LIBERIA: Anti-corruption plan causes
rumpus in political circles
MONROVIA, 5 Jul 2005 (IRIN) - The Liberian government and several prominent politicians have reacted angrily to an anti-corruption plan drawn up by international donors, branding it a threat to the West African nation's sovereignty.
The Liberia Economic Governance and Action Plan (LEGAP) was drafted by donors -- including the United Nations, the European Union and the Economic Community of West African States -- to address the "systemic and endemic corruption" which they believe is handicapping Liberia's economic resuscitation after 14 years of civil war.
A draft seen by IRIN in mid-June envisaged limiting the government's authority to grant contracts, ring-fencing key sources of revenue, placing international supervisors in key ministries with veto powers, and bringing in judges from abroad.
It also suggested that key state enterprises, such as the port of Monrovia, the international airport and the state-owned fuel distribution company should be farmed out to international managers.
Liberian Information Minister William Allen said that the transitional government, set up after a 2003 peace deal and charged with shepherding the country to elections on 11 October, had severe reservations about the LEGAP proposals, particularly putting key decisions in the hands of foreigners.
"We are not going to agree to the idea of foreigners coming to Liberia to take over statutory responsibilities that Liberians should handle," Allen told IRIN in an interview on Monday. "The fact that one Liberian is not performing does not mean that there are not others who can perform".
He said Gyude Bryant, the head of the interim government, was preparing a response to the LEGAP which would be ready within the next fortnight.
"Chairman Bryant also intends to discuss the plans with some African leaders," Allen said.
A senior source in the Liberian government told IRIN that Bryant would discuss the plan at this week's African Union (AU) summit in Libya, which has brought many of the continent's 53 heads of state together. The two-day meeting in the Mediterranean seaside town of Sirte was due to end on Tuesday.
"The matter will be on the agenda of the ongoing AU summit. We firmly believe that this plan... will erode Liberia's sovereignty," the source said. Other West African leaders supported Bryant's view, he added.
One source in West Africa close to the international donor community told IRIN recently that several African governments were uneasy about Liberia surrendering so much authority to its financial backers, fearing this might set a precedent that could then be applied to other countries with a bad reputation for corruption.
Back in Liberia, it is not just those currently in power that have criticised the proposals of the international community.
Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, a former UN official who came runner-up to Charles Taylor in 1997 and has declared her intention to run in the 2005 elections, was damning in her evaluation of LEGAP.
"The document is a financial receivership and it is a challenge to Liberia's sovereignty. Every Liberian including myself will reject and oppose it outright," she told reporters last week.
Another high-profile figure joining the anti-LEGAP chorus is Amos Sawyer, who served as interim president from 1990 to 1994 during the early stages of Liberia's civil war. He said the proposals would turn the country into "a quasi-trust territory... (with) expatriate management."
But Abou Moussa, the acting head of the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), stressed on Monday that LEGAP was not about the international community taking over as trustees.
"The document is not intended to take away or hijack the sovereignty of Liberia, but for a constructive engagement between the government and its international partners," Moussa told a press conference.
"As far as the UN is concerned, we are not in favour of trusteeship," he said. " (But) we can not close our eyes when things are going wrong".
The international donor proposals have found some backing among ordinary Liberians, many of whom are angry about rampant corruption in the transitional government while they still have to live without running water or mains electricity almost two years after the war ended.
Top officials cruise the battered capital Monrovia in flashy jeeps, but the government has yet to pay 18 months of salary arrears to civil servants.
"I know how to classify this government. It's the worst Liberia has ever had," said Darline Zuahtyu, who lives in a ramshackle hut in the city, not far from Bryant's fortress-like seafront villa.
Most of the callers to Monrovia's commercial radio stations commenting on LEGAP have also voiced their approval of the plans to bring more transparency to government spending and ensure that aid money does not dry up.
Much of Liberia's basic infrastructure was destroyed during the 1989-2003 conflict and the United Nations aims to spend US $760 million over the coming year to maintain a 15,000-strong peacekeeping force in the country.
But donors have repeatedly warned that funding for reconstruction will be withheld if politicians continue to squander the cash or pocket resources designed to help the country's estimated three million population.
The Roman Catholic Church has also waded into the fray, voicing its support for LEGAP.
"The plans would help Liberia recover from economic paralysis. Liberia has been plagued by economic and political corruption, mismanagement and ineptitude for too long," it said in a statement at the weekend.
And not everyone in the transitional government, composed of representatives from the former warring factions as well as civilians, shares Bryant's dislike of the proposals.
Vambah Kanneh -- one of the founding members of the main rebel group, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) and now transport minister -- told reporters that the LEGAP plan was the best framework for tackling corruption.
"There is no reason why the government and some Liberians should reject this document when it intends to stamp out corruption for the good of ordinary Liberians," Kanneh said.
UN officials and diplomats have stressed that the action plan to fight corruption would be a negotiated deal, not an imposed one. Moussa, the acting head of UNMIL, said on Monday that private talks between the donors and the transitional government were continuing.
Information Minister Allen said a new version of the plan was on the table, but he declined to detail recent changes to the draft.
"Some time ago we a received document... but it was later withdrawn by the senders and now there is a revised document which we are carefully studying," he said.