President Sirleaf & Big Business Versus Prof. Mayson & Workers

By J. Yanqui Zaza

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
April 5, 2011


A series of a news stories over the weekend caught my attention. A story about how a billionaire from a drug infested country, Mexico, became the world richest billionaire, topping Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, was contrasted with two other stories; one was how U.S. Republicans were instituting policies that will take money away from the poor; and the other was how U.S. governors were trying to cut poor's hard earned retirement money to balance the budget. The fourth story detailed how a post-war President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, an economist from Harvard Graduate Business College, prefers to starve programs for the poor in order to increase government’s U.S. $193 million excess cash reserves to please big business.

The stories are different, yet the central issue is shifting money away from the poor to give it to the rich. For Liberia’s 2011 election, the central issue in these stories should be the key issue between President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and the new kid on the block, Professor Dew Mayson, the newly announced Presidential candidate.

In fact, Prof. Mayson has added his voice to the central issue, which has been the focus of this writer since 2002. Professor Mayson, in his acceptance speech, after being nominated as the standard bearer of the New Deal Movement Party to vie for the presidency, once again, attacked the policies of the President. He stated that only the few friends of President Sirleaf continue to benefit from the enormous contributions given to Liberia. Poor workers, watching President Sirleaf awards favors to remnants of Liberia's oligarch such as tax breaks, payment of arrears in rent to owners of government-leased buildings, etc, have parted with the President. So, they did not only call Prof. Mayson a friend, but also endorse him as their presidential candidate.

The workers’ endorsement indicates that Liberian workers don’t consider the first female President of Africa, a darling of big business, as a friend. Interestingly, how does the story about the 21 world billionaires help to promote friendship between workers of the world and world billionaires? If the protest in the Middle East is any sign to consider, the idea about creating friendship between the poor and the rich would seem to be illusive even though billionaires continue to give some of their riches to the poor.

In fact, this idea seems to be illusive because of the methods billionaires are using to accumulate their wealth, says an analyst who is a contributor to the Economist, a leading Conservative magazine. Certainly, few billionaires are getting rich from technology or ingenuity. But as Warren Buffett, the third richest man in the world, indicated in his recent interview, the vast majority of the billionaires is increasing his/her wealth from business shenanigans because of weak regulations or bad polices.

The fight for wealth between the majority (i.e., those who are without money to invest) and the minority (i.e., those who have the money to invest) is not new. To reduce the fight, and create a level playing field, philosophers accepted the concept of an arbiter, many years ago. A democratically elected official would create policies to help those without capital and those with capital to reasonably share the wealth of a community, they reasoned.

Ironically, the majority’s choice, (i.e., officials chosen by the majority), who should find the right balance between public and private, civic duties and individual freedom, small communities and big industrial complexes, continue to design bad policies that usually help the privileged few to accumulate more wealth.

The second story, “Florida Governor killed the High Speed Train Rail legislation,” illustrated one example of bad policies, which is shifting resources from the majority to the few. Michael Cooper stated in an article carried by the NY Times that Governor Rick Scott of Florida killed the project because the billion-dollar oil industry fears that a reduction in the purchase of cars would reduce its revenue intake. Conversely, an increase in the number of high speed train rail would reduce the need for the poor to buy car, thereby, ends up saving money on insurance premium, interest on car loan, and money for gas.

U.S. states' governors accusing government employees such as public school teachers for causing the huge debts was the third story. However, the facts suggest that teachers do not make high salaries. For instance, a study done by McKinsey & Company, according to Nicholas D. Kristof, indicates that teachers make less than private employees on Wall Street. In the 1970, starting teachers, in New York City, made $2,000.00 less than starting lawyers on Wall Street. Nowadays, a lawyer on Wall Street takes home, including bonus, $115,000.00 more than teachers.

President Sirleaf‘s decision to increase Liberia’s excess cash reserves was the fourth story. Instead of constructing roads, building schools and clinics, etc the president is adding more money to Liberia’s U. S. $193 million dollar cash reserves. For instance, government has yet to renovate the Voinjama Multilateral High School that was destroyed during the war. Better yet, the President could increase its cash reserves if she completed many of the government buildings the late President Samuel K. Doe started and end the huge annual rental payment to her friends.

It is a good idea to save money for raining days, but not at the expense of development projects such as schools, roads, bridges, clinics, etc. More so, the concept of austerity measure is difficult to accept since President Sirleaf continues to pay U.S. $15,000.00 per month as allowance to some of her advisers, and give sweet heart deals to investors.

In each of the news article the common element was that bad policy or unfavorable environment is making it difficulty for the majority or the poor to prosper. In the case of Liberia, poor workers have seen or felt the pain of bad policies. For example, in addition to remitting $10 million as royalty payment to government’s coffers, Firestone workers tap 600 trees daily for $3.19 dollars, even though the parent company, Bridgestone, gave $3 million dollars to the U.S. Super bowl to sponsor 30 second commercial. (AFL-CIO Solidarity Center) Why Firestone is paying such a low wage? The first female President, a darling of big business, awarded a sweet heart deal to the management of Firestone.

Another bad policy is the idea that Liberia should not get involve in the ownership and management of certain resources such as diamond, gold or logging operations. Instead of licensing diamond dealers to fetch for diamond, why not institute the kinds of policy Botswana has initiated in managing its diamond industry. This kind of operation would not only raise cash, but would also create good-paying jobs for the poor. I guess if the country has enough resources; it could simultaneously increase its excess cash reserves and finance necessary programs.

For such a genuine policy to be implemented, Liberia needs someone who understands the economic ramification if a country does not invest in social programs. Beyond understanding the economic implications of limited funding of social programs, Liberia needs a people’s fighter. Someone, for example, who will look at experts of the World Bank along with sister institutions such as the Millennium Challenge Account, and tell them the truth.

The million-dollar question is which of the candidates will create good-paying jobs? The $3.00 per day paid by Firestone, diamond companies, gold companies, etc, a policy initiated by the current president, is surely not an answer. Once again, which of the candidates will revisit the concessionary agreements and amend them in order to emancipate from a farm industry to a manufacturing industry? Is the darling of big business, current president, ready to pick a fight with her allies in order to create real jobs? Will Prof. Mayson, a choice of the workers, keep his promise and help change the economic conditions of the citizenry?

© 2011 by The Perspective

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