Knuckles-Gate II is not the only issue burning in Liberia lately. The latest rankings by the Berlin-based watchdog Transparency International (TI), released this week, ranks Liberia 42nd worst in a list of 180 countries on perceived levels of public-sector corruption, an improvement on its 2007 rank of 23rd worst but still showing numerous signs of widespread corruption.
Transparency says this year’s index "highlights the fatal link between poverty, failed institutions and graft." The ranking measures perceived levels of public sector corruption in 180 countries and draws on surveys of businesses and experts.
'Ongoing humanitarian disaster'
"In the poorest countries, corruption levels can mean the difference between life and death, when money for hospitals or clean water is in play," Transparency chairwoman Huguette Labelle said in a statement, describing the combination of corruption and poverty as "an ongoing humanitarian disaster."
The continuing high levels of corruption and poverty plaguing many of the world's societies amount to an ongoing humanitarian disaster and cannot be tolerated," the non-governmental organization's head Huguette Labelle said.
Somalia, which sits in the last spot at 180, has lacked an effective central government since 1991, leaving the country in the grip of violence and anarchy. There were some bright spots in the new report — the report showed African powerhouse Nigeria improving to 121st place from 147th last year, reflecting increasingly positive perceptions of the country's new government.
Compounding the corruption issue is a report in the Christian Science Monitor, this week, headlined: Persistent corruption threatens Liberian stability: Despite President Johnson-Sirleaf's tough rhetoric on the international stage and the country's modest progress in global rankings, there is growing concern back home.”
The article cites among other issues, the ongoing Knuckles-Gate II saga, leading to the cancellation of the Western Cluster agreement and the censure in July of Richard Tolbert, head of the National Investment Commission.
Tolbert was cited by lawmakers for illegally granting a tax waiver on a $150 million investment deal. The Monitor reported that “Tolbert, one of numerous Diaspora Liberians handpicked by Johnson-Sirleaf to help rebuild the country after decades of civil war, said the waiver was "an honest error" despite calls from opposition politicians for his arrest.
In the wake of the Knuckles-Gate II email chains, the Unity Party-led government disqualified India's Tata Steel and South Africa's Delta Mining Consolidated from participating in a relaunched bidding round for the $1.5 billion Western Cluster iron ore project, citing "acts of violation" by the two companies.
The government alleged that an earlier bid may have been compromised by "external influence" and launched an investigation to further Johnson-Sirleaf's zero tolerance for corruption policy.
The cancellation also follows the recent FPA publication of e-mail communications, implicating the president's close aides in corruption. The e-mails appear to show former minister and presidential confidante Willis Knuckles and current minister Estrada Bernard – Johnson-Sirleaf's brother-in-law – accepting bribes from Yoram Cohen, the operator of Liberia's lucrative shipping registry, Liberian International Ship and Corporate Registry (LISCR). While LISCR has called the allegations "baseless," the government has announced an investigation and denied the president's involvement in the scandal.
Sirleaf, who is currently in the U.S. to address the U.N. General Assembly addressed the controversy in an interview with the Brown University newspaper, The Herald, when asked whether the current Knuckles-Gate II saga undermines her government's ability to preserve its integrity her efforts against corruption.
Corruption a 'Real Concern, AG Morlu says
”It does. No doubt about that, because this is someone who worked closely in my office. This is why I say I feel it's a despicable act. It is a betrayal because of what I stand for. My record speaks for itself. But these things do happen, and this is one case where you set in place investigations that are really going to bring out the truth, since he has denied some of it. And those investigations, when they lead to conclusions that are backed up by evidence, then whatever the law requires, the law will have to take its course. And I've been very clear about that.”
In the wake of the Knuckles-Gate saga and recent string of corruption reports, Sirleaf declared last week that recommendations coming from the ongoing audits by the General Auditing Commission (GAC) will undoubtedly lead to action against officials and other individuals in society. Speaking at the commissioning ceremony of officials of the Anti-corruption Commission Wednesday, the Liberian leader disclosed that the General Auditing Commission has finalized six of the 18 audits of which eight are in the final stages and four have just started.
The President said fighting corruption requires a multi-prong approach in which accountability and transparency are the keys, adding "fighting corruption starts with political accountability, through strong democratic systems, open political dialogue and debate, and appropriate checks and balances on the three branches of government."
Ironically, the man who heads the GAC, Auditor General John Morlu had previously been at loggerheads with the administration over his controversial remarks last year that the government was three-times more corrupt than its predecessor Charles Gyude Bryant, head of the National Transitional Government of Liberia. Morlu told the Monitor that he still stands by his analysis: "I made that statement in 2007, and I have been proven correct." The statement drew the ire of government officials and a heated exchange with Morlu. However, relationship has been on the ups of late as Morlu’s much-anticipated audit nears release to the public.
The Monitor also quoted Morlu as warning that if corruption is not stamped out, "we might have a revisit of the civil war. Corruption hurts everyone and if people are hopeless they turn to violence." This is a real concern in a country with 85 percent unemployment where people knew little but civil war for almost a quarter of a century until the exile of warlord President Charles Taylor in 2003,” Morlu was quoted as saying. Courtesy: FrontPageAfrica.