liberia_flag_large

A recent watchdog audit has revealed hundreds of violations of the laws on Liberia’s trade in the last three years. The audit revealed that there were many laws that were overlooked, or ignored, when trade contracts were given to organizations in the country.
Almost $1billion worth of transactions have been unaccounted for by the government. The audit revealed that 60 out of the 68 contracts issued by the government didn’t adhere to a large amount of the laws.

The audits investigation looked at the current standards of trade in the country, then the results publicised as part of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). The purpose of it all is to set new standards of trade in the country, and to stamp out all forms corruption and illegal practice in certain fields. The audit in this case looked at contracts in the fields of oil, gas, mining and natural resources since 2009.

Some of these results come as little surprise to some. For example, back in March a large amount of illegal timber from Liberia worth thousands of euros was found in France. Many of the suspicions even before the report was released were due to a lot of unaccounted transactions appearing to have gone in and out of Liberia.

One example includes $230,000 from the US in the oil sector, which was reported by companies as paid to the government. Government agencies however reported that they did not receive such a report. Another example is $100,000 unaccounted for by the Liberian National Oil Company over a transaction for Australia-Based African Petroleum that companies said had been government-approved.

However the biggest area of trade that the audit revealed has been affected is the logging sector. The National Benefits Trust Board (NBTB) has calculated that just under $780million of Land Rental Fees are unaccounted for. The NBTB is in place to distribute a large proportion of logging revenues to rural communities affected by the logging. Ministry of Finance in Liberia however reports that they are unaware of any money that is owed to the Trust.

The audit was conducted by campaign watchdog Global Witness. Their Senior Campaigner Natalie Ashworth says that the EITI must now begin to really stamp their authority on the trade in Liberia, given its history: – “Liberia has a history of launching corruption investigations and then not acting on the findings. The government must now apply the EITI audit’s recommendations and follow its own laws.”

However Ashworth went on to say that despite what seems to be a lack of action on behalf of the Liberian government, she understands that they are working with low and limited resources. She says that companies currently exploiting a government with a weak structure should be more supportive by offering to abide by the laws being put in place: – “It’s not all the government’s fault – companies operating in Liberia should be ashamed of taking advantage of a weak government and not insisting that their deals abide by the law.”

The Liberian government has responded with shock and outrage over the publication of the report. Three government officials answered questions from the local press over the audit shortly after its release. Information Minister Lewis Brown who is also head of the EITI in Liberia and Chairman of the National Investment Commission has criticized the report. He said that the evidence used was both, unempirical and detrimental, to current government efforts to improve their trade. Minister Brown said that the report was a: – “shock, because the report is grossly unfounded.” Minister Brown also went on to say how releasing the report at a time such as this has the potential to do serious damage to the restructuring process for trade in Liberia. Audits like this he said can only contradict and do harm to the positive progress slowly being made to stamp out corruption in Liberian trade.

“Linking draft to corruption when the real objective is strengthening capacity to fight corruption is unfair” he said, as fellow government officials watched him respond to questions by local press.

Whilst the Global Witness watchdog realizes that the fight against trade corruption is a long and arduous task, they have rightly noted that first, Liberia must take the efforts being made more seriously than they are now. The sheer amount of misconduct, by Liberian officials, over the amount of contracts given to organizations without recognizing their own laws, is unlikely to put any more confidence in other nations trading with Liberia.

Corruption in and around Liberian trade has been a deep problem for many years, and it is likely it will take a lot of long-term planning to stamp out these problems. However, Liberian officials must look at the facts of this audit and start to focus on becoming more stringent in their own laws, which are being laid down by officials for the benefit of their people.

BY: ROBERT PRITCHARD

Information sourced from the following links:-
• http://allafrica.com/stories/201305061917.html
• http://allafrica.com/stories/201305220055.html