Tuesday, 26 April 2011


In breaking away from the EU model of recruitment, diplomatic watchers say, the government risks encountering problems generating funding for the position which raises the possibility that the salary for the next AG could drop considerably from the $US15K a month Morlu was paid when the EU funded the position.

As Government of Liberia Breaks Away from European Union Requirements for Auditor General’s Position, filling the controversial, robust outgoing AG’s shoes is already proving to be a complicated task for the ruling party in an election year.

Monrovia -
n venting its frustration over the departure of John Morlu as head of Liberia’s General Auditing Commission, the watchdog group, Global Witness, in a letter to Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf Said: “When Mr. Morlu departs, Global Witness urges you to replace him with an individual who can help the Liberian government achieve this end. We hope that you will appoint in his place a candidate who is not politically linked, has no vested interests, has a record of integrity and is both experienced and well-qualified.”
The Global Witness’ landmark could lay the basis for the atmosphere which could eclipse the recruiting process in the post-Morlu era. Love him or hate him, Morlu’s supporters say his persona and experience brought him credibility and his publication of audits and interpretation of budget matters catapulted him to folklore status. Morlu’s critics on the contrary, say his tenure was marred by controversy and contentious run-ins with government bureaus subjected to audits. In the middle was the international community who consistently expressed support for Morlu’s achievements.
On Tuesday, the GAC communications department confirmed that a farewell dinner was hosted by the U.S. Embassy for the departing Morlu and weeks before the decision was reached, a delegation from the EU had expressed unflinching commitment and support to Morlu for the high level-work done  for the Government and people of Liberia in safeguarding  the appropriate use  of public funds and increasingly effectuating systems and controls in Government ministries , agencies, public corporations, bureaus and autonomous commission.
Job posting raising eyebrows
The GW urging comes in the wake of the job vacancy posted this week in several newspapers soliciting applicants to apply for Morlu’s now-vacated position.
The job posting is already raising eyebrows amid concerns that the post-Morlu era could see a watered-down GAC and the likelihood that not much could be done with the scores of allegations linking current and former members of the post-war government to corruption
The sticking issue for many lies in the contrast between the requirements and specifications for the position between the European Union, which funded the position the past five years, led the search for the position that led to Morlu’s appointment and the current requirements and specifications of the Civil Service Agency.
According to the EU requirements, must be a highly-experienced accountant with relevant internationally-recognized qualifications(CPA, CA or its equivalent); demonstrate 15 years practical experience in the management and organization of professional audit teams and in conducting comprehensive audits of public institutions, ministries, agencies and other similar bodies; have experience of auditing in both the private and public sector; have a proven track record in heading large audit departments and be familiar with the organization and direction of multi-disciplinary audit teams within a national audit office; have relevant working experience in developing country, preferably Africa. Understanding of particular difficulties of establishing accountability and transparency in post-conflict and transition countries would be an advantage; someone of impeccable personal and professional character, integrity and standing with a demonstrated and proven strong record of professional conduct; should be able to demonstrate an ability to work under pressure and demanding conditions and with a wide variety of counterparts and must be nationals of state signatory to the Cotonou Agreement(EU-15-member States and ACP states).
In contrast, the current requirements call for a minimum of ten years of working experience; three of which must have been at the senior management level in public service, a minimum first degree in Accounting, Management or related discipline from a recognized accredited university, a Master’s degree, preferably MBA from a recognized, accredited university; CPA, CA CFE, CMA or equivalent evaluation certification would be an added advantage. And unlike the EU-recruitment model, the current position is restricted to Liberians only.
Next AG Salary may be lower than $US15K
In breaking away from the EU model of recruitment, diplomatic watchers say, the government risks encountering problems generating funding for the position which raises the possibility that the salary for the next AG could drop considerably from the $US15K a month Morlu was paid when the EU funded the position.
In announcing her decision not to renew Morlu’s contract, Sirleaf left the window open that her administration would like to continue to receive EU support for the position when she said: “We will ask for continued financial and technical support of the European Union to the General Auditing Commission. This will enable us to act even more effectively in fighting corruption and in pursuing appropriate legal action against those charged with financial malpractice in the 40-plus audit reports that have been concluded.” Whether the EU obliges without Morlu on board remains to be seen.
The EU model of recruitment was hailed as a crowning feat for Sirleaf in the aftermath of her election. Long before she was a candidate, Sirleaf, as head of the Governance Reform Commission, advocated for the independence of the position to ensure the protection of transparency and accountability.
True to form, Sirleaf lobbied and participated in the recruitment process for Morlu. Sirleaf, in her statement announcing her decision not to renew the contract acknowledged that it was on her advice that the European Union concluded an agreement with the Auditor-General to pay the salary for the first four years of the contract, with the understanding that the Liberian Government will assume this responsibility thereafter.
Stakes, expectations lower, higher
With the government now taking over the show in terms of responsibility for the funding of the GAC, the stakes and expectations of the next Auditor General could be lower amid increased scrutiny from an antsy nation eager to weigh, compare and contrast styles and difference from Morlu.
Per constitutional requirements, Morlu’s deputy Winsley Nanka will act in the position until a replacement is named. It does remains unclear who are the early favorites to fill Morlu’s shoes. In recent weeks, executives and partisans of the ruling Unity Party have been shuffling the cards for someone from within to take the post. Two names thrown out so far are Theo Bettie, currently an executive at the Central Bank and Alex Cuffy, formerly a GEMAP consultant at the Roberts International Airport. Cuffy, it can be recalled was embroiled in a scandal over whether or not he had ties to the international accountant firm, Ernst and Young which is listed on his credentials. Bettie, FrontPageAfrica has learned has not expressed interest but has been mentioned in some circles.
Morlu’s departure was spurred in the aftermath of an email to the President in which he urged the Sirleaf to “call off her dogs” in reference to aides Medina Wesseh and J. Nagbe Sloh, who Morlue said were attacking him and the GAC.
Over the past five years, the government has heralded as its achievements, the passage of new procurement laws whose effects are felt through the bidding process; implementation of the first ever Public Financial Management Acts; establishment and empowered an Anti-Corruption Commission with full powers to fight corruption anywhere in Government, including at the highest levels; the restructuring and funding the General Auditing Commission, making it accountable to the Legislature as it is done in the United States and other progressive countries.
To Sirleaf’s credit, she has given 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.  But critics say the feat has been tainted by the lack of cooperation Morlu experienced during the past four years with officials and government agencies most times reluctant to cooperate.
As Morlu sails into the sunset, speculations will no doubt heightened in the next few weeks over his likely replacement. His oftentimes contentious battles with the government was clearly defined by his “three-times more corrupt” declaration which Sirleaf cited in her parting shots to Morlu in the aftermath of the email which spurred Sirleaf to finally make his contract break official when she said: “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.”
As potential suitors lobbying to fill Morlu’s shoes wait in the wings, the ruling party, nursing a bruising corruption Achilles faces an uphill task in ensuring that it gets the decision on Morlu’s successor right to avoid a backlash in an key election year. As Global Witness said, in its letter to Sirleaf, it is worried that the decision not to re-nominate Morlu may signify another setback in the Liberian Government’s efforts to combat corruption. “Rather than acting to address issues of corruption and financial mismanagement revealed by GAC audits, individuals within the government have too often attacked the Commission and its Auditor General. The government has also been slow to adopt recommendations made by the GAC.”