Tuesday, August 25, 2009



Ibrahim Al-bakri Nyei

What is emerging as a blow to development efforts initiated by this current leadership under President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and also against the general aspirations of the people to move the country forward on a trajectory acceptable to advance human civilization and international standards is not only found in the widely public outcry against corruption in government. Every other government has suffered this in the history of our country. It is in a cycle of mistrust, distrust, lack of patriotism from within government, civil society, and the general citizenry.
Corruption at all levels of society, and the lack of patriotism and national consciousness in the citizenry are part of the forces militating against the collective desire for peace and economic growth in the country. And specifically, those are direct offenses against the current administration.

The driving force behind the development of any given society is the people who benefit from the outcomes of policies and projects. The same people must therefore be the ones to participate in policy formulation and at the same time initiating self-empowerment and local development programs that will ameliorate their collective wellbeing.

Like the political scientist Bruce Bueno de Mesquita argues, governments and political leaders only seek the welfare of their subjects because they want more opportunities to enjoy their stay in power, and to avoid being ousted; not because they are particularly interested in seeing their subjects live happily. Mesquita’s argument is a source of support to validate my premise that the people are the driving force behind their own development.

On July 1, 2009, US President Barack Obama spoke in Accra, Ghana and stated that the ‘future of Africa is up to Africans. That was a part of numerous popular calls to make us know that no one can solve our problems, not donors, and not governments operating through agents, for they do because they target an ultimate goal which is the unhindered access to and, the perpetuation of power.

It is therefore left with the ordinary people to catalyze their own development and growth. In Liberia today, the syndrome of dependency grows increasingly, despite the numerous civic education and community awareness programs, and local empowerment initiatives conducted by CSOs and NGOs in the country.

While resources are being galvanized and efforts exerted towards local empowerment it is saddened to witness the level of distrusts and complete carelessness of the local masses towards the plight of each others. In most instances, particularly in the control and regulation of prices, the government’s regulatory and control mechanisms initiated toward stabilizing prices are challenged by the citizens who are the targeted beneficiaries. The questions now are – what functions do we as citizens recognize in the government we elect; in whose interest does government intervene; and when do we recognize the role, power and authority of our government; it is only when we feel subdued by someone else then we begin to trust the government by referring to law enforcement officers? If so, then we are in a vicious circle of delusions and deceits.

For example, while the government arranged and announced transportation fares for various destinations in the city of Monrovia, commercial drivers went on a spree of defiance and extortion. This act was also supported by impatient passengers.
When the government announced new regulations and prices for petroleum products, petrol dealers went the other way in defiance. The same continues to happen on both the cement and rice markets where the criminal acts of sabotage through hoarding and re-bagging are very common.

The most recent and troubling event that blew a wave of shock among the citizenry and at the government is the ongoing tuition and extra-curricular fees crisis in private schools. Both the Poverty Reduction Strategy of the Government of Liberia and the 2008 National Census reported mass illiteracy rate in the country.
The government has however seen as a challenge, the reduction of illiteracy through building schools in local communities, monitoring private schools effectively, promoting enrollment, and encouraging more essentially- the enrollment of women. At the same time, there is a free and compulsory primary education program which has been on-going for a number of years. But this is limited to government primary schools. Some missionary schools have kindly joined the scheme.

In the wake of these developments, with the ensuing financial crisis, private schools, including some missionary schools, have launched a completely high level of profiteering scheme through exploitation and extortion by increasing tuition fees exorbitantly, imposing unnecessary extra charges, opening markets on campus for the sale of uniforms and books. Interestingly, this exploitative scheme is very bare and absurd for the mere fact that schools authorities will with no regard and understanding of measurement considering body size, weight and height, are charging the same for a set of uniform for every student. This is the most recent debate in the country since the month of August 2009.

There are many instances of such in the country, and no one seems to care from amongst us the citizens. Yet, we blame the government for most of these misfortunes.
Does the government pursue her self-made regulatory policies and framework to ensure compliance through monitoring and sanctioning when violators are caught red-handed? This is the question, and the answer is a capitalized, italicized and bolded ‘NO’.
The responses of government have usually been through the establishment of ‘Investigatory Commissions’ whose reports are sometimes treated in secret, discarded or trashed. There is the case of the Ad-Hoc Price Commission set to investigate the causes of the hike in prices of basic commodities. It is over one year the report of this commission or the status of the commission itself remains an issue of oral history; the case of the commission set to investigate a riot at the Free Port of Monrovia involving officials of the Liberia National Police on one hand and the Seaport police on the other hand; the case of the commission set to investigate the death of SSS of popularly known as ‘Silver J’ during a fight among top security heads. Then there is the case of the commission set to investigate the controversial email scandal that linked the presidency to alleged influence peddling and corruption.

Now the president has mandated an investigation into the tuition crisis in Liberian schools. But this investigation is taking place after the exploiters have succeeded, and the victims have already wiped their tears. Whatever the investigation produces will be for the future, which we hope will serve the popular interest of our poor and vulnerable people.

The President’s intervention is very late because the damage has been done. And it is an affront to her policies and development programs. What is needed now is to act decisively, but not to wait and suffer damages before acting. There is an urgent need to enforce policies and regulations and demand full compliance from all and sundry.

It is only the government that can curtail corruption in the private sector by enforcing regulations and setting up safety nests for the economy against the barbarity of economic vampires. But the problematic of fighting corruption in the private sector by the government is that the government pays lot of rents (rent is a favor or reward political leader give their supporter in return for their loyalty and support) to supporters and elitist cronies. Besides, there is a serious case of conflict-of-interest in the Liberian political and economic class setting. Those in Government are major entrepreneurs and investors. They are partners and shareholders in foreign investments that come to the country. They are most likely to soften and bend the rules in favor of their partners, and their supporters. At the end, the circle of corruption becomes wider, and the government takes all of the blames. This is why all eyes against corruption points at the government. And there is much reason to accept all. Then the government will cry that the people are not complying, and there are not enough resources to enforce laws and regulations. And the cycle goes around and round. Who then takes the blame?

Finally, it is no doubt that there are corruptible practices outside government on a general scale like it is in government itself. But the one in government must be publicly condemned because what is abused and corrupted represents popular ownership. The Government must therefore must therefore muster the courage and exercise the necessary will and authority to cleanse itself of corruption, the success of which may cut across.

Again, as government builds security to protect the weak citizens against the stronger ones, it must also protect the poor from being exploited by businesspeople whose urge of profiteering is as restive as the egregious and invading armies of Hitler. The people, too, must see themselves first at the ultimate beneficiaries of the actions of government, and begin to build trust for each other while reposing the soundest confidence in the sovereign authority. Then the vicious cycle of deceit and hypocrisy will compress. This is how credible and progressive societies are built.

I end this edition of the series with a call for local people empowerment in a system of power and administrative decentralization. There has been a very high level of dependency on central government. This in some way can be traced to the historical growth of the country, and the culture of politicking characterized by high degree of zero-sum politicking in which the winner takes all and the loser takes none. All of these are further complicated by the high centralization of power at the presidency and the cabinet.

When power and authority are left with a few who sent agents to represent them to the people, they (agents) become only answerable and accountable to those who sent them not those they are sent to serve. Thus development becomes very slow and sometimes completely absent. Conversely, when power and administrative decisions are in the hands of the people at all levels, they become more proactive in managing their own affairs locally. Thus transparency, accountability and the rule of law and development becomes effective and more productive.

-In The Cause of Democracy And Social Justice, The Pen Shall Never Run Dry-