There is growing shock and concern over the suspicious deaths of four public-sector internal auditors in Liberia. While their violent deaths remain under investigation and there has been no formal finding of conspiracy or targeting, the losses have sent reverberations across the African nation and alarmed internal audit professionals around the world.
The victims, three from the Liberia Revenue Authority and one who served as head of the nation’s Internal Audit Agency, died in just over a week’s time. Their names should be burned into the consciousness of every member of our profession:
There is little verified information regarding their untimely deaths as official investigations continue, but press accounts describe troubling circumstances and hint at possible retaliation against our colleagues. What’s more, a formal call for U.S. assistance from Liberian President George Weah does little to instill confidence that Liberia has the resources to investigate the deaths. As President and CEO of The IIA, I have formally written to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, urging the United States’ full support in uncovering the truth behind these deaths.
From the IIA letter:
While evidence of any wrongdoing in the recent deaths of the four auditors so far appears inconclusive, the United States and Liberia have a special relationship dating back more than 160 years and supporting this notable ally would be an important gesture of our countries’ commitment to each other’s security.
Internal audit serves a vital role in organizations and government agencies in the United States and around the world, especially in developing countries where controls and resources may be limited. If these deaths are determined to be more than coincidental accidents, we feel that such a sinister act, particularly on public servants whose sole role is to protect the country’s citizens, would be an attack on the people and an assault on society and democracy.
In similar fashion, the African Federation of Institutes of Internal Auditors (AFIIA) has issued a statement from its chairman, Emmanuel Johannes, calling on Liberia to hasten the investigative process as well as to “provide the assurances of safety and security of all its citizens, including internal auditors.” Importantly, AFIIA, which represents more than two dozen IIA African affiliates, has committed to “facilitate strengthening the profession in Liberia and work towards the establishment of a chapter of The Institute of Internal Auditors in Liberia.”
It is critical for these suspicious deaths to be thoroughly investigated, and that findings be made publicly available by Liberian authorities. While rare, any time a public sector internal auditor is harmed or killed in retribution for his or her work, it amounts to nothing short of an attack on our systems of government. As internal audit practitioners, we are sometimes subjected to the ire of our clients, the whims of misguided politicians or executives, or pressure to carry out the agendas of others. However, these reprisals seldom reach dire and perilous levels.
Last year, The IIA published guidance that delves into the singular challenges that public-sector auditors must cope with. The Practice Guide, Unique Aspects of Internal Auditing in the Public Sector, identifies four concepts fundamental to ethics in the public sector: integrity, accountability, transparency, and equity. These concepts also are central to any government’s obligation to serve its citizens.
I have written often about internal auditors serving as guardians of trust for their organizations. This is particularly true of public sector auditors, for they hold a special place in demonstrating and defending the grandest virtues of society and of our noble profession.
We may never know whether Emmanuel Barten Nyeswua was questioning the integrity of powerful politicians, whether Albert Peters was demanding accountability for public waste, whether Gifty Lama was seeking transparency in shady government dealings or, whether George F. Fanbutu was working to expose inequity. Still, we owe each of them not only a debt of gratitude, but also our most ardent determination to uncover the truth as to why their important calling as guardians of trust ended violently and much too soon.
As always, I look forward to your comments.