LIBERIA: Governance & the UN Presence
By Francis W. Nyepon
There is no disagreement by this author that the United Nation and its permanent member states have stepped up to the plate when Liberia needed them the most. The world body demonstrated an unbridled degree of support in trying diligently to fixing the many ills of the Liberian society especially those that were not at the surface. Fundamental problems still persistently exist and remain at the crux of our stalled effort to recover and induce opportunity to truly transform the society. However, no outsider no matter how passionate their determination can ever understand or repair the root causes of the collapse of our society without first dealing historically with basic causes of issues that are embedded in our socio-economic arrangement and geo-political system.
The UN presence has harnessed the fragile peace reached in 2003. Its presence on the ground is directly responsible for all levels of economic activities made and gains realized in all sectors of the country. The credit for this level of success is of course the UN military presence, which has given every Liberian hope, peace and reasonable levels of individual liberties and fundamental freedoms. However, it is reasonable for one to conclude that many of the critical United Nations projects and programs needed to ensure sustainability and continued stability to restore the country to a safer level of normalcy have failed.
Many ordinary Liberians have serious trepidation if not absolute anxiety or outright nervousness about what would happen after 2011. This author offers four examples of areas where the United Nations have serious shortcomings, which could in fact jeopardize all the gains made since 2003 if nothing more is done over the next three years.
Example # 1: The restructuring of the National Police Force by the UN has fallen flat on its face. The police force is just as corrupt today as they were under the brutal regime of Charles Taylor. Their pay scale is a joke, their professionalism questionable, their judgment about criminal justice and basic civil rights, laughable. They are so ill-prepared for peace-building; it’s embarrassing to ask about social responsibility. If anyone believes what the UN has done with the Liberian National Police will inject or sustain fundamental change, then why do so many of our so-called big wigs still think of the police as messengers and errand guys and gals as Charles Taylor once did like many in the out-of-date True Whig Party once did?
Example # 2: The United Nations has not extended the rule of law outside the confines of the Monrovia Metropolitan Area (MMA) especially into rural areas, where the vast majority of Liberians needing the most assistance and enlightenment in seeing the government effectively function live and reside. Good governance, democratic practices, provision of basic services and the administration of justice remains elusive and still a pipe dream for many Liberians.
Example # 3: Liberia is not yet on track to achieving the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), including reducing by 2015 the under-five mortality rate to 50 per 1,000 live births from 187. More than 2 million Liberians still struggle with daunting and dehumanizing social challenges, which remain a drag on improving livelihood and living standards.
Example # 4: With the United Nations standing strong in Liberia for seven years, seventy-nine per cent of Liberians still lack basic access to decent toilets; while more than fifty-nine per cent still lack access to safe drinking water, and eighty-five per cent still have no access to adequate waste management or proper hygiene practice. As a result, twenty-five per cent of children still die before age 5; nineteen per cent of children still die from diarrhea and infectious conditions caused by waterborne diseases. In addition, forty per cent of children are still stunted from malnutrition, while another forty per cent still do not have access to safe drinking water, and thirty-six per cent of Liberians still die from malaria caused by mosquitoes feeding on rotten garbage or incubating in disgustingly filthy, dirty, nasty water.
Example # 5: Over eighty per cent of Liberians do not know what the Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS) is or what it means for them. The PRS is the roadmap that describes the Sirleaf administration’s strategy for dealing with macroeconomic, structural and social policies and programs to promote growth and reduce poverty, as well as associated external financing needs and sources of financing for Liberia. But, it is yet to significantly transform the society in a way that impacts the lives of ordinary people. It is not a functional change agent to average Liberians. The PRS has the propensity to fail because it negates some fundamental and basic bedrock measures, which are required to enhance fundamental social transformation. For example, without fundamental services like solid waste management (SWM), sanitation, safe water and hygiene promotion and preventable public health issues being tackled first, projects to improve the economy by themselves are likely to fail. Again, environmental health issues like sanitation, water, garbage and hygiene arguably pose the greatest threat to Liberians now other than war. Together these areas have a more negative impact on preventable illnesses and health conditions such as malnutrition, typhoid, diarrhea, malaria and infectious conditions, which persistently causes high rates of poverty throughout the country.
The question on the Liberian street is, what happens to the country when the United Nation departs, or when President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf decides to honor her consecrated and sacred contract with the Liberia people, which she declared before God with her right hand on the Holy Bible, and proclaimed that she would only serve the Liberian People for one term.
Here are what Liberians are pondering and rationalizing from a logical perspective:
1. What would happen to the more than 230,000 children who have been orphaned by disease and the war, and now live on the streets, or in orphanages and adoption homes? Will the Ministry of Health continue to promote its bogus claim that a sensible, levelheaded and sound alternative like inter-country adoption is child trafficking?
2. What would happen to 37% of Liberian children under five who still suffer from chronic malnutrition while 7% of them continue to suffer from acute malnutrition, causing stunting in nearly one-third of them; thereby leaving one in five Liberian children underweight?
3. What would happen to the more than 500,000 school children, as UNICEF says, who are not in school, or those going to school each day only to sit on the bare floor without desks, or properly trained teachers to provide appropriate instructions, and adequate books to learn from?
4. What would happen to the more than 80% of women who die in childbirth, due to the lack of basic healthcare delivery system, for which the World Health Organization lists Liberia as one of the top ten riskiest countries in the world for giving birth?
5. What would happen to people living in urban, peri-urban and rural areas where sanitation, safe water, proper hygiene, environmental health, garbage collection and public health, are still serious challenge s to living each day?
6. What would happen to the 80% of Liberians who still live below the poverty-line with an unemployment rate that still stands at 85%?
Recent editorials in the country concluded that the fault is not entirely that of the Unite Nations. Those editorials place the blame of failure at the door step of the Sirleaf administration. These editorials thoughtfully, proclaimed that ‘the Sirleaf administration must take primary responsible for politicizing social life in the country and making partisanship and narrow self-interest the lay of the political landscape. They insist that the government lack the political will to take and implement key decisions with serious reforms as the objective. The editorials concluded that the Sirleaf administration will never bring about significant social transformation unless and until some fundamental principles are injected into public policies that are necessary for tackling reforms especially those at the grassroots levels which deal specifically with the provision of environmental and social services, preventable illnesses and diseases to change attitude, behavior and mindset.
This author would conceive that the Sirleaf administration has made and taken some very necessary and key decisions to correct some of our past mistakes and shortcomings, but without effective alternative measures to deal with corruption and the provisions of basic services, our past could come right back to haunt us, and this time, it could be more terrifying than anyone can imagine, wiping out significant gains so painstakingly made by President Sirleaf.
Based on the finding by Transparency International, a global civil society organization leading the fight against corruption, Liberia is one of the world’s most corrupt nations. Our country’s underdevelopment is attributable to a multiplicity of factors with corruption being at the foremost. Corruption is a de facto way of life in Liberia, and our government must continue to single out those who choose this way of life and prosecute them to the full extent of the law. Precipitating factors for dishonesty are colossal in Liberia. At all levels of our society, corruption has had negative consequences on the quality of life forcing many persons to remain incompetent, poor, weak, intolerant and dysfunctional. This causes many of our people to be deficient in areas of civility and courtesy.
Corruption is a plague on the Liberian Nation State. The lack of accountability and transparency, lack of merit system, which encourages nepotism and political patronage, and underpayment of public servants are all contributing factors to corruption. It is a menace to our society, which must be minimized or eradicated regardless of its chronic and strangle hold on our people. It accounts for the unnecessary increase in the budgetary pressure on the government; and is a trigger for the miscarriage of justice in all sectors of the society. It undermines democratic values such as trust, transparency, and tolerance in the new democratic political dispensation Liberians are enjoying under the leadership of President Sirleaf. The National Legislature too must be proactive and reform minded. This branch of government holds many of the cards in the deck to inject significant social transformation into our country and influence the plight of our people. The national interest must come first and prevail foremost in all matters rather than the other way around. As Liberians, we need to work together to raise our expectations as a collective in order to transform our society into world-class, high-performing communities - not just for some, but for all our people, especially those at the bottom.