Elections 2005: What Are The Issues For The Aspirants?
By George D. Yuoh
August 5, 2004
Very hopefully, UNMIL will successfully complete the disarmament and demobilization of former combatants, and have them reintegrated into larger society with the hope that they will be transformed into useful citizens. Very hopefully, the Transitional Government will now start to pursue its main assigned agenda of repatriation of Liberian refugees and resettlement of internally displaced Liberians. And very hopefully, the National Elections Commission will be given the necessary funds, logistical assistance and professional guidance to start the political process leading up to the successful holding of general elections in October 2005. These are what every well-meaning Liberian is hoping for in the next several months ahead. And we all do hope?
But as we hope and dream of a smooth transition, we must keep in very sharp perspective our expectations of and for the future, lest we fall back into anarchy and international isolation. We must draw into focus our desire to be a stable and respectable nation hereafter, commanding the trust of those who will help us rebuild, and the admiration of those who now believe that we are incompetent of peaceful coexistence and self-rule. We must bring to fore those issues that will make every Liberian regain his/her human dignity, and develop confidence that our worst days are behind us. In this coming election, the hard questions must be asked and the future of Liberia must be the underlining theme. This is the challenge for all of us.
The million dollars questions therefore are, what are those issues that need to be addressed by the aspirants? Which candidate has a better understanding of the issues and is capable of making the right decisions? How will the electorates get to know which candidate is making sense and is truthful about the promises, in order for them to make informed decisions?
In a recent paper, I emphasized that the October 2005 elections would either make or break us. This is not an extremist or pessimist view. It is a reality that we have to come to terms with. The candidates must address the critical issues that are essential to our survival as a state. For, whomever we choose as leader, will determine what happens to Liberia thereafter. Some of the aspirants have been making the rounds here in the United States, giving their own reasons for wanting to be president. But how different are they, both in substance and form? If you ask me, frankly, there's not much to tell. And so then, we must look to how they plan to resurrect Liberia, so that we can weed out the false pretenders. So, here are the issues from the eyes of an ordinary Liberian.
1. National Security
Fourteen years of a repulsive and semi-genocidal civil war is something every Liberian wants to forget forever. But as other Liberians are now used to getting things by force, including political power and the accompanying wealth accumulation, it will be a challenge to fend off the economic rebel leaders, and protect the territorial boundaries of the Republic. There are those who will still want to take to the bushes, with the hope of being called to the negotiating table and then given political positions in appreciation for killing Liberians. But Liberians deserve to live in peace and undisturbed stability if they must realize their full potentials. Thus, national security has to be the first priority for any incoming government. Will we have our own national army? Will we request the UN to keep its forces in Liberia for a few more years? How will the security apparatus be restructured? What will be the size, composition, capacity and reach of the national and local police? The candidates must present a clear and well thought out national security plan that will guarantee to keep Liberia and every Liberian save.
2. Rule of Law/The Judiciary
The principles of democracy are built on the premise of equality. The legal framework of Liberia is based on the premise that everyone is equal before the law. And the Constitution of Liberia guarantees equal protection under the laws of the Republic. Liberia has operated under a failed legal system for almost all of its existence. The rich (how rich are they in fact) and the powerful have always shown a total disrespect for the judiciary. The judiciary has never stood up to them, but instead also joined in and abused the vulnerable and unprotected. An independent and qualified judiciary is not only necessary, but also imperative for a new Liberia. From the President, down to the layman in the streets, everyone must be treated equally under the law. We must show respect for due process, and develop a legal system that will be respected and feared by all. This is the fulcrum of our resurgence. The candidates must have a plan to deal with fixing the rotten legal system, in order to encourage national productivity, international investment and global respect for our democracy.
3. Social Infrastructures
Five words: health, education, electricity, water and roads. These are five very critical social services that have eluded us for multiple decades. The lack of these have not only made life difficult for the ordinary Liberian, it has also pushed Liberia back into the dark ages, has hampered development, and threatened our very existence as a people. Imagine, and for those of us living here in the USA, the distance from Cape Mount (western part of Liberia) to Cape Palmas in the southeast, is like the distance between Minnesota and North Dakota. But it takes Liberians more than two days to make the journey from Cape Mount to Cape Palmas by road, while it would take someone less than 6 hours to cover the same stretch from Minnesota to North Dakota. The candidates must have the plans, and show that they can harness the requisite national and international resources to rebuild our damaged infrastructures. Liberia doesn't need a candidate that will be a liability to the country. Rather, we need someone who is a proven asset, who will add value to the country, especially in galvanizing international support for our initiatives.
4. The Economy
The single most important component of any economic recovery policy for Liberia now is reducing unemployment, or creating more private sector jobs. In this, the leadership must strive to build a real productive private sector, and relieve the government of its high and inefficient personnel load. The policy must focus on creating a strong manufacturing sector, a responsible and credible financial industry, and a vigorous and attractive tax policy. Driving down the rising inflation cost is essential too, for it will raise the purchasing power of individuals and improve the living conditions of the people. Which candidate will present the most workable plan? Which candidate will be able to establish a middle and working class Liberia, and take us from a two tier (the rich and the extremely poor) social structure to one full of opportunities?
Too may people have been hurt as a result of what happened in the country over the last 24 years (1979 ? 2003), and especially from atrocities committed against them during the war years (1989 ? 2003). Liberians deserve redress. In order to truly put all of this behind us, we must first insist that those Liberians, who have hurt others so much, and are arrogantly perambulating as people of integrity, atone for their misdeeds. Reconciliation is not about the affected forgiving the inflictor. It is more about the inflictor acknowledging his wrongs and pleading for forgiveness. It is not about someone believing he can get away with committing heinous crimes against humanity because in his self-delusional mind, his actions were the results of war. Reconciliation is about justice. The candidates must state where they stand on the issues of a war crimes tribunal versus a truth and reconciliation commission. How do they plan to heal the wounds and unite the people? Where do they stand on justice and impunity?
6. Fiscal Management
We want to know how the candidates plan to deal with corruption in the public sector? What kind of people might they consider to serve in government? How will the candidates deal with extra budgetary expenditures versus priority and budgetary spending? How will the candidates deal with public remuneration, and financial impropriety in government? How will the candidates deal with the issues of governmental regulations, ineffective bureaucracy and institutional reforms? The candidates must address the issue of how they plan to build an efficient government.
The Last Words
The six items listed above are key issues that need to be kept in focus as the candidates try to influence the actions of the people at the polls. As they come here to the United States of America to propagate their political agendas, we must ask, on behalf of our people, the hard questions and analyze their rhetoric. Those of us living in the Diasporas have an obligation to contribute positively to the process. There is a massive brain drain on Liberia, and we should all now start to think big. We have seen what big thoughts have done for America. Let's not all want to go home to government jobs. I can't believe that people would spend their years and money getting advance education just to become a government bureaucrat, and without good intentions. Focus on the big picture. Together we can make Liberia work better then ever before!
Back home, in Liberia, we challenge the forth estate especially the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) to step up to the mantle and truly become the watchdog of the society. If the PUL has never done anything valuable for Liberia before, now is the time to redeem itself. It must conduct workshops for it members to educate them about elections coverage and reporting. The PUL has an obligation to ensure that the public is not fed political garbage, instead, its members must ensure fair and balance reporting of events, and ensure that candidates are given equal coverage during the campaign period. The press in Liberia now has to be analytical in reviewing the speeches and positions of candidates, in order to assist the people in making the right choices for Liberia.
For the Transitional Government, you have eaten enough now! It is now time for you to focus your resources on the helpless people of Liberia. Liberian refugees all over West Africa need to be repatriated. Those sitting in displaced camps in their own country need to be resettled. You cannot leave everything to the international community while you squander resources. How do you feel, having your fellow citizens sleep in the rain under tents while you and your family sleep in luxury? Just do the basic things for them: repatriate and resettle them, provide them with health care facilities and safe drinking water, and then you can go on living large until the end of your term.
To UNMIL and the international community, it is important that this time, the peace formula works. The warlords have been given so much at the expense of the blood and sacrifices of ordinary Liberians. You have created the opportunity, this time around, to give ordinary Liberians what they want most: peace and stability. You have an obligation to find those weapons that are not turning up at the cantonment sites. They are somewhere in Liberia. You may have to employ covert security operations to fish out those weapons. Liberia must be free of weapons, so that the people can freely, without intimidation, do what you want them to do to complete your mission. They too want to vote, but let it be under very conducive civil and political climate. Your help is also needed in helping them rebuild their shattered lives.
Finally to Liberians back home, you have seen what dancing in the streets to the tune of "you kill my ma, you kill ma pa, I will vote for you" has done to our country. It devastated your own lives. This coming 2005 election is crucial to your survival, and so you must, in your own weak way, analyze the candidates for who they say they are and what they can truly do for Liberia. Do not sell your votes for a few cups of rice. It is better for you to go hungry for a few days, and then be filled for all the other days. Election 2005 is your life, don't blow it!