LIBERIA: Term of Reference Could Hold Key to Ex-Auditor General Morlu’s Return

Monrovia – John S. Morlu is no stranger to controversy. In the wake of his reported imminent return to  Liberia, FrontPageAfrica has learned that the realization could hinge on how much of a leverage President George Manneh Weah may be willing to give to a Term of Reference Mr. Morlu is said to have laid out as a precondition to taking a role in the administration that would see him leading a Task Force to recoup funds squandered by the previous government headed by former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, and probably others.


Report by Rodney D. Sieh, [email protected]


Mr. Morlu, according to sources is keen for President Weah and his officials to make their assets public, something he believes would give the former auditor general the credibility and wiggle room to go after missing funds from previous administrations.

The move, if materialized could mark a major credibility boost for the Weah-led government currently embroiled in multiple reports of corruption, missing monies and scores of transparency and accountability lapses. The move could also come as a risk for Morlu if his experience with former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is anything to go by – and if the stars fail to align.

President Weah made it clear in his address to the nation last week that he intends to review all audits of the previous government headed by ex-president Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, most carried out by Morlu when he headed the GAC.

Said President Weah: “In the next several days, my Government will begin the review of all General Auditing Commission audits over the past 10 years, and will commence legal actions against every person that is implicated in these audit reports. Anyone found culpable will face the full force of the law. In this same spirit, my Government also intends to contract international auditing and investigative firms to go after all monies and resources that were illegally taken from Liberia over the last 10 years.”

Frontpage also has learned from reliable sources that Morlu is also asking for an expanded mandate not limited to just the Weah and the Sirleaf’s administration, so that the process can be more holistic to finally address the long-standing lingering issues of corruption with impunity. These will include reviewing and acting on the economic crimes provision of the TRC reports. 

In 2009, at the opening of Vonsco’s Fraud Investigation Unit, Sirleaf served as the keynote speaker. Realizing the occasion and the firm she was opening was about forensic accounting and fraud, Sirleaf told the audience, “Had Morlu said we inherited a government that was 3X more corrupt, I would have readily agreed.” 

Morlu made his 3x comments about 14 months after Sirleaf had been in power and Morlu’s supporters argued that he needed to make no such distinction between inherited corruption and current corrupt practices, as it was the same Government. Incidentally, the Weah administration is asking Morlu to join them about 14 months into office.

3 -Times More Corrupt Cemented Legacy

President Weah said it is time to take the fight against corruption to a new level as a form of social justice for all Liberians. “We intend to intensify our fight against corruption. But as we battle corruption, our fight will be based on the facts and the evidence of corrupt activities that is adduced by reports from audits that have been professionally conducted, rather than mere perceptions and unsubstantiated allegations.”

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Mr. Morlu, who was competitively recruited by the European Union under the GEMAP program,  nominated by Sirleaf in January 2007 and , confirmed by the Liberian Senate in February 2007 and assumed the position in April 2007, conducted  sixty-five audits of various government ministries and agencies, winning wide international recognition for leading the financial management reform efforts in post war Liberia. His departure from the GAC saw a downward trend for Liberia on global corruption index, including Transparency International Global Corruption Index.

Ironically, it was on Sirleaf’s advice to the European Union, that an agreement was concluded with Morlu to pay the salary for the first four years of the contract, with the understanding that the Liberian Government will assume this responsibility thereafter. 

Mr. Morlu, currently a managing partner at his JSM accounting firm in Virginia and subsidiary in Accra, Ghana raised his profile when he brought respectability and helped resurrect the General Auditing Commission which had been left for dead. But it was in June 2007 that he cemented his legacy when he declared that the Ellen Johnson-led government was ‘three times more corrupt’ than the preceding government headed by the late Charles Gyude Bryant.

In the wake of his reported imminent return to  Liberia, FrontPageAfrica has learned that the realization could hinge on how much of a leverage President George Manneh Weah may be willing to give to a Term of Reference Mr. Morlu is said to have laid out as a precondition to taking a role in the administration that would see him leading a Task Force to recoup funds squandered by the previous government headed by former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, and probably others. Mr. Morlu is reportedly keen for President Weah and his officials to make their assets public, something he believes would give the former auditor general the credibility and wiggle room to go after missing funds from previous administrations.

Mr. Morlu at the time took aim at the Sirleaf administration for failing to account for millions of dollars in the 2007/2008 draft budget, and a carryforward balance in the 2007/2008 proposed budget of nearly $47 million, as well was millions of dollars unaccounted for from revenues generated from government own’s properties that it rents to business in Liberia. 

Mr. Morlu strategically slammed the Sirleaf government’s lack of transparency in the draft budget presented to parliament, which he said understated or omitted potential revenues or cash-in-hand totaling millions of dollars. “This government is 3.2 times more corrupt than the Gyude Bryant government. I have evidence to prove this,” Mr. Morlu said in an interview late on Monday.

At the time, the Sirleaf administration refuted Mr. Morlu’ s charges, already carried in the local media, as “not fair” and unsupported. Many in Sirleaf government calls for Morlu’ s arrest for “treason.” 

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Mr. Morlu went on to challenge the Johnson-Sirleaf- led administration to work with him more closely to weed out graft. “No one has not come out to prove me wrong. I challenge them,” he said at the time. With an aggressive stand on corruption, Morlu received significant support and backing from international community who had recruited him. 

Morlu’s  two year contract ended in March 2009 but was renewed by the European union for another two years, with the EU informing Sirleaf that they were “highly satisfied with the performance of the Auditor General and the GAC,” and so they were renewing his contract for the remaining 3 years for Morlu to complete the tenure of the post of Auditor, at which time the EU will turn over the support of the Auditor General to the Government of Liberia, which as per the international agreement under GEMAP. Sirleaf waited and fire Morlu as soon as the four year was completed. 

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Sirleaf would later budge, realizing that she needed a clean slate to convince donors that Liberia had turned the corner and put in place the mechanisms needed to qualify for debt relief. 

Besides the General Auditing Commission, Sirleaf empowered integrity institutions to flourish -Implementing the first ever Public Financial Management Act; ensuring Liberia’s entry into the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), becoming the first African country to be validated as EITI compliant; Established and empowered an Anti-Corruption Commission with full powers to fight corruption anywhere in government, including at the highest levels; Restructured and funded the General Auditing Commission, making it accountable to the Legislature as it is done in the United States and other progressive countries; Gave the GAC sweeping powers to audit any official and/or agency of government, even at the highest levels at any time, without necessarily seeking approval from the President or anyone else;  and requiring appointed officials to declare their assets to the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission.

All this came in handy as both the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA) decided to support US$4.6 billion of debt relief for Liberia, of which US$1.5 billion was delivered by multilateral creditors and the remainder by bilateral and commercial creditors. This was made possible in part by the exceptional efforts of members of the international community to finance debt relief for Liberia.
 
Debt relief under the Enhanced Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative from all Liberia’s creditors was estimated at US$ 2.7 billion in end-June 2007 present value terms. Debt relief from the IMF would total US$730 million—the IMF’s biggest ever HIPC contribution for a single country—and from the World Bank’s IDA, US$374 million.

The HIPC Initiative was launched in 1996 by the IMF and the World Bank to ensure that no poor country faces a debt burden it cannot manage. It entails coordinated action by the international community, including multilateral organizations, governments, and private creditors. In 1999, the initiative was modified to provide faster and broader debt relief and to strengthen the links between debt relief, poverty reduction, and social policies.

After reaching the HIPC completion point, Liberia also became eligible for further nominal debt reduction from IDA (US$66.9 million) and the African Development Bank (US$17.2 million) under the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative (MDRI) and beyond-HIPC assistance from the IMF (SDR117.4 million or US$173 million) and the EU Special Debt Relief Initiative (US$0.9 million).

A buoyant Sirleaf at the time hailed the effort she was initially reluctant to embrace, declaring after reaching the HIPC completion point: “We concentrated on building the institutions, getting the laws, getting our public financial management law passed, making sure we got a general auditing commission that’s functioning, making anti-corruption effective.” 

Mr. Augustine Ngafuan, her Finance and Economic Planning Minister at the time, on a visit to IMF headquarters in advance of the debt relief decision, said debt relief is an important step for Liberia but no panacea. “We will continue to be geared toward consolidating macroeconomic stability and fostering conditions conducive to rapid and sustainable growth and employment creation as well as poverty reduction.”

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A year after attaining debt relief and as Mr. Morlu’s influence grew, Sirleaf parted ways with the controversial AG, in a move many say marked the beginning of her leadership’s decline. 

‘Did Not Always Agree’ – Sirleaf Parted Ways 

On March 25, 2011, Sirleaf who like President Weah, had declared corruption public enemy number one, and promised to fight it, announced she would not be renewing Mr. Morlu’s contract. 

Said Sirleaf: “We did not always agree with the way Mr. Morlu performed his job, including an indictment that our Government was three times more corrupt than its predecessors, even before he officially commissioned his very first audit. However, we continued to support him and want to sincerely thank him for his immense contributions to our fight against corruption. Our disagreements over his mode of operation have never negated the fact that he has established a foundation that his successors can build upon in the fight against corruption.”

The former President continued: “Whatever our differences and opinions, whatever our motives and objectives, the Office of the President demands a certain amount of respect and I can do no less than assure that this is the case. Additionally, as the fight against corruption will continue to demand a hefty amount of our time, our energies, our thoughts and our resources, we can ill-afford needless distractions and controversies. Therefore, I will not be re-nominating him for the post of Auditor-General of the Republic of Liberia.”

Sirleaf appointed Auditor General Robert Kilby, who was rejected by the Liberian senate because he allegedly falsified his academic reports. Sirleaf eventually withdrew Kilby’s name but soon turned and re-nominated him after the 2011 elections. Mr. Kilby won a 4G confirmation during the second nomination but was later sacked by Sirleaf for corruption. 

While she had reduced Liberia’s external debt stock by more than 90 per cent (see chart) to about 15 percent of GDP, Morlu’s exit saw the GAC lose much of the gains it had made and the fear those eyeing government coffers for the own gains went on to decline. The Sirleaf administration also began as of 2012 to see a decline in Liberia’s ranking on Transparency International’s Corruption Index. 

This is why many political observers are watching to see how the ongoing negotiations between Mr. Morlu and the Weah-led government proceeds. Would President Weah, like Sirleaf agree to the fine-prints of Mr. Morlu’s Term of Reference? Would President Weah fall prey to the whispers of those around him, similar to those who enjoyed the confidence of Sirleaf, if and when Morlu’s rugged and unconventional approach begin to grow wings?

That’s the dilemma and question the CDC-led government is grappling with as President Weah, running out of options and facing a major credibility crisis deciphers amid murmurs of the return of the controversial but highly respected Morlu, who from all indications appear to be playing a balancing act and weighing the pros and cons of abandoning his successful private practice and family for a return to his homeland for an assignment likely to put him back in the line of fire.


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