Anti- corruption efforts in Liberia: are they aimed at the right targets?
Corruption in Liberia has long attracted international attention. Liberia’s history has featured cycles of foreign interventions targeting corruption and mismanagement. Most of these interventions brought in foreigners to manage the government’s revenue collection, and even to directly control government spending (Maugham 1920: 84-106). The Governance and Economic Management Assistance Program (GEMAP) established in 2005 is the most recent in this series. Expiring in 2010, it challenged established rights of sovereign states to run their own affairs while placing foreigners at the centre of Liberian internal administration. International experts from the UN, IMF, World Bank, the European Commission, the United States and African regional organisations had counter-signing authority in the country’s central bank, state enterprises and the government’s auditing office to prevent or permit spending (World Bank 2005a). GEMAP also provided for external auditors and an anti-corruption commission, continuing the battle against corruption in Liberia in an intrusive manner that characterised international efforts in the last two centuries. GEMAP’s international members gave this latest intervention a multilateral approach that previous state-to-state and private interventions lacked, and that has continued with subsequent arrangements; but it continued past practices of wholesale intervention into internal governance, especially in economic and fiscal affairs, recognising that corruption in Liberia is integral to the operation of its government administration and the interests of the country’s political elite. A UN Security Council document recognises that ‘many Liberian elites profit from the system of corruption and undue influence and have resisted its reform’ and that many citizens and ex-combatants in particular, still rely on these networks for survival (UN Security Council 2006a: 8). GEMAP took place against the backdrop of the United Nations Mission in Liberia peacekeeping force (UNMIL), with 15,000 soldiers in 2006, declining to about 8,000 in mid-2010; taking up the old challenge of changing how Liberia is run rather than simply providing short-term remedies to treat the effects of corruption. For some, the continuity was explicit: ‘USAID, in particular, was motivated by a sense of déjà vu. In 1988, it sponsored a Liberian Economic Stabilization
Support Project’ that also put foreigners with counter-signing authority into government agencies, wrote two experts (Dwan and Bailey 2006: 8). Given GEMAP’s focus on corruption in Liberia’s government administration, it makes sense to explore the context and organisation of corruption in Liberia and to explain why it is so tenaciously integral to how the country is run. Does putting foreigners in key positions alongside Liberian officials eradicate corruption, boost official attention to social services and strengthen state institutions after the foreigners return home? The organisation and the context of Liberia’s corruption networks are the subjects of this analysis and will determine whether this externally-sponsored remaking of Liberian state agencies will eliminate or marginalise the key actors responsible for corruption. This is an especially difficult task in Liberia because authority figures, including many without official positions in the state, see their personal and community interests as aligned with the illicit economy and the subversion of government officials. However, these structures of authority and the interests of actors change. The rule of President Samuel K. Doe (1980-1989) and the 1989-2003 war resulted in the expansion and decentralisation of these parallel structures of authority. Contemporary relationships of corruption and authority have become much more intertwined, resembling a network much more than a hierarchy as compared to the pre-1980 period. This evolution of corruption changes the way that local elites struggle for supremacy through markets, often in ways that sudden political and economic reforms fail to anticipate.1