The General Auditing Commission (GAC) and Political Interference
What exactly is the AG being fined and held in contempt for? For embarrassing legislators who failed to read the budget they signed into law? He’s been held for contempt because he wants to restructure the GAC in terms of its human capital? Or because our senators claimed that they “read” lots of negative things in the local papers about them”? What exactly is contemptuous here? Is it contemptuous because they allowed themselves to be embarrassed, and now want to reprimand the AG? The AG’s work has been impeded every step of the way, and has thus made it very difficult for the office to effectively do its job. I think too many people thought the AG would come to Liberia with a business as usual attitude, but have realized that this man is about “business’ and professionalism, and isn’t in Liberia to be anyone’s friend, but to contribute his skills and knowledge to the development of Liberia.
I am amazed at the level of political hostility that Mr. Morlu continues to endure since being hired to his position as Auditor General. I am sick of the political rhetoric about fighting corruption with no action to control it. Now that we have an office that is positioning itself to do something about it, our politicians have decided to politicize a commission that should be one of the least politicized organizations in the country.
“The Senate therefore, demands that Mr. Morlu appear before five committees of the Liberian Senate on Thursday with his restructuring plans for their perusal and approval. According to plenary decision, Mr. Morlu must reserve all action against the employees until the Senate’s demands are met” (Senate Indicts Auditor General-The Inquirer, 9/19/2007)
Our nation is at a critical juncture, and I’m sad to say that the action of our legislators not only undermines the INDEPENDECE of the GAC, but also sets a terrible, terrible, precedent. It is sad that our legislators have decided to make the GAC a political fighting ground. If these legislators were so concerned as to how the GAC would be restructured, and the affect of the restructuring, why is it that none of them made any attempts to question Mr. Morlu’s restructuring plan, instead they waited until some former employees who have been affected by the restructuring plan to cry foul? Do we not have a ministry of labor that these individuals can take their complaints to? At a time when the GAC should be preparing for its 2006 audit work, the office is being held back by over zealous politicians who seem to be somewhat confused as to what exactly their proper role is regarding the GAC. “Reporting” to the legislature means that when the GAC has completed it’s audit of the government be it financial, performance, attestation, etc it is to report to the legislature it’s findings and recommendations for corrective action. Reporting does not mean legislative meddling. Seriously, where do we draw the line? Today it is the reinstatement of former employees; what will it be tomorrow and the day after? Will the legislature interfere whenever they feel displeased by an audit? Will they interfere when the GAC implements new policies that some employees or politicians may not like? Where do we draw the line?
It is a fact that legislation requires the GAC to report to the Legislature, a standard practice in developed countries. Our legislators should understand that simply because the GAC reports to them, it is not a license to interfere in the operational affairs of the office, or use it as an opportunity to score political points and obstruct the operational independence of the GAC. The U.S. GAO has functioned effectively for over eighty years, and this effectiveness is due to the fact that the United States Congress does not interfere in the day to day operations, or the INDEPENDENCE of the U.S GAO. As long as its practices are not illegal or discriminatory, the U.S congress does not interfere in GAO internal policies on issues such as hiring, firing, etc. Our law makers should be mindful of not politicizing the GAC; this is why the GAC of past administrations were ineffective and toothless, due to fear of upsetting the status quo or politicians. The GAC is meant to serve as an effective anti-corruption mechanism; therefore its integrity should be protected against all interference from politicians. All officers responsible for the fight against corruption in Liberia must be shielded from political, economic or personal pressures. In particular, the operational independence of the GAC within its specific parameters must be guaranteed.
For too many years so called independent agencies and commissions in Liberia have been subservient to politicians and political pressures. Will this level of interference be a pattern of our legislators? If they don’t agree with what the GAC is doing, has done, or will do, is it safe to assume that they could undermine the commission? The GAC is an independent agency that should be allowed to utilize all the tools at its disposal to guarantee its work as the government's accountability watchdog, and to serve the public interest by keeping a close eye on how government spends its resources.
I caution our legislators to be mindful that if this office fails, our government will fail in fighting waste, fraud and abuse at all levels; and if our government fails in these areas, international funds from donors will be withheld. So, while our legislators are flexing their political muscles and trying to score political points, let them not forget that the failure of the GAC could be very detrimental to our government’s integrity. As stated in the 2006 Blueprint for the GAC, “independence alone is not sufficient to make the GAC effective; it must be staffed with competent, experienced and capable people with impeccable integrity and solid track records”. So as long as this office does not act in an illegal or discriminatory manner, it should be allowed to make difficult decisions needed to prevent waste, fraud, and abuse, and its efforts should not be undermined by the legislature.