By: R. Joyclyn Wea with New Narratives
MONROVIA-Twenty months have passed since Matthew, a high-level officer at a state agency who had flagged rampant corruption in the Weah executive, was suspended from his position by President George Weah.
Matthew and his family are now surviving on donations from friends and family. He has been unable to find another job. (Matthew asked that his name be withheld for fear of further retaliation.)
“I have tried to seek employment in other places,” Matthew said in an interview at an undisclosed location. “I have sat interviews, but they could not give me the job because of this. My family and I are going through a lot since this situation created serious hardship for us. I can barely support my family. My kids are denied education this academic year due to a lack of funding.”
Matthew is one of a growing list of whistleblowers – people who speak out about corruption inside the government – who said they have lost their jobs and gone into hiding or exile after they experienced retaliation for reporting alleged corruption in the Sirleaf and Weah administrations.
No organization – government or civil society – keeps a database of cases. New Narratives was able to find twelve cases of government whistleblowers in the last 14 years. Four lost their jobs, seven wound up dead in circumstances their families say were suspicious.
Most of those who are still alive are unwilling to go on the record. Of family members, only Sylvester Lama, husband of Gifty Lama, a government auditor who was found dead in a car in the city center in 2020, has spoken publicly accusing government agents of killing his wife.
Matthew said he lives in fear. He believes he is being followed. “The guys are hunting to get rid of me. I feel disappointed in the system because we were encouraged when we were brought to the job so that the right things are done because we came on the mantle of change.”
“Today, when I die, I die because I blow the whistle.”
“When you punish people for blowing a whistle, you are telling our younger generation that when given an opportunity to serve in the public office keep quiet or else you are going to be like the way it happened to the other guys.”
There have been several minimal efforts to protect whistleblowers since the end of the civil wars. In 2009 then-president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf enacted the first of several executive orders designed to ban retaliation. In May 2021 President Weah introduced the Whistleblower and Witness Protection Act to safeguard potential whistleblowers and incentivize individuals to report misconduct. The bill has not yet attracted enough political support among legislators to pass. Deputy Speaker Fonati Koffa did not respond to calls and WhatsApp messages asking for comment on the progress of the act.
Meanwhile, reports of corruption in government appear at a regular pace. In 2022 the US Treasury sanctioned three top Weah government officials who resigned but were never prosecuted. According to the 2022 US Human Rights Report “Officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.”
A few months after he spoke to the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) in 2022 about corruption and fraud at the Liberia Institute of Statistics and Geo-information Services (LISGIS) over national Census funds, G. Alex Williams, former Deputy Director General for Statistics and Data Processing at LISGIS, was publicly fired in a press release by President George Weah. Williams said he was forced to flee the country with his family for protection.
Williams’s reports had been one of the prompts for the Liberian Anti-Corruption Commission, the independent watchdog agency, to look into LISGIS. The Commission found seven high-ranking LISGIS officials including Mr. Francis F. Wreh, Mr. Lawrence George, and Mr. Dominic Paye, Director General, Deputy Director General for Administration, Deputy Director General for Information and Coordination, and Comptroller of LISGIS, had either stolen funds or been involved in fraud and corruption.
The LACC recommended the prosecution of the senior LISGIS officials listed above for the alleged acts committed. Instead of being fired or prosecuted, the accused were retrained on the job and, in one case, promoted.
“I felt hurt by the corruption with impunity that deprived the nation of having a good and professional Census that would have been a pillar for national planning and development,” said Williams speaking by phone from an undisclosed country. “Many days, while I was in Liberia in my house I was in tears because I just cannot comprehend why people will see wrong they will know that it exists and they will not want to take action, but rather want to prosecute you who stand for the truth.”
Williams claimed he had received many threats from people inside the National Security Agency. He said he had been tailed and men had visited his home with cutlasses. The deaths of four auditors in 2020 convinced him to flee the country.
Whistleblower protection is the responsibility of the General Auditing Commission (GAC). The Commission said it does not keep data on whistleblowers and their impact but it does mention Harry Greaves and Michael Allison as significant whistleblowers who have died.
Both Sirleaf and Weah governments spoke forcefully about stamping out corruption when they took office but have done little to prosecute those accused of it. Harry A. Greaves, Jr. and Cllr. Michael Allison both died mysteriously during the administration of former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
Greave’s body washed up on Monrovia Beach in early 2016. The former managing director of the Liberia Petroleum Refining Company, had become a staunch critic of the president before his death. Cllr. Allison’s body was “discovered on the beach on 4th Street” in 2015 according to the Liberia National Police. Former Speaker J. Alex Tyler, Representative Adolph Lawrence of Montserrado County, and other individuals were the subject of a corruption investigation by the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) into money received from the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL). Allison was expected to aid the investigation with documented evidence that could link those officials. Scores of government officials were dismissed for corruption under Sirleaf but were never prosecuted.
Under the Weah government six whistleblowers have passed away in what their families and the US government have claimed were “mysterious situations” – Gift Lama, Albert Peters, Emmanuel Barten Nyeswua, George F. Fanbutu, Melvin Earley, and Matthew Innis.
- Alex Williams, Sensee Morris, Edwin Kla Martins, and Barcus Carr have fled the country or gone into hiding.
The administration has not been willing to address the alleged suppression of potential whistleblowers or the dearth of data on the issue. Minister for Information Ledgerhood Rennie and his deputy Jarlawa Tonpu, both declined to answer this reporter’s calls or WhatsApp messages.
Terry Yeahgar, Deputy Director of Press and Public Affairs at the House of Representatives, claims the 2022 revision of Liberia’s Anti-Corruption Commission included a provision to establish a specialized corruption court. He says the Whistleblower and Witness Protection acts were submitted along with the 2022 revised LACC act, and that all three instruments were passed in July 2022.
Strangely, civil society accountability actors said they have seen nothing of the new laws. Lawrence Yealue, Executive Director of Accountability Lab, and Eddie Jarwolo, Executive Director of Naymote Partners for Democratic Governance, and Anderson Miamen, Executive Director of the Center for Transparency and Accountability, said they had heard that the laws were passed but had not been able to view them to confirm. Loretta Kope-Kai, Chairperson of the National Civil Society Council of Liberia, said even though the Council advocated for the acts she was unaware of their passage.
Robust Whistleblower protection is critical say anti-corruption activists.
Whistleblowing, according to Miaman, is crucial to the fight against corruption. He said that legislation that was extremely explicit about the advantages of whistle-blowing, and what whistle-blowing entails, will encourage more people to come forward.
He also wants to see more data. Some other countries, including those in the region, publish the outcomes of their whistleblower protection laws.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission in Nigeria, for instance, reported in 2018 that it had collected more than US$1.5 billion in stolen funds. Other countries offer final incentives to expose corruption. The Korean Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission said it paid out rewards totaling almost US$14.8 million in the ten years to whistleblowers and had recovered roughly US$117.7 million based on 775 reports.
This story was a collaboration with New Narratives as part of the Investigating Liberia project. Funding was provided by the US Embassy in Liberia. The funder had no say in the story’s content.