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Glamorizing Corruption in Liberia

When Mrs. Sirleaf took power, she declared corruption as a public enemy and vowed to fight it with all her teeth and nails. Last month when she commented on a fraud case at the Central Bank of Liberia where her name and signature were used to funnel $1.1 million into a private account, she lamented that corruption is the one thing that was holding the country back. As news of corruption increasingly filters out of government cycles, citizens took to the streets of Monrovia all dressed in black to decry against wide spread corruption in the country. They called the day Black Tuesday to mourn acts of corruption in the country.

Speaking at a program in Nimba County, the one whose duty it is to form the government’s budget, stimulate the economy and control finances showed some sign of helplessness in the face of rampant corruption in the country calling it a virus. Whether a scientist or not, certain characteristics are well known about a virus. First, it has the ability to replicate or reproduce itself very quickkly when it finds a host to live in. Second, it is contagious and spread very fast. And third, it cannot be eliminated or treated without killing the host in which it resides.

The implications of the parallels drawn by the finance minister denote government’s inferiority to this fast replicating, disease causing and indomitable organism. The realization that such hopelessness is coming from the one in charge of our money has far reaching implications. Not by coincidence, such confession epitomizes the general attitude towards corruption in Liberia. Every now and then, there is an outcry against corruption as the one domineering force that has overpowered every wit, knowhow and our collective capacity to succeed. What is seldom heard is what can be done to discourage the practice or a boast about government's foolproof methodologies to pin it down to the ground.

With such loud outcry against corruption even coming from those in charge, I am not sure if what is being described is actually corruption. But what I do know is corruption is everywhere in the World although its pervasiveness and the rate at which it replicates and spreads may be different. From William Jefferson, the former Louisiana Representative who stuffed his freezer with $900,000.00 to Thomas Prusik-Parkin, the Brooklyn man who impersonated his dead mother and collected her benefits for 6 years, not to mention the British MPs fishy expenses claims, there is corruption in every society whether in government, private sectors or in homes. The way we deal with or treat this common nemesis makes all the difference. From the point of view of the outsider, three ways of knowing whether these practices are corrupt or not are to see if there is a law against such practice, the procedures put in place to catch or prevent those “corrupt” practices and what is done to those passing through those cracks.

Before we go ahead to condemn these practices as repulsive to the operations of the government and admit our helplessness in winning a fight, let us see if there is any law that bar them or any visible attitude that abhor them. If the law does not say they are crimes who are we to make our own rules? Let check and see if there are safeguards and deterrents put in place. If there are no mechanisms or processes put in place to check, prevent or deter such actions, it could mean that those acts are not as unwholesome as we have been hearing or those who suppose to set those safeguards into place do not know what they are doing. And finally let watch with an open eye what is done to those accused or guilty of such practices. If those who “break the law” are not reprimanded or made to pay back what they have corrupted, it could send a clear message that they did nothing wrong or everybody else is doing the same thing to the extent that it has become a norm.

Earlier today when I read report of the Finance Minister’s admission of an error in the 2009-2010 draft fiscal budget, the highly conflicted issue of corruption vs. incompetence popped right up in my brain and below was my initial reaction.

While there is corruption in government, there is a lot of scapegoating and blame shifting taking place as people try to hide their incompetence and ineptness. There is corruption everywhere in the World but yet they get things done because of the processes in place. Yesterday, Mr. Ngafuan was crying about corruption in Liberia being incurable and contagious as he likened it to a virus. If there is no body on his team to catch such mistake until it got to the House on Capitol Hill, you call that one corruption? It smells like incompetence and inexperience to me.

Anytime we blame corruption for everything without first checking what is been done to control, prevent and punish it, we glamorize the practice as beyond our control. Just as a Christian who blames the devil for every mishap limits the power of God, when we blame everything on corruption, we are confessing helplessness and hopelessness in the face of the almighty corruption. Such quickness to blame it all on corruption does not give us the chance to think about what we are doing wrong or right in the discharge of our duties, neither does it make us to readily analyze whether or not all these happenings fit under the blanket category of corruption.

The get this game plan right, we must first stop glamorizing what suppose to be a public enemy and be able to distinguish it from other transgressions and shortcomings.

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