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President Sirleaf Promises to Fight Corruption: Will it Hold?


Pres. Sirleaf

The global corruption watchdog, Transparency International (TI), has just released its highly anticipated 2011 Corruption Perception Index (CPI), which ranks countries based on a level of perceived corruption within a country, and the results would seem to intimate that the Liberian government has made no headway in the fight to curb corruption in Liberia.

As a matter of fact, if Liberia’s year-on-year CPI score, from 3.3 in 2010 to 3.2 in 2011 is taken at face value, it would more bluntly suggests that the government of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf performed even worse, albeit marginally, in its professed commitment to curtail rampant corruption in Liberia.

 The 2011 CPI report, which was released on December 1, comes in the wake of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf promising Liberians that during her second term in office, her government would more effectively work to end the pervasive corruption that plagued her first term and provoked her political opponents and independent observers alike, to castigate her government for lacking the political will to strangulate the vermin of corruption that has contributed, in no small measure, to stifling the pace of development in the country.

There She Goes Promising Again…

With that backdrop notwithstanding, President Sirleaf has again made another public pronouncement to Liberians that her second term will involve a more effective engagement in the fight to curb corruption in Liberia.

“We will create the environment for Liberian businesses, maintain an open and accountable society, and fight corruption more effectively,” the president was quoted as saying during the National Election Commission’s (NEC) program to certify her on winning the recently held Presidential elections.

But, as Liberians need no reminder this is not the first time that President Sirleaf, caught up in the euphoria of fresh election victory, as the doubting Thomases might say, has proclaimed that ‘hers would be a government that will, in no uncertain terms, raise up its righteous scepter of leadership to crush the obstinate demon of corruption in Liberia.’

A Promise Deferred That Now Festers Like A Sore

And who can blame the doubting Thomases, might I add, SADLY, for taking the President’s renewed pledge with a grain of salt?

For not unlike a jilted lover, quite a number of these doubting Thomases had clung to the words of President Sirleaf in her inauguration speech on January 16, 2006, when she avowed that she would make corruption “public enemy number one,” only to have their hopes of a new Liberian Renaissance of accountability and transparency crushed by the repugnant revelation that “corruption with impunity” across every branch of government persisted under her administration (ref. U.S. State Department 2010 Report on Liberia).

And, with her much-lampooned firing and reshuffling of appointees from her deck of corruption-pockmarked associates; and her failure, some might add to investigate and prosecute officials accused of corruption, despite the over 40 audit reports submitted to her government by the General Auditing Commission would certainly seem to border on gratuitous niceties.

But just as President Sirleaf would have Liberians cast their doubts asunder and accept her word that her record in the fight to clamp down on corruption during the next 6 years will be better than the last six, the 2011 CPI has come as a stark reminder that President Sirleaf’s government is still faltering in its fight to curtail pervasive corruption in Liberia.

With Liberia dropping in its ranking from 87 in 2010, to 91 this year, which the report notes may occur due to an increase in the number of aggregate countries represented in a given report from year to year – and with 183 countries pooled in 2011 compared to 178 countries in 2010 – one could conjecture that a contributing factor to Liberia been bumped down in ranking may as well be due to an increase in the number of countries in this year’s report.

But even given that benefit-of-the-doubt assessment, what remains troubling is the dip in Liberia’s corruption perception score, seemingly marginal as it may be from 3.3 in 2010 to 3.2 this year. And while some may see this downturn as negligible and even an attempt to split hairs, according to an article by Deborah Hardoon, a senior researcher at TI, there is a proportional correlation between a country’s perceived corruption level and its ranking on the UN Human Development Index, which has shown that “where there is perceived to be more corruption, human development outcomes tend to be lower.”

At 182ndplace on the UN Human Development Index, a measure of among other things, life expectancy and poverty in UN member countries, Liberia already ranks as the 6thleast developed country in the world, and we certainly cannot afford to slip any further down that list.

Even more so, what makes this year’s numbers an apparent cause for alarm is that since President Sirleaf took office in 2006, regardless of the fluctuation in the aggregate number of countries pooled, Liberia has always registered an improvement in both its ranking and corruption perception score year-on-year, with this year being the first time that Liberia has buck that trend dropping both in its ranking and corruption perception score.

A Second Chance for the President

President Sirleaf has always spoken of her keen belief in redemption and giving people second chances. A reading of her memoir: This Child Will Be Great is an account of a life of many second chances. And now, the President has been given another chance by the Liberian people to make good on her promise to beat the corruption dog into submission.

President Sirleaf may not have to worry about another re-election, but she certainly has an even weightier burden to bear. At the twilight of her life, the burden of the legacy she will imprint for herself in the history of Liberia – whether she will be remembered as just another mediocre leader or one of the greatest Liberia has ever had – cannot be more pressing. And, for the sake of a new Liberian Renaissance of transparency, accountability, and equality, let us hope that President Sirleaf will choose the latter.

History will be the judge!

Moco McCaulay is a Liberian writer.

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