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Liberia's Anti-Corruption Chairperson Defends Fight against Corruption

The chairperson of Liberia's Anti-Corruption Commission says her commission is committed to fighting President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf's declared war on corruption.

In her inaugural address, President Johnson Sirleaf, Africa's first elected female president made the fight against corruption a top priority. But after three years in office, her critics say corruption has instead become intertwined in the Liberian political fabric as the president finds herself surrounded by corrupt officials or corruption-related scandals.

Some observers are suggesting that unless the president intensifies the fight against corruption, it could hurt her chances for re-election in 2011.

Anti-Corruption Chairperson Frances Johnson-Morris said her commission has already begun investigating alleged cases of corruption.

"We are preparing ourselves, building capacity and in fact we have begun investigation into some alleged acts corruption that have come to our attention," she said.

Johnson Morris said some of the cases her commission is looking into involved some government officials as well as private.

"One of the cases is the case involving the Managing Director of the Liberia Telecommunication Authority (LTA). The managing director of the LTA is being investigated by us. We are also looking into other cases brought to us by private individuals about alleged illegal acquisition of property by some very low-level government functionary," she Johnson Morris said.

She would not elaborate further because she said the commission's modus operandi requires it to keep all investigations confidential until it can establish prima facie cause to go public.

Johnson Morris said her commission and President Ellen Johnson's government have the political will to carry on the fight against corruption.

"I believe all Liberians want to fight corruption and they all want to see to it that corruption is brought to a minimal or eradicated. The fact that the commission has been established through legislative enactment to me suggests that there is political will on the part of the government to fight corruption," Johnson Morris said.

But as more and more corruption cases are revealed, critics say corruption has instead become intertwined in the Liberian political fabric.

Johnson Morris said those asking for tangible proof that her commission is serious about the fight against corruption must first understand its responsibilities.

"While we have the primary responsibility to investigate acts of corruption which we have started as I stated earlier, the responsibility to prosecute lies first and foremost with the ministry of justice. Under the Act, we need to submit our findings and our report to the ministry of justice and ask them to prosecute. When and if the ministry fails to prosecute a giving matter submitted to it by the commission, it is at point only that the commission can go and begin to prosecute," Johnson Morris said.

She said President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf''s government has been supporting the commission in the short time since it was created.

"I think the government has done well in providing us what we need to commence our work. I should also say that the commission was established in 2008 August after the budgetary process had already been concluded. In the interim, the government has been providing money support as we have requested them to keep us up until the next fiscal period 2009-2010 which begins July 2009," Johnson Morris said.

Johnson Morris said Liberia's international partners have also been supportive of her commission by providing technical and logistical support because the partners consider the fight against corruption paramount.