LIBERIA: CENTAL Boss Wants Asset Recovery Task Force dissolved …urges President Boakai

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The Center for Transparency and Accountability in Liberia (CENTAL) has called on President Joseph Nyuma Boakai to dissolve the constituted Asset Recovery Task Force and direct its funds to support the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission(LACC).

The President recently issued Executive Order No. 126, establishing the Office of Assets Recovery and constituted the Assets Recovery and Property Retrieval Core Team headed by Cllr. Martin to locate, recover and retrieve public resources and properties in the country.

But reacting to the decision of the Liberian Chief Executive at a press conference Monday, March 11, 2024 in Monrovia, the Executive Director of CENTAL, Anderson Miamen, said the President should direct the funds to the Asset Recovery Unit at the LACC.

He noted that President Boakai acted against his initial plan of commissioning international auditors and became confident in the General Auditing Commission’s (GAC) ability to deliver.

As such, Mr. Miamen said CENTAL believes that similar wisdom can be applied to repose confidence in the LACC in fulfillment of its mandate.

He stressed that if the Taskforce must be maintained, it should or has to be led or headed by the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission and not exclusive of the Commission, as it is currently.

The CENTAL boss emphasized that members appointed to the task force must have track records of integrity and be perceived to be independent and or politically-neutral.

“Whilst we welcome President Boakai’s determination to follow through on earlier statements regarding tackling corruption, we believe that the Task Force is not the appropriate channel for attainment of anti-corruption objectives due to the following reasons,” he added.

Mr. Miamen noted that the Taskforce essentially assumes the role of the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC), thereby making it a parallel institution, adding that the Taskforce is not independent, as it is situated in the Presidency and includes supporters of Boakai’s 2023 Presidential bid.

“Section 4.1 (d) of the LACC Act of 2022 gives it the power “to, independently and in the name of the Republic of Liberia , investigate and prosecute any and all acts of corruption”. Further, Section 5.2(j) provides that the LACC shall serve as the agency of government of Liberia with primary responsibility for the investigation of all acts of corruption,” he added.

Giving some legal reliance, CENTAL said EO#126 provides in Count 2 that the Taskforce has the mandate to “constitute investigative panel to probe Liberia’s stolen and suspicious assets.

Mr. Miamen furthered that Count 4 of EO #126 mandates the Taskforce to “initiate immediate criminal prosecution and civil litigation where applicable on behalf of the Government of Liberia.

He averred that with LACC having primary responsibility for investigating and prosecuting corruption, CENTAL holds the view that giving the Tasksforce the power to investigate assets lost to corruption does not only create confusion but serves to undermine the LACC.

Among other things, Mr. Miamen pointed out that Section 5.2 (f) of the LACC Act of 2022 provides that the Commission shall serve as the primary agency of the government of Liberia authorized to make and receive requests for the purpose of international mutual legal assistance in the combat against corruption.

He noted that Count 7 of EO #126 mandates the Taskforce to employ diplomatic and lnterpol means to extradite individuals identified as suspects that are outside the bailiwick of Liberia in order to bring them under the jurisdiction of the investigative team.

“With LACC being the primary agency of government authorized to make and receive requests regarding international mutual legal assistance including for extradition, CENTAL believes that LACC is being further undermined or its function is being usurped,” the Executive Director stressed.

THE INDEPENDENT OF THE TASKFORCE

At the same time, Mr. Miamen said the laws establishing key anti-graft institutions provide for their operational and financial independence, noting that it is, therefore, surprising that a Taskforce mandated to recover stolen assets resides in the Office of the President – Ministry of State.

CENTAL believes that such a move is reminiscent of the past where anti-graft functions were an extension of the Presidency and were used at the whims and caprices of the President.

Also, CENTAL holds the view that anti-corruption efforts need not be politicized.

He indicated that with anti-corruption efforts often regarded as ‘witch-hunts’, any related mechanism having a dependent or political character will soon crumble under the weight of machinations.

Referencing some assumed compromised individuals serving on the Taskforce, Mr. Miamen named Martin K. N. Kollie and Ms. Victoria Moinsemah whom he identified were big supporters of the 2023 bid of President Boakai.

According to him, it is common knowledge that Cllr. Edwin Kla Martin, who chairs the Asset Recovery Taskforce, lost his position at the LACC under the Coalition for Democratic Change(CDC) administration.

“Having him to head an asset recovery process that might involve officials of the immediate past administration will be construed as a witch-hunt, even if there is a reasonable basis for the task force’s actions,” he emphasized.

Meanwhile, the Center for Transparency and Accountability in Liberia is encouraging the government to respect the mandates of existing anti-corruption institutions and remain engaged with them in making decisions bordering on their mandate areas, if the desired collaboration and results must be achieved.

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