Liberian officials sanctioned last year by the United States government for their “involvement in public corruption” are running for legislative seats. Nathaniel McGill, the former minister of state for presidential affairs, and Bill Tweahway, former managing director of the National Port Authority, have been certified by the National Elections Commission (NEC) to run for Senate seats.
Both are running on the ruling party Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) ticket.
They join Senators Prince Y. Johnson of Nimba County and Varney Sherman of Grand Cape Mount County, who had earlier been sanctioned, but are still running for reelection.
After the US sanctions against three officials were implemented in 2022, Liberia President George Weah released a statement suspending all three, calling the allegations ‘grave’ and ordering an investigation. No findings have since been released, nor has the State initiated court cases against any of the individuals.
The sanctioned officials have their right to run for office, but the lack of a formal investigation on the part of the Liberian government is appalling, says political analyst Ibrahim Nyei.
The fact that two of the sanctioned officials are fielded by the ruling party speaks of complicity
“I think they are emboldened by the fact that no direct action has been taken by the Liberian justice system,” he tells The Africa Report.
“The fact that two of the sanctioned officials are fielded by the ruling party speaks of complicity […] and it brings into question the credibility of their promise to fight corruption,” he says.
In a recent press statement, outgoing US Ambassador Michael McCarthy described the government’s failure to investigate officials that were sanctioned as “extremely disappointing and discouraging”. He added: “If the voters of Liberia wish to elevate to public office individuals who have been sanctioned, that’s their prerogative.”
“The embassy is not okay with corruption, and we find it disappointing that political parties are nonchalant about the Global Magnitsky sanctions,” he said, referring to the act that targets perpetrators of serious human-rights abuses and corruption around the world.
“The US Department of the Treasury spends many hours and other significant resources to research and approve sanctions on individuals,” he said.
(Not really) fighting corruption
This culture of impunity can be traced back to the two Liberian civil wars that took place between 1989 and 2003, resulting in the death of more than 250,000 people. Establishing a court of war and economic crimes to prosecute those responsible remains elusive, and former civil war actors have since attained political power.
After assuming power in 2017, Weah said he backed the establishment of a war crimes court, even going as far as calling on the legislature to provide guidance on implementing the ‘Truth and Reconciliation’ report. However, following his trip to the United Nations General Assembly in September, he back-pedalled on this initiative.
Weah promised to end corruption in public service and “ensure that public resources do not end up in the pockets of Government officials”. Almost six years down the line, his administration has been rocked by several corruption scandals.
Corruption has long undermined Liberia’s democracy and its economy, however, public corruption is not prosecuted in most cases. On Transparency International’s ‘2022 Corruption Perceptions Index’ report, Liberia ranked 142nd among the 180 countries in the index.
“The report speaks to the Liberian Government’s inability to address the entrenched culture of impunity by adequately funding public integrity institutions, fully enforcing existing anti-corruption laws and policies, and taking drastic actions against officials accused of and investigated for corruption,” says Anderson Miamen, the executive director of the Center for Transparency and Accountability in Liberia.
Local media reported in September 2018 that shipping containers containing newly printed Liberian dollars worth over $100m went missing from the country’s port, and a $25m injection into the economy was also allegedly mismanaged.
Despite this, for Joshua Kulah, a professor in the political science department at United Methodist University, corruption isn’t a key decider among most Liberian voters.
Voters “are desensitised to the topic of corruption, so they perceive everyone as corrupt and look for other reasons to vote or not vote for candidates. The most important consideration for electorates is immediate benefits,” he says.
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