Elfreda Tamba, head of the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA)
By Leon M. Talery
The Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA) was established in 2013, became operational on July 1, 2014, and given the dual mandate of revenue collection and trade facilitation through customs border management and enforcement. The LRA also do have a primary function that is “to transparently, equitably and fairly administer the assessment and collection of revenues, account for all revenues to which the revenue laws apply, and deposit all amounts assessed and collected into the Consolidated Fund and ensure compliance with the Code and regulations”. To accurately discharge these functions, the LRA must attract well-qualified human capital to whom all these mandates must apply. However, its mission and vision as contained in the five-year corporate strategic plan are as follows:
Mission: To professionally, fairly, transparently and effectively collect lawful revenues, and to facilitate legitimate trade and social protection for the people of Liberia.
Vision: To be a professional revenue administration adhering to international standards and to serve as a model for revenue collection and service delivery.
Within the public’s view, the general mandate, functions as well as administrative oversight of the institution emerged from the governance reform process and seem to be working well. But deep within LRA is a timid environment, characterized by “Indian charms”, coercion, savagery and all forms of unprecedented intimidation and violent experiences of nerve-racking stories written in the hearts and souls of many employees.
These stories are untold by victims to the public due to their peaceful, professional and gentle nature. Others leave voluntarily so that the LRA obligation to supporting national development be fulfilled. Nevertheless, the institution does not project transparency, impartiality, fairness, and compliance in administering tax regulations and employees’ management. Therefore, the camouflaged existence of the extreme and dishonest behaviors of the Management, especially Mrs. Tamba must come to the knowledge of the public and be echoed throughout the scope of Liberia.
Inside the Orbit of Elfrida Tamba’s LRA
Today, the Revenue Authority tends to lose its objectives contents due to distracting general confusion characterized by the authoritarian rule of the current Commissioner General, Madam Elfreda Tamba. It will interest the public to note that experiences of professionals who have served in the employ of the LRA revealed astonishing revelations of how the Revenue Authority operates currently.
Past and current employees cannot ignore the fact that most revenue decisions and projections during the periods 2014 to 2017 were centered on the conceived and unscientific perception of the Commissioner-General rather than on the empirical analysis of researchers and revenue pundits of both Domestic Tax and Customs Departments of the Authority. In the same vein, organizational structure or pattern of the LRA defines distinct, separate but coordinated authorities of two deputies to the Commissioner General. However, the attainment of the structure in terms of the discharge of duties and responsibilities is far from being achieved since the ideology of the Commissioner-General supersedes the ratified structure and responsibility of each deputy as contained in the LRA Act.
From the outside, it seems that the LRA is a synthesis of professionals, a perception no one can doubt. But the proposed decent work values as preserved in conventional decent work environments are far from being advanced due to staggering fears amongst the employees. No one dares to oppose the ideas and myopic decisions of the Commissioner-General, including the Department of Legal and Board Affairs, or else you are coerced to resign, or your services are terminated.
Interestingly, the most intriguing bewilderment is the high level of employees’ “turnover” which hovers around 150 professional personnel from 2014 – 2017. Since the beginning of operations in July 2014 until December 2017, there has been unprecedented employees’ termination; either by voluntary separation, management termination or abandonment of duty when disenfranchised and there is no redress or otherwise. But the question is: has there been an investigation, if not an evaluation by either the Governance Commission or any integrity institution to ascertain whether Liberia benefited or is benefiting from the social and economic policies implemented in relations to the LRA?
Is the LRA working in accordance with the LRA’s Act? Has the LRA achieved or improved its purpose mandate towards domestic revenue growth? (Note that fiscal year revenue estimates are always revised downwards at mid-year upon passage of the National Budget). Is there any progress made towards infrastructure development according to LRA’s five-year corporate strategic plan? Or is it true that the Management of the institution is only interested in colors (fine red, sparkling blue and pure white) in its logo, annual, monthly and weekly publications as well as its website? Has there been an enhancement of the minimum required infrastructure in each county for tax collection or the concentration is on HQ and Free Port of Monrovia only? Is the LRA implementing its mission and vision so that it becomes a true model of standardized service delivery institution (thereby guaranteeing its employees’ employment rights and freedom)? These hard and interesting questions are amongst the many inquiries to be answered as we espouse to contribute to the serenity of the Revenue Authority.
Our surveillance on Government’s institutions in Liberia in recent month captures one of the loyal surrogate of Madam Sirleaf, a creeping monster whose occupancy expires on June 30, 2018 lobbying with the current government with two distinct requests: (1) to retain her administrative oversight of the Liberia Revenue Authority and, (2) to retire at end March 2018 and claim all her benefits. To Ambassador George Manneh Weah led-government and, to whom all these presents shall come, greetings and we ask that her requests be placed in the dustbin of history or in an unknown mortuary of the darkest world. At this time, let not this monster escape with impunity for the human calamities caused at all institutions in which she has served. Again, we call on this current regime to restrain all statutory benefits due Elfreda Stewart Tamba as Commissioner General (and or former Commissioner General) of the Liberia Revenue Authority until a full audit of the LRA for period FY2013-2018 is concluded, scrutinized and published, wherein she is exonerated from all claims. A hint to the wise should be sufficient.
Some of the insoluble and excruciating dilemma unfolding at the LRA (2013-2017)
It can be recalled that hundreds of employees have been fired at the LRA, amongst whom were ten employees on an allegation of corruption. The case was adjudicated by legal luminaries. In the outcome, the ten individuals were found not guilty of alleged crimes and the highest arbiter of justice in the Republic ordered the Management of the Liberia Revenue Authority to reinstate the accused employees and restore to them their accrued salaries and benefits.
However, the decision of the Supreme Court was profoundly challenged by the Commissioner General, who did not reassign the ten employees but has remained resolute in paying them their monthly salaries while the employees don’t make a contribution toward the output of the LRA. Her incessant claim is that the accused employees are corrupt, and they cannot be assigned to any facility of the LRA during her tenure. Currently, the aggrieved employees have no tasks to perform but are receiving salaries monthly. We do believe that such action justified misuse of public funds. To recount a little, during FY2014/2015, 54 cases of alleged employee misconduct were “investigated” by the Professional Ethics Division of the LRA and Management’s action ranging from suspensions to dismissals were meted out against the reported employees.
Similarly, in FY2015/2016, 42 staffers (35 dismissals and 7 voluntary disengagements) took effect at the LRA. Accordingly, on Wednesday, September 2, 2015, three dismissed employees of the LRA appeared on a radio talk show to substantiate claims of summary dismissal by the Commissioner General of the LRA. The aggrieved employees took the matter to court for redress but to no avail. The LRA management also in 2017 issued marked US$ bills to a client (auditee) which was used to bribe two auditors of the Domestic Tax Department. Upon vacating the premises of the auditee, the personnel of the LRA’s Professional Ethics Division arrested the LRA auditors and forwarded them to the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) for prosecution.
The faith of those two employees is yet to be determined. Indeed, there are numerous violations of Civil Service employment policy by the LRA Management in accordance with both the civil service law and the decent work art of the Republic of Liberia. Surely, Management’s actions on employees are still lingering at the Ministry of Labor and in courts. Indeed, accrued liabilities due from wrong administrative actions is on an exponential increase each month, and if the situation is not expeditiously and properly remedied, the government’s indebtedness to individuals and other business entities will be off limit at the expiration of the tenure of Mrs. Elfreda Stewart Tamba.
A perfect recommendation would be to ensure that the Government freezes the retirement benefit due Commissioner Tamba until all cases during her regime are properly adjudicated and all liabilities incurred because of improper administrative action be redeemed through her retirement benefits. This recommendation will deter the continuation of authoritarian rule by any incoming Commissioner General of the Liberia Revenue Authority.
The practice of favoritism is glaring at the LRA. Attention is drawn on the employment of the internal audit commissioner. Said commissioner was recruited from the Internal Audit Agency, IAA (whether competitively or based on nepotism) and served in the position for a period. Upon raising concern that his remuneration cannot be on par with the commissioners of Customs and Domestic Tax, the Commissioner-General ordered his resignation as a planned game between the two. In accordance with the game plan of the Commissioner-General and the Internal Audit Commissioner, the audit commissioner resigned without hesitation and his claims were satisfied as he earns a monthly salary of US$10,000 (Ten Thousand United States Dollars), thereby paying 10% of the salary as withholding while the other commissioners aforementioned earn lower salary of US$7,000 (Seven Thousand United States Dollars) and deductions are made in accordance with the government’s income tax rate.
A further difficulty arises in the recruitment process of employees at the LRA, wherein the Commissioner General sits on every evaluation and recruitment panel. She then induces the panel on her choices. In fact, all short-listed names for any position are sent to her office for endorsement before a recruitment panel is constituted. Mrs. Tamba also with no regards to retirement age hired two old ladies as taxpayers’ services and enterprise branding consultants. These old ladies (Ms. Brownell and the other) ages are 78 — 84. Are there no young and energetic people to offer those services? Or is she rewarding old spouses of her late father?
In furtherance, the Commissioner General has no ceiling on checks signing (she sings almost all checks) thereby creating disequilibrium in the Department of Administration. Checks as low as US$150 are authorized and signed by her since she perceived the Deputy for Administration, Mr. Oliver Rogers to be corrupt. Indeed, are these findings not crystallized act of corruption and a manifestation of gross violation of civil service law of Liberia? However, to think that Mrs. Elfreda Stewart Tamba’s administrative oversight of the LRA is praiseworthy of her “self-acclaimed ingenuity” in revenue and tax law is a mirage.
Not only have the employees of the LRA tasted her fountain of agony, so has the former Vice President of the Republic of Liberia, Ambassador Joseph Nyuma Boakai. During the 2017 legislative and presidential elections build-up in Liberia, the Vice President imported high protein tuna fish to be used as a gift to his constituents and the Liberian people at large. In best practice, if not stipulated in Liberia’s Executive Law, the Vice President is to be granted duty-free privileges. Sadly, enough, Monster Elfreda denied the Vice President but granted said privilege after a prolonged period of negotiation with the President, Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. What a shame and a bad omen to Liberia.
History proceeds with conscious facts that our country Liberia and its public institutions are founded to exude all rudiments of freedom and practice of democratic values and the principles of egalitarianism, guaranteeing the necessity of equal opportunities for each citizen and perhaps each employee. Nevertheless, the practice of these principles and democratic values must be regurgitated in all institutions to safeguard the state.
Inside Elfrieda’s Office (“her fortress”)
Within the “fortified” Office of the Commissioner General is a conspicuous 56 inches CCTV monitor, where she aspires to monitor activities and transactions of Customs’ Officers at the Free Port of Monrovia. Indeed, it is interesting to note that Mrs. Elfrida Tamba has claimed to have expertise in analyzing video imageries. Such assignment, although may save the state some financial resources but also renders the Commissioner General inefficient in productivity, since she will optimistically gaze at the monitor all day with the hope of determining illegal transactions or activities of customs officers. She also always carried on her body, tons of Jewelries, some of which are charms meant to hypnotize and subdue all her subordinates. The CG is well overwhelmed and sophisticated in the discharged of her duties in both the physical and spiritual realms and has cajoled everyone to always saying “yes mam” or “yes boss” to everything she says. Again, this is another pity for the LRA and the nation-state Liberia.
It can be noticed that one of the key risks facing the LRA comprises summary dismissals which have rendered an insecure work environment to employees of the LRA. Certainly, job insecurity has weakened the successful performance of revenue over the years, although the LRA is challenged by other operational and infrastructural risks. To restore a splendid performance at this distinguished institution of our nation, Elfreda Tamba must be audited and must be retired immediately. She has personally inflicted deeply carved wounds and untold injuries that have lacerated the membranes of many local and international professionals who have worked with her over the years.
These can be traced during her service at the LBDI to the Revenue Department of the former Ministry of Finance and now at the Liberia Revenue Authority, thereby affecting professionals like Duyon Q. Forkpa, Alvin Johnson, Alphonso Jolo, Cllr. George Sagbeh, Anthony Myers, Trokon Tarr, Chris Wallace, Joyce, Johnson Dolo, George Wilson, Fredrick Wollor, Melvin Tolbert, Vara Manning etc. Madam Elfreda Tamba, remember so well that the Liberian people are not responsible for the agony of being infertile for which you always mistreat them, remember your college days at CUC where you performed series of abortions in continuation of your academic sojourn. Please live with the outcome of your action and blame it on no one. Whenever you are given a national duty, perform it in accordance with the law and not with personal feelings.
Madam Tamba, your game has worked well. Indeed, it is no doubt that you discretely attract and hire professional, thereby projecting the professional image of institutions you have supervised. You later adopt a hostile and obstinate posture which they no longer condone as experts, and the ultimate end is justified by the termination of service which has always been your target. As we unearth your successful and brutal trickeries and the vagaries of the taste of your insatiable appetite to serve another term as Commissioner-General in the George Weah regime, we pray that your actions be subjected to comprehensive investigation and that your requests find its way to an unknown mortuary. The new era is here, the change is here and therefore, you must be retired.
About the Author:
Leon M. Talery is a graduate of the University of Liberia, and he is the Chairman of the Movement for Social Democratic Alternative (MOSODA). The Movement is a leftist organization geared at agitating, politically educating, and organizing Liberians behind noble causes. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Alternatively, he can be reached at cell #: +231880819576/770472278.
Next release is on corruption and accumulation of wealth by EST (specifical misuse of duty-free rights)