By: Sam K. Zinnah
In my personal opinion, the main objective for political governance in post-war Liberia should be to secure democracy by instilling checks and balances, which have been absent throughout Liberia's long history. Such political system “in a way” would limit or reduce the president or group of people’s power to no longer usurp so much power and wield such extraordinary influence over the fate of the majority and by so doing provide the conditions for sustained growth and development - not white washing old buildings and referring to them as development. The first task of political democracy in Liberia should to ensure equal and unhindered access for all to state power, which as history has shown had been the most contentious issue in Liberian political life that to a large extend fueled the violence that we witnessed in Liberia for 14 years. Liberian leaders have either lacked a vision or the will to enforce whatsoever vision they had for the development of the country. The Constitution, which should provide the framework for governance was disregarded and treated with discontent by the very people who should have upheld it. Liberian politicians are more talkative than doers. I grew under the perceptions, which of course I refused to accept, that only "doctors/well learned people" could govern Liberia. This explains why all of Liberia's past and present leaders had spent their energies seeking out doctorate titles, even if honorary, in order to bolster their position and create the erroneous impression that they were the custodian of knowledge.
The native head of state Doe even fought for a doctor degree, thereby discouraging Liberian youths from pursuing academic excellence. In my personal view, the conditions for democracy to strive in post-conflict Liberia and to ensure stability in the Liberian political system should go along the simple scenario of reduction in the President's powers, while at the same time strengthening, scrutinizing, and increasing the power of the National Legislature and securing the independence of the judiciary. With this in mind, the following would address those issues that have over the centuries, decades, or years paralyzed the Liberian political system:
Constitutional Reform - The objective of constitutional reform should be decentralization of state management - giving more power to the regions to determine local policies and development priorities, including such areas as education, social infrastructure and human development, as well as the power to implement these policies such as forming their own budgets, financing developmental policies, collecting certain types of taxes etc.. Likewise local authorities should be held accountable for what happen in their regions and they should be made less reliant on central authorities. Local authorities should have a share in managing state assets on their territories and gaining incomes from it as well for financing projects. To avoid outright manipulation of local authorities, particularly Paramount, Clan and Town Chiefs, article 56, clause B of the 1986 Constitution be revisited and the power of the President to remove these local officials be transferred to a credible and well scrutinized National Legislature acting upona specific number of signatures of the local population in the respective localities of these officials, certified by the national election commission as valid. In this way, we might not have town chiefs coming to bring resolutions of support to the president out of fear of losing their jobs. Given that Liberia is a small country of less than five million and that the level of illiteracy is high, and in view of the fact that power had been the root of all evils in Liberia in as much as incumbents had feared parting with power because it will not be gotten back again, a revisit of article 50 of chapter VI of the 1986 Constitution which states that "....no person shall serve as President for more than two terms is highly recommended. It should “however”, be re-emphasized, nationally accepted (under international monitored) that no person who have held office for more than 2 separate consecutive terms should be allowed to contest further. Efforts should be made to exploit the opportunity for amendment that is provided for in article 93 of chapter XII of the 1986 Constitution.
Another major case in point for reform should be the Liberian judiciary system. Over the decades, the world have watched the Liberian judicial system make mockery of the word “judiciary” Therefore, there should be a need to revisit article 68 of the Constitution. To avoid a repeat of the Chea Cheapoo scenario, the continuous disgraceful behaviors of Johnny Lewis, it is highly necessary and recommended to exert the independence of the judiciary by making it much harder to nominate & confirm judges, particularly the Chief Justice and Associate Justices of the Supreme Court of Liberia since in fact those are the country’s judicial strength
Owing to the rhetorical and political tactics Liberians and the world saw during the Doe and Taylor regimes, it is recommended that a cap or restriction should be placed on the number of times a president can grant pardon within one term. Article 59 of the Liberian Constitution is to wide-ranging without such cap. This explains why Taylor was able to abuse the system by, on several occasions, granting pardon to journalists that his government had accused of treason, even before these individuals were brought to justice, thereby undermining the Liberian judicial process and reinforcing Liberia's status as a banana republic. The President should not be allowed to grant clemency before the judicial process runs its course, and particularly in such cases as treason. Such ugly practice was recently observed again when the Government of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf began pointing proof less fingers against Charles Julu & Moses Dorbor.
Social transformation is one of Liberia’s’ complex issues yet to be well analyzed by Liberian government or Liberian sociologists. From all indication, what has worked for one county or group of people have not work for the next. Triggered by the planetary crises, the Liberia should be undergoing a whole-system of transformation of all aspects of society, from consciousness to economy, from values to politics, from technology to organizations. Some of these forms could be used to transform cultural, society, and community in Liberia.
Liberia’s social aspect’s long-term goal should be to rebuild the country's damaged social infrastructure in such a way to serve as a stimulus for economic growth, as well as to provide opportunities for ex combatants, internally displaced persons and refugees to get involved in productive activities. In this respect the things that matter most to ordinary Liberians would need to be addressed such as health care, infrastructure, education and jobs. One of the mistakes of the past was that development in Liberia was never people-centered. It has always centered literally speaking in the Executive Mansion & in the President’s inner circle’s pockets. Such or similar activities are resurfacing in different forms again. This time, the government is allocating county development funds which have been skimmed into internal affairs minister’s (Ambulai Johnson’s) pocket and the rest to the counties. Once these funds land in the local areas, the intended beneficiaries are left waiting in limbo. This explains why the people as a whole feels themselves estranged from the process of state governance and this in turn provide an inducement to the population to eventually take to violence as a means to realizing themselves when and as soon as this became possible. The simple fact is that there will never be integration or healing the wounds in Liberia unless people begin to feel empowered, that they have a stake in the country's future. No amount of speeches of zero tolerance on corruption, international rhetoric and talking would do. instead of internal Affairs Minister “A.B. Johnson” acting in dual capacity: for eg; county development official whilst serving as Minister, the Liberian legislature should pass a historic law that will comprehensively establish national development benchmarks that will serve as a blue print against which all current and future national development policy from one administration to the next in a consistent manner to ensure speedy and systematic development of Liberia. That historic law should also empowered the General Auditing Commission (GAC) to conduct systematic audit to ensure that county development funds are not continuing to end up in bank account of senior government officials in Monrovia.
A huge percent of the Liberian population was of the strongest conviction that the Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf led Government was going to lift Liberia from the very low level of poverty to a better level or to that of the neighboring countries but those hopes are now slowly falling on frozen ears. Since the inauguration of this Government, corruption has been at the all time peak in Liberia. Lots of people are now wondering whether President Johnson-Sirleaf has formed part of the queue of Liberia’s disappointment or is in the process of forming a part. Bold and confident decisions are required in this regard. Take for example the case of the President Sirleaf’s cabinet ministers that work on the Delta mining bidding that was recently canceled by the administration because of the alleged crook & dubious deed involving some of the president’s close aides. The alleged involves are still driving luxury vehicles to work while the victimized company is in an uncomfortable financial pain. Is this a part of the President’s definition of zero tolerance of corruption? What a disappointment again!!!
On the issue of education, the government should concentrate on beating down the cost of education in postwar Liberia while seeking to increase enrollment and set the conditions for quality education in the country. Due to the consistent level of corruption in past Liberian government, there is a huge impression that Liberian students are more focused on politics than in pursuing academic excellence. There is an impression that government does not have much interest in promoting education because it feared opposition to its policies. Attempts by Doe to promote the Agriculture College of the University of Liberia by providing free education as a means to allure students, for example, faltered in part because the government did not have any clear idea as to how to make use of these skills and it was actually not committed to developing agriculture and it was used as a propaganda stunt. Government should put its priorities straight in the education sector: science and engineering as well as information technology. These will prove crucial to the development of Liberia and the creation of jobs.
The objective of reform in the economic sector should be to ensure accountability, reinforce support for the political system, promote transparency, combat corruption and protect the interests of Liberians to manage their economic affairs thereby fulfilling their fundamental rights as prescribed in chapter III of the 1986 Constitution.
In Liberia, the word politics has become another term for dishonesty and corruption. President Johnson-Sirleaf needs to explore or design different avenue for implementing punity especially when it comes to members of her inner circle. There is already an ever mounting crisis of public confidence in Liberia’s political leaders. President Sirleaf’s failure to exercise her campaign promises (zero tolerance on corruption) is just consider as “another round of disappointment”. The entire world no longer believes what Liberian politicians say because for too long their words never match their deeds. There is nothing in life that can destroy a man’s credibility faster than making a promise and not keeping it. Liberian politicians see government jobs as the easiest way to get rich overnight. Much of the problems are rooted in the fact that many educated people in Liberian society enter Government with very low or no moral character and have little or no respect for public property. This has been encouraged in the past and now because there has been no system by which new and succeeding administrations would be compared by law to pursue and prosecute perpetrators of public crimes in Liberia. Instead, these financial hawkers run away from Liberia and spent some time in foreign country (ies) and later return to Liberia with their stolen riches. They used the same stolen riches to elbow their ways back to public offices. There is a need for an internationally monitored commission of inquiry to probe into the activities of all civil servants in Liberia so that Liberians can try to control the high rate of corruption and save money that could be used to implement development projects in Liberia.
The proposed internationally monitored commission of inquiries foremost in this regard should be to rigidly enforce or to enact laws that will ensure the disclosure of wealth and to speedily exceed to the UN Convention against Corruption. Same commission could also advocate for the imposition of a ban on senior officials in leadership position in Liberia from having foreign bank accounts and to oblige them to submit every six months full and complete information on their financial transactions as well as transactions of their close family members. Foreign accounts held before coming into office should either be closed or not allowed to increase in monetary holdings.
As part of the process of improving tax collection in the first stage and popularizing the idea of paying taxes, it is suggested that tax payments be codified (that is, every citizens and businesses should have a tax code for receiving benefits or conducting transactions). Also, the tax office at the Finance Ministry should be given an autonomous status while under the ministry in order to make it more effective.
Development will never come to Liberia if we continue to rely on foreign companies to do everything. History attests to this. The Indian, Ghanaian, Nigerian and Lebanese business communities in the country have never productively participated in Liberia's development. In fact, they have always tended to set themselves apart from Liberians. A requirement should be to make these people to integrate in Liberia, just as most developed & developing countries are now encouraging dual citizenship or foreigners to integrate or assimilate in their communities. Foreign banks in Liberia have never been a catalyst for local development. In the light of these, Liberia will have to either compel foreign financial institutions to actively participate in the nation's development priorities or embark on a course of creating our own local financial sectors even if it means direct state financial intervention. I am of the belief that in countries such as those on the African continent, state intervention is require since without it the living standards of the people will never be improved. Events on the continent over the past years have proved this. No countries among the developed Western nations have made it to their current level without significant state interventions. This is why I’ve considered that the insistence of international financial institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF that African states turn over development priorities to market forces as a plot. These international financial institutions are encouraging or largely silent with respect to state intervention in the former Soviet Union while criticizing such in Africa. Without state intervention in housing, electricity and other areas in countries of the former Soviet Union the plight of most of the citizens in these countries like for example Ukraine would not have been much better than what we see in Sub-Sahara Africa today. But of course, these countries are in Europe and only Europeans have got the right to benefit from state intervention. In the case of Liberia, we have never had any significant industries for development before the civil war besides the extractive mineral sector. For example, Liberia have never had significant domestic industries managed by Liberians that could produce consumer products such as diary products, or even sugar, needless to mention alcoholic or non-alcoholic beverages. Coca-Cola and Club Beer factory are all foreign-owned without any Liberian shareholding. So if we are going to attract investments in the post-conflict future, Liberia like many other Sub-Saharan African states would see these investments going to the mineral sectors and not basically towards manufacturing, where jobs could be created but how would such be implemented when President Sirleaf is refusing to drastically punish some of her cabinet ministers that are involved in dubbing major potential investors in the mining sector?. In such a painful situation, it is now up to the government of Liberia to build-up the credibility to attract investors to boost the mining and other sector of the country.
Sam K Zinnah