Monrovia – The conference room was absolutely silent, none of the commissioners wanted to say a word – apparently holding back their expression of frustration as seen on their faces.
At the headquarters of the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC), all the commissioners sat at the round table in a press conference sanctioned by the Executive Chairperson, Cllr. James Verdier, to respond to allegations of disrespect, heartlessness and financial improprieties levied against him by his principal deputy, Cllr. J. Augustine Toe.
“Our institution has been drawn into the limelight by a publication in Tuesday, February 13, edition of the FrontPageAfrica Newspaper."
"What’s even more disturbing is the fact that the publication is anchored on an internal email exchange between the Vice Chairperson and Executive Chairperson."
"We confirm that such an exchange took place,” Cllr. Verdier told reporters in the presence of members of the body of commissioners, except for Cllr. Toe, who was absent.
FPA seized the opportunity to inquire from the rest of the commissioners their stance of Cllr. Toe’s allegation of disrespect and heartlessness against the executive chairperson, but the commissioners were mute.
“The commissioners are here, they could speak to that,” Verdier said. But they were still mute, looking into each other faces.”
“Then, Commissioner Sheba Brown broke the silence: “This is not the way to address the issue; I’ve got a concern and I hope we’ll meet; so for me, I’ll not speak to that issue in public”.
The commissioners still struggled to address a paraphrased question regarding their relationship with the executive chairperson.
In a rather high tone, Commissioner Brown stated, “Isn’t this the same issue that we’re trying not to bring our relationship into the press. If we had a problem we can sit in the confines of our offices and address it. This is not an issue to address in the press”.
For Commissioner Abba Hamilton-Dolo, she admitted that they as members of the board have differences, especially at board sittings, but said such has not affected their cordial working relationship.
“We have our independent views. Most times we deliberate on issues – the minutes are there – people make decisions, those of us who’ll differ, we differ, those who’ll accept, we accept and we run a democratic process…
Yes, we do have differences; but have those differences reached to the extent where we are in the news watching our dirty linens? Absolutely, in my opinion, not so.”
Cllr. Toe’s Allegations
Commissioner Toe, a former human rights activist, didn’t minced his words in the email exchange with Verdier in which he described his boss as heartless and taking the rest of the commissioners for “fools”.
He wrote: “What a heartless act!! What have we done to you to be so heartless to us? This is greatly disappointing and unfortunate.”
“Our cars cannot be serviced or repaired. Cllr. Payma does not have a chair to sit in and work; Cllr. Johnson sits in the heat because there is no air conditioner; the only vehicle for the prosecution division has been down for months, where my program assistant sits has no curtains.
“How can we expect productivity from these employees when the conditions under which they work are deplorable? If these funds from government no matter how meager are applied with humanity, they would improve conditions under which the staff work.”
Cllr. Toe’s outburst emanated from his discovery of alleged financial improprieties believed to be carried out by the executive chairperson and the comptroller.
Cllr. Toe disclosed in his email to Verdier: “Contrary to the report of the comptroller, a former employee of this Commission called me few days after and informed me that the Ministry of Finance has given the LACC funds a week or two before the BOC meeting.
“He then promised to get me in touch with the informer at the Ministry of Finance and true to his words, on Friday, December 22, 2017, the day of the staff meeting, he connected me with the informer at the Ministry of Finance (for your information, that was the reason why I did not attend the staff meeting) who gave me all the documentations of the operational funds released to the LACC.”
According to Cllr. Toe, on Jan. 4, 2018, he substantiated the documents he obtained from his informant at the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning and was also able to find out the portion of the operational funds already withdrawn with the consent of members of the BOC.
Verdier: Toe Provided No Documents
At Tuesday’s press conference, Chairman Verdier said Cllr. Toe was invited to a meeting where he was asked to provide documentations to substantiate his allegations but he failed to do so.
FrontPageAfrica was unable up to press time Tuesday night to independently verify this information with Cllr. Toe. He could not be reached via mobile phone as he was said to be in the remote Grand Kru County.
“At no time have we neither engaged in a neither reckless nor clandestine mismanagement of LACC’s finances nor have manipulated our administrative process,” he said.
According to him, the LACC has always been open to the public.
Verdier: “We have been submitting quarterly and annual financial reports in conformity with Public Financial Management Law. We have also submitted Budget Performance Reports to the National Legislature.“
“The Commission has been audited by GAC for a three-year period and the Financial System of the LACC was assessed by Moore Stevens.”
“Again, we are open and ready for an audit of our financial records. That is why we have invited the GAC to conduct an audit of our financial records and we believe this audit should be well underway.”
LACC Fighting for Integrity
Verdier admitted that Cllr. Toe’s revelations and series of other accusations levied against the anti-graft body now leaves the institution, which is supposed to be regarded as an integrity institution, to now struggle to safeguard its integrity.
“We do have integrity but our integrity has been brought to question,” he admits.