bill Twehway owns majority shares in CDI are anything to go by, then the admission of the LACC Vice Chair does little to exonerate him. Where reports of Twehway’s ownership of shares are true, we are of the position that as a lead figure in the anti-corruption fight, Cllr. Gbala ought to have known that Twehway’s ownership of shares in a company performing services for the National Port of Authority represents a clear conflict of interest, and was therefore under duty to alert the LACC of corruption at the NPA. Section 9.6 of the Code of Conduct provides that “no public official or employee of Government should use an official position to pursue private interests that may result in conflict of interest”. By reneging on his duty to blow the whistle, while at the same time buying shares for his sister, the LACC Vice Chair would be an active participant of corruption at the NPA.
Therefore, Ladies and Gentlemen of the Press, we strongly urge the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission, through its new Executive Chairperson, Cllr. Edwin Kla-Martin, to thoroughly and swiftly investigate this matter in order to retain public trust not only in the LACC but in all actors in the anti-corruption environment in Liberia. We urge the LACC to carefully consider points contained in this statement as it carries out its investigation and further call for openness with investigative findings and subsequent actions.
In conclusion, we call on the Government of Liberia, especially President George Weah to show more Political Will and Commitment in the fight against corruption in Liberia. Among others, this entails provision of adequate financial and moral support to public institutions to perform their respective functions. Widespread allegations of public sector corruption have the ability to undermine stakeholders’ confidence in the governance process. Additionally, we call on the public, media, and civil society to remain constructively engaged with the fight against corruption by denouncing corruption themselves and consistently demanding accountability and transparency from national leaders.
A better Liberia is only Assured when Corruption is Robustly and Sincerely Fought with the required Resources, Commitment, Political Will, and Citizens’ Participation!