Making a difference in Liberia: A story of civil society success

2 February 2023 –

With support from the UNCAC Coalition, civil society in Liberia helps secure new anti-corruption legislation.

Fighting corruption can feel like a never-ending struggle. How do we know we’re making a difference? Stories just like this one from our affiliated group in Liberia is one way we can mark major success.

While much of our work as a Coalition is internationally focused, having an impact at a national level is a top priority as an organization dedicated to fighting corruption. Our main priority is to strengthen the implementation of the UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC).

New legislation on anti-corruption in Liberia passed in 2022, thanks in part to the Center for Security Studies and Development (CENSSAD), an affiliated civil society group of the UNCAC Coalition. Passing four new bills is significant, as these bring a range of new powers on enacting new whistleblower protections, new rights for investigation and prosecution, and combating money laundering.

These efforts are part of a new initiative from the UNCAC Coalition, funding civil society organizations to act on recommendations they developed producing a parallel report. Our new initiative enables our members and affiliates to advocate for reforms in their countries.

In analyzing the implementation and compliance (or lack thereof) of the UNCAC in Liberia, the Centre for Security Studies and Development, identified key areas for improvement. The research informed the development of a civil society parallel report, with the UNCAC Coalition’s support to provide a civil society perspective to accompany the government’s own report on compliance. CENSSAD published its parallel report in March 2022, which contained detailed recommendations to address gaps in the legal framework and promote actual implementation on the ground (see summary of key findings). In the spring of 2022, the organization began follow-up activities to promote key recommendations laid out in the report.

Key goals of the project

Drawing on its analysis of the state of anti-corruption and UNCAC implementation in Liberia, CENSSAD promoted action to strengthen governance, transparency and accountability measures through the following three objectives:

  1. Promoting the passage of four key anti-corruption bills. These bills, which were submitted to the legislature by President Weah in 2021, would help address gaps in Liberia’s anti-corruption framework. The bills focus on granting the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) authority to investigate and prosecute corruption cases, combating money laundering and terrorist financing and establishing laws for protection of whistleblowers and witnesses.
  2. Advocating for strong leadership within Liberia’s anti-corruption government bodies. Lack of leadership for crucial roles is a major issue – LACC had only three of the five envisioned Commissioners at the beginning of the project. CENSSAD focused on promoting the recruitment of effective, independent Commissioners to the LACC.
  3. Increasing transparency and inclusiveness around the UNCAC country review process. CENSSAD’s parallel report highlights the lack of meaningful engagement of civil society in the Liberian government’s country review to assess UNCAC implementation. CENSSAD advocated for the Liberian government to sign up to the UNCAC Coalition’s Transparency Pledge, a voluntary commitment to meet minimum standards of transparency and civil society participation in the UNCAC review mechanism, a peer review process to evaluate whether countries are meeting their UNCAC obligations.

Advocacy activities

To build support for these issues, CENSSAD:

  • Carried out advocacy actions and high-level meetings with Liberia’s anti-corruption institutions to build support for passing the anti-corruption bills, in collaboration with other civil society organizations: the LACC, Liberia’s Financial Intelligence Unit, General Auditing Commission, Ministry of State for Presidential Affairs and lawmakers in Liberia’s national legislature, among others, to discuss promoting passage of the anti-corruption bills and other actions needed to advance anti-corruption measures.
  • Promoted multi-stakeholder engagement in efforts to combat corruption by convening a one day Anti-Corruption Forum on 23 June 2022 at the LACC. The forum’s theme was “Towards Strategizing for the Speedy Passage of Anti-Corruption Bills Submitted by the Executive to the National Legislature”. Civil society organizations, the United Nations, donors, and members of the media participated and developed a set of recommendations for promoting the passage of the four anti-corruption bills and strengthening Liberia’s anti-corruption efforts (see remarks by the US Embassy Charge D Affairs at the forum).
  • Conducted strategic communications by convening two Media Consultative meetings, with the support from the Liberia Media Center, in July 2022 and September 2022 on the theme of “The Role of the Media in Fighting Corruption. These meetings focused on the role of the media in promoting accountability and transparency from the public and private sectors. Participating media organizations pledged to support follow-up activities for UNCAC implementation and to track Summit for Democracy commitments made by President George Weah.

Success and results

Through these coalition-building, outreach and advocacy activities, CENSSAD implemented their recommendations and successfully advanced anti-corruption measures in Liberia:

  • The project’s outreach and advocacy helped to generate momentum that led to the Liberian national legislature passing the four anti-corruption bills in July 2022: the Whistleblowers Act of 2021, the Witness Protection Act of 2021, the Money Laundering, Terrorism Financing, Preventive Measures and Procedures of Crimes Act of 2021. The passage of the fourth anti-corruption bill, which grants prosecutorial powers to the LACC, was part of Liberia’s commitments under the first Summit for Democracy, (see Liberia’s written commitments). President George Weah signed these bills into law in August 2022 (see statement).
  • The Liberian Anti-Corruption Commission took several steps to fill its remaining vacancies by appointing a Commissioner in late May 2022 and announced recruitment in fall 2022 for a new commissioner to fill the remaining opening, consistent with what is in the legislation on the LACC.
  • The project helped increase awareness among journalists, civil society organizations and other stakeholders about the importance of anti-corruption efforts, while actively engaging members of the legislature and officials in various government agencies in efforts to strengthen anti-corruption measures in Liberia. It generated articles in the media (see Heritage and Daily Observer), that brought attention to the need to pass the anti-corruption bills.
  • CENSSAD has also called for the Liberian government to sign on to the UNCAC Coalition’s Transparency Pledge, and met with the LACC to discuss steps for doing so. 

Next Steps

While CENSSAD’s follow-up project has helped to bring about policy change, more efforts are needed to ensure robust implementation and enforcement of Liberia’s anti-corruption laws. CENSSAD will continue to mobilize stakeholders, including civil society organizations, government stakeholders, religious leaders, donors and the media. With continued pressure, they hope to promote strong anti-corruption reforms and the active participation of civil society in Liberia’s country review process.