Background Briefing

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Corruption within both the public and private sectors of Liberian society has long been endemic. Scandals and allegations include the manipulation of contract bidding, the looting of state coffers, and the misappropriation of development aid by government officials.  Corruption has historically bought the support of both the police and the army, making them subject to political interference and undermining their duty to protect. It has also robbed the public of funds needed to provide vital services such as education, water, healthcare and education. Personal gain through corruption remains a primary motivation for those entering the civil service.112 Well known Liberian human rights activist Kofi Woods characterized Liberia’s history of leadership as “predatory” which has typically used the state “as a vehicle for exploitation.”113 As stated above, the efforts of those seeking redress through the legal system are often frustrated by corruption within the very system designed to combat it.

Corruption—especially in relation to the management of Liberia’s natural resources—is widely recognized as having greatly contributed to the country’s political instability and ensuing armed conflicts. For years various Liberian factions used profits from the sale of diamonds, timber, and, to a lesser extent, coffee and cacao to buy weapons and foment violence in Liberia, Sierra Leone and elsewhere. One scholar of Liberian politics put it this way: “Warlord pursuit of commerce has been the critical variable in conflicts there.”114

 As a result of the diversion of public funds in the millions of dollars by former President Taylor largely derived from the exploitation of local timber, gold and diamonds, and rubber, the 2003 peace agreement called for the establishment of two commissions to stem corruption: the Governance Reform Commission and the Contract and Monopolies Commission.115 However, both institutions have adopted weak interpretations of their mandates.116

Since the National Transitional Government of Liberia (NTGL) was installed in August 2003, there have been consistent allegations of corruption by government officials by the donor community, the Liberian and international press, and members of the NTGL themselves. While these allegations led to the suspension of numerous officials, formal charges have only been laid against one. Below are four examples of serious corruption:

  • In February 2005, several NTGL ministers signed a deal which granted a company with no previous mining experience exclusive rights for 10 years to purchase all minerals extracted in the diamond rich Western area of          Liberia. 117,118  The March 2005 U.N. Panel of Experts report characterized the conditions under which the agreement was negotiated as “extremely opaque.” They noted that there was no formal or open bidding process and no consultations with the Liberian Monopolies and Contracts Commission. According to the contract, the company, the West African Mining Corporation (WAMCO), was to have paid a single payment to the National Transitional Government of Liberia of $1 million. The contract also contains a provision on security that allows WAMCO to create its own private guard service. The panel noted with concern that “past experience with logging companies has shown that such organizations can quickly become militias.”119
  • A March 2005 report by a special parliamentary committee established to investigate corruption by members of the parliament concluded that there had been “gross financial and administrative malpractices at the National Transitional Legislative Assembly,” including the misappropriation of             US $92,000 of government money without authorization of the plenary; the awarding of contracts for services and equipment to numerous assembly members; the distribution of items donated by the Chinese government on a purely personal basis; and the unauthorized payment of over US $40,000 to assembly members for the payment of medical bills and other emergencies.120 As a result, parliamentary speaker, George Dweh, his deputy and two other members of the house were suspended from the NTLA. 121
  • On August 3, 2005, J.D. Slanger, the head of Liberia's Maritime Bureau and a former senior member of the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL), was together with two of his deputies charged with economic sabotage and fraud for their part in siphoning off of US $3.5 million of government money.122 This was the first time a government official has appeared in court to face corruption allegations since the civil war ended two years ago.
  • On August 13, 2005, the Monrovia Magisterial Court arrested and charged the former Managing Director of the Liberian National Port Authority, Alphonso Gaye, with stealing US $600,000 intended to salvage a sunken vessel at the Free Port of Monrovia.123

Largely in recognition of this and of Liberia’s inability to maintain effective control over its natural resources, the U.N. Security Council on June 21, 2005 extended for another six months the existing sanctions against Liberia’s diamond and timber exports. While the continuation of U.N. sanctions no doubt contributes to stability, it is also imperative that those involved in the illegal exploitation of resources be held criminally accountable. As noted in an assessment of democracy and governance by the U.S. Agency for International Development, the lack of a credible judicial system has served to perpetuate irresponsible leadership: “Failed leadership has been reinforced by the lack of any accountability mechanisms that could constrain elites from systematic violation of human rights and exploitation of the country’s abundant natural resources for their own benefit.”124

Members of the international community working with the NTGL have consistently expressed concern about the level of corruption within the NTGL and warned that funding for reconstruction would be withheld if government representatives continue to squander the resources designated to the country’s rehabilitation.  European Community-financed audits of the Central Bank and five main revenue-generating state-owned enterprises found “serious mismanagement of public finances in several key revenue-earning agencies…”125 Speaking on behalf of the donor community in June 2005, the World Bank Representative for Africa, Matts Karlson, said that there would be no additional funding for Liberia until the government addressed the problem of corruption.126 On July 25, 2005, the African Union’s fifteen-member Peace and Security Council issued a communiqué noting “the difficulties confronting the transitional institutions, particularly with respect to corrupt practices, which could undermine the significant progress made so far."127

Concerns about corruption and economic governance led international donors, including the World Bank, the United States, the European Union and the Economic Community of West African States, to draft a hard-hitting three-year anti-corruption plan called the Liberia Economic Governance and Action Plan (LEGAP).128  The plan, presented to the government in June 2005, proposed to limit the government's powers to grant contracts; placed expatriate financial controllers in key ministries; contracted out certain state enterprises to foreign management; and established a robust anti-corruption commission using foreign judges. The plan was criticized by the transitional government and several prominent politicians who complained that it created a quasi-trusteeship, seriously threatened Liberia’s sovereignty, and placed Liberia under “expatriate management. 129, 130

However, while criticized by members of government, there appeared to be considerable support for the plan among Liberian civil society as noted in several editorials, including in the Liberian Independent, which wrote on June 27, 2005, “Liberia’s Economic Governance Action Plan should be implemented as it is meant for development and growth through transparent, accountable and maximum utilization of the country’s resources for the benefit of the entire population rather than a few people.”

In July 2005, the Liberian government presented a counter-proposal called the Governance and Economic Management Assistance Programme (GEMAP), which rejected the placing of expatriate financial monitors with veto powers in key ministries, the proposal to bring foreign judges into Liberian courts, and the enshrining of the plan into a U.N. Security Council resolution. The plan acknowledged, however, that Liberia suffered from “a culture of mismanagement and corruption, and the virtual breakdown of institutional capacity.” 131 

When approval of GEMAP ran into resistance from the government, the International Contact Group for Liberia—a group composed of Western and African governments and organizations that helped broker the 2003 peace deal—asserted that Liberia could face a crippling funding freeze from the European Commission, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and bilateral donors, if the plan were not accepted.

In September 2005 GEMAP was finally endorsed by the Liberian government.  The approved plan provides for foreign financial experts to be placed in and empowered to co-sign all financial and operational matters within the National Bank of Liberia, the Finance Ministry, and several other revenue generating agencies, including the National Port Authority, the Forestry Development Authority, the Bureau of Maritime Affairs, Robertsfield International Airport, Bureau of Customs and Excise, and the Petroleum Refining Corporation. The plan also provides for the establishment of an independent anti-corruption commission; however, the original proposal for using foreign judges to adjudicate cases was dropped. 


[112] Human Rights Watch interviews with civil society leaders and diplomats, March 2005.

[113] “There's No Messiah Here,” The Analyst, August 23, 2005.

[114] William Reno, Warlord Politics and African States (Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 1998), p. 79.

[114] Paul Fitzgerald, Robert Herman, Gilbert Khadiagala, Madeline Williams, “Democracy and Governance Assessment of Liberia: Transition From a Failed State?,” draft report submitted to USAID, October 2004, p. 52.

[115] CPA, Articles XVI and XVII.

[116] Human Rights Watch interviews with western diplomats, Monrovia, May 2005.

[117] The draft contract obtained by Human Rights Watch indicates on page 28 that the contract would have been signed by Land, Mines and Energy Minister Jonathan Mason, Finance Minister Lucinee Kamara, Chairman of the National Investment Corporation Roosevelt Quaiah, and WAMCO general manager Michael St. Yrian. The contract would be attested to by Justice Minister Kabineh Ja'neh and approved by NTGL Chairman Bryant.

[118] “Liberia: Double Wamco: Six months before elections, ministers have signed a deal on a trade in banned diamonds,” Africa Confidential, vol. 46, no. 9, April 29, 2005.

[119] United Nations, “Report of the Panel of Experts established pursuant to paragraph 8 (f) of Security Council resolution 1579 (2004) concerning Liberia,”  March 17, 2005, articles 17-24.

[120] “Report from the Special Investigation Committee that was constituted by Plenary to Investigate Financial and Administration Mal-practices at the National Transisional Legislative Assembly (NTLA),” submitted to the Plenary of the NTLA on March 8, 2005.

[121] IRIN, “Leaders of Transitional Parliament Suspended for Corruption,” Monrovia, March 14, 2005.

[122] IRIN, “Liberia: Three Government Officials Charged With Siphoning Off $3.5 Million,” Monrovia, August 3, 2005. 

[123] UNMIL Daily Radio Summary, August 13, 2005.


[125] Liberian Economic Governance and Action Plan, draft, June 7, p. 2.

[126] Gray, Josephus Moses, “World Bank, Donors Threaten to Withhold Support for Liberia,” The Perspective, June 2, 2005.

[127] “AU concerned by graft in Liberia's transitional government,” Agence France Presse, July 26, 2005. 

[128] Liberian Economic Governance Action Plan,, draft, June 7, 2005, p. 2-4.

[129] Former Interim Leader against “Expatriate Management” of Liberia,” Heritage, June 27, 2005. 

[130] IRIN, “Anti-Corruption Plan Causes Rumpus in Political Circles,” Monrovia, July 5, 2005.

[131]“A Governance and Economic Management Assistance Program” [online], (retrieved July 25, 2005).


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