During the last two months, CENTAL has engaged communities and Universities with an outreach program called “Talk on Corruption with CENTAL”. Talk on Corruption with CENTAL which seeks to gauge views among varied stakeholders in the society so as to inform the fight against corruption, has thus far visited the University of Liberia (UL) on Capitol Hill, Friends of Friends Hatai Association (FOFHA) on Carey Street, Fiamah Intellectual Discourse (FID) in Sinkor, and the West Point Intellectual Forum (WEPIF) in West Point.
UL Forum Talk on Corruption during its visit to the University of Liberia on 21 May, 2008, focused on corruption in schools, with the Head of the Liberia Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (LEITI), Cllr. T. Negbalee Warner speaking on corruption in the extractive industry and how the LEITI works to espouse transparency in financial transaction in the extractive industry. Cllr. Warner began his lecture by admitting that the combat on corruption requires collective input and resolve, saying corruption is a formidable phenomenon that is difficult to fight. He said Liberia became a member of the EITI in order to institute transparency and accountability in the way extractive companies and the Government do business, lamenting that time immemorial the process has not been open to the public making it prone to venalities that continue to disadvantage the mass of the people. He said the EITI is a coalition of governments, companies, civil society groups and international organizations. The LEITI Head said the initiative came against the backdrop that resource-rich countries perform least in terms of democracy and development, referring to this condition as ‘resource cursed.’ Member countries of the EITI are to adhere to a rigid ‘Resource Revenue Transparency’ guideline drafted by the IMF in December 2004 that qualifies them as members. CENTAL’s Executive Director, Thomas Doe Nah speaking on corruption in the education sector, exhorted the gathering against rampant corruption in schools saying it undermines quality education and leads to poor performance. Stressing the importance of education to the building of a nation, he encouraged everyone to join the combat against the virus in the education sector in order to welcome opportunities for meaningful national development. Mr. Nah lamented that the education sector is rife with all forms of corrupt acts. He intimated that from the provision of educational materials to admission into schools, the system is riddled with corruption along the chain. The Director foreshadowed that if nothing is done to remedy the damaging onslaught of the debilitating disease, the sector could collapse into total ruins. Concluding on CENTAL’s endeavor aims at establishing integrity clubs (iClubs) at school and community levels, the Director said the goal is to foster collaboration at the grassroots level, thereby building “islands of integrity” at these levels to strengthen the battle against corruption. He then encouraged everyone present to be a part of the iClubs initiative and seize the opportunity to save Liberia from the destructive clutches of corruption. Carey Street Forum The Carey Street forum focused on the theme “Public Perception and Combating Corruption: Challenges and Prospects for Liberia,” and featured PAE/HSC Prosecution Advisor to the Liberia National Police, Mr. Daniel Reback, who talked on ‘Fighting Corruption in the Police: Citizens’ Responsibilities’. The event took place 19 June, 2008 at the Friends of Friends Hatai Association (FOFHA), situated behind the Finance Ministry, in Monrovia. Mr. Reback, an expert in police matters, lectured the gathering on the importance of police to the security of the public and how corruption undermines the effectiveness of their work. He explained that police are public servants, as such; citizens need to intervene when they are corrupted. Mr. Reback continued that an honest and professional police force is critical to safety and security the lack of which jeopardizes public protection. He said citizens must work to prevent corrupt people from joining the police force by doing background checks on those being enlisted and speaking out about their misdeeds. The American police expert said citizens could also be helpful in bringing about a clean police force by reporting police corruption to the LNP’s Professional Standard Division (PSD) and UNMIL’s Non-Compliance Unit at the LNP Headquarters. He concluded that by getting involved in this way, citizens can help bring about a police force that is professional and honest. CENTAL’s Director, Mr. Nah, in his lecture on “Public Perception and Combating Corruption: Challenges and Prospects for Liberia”, explained the nature of corruption and how public perception may either foster its widespread or minimize it. He said in Liberia generally, many people see corruption as a vehicle for self-aggrandizement, which has been supportive to the rampancy of corruption. The Director averred that if the battle on corruption should thrive successfully, such negative perception must be squelched. He said every citizen must begin to see corruption as enemy to their development and happiness and consider those perpetrating acts of corruption as enemies to growth and development. Mr. Nah told the gathering that the combat against corruption will remain an unbeatable challenge if citizens themselves do not see it as important to get involved. He said the reason CENTAL embarked on this outreach program is to stimulate debates around corruption that encourage willingness on the part of citizens to join it in realizing its vision for transparent and integrity-based public service. The Director however expressed gladness in the fact that public sentiments were fast been mobilized against the deadly curse, as exemplified by the level of enthusiasm displayed by citizens during these outreach forums. He saw this as promising sign in the battle against the age-old societal plague, as he encouraged participants to take advantage of CENTAL’s soon established integrity clubs around the country. Fiamah Sinkor Forum At the Fiamah Intellectual Discourse (FID) forum in Sinkor on 5 July, 2008, the focus of discussion centered on the well-belabored subject of educational corruption. This topic came as a recommendation from the host themselves, as they saw it as the most problematic area of Liberia’s development dilemma. CENTAL’s Executive Director, Mr. Thomas Doe Nah the main speaker of the forum, expatiating upon the damaging influence of corruption on the education sector, said “development is a function of effective education and the more educated the people are, the more development-oriented they become.” He placed the crux of the problem on qualified and committed lecturers, saying as much as teachers provide education; they are also supposed to serve as inspiration to students. According him, many students do not see education as priority because teachers are no role models and are only bent on prioritizing self-seeking ventures. Mr. Nah asserted that education been the key to progress needs to be prioritized because it will automatically lead to a resolution of many of the problems we face. He said with proper education that builds integrity, enhance innovation and creativity, problems concerning health, decision making, security that serves to compound poverty would be minimized. The Director continued by blaming government for consistently failing to prioritize the education sector, allowing it to fall to ruins eventually. He said for instance, the issue of teacher training and performance evaluation is lacking and there is little or no initiative to improve important educational facilities like libraries and laboratory for schools. He lamented that this sad situation further exacerbated by the 14 years civil crisis, requires drastic reversal action if Liberia should make sustained progress toward meaningful development. The forum brought together more than 50 participants including members of the FID, journalists, and others as observers. West Point Forum In Township of West Point, Talk on Corruption focused on “Corruption in the Extractive Sector and the role of Publish What You Pay-Liberia (PWYP-L),” in institutionalizing transparency and accountability in the process. PWYP-L Chairperson Martin Kerkula, served as the forum’s main speaker. Mr. Kerkula in his deliberation said that PWYP is a coalition of civil society organizations that seeks to ensure that there is transparency in the way government transacts business with companies in the extractive industries. He continued that in accomplishing this, companies are under obligation to publish all contracts receipts, while government on the other hand must publish contracts costs and relevant information to the public. The PWYP Chairperson asserted that the importance of this is to guarantee that communities benefit from concession agreements affecting them directly and the country as a whole. Lamenting that proceeds from agreements only benefit companies and a few individuals in government, he said for a long time in Liberia, companies operated in total neglect of their social responsibilities to resource-rich communities. Mr. Kerkula intimated that Liberia is endowed with substantial natural resources but have fallen prey to the so-called ‘resource curse or Dutch disease’ a condition faced by many resource-rich countries. He said this condition applies to countries that are rich in extractive products but do very poorly at development and democracy. He concluded that the holistic development of the country depends on an effective transparency and accountability regime saying it also requires the collective engagement of citizens. The forum, which was well attended by members of WEPIF and some opinion leaders from the West Point community, entertained questions and views from the gathering on way forward and how citizens can input into the process.