LIBERIA: SHAMING THE DEVIL
The devil is found in lawlessness, corruption, disrespect for the rule of law, injustices and the lack of integrity in business and public service and in government. This state of affair in Liberia gives our leaders and authorities the impression that they can do whatever they fancy with impunity, without accountability. Worst still, they believe Liberians are fools, who will not think before following the leader and will submit, without question, to the wishes of the leader.
We give thanks and praises to GOD ALMIGHTY for the gallantry of Liberians to reject the crooked, illegal, premature and unconstitutional referendum which was intended solely to use the hands of the Liberian people to achieve a selfish political end. We salute Liberians generally who campaigned against the ill-fated referendum; we salute Liberians who stayed away and refused to legitimize an illegal process by their vote; we salute Liberians who, out of honest desire to exercise their rights to vote, participated in the so-called “Constitutional Referendum” and voted “NO”; we also encourage Liberians who, misled by the establishment, sincerely believed they were acting in good conscience to participate in the process and vote “YES”. We reserve praises for civil society institutions and opposition political parties and figures who organized resistance to the so-called “Constitutional Referendum” and urged the Liberian people of all shades to either boycott the referendum or vote “NO”.
The overwhelming verdict of the Liberian people leaves little room, if any, for fraud or mischief. And this is the best part of it all because, by their decisive action, they have rescued the nation from looming political and constitutional tensions brewing over the arrogant and parochial nature of the contemplated constitutional changes in the face of popular and very rational discontent. Awaiting legislative action is a signed petition before the Honorable National Legislature by the Independent Citizens Union (ICU) of more than 10,000 Liberians instructing the Legislature to cancel or postpone the so-called Constitutional Referendum until after the 2011 elections.
The National Legislature did not respond, neither did the Executive nor the National Election Commission (NEC) listen to the voice of reasoning. By wasting valuable time and money on an ill-fated referendum, they have jeopardized the electoral process and potentially created a political crisis, which if not properly handled, could spiral a disruption of our smooth transition from conflict to peace, reconciliation and sustainable development. Two months into campaigning, not a single candidate has been certified to campaign because the NEC was awaiting the results of Proposition #1 (reducing residency clause of the Constitution for presidential aspirants from 10 to 5 years) in the so-called Constitutional Referendum to certificate President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to participate in the 2011 General and Presidential Elections.
The NEC realizing that linking the progress of the electoral timetable to the ill-fated referendum would lead to substantial delays and obstruction of the electoral timetable bargained for an extension of the electoral period by one month from October to November- a proposition for constitutional change which has also failed. If any of these propositions had been ratified by popular vote, the standard qualification and operational rules of the electoral process would have been unwittingly changed at the very last minute, two months before the elections. Changing the rules of the game at the very last minute would have been undemocratic and a source of serious political, social and legal contest, which would have eventually affected the smooth and timely conduct of the elections itself. Already, there are at least two law suits pending before the Honorable Supreme Court of Liberia questioning both the legality and constitutionality of the so-called constitutional referendum that could adversely impact the electoral timetable.
The devil is in the works, the devil has been shamed!
Now that the illegal referendum is over and the Constitution of Liberia remains unchanged we are all happy as the President contemplates her next move. In our February letter to the President and the National Legislature urging them not to proceed with the so-called Constitutional Referendum, we rhetorically asked the questions which now confront us-1) will the elections be postponed now that valuable time has been wasted and not much time is left to conduct the elections on schedule (October) in a credible, independent, qualitative and transparent fashion? 2) Will President Sirleaf ignore her 2005 campaign pledge of one six year term in office, the TRC public sanctions Recommendations barring her from holding political office for 30 years for her role in Liberia’s destructive conflict and the Constitutional Residency Clause requirement and participate in the forthcoming elections whenever it is held?
Liberia is once more at a crossroad!
President Sirleaf cannot participate in the pending general and presidential elections without violating the law or the Constitution of Liberia she took oath to uphold; ignoring the rule of law or being considered a shining star of impunity. Her personal campaign pledge to be like President Mandela and hold office for one term only is a matter of personal honor to uphold or disregard. If she humbles herself and keeps her promise she will be praised and honored. If on the other hand she disregards her pledge, she will be viewed as unreliable and dishonorable, which in such case is a character trait of African presidents.
Liberia is truly at a crossroad because we are headed towards elections without any meaningful efforts towards fostering genuine national reconciliation. Conflict causes have not been redressed, the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission remains untouched and our society is polarized along both artificial and natural diversities that bind in unity and divide in discord.
Elections are meant to resolve political questions, rather than raising new ones. When properly conducted, elections can unify a people and in the case of Liberia, consolidate peace and democracy, sustain social cohesion and reduce political tension especially when there is mutual trust amongst key stakeholders and the electoral process is broadly supported and credited with the confidence of competing parties and candidates. According to a UNDP study on elections and violence, “…electoral processes that are fraught with fraud, mismanagement or excessive political influence can top into underlying inequalities and thereby stimulate deeper, serious social conflict and undermine the advance of human development…”
The devil is in the works; once more, the devil must be shamed.
Permissive corruption is rampant in government as an instrument of the executive to control and manipulate the legislature and objective-minded members of the administration into submission and blind loyalty. The so-called county development fund was a cash cow intended to trap unsuspecting but corrupt legislators who were counting on stealing with impunity leading to a steep rise in defection of opposition legislators to the President’s Unity Party whose support base in the Legislature rose from a meager 14% to above 60% in four years according to conservative estimates.
Because nearly everybody’s hands were caught in the cookies jar, the audit recommendations of the General Auditing Commission (GAC) on the county development fund, like all other audit recommendations for system evaluation and change, prosecution and restitution, amongst other accountability measures, have been gross ignored. None of the three branches of government-the Executive Mansion, the Legislature and the Judiciary have submitted to comprehensive GAC audit of finances, systems and controls mechanisms. What obtains is a party of thieves where the executive privilege of patronage distributes illicit wealth to adherents who are permitted to steal from the public treasury with impunity and rewarded further with very high perks and permissible graft thereby exacting blind loyalty and the unquestionable yes vote at all times and on demand. If one is unlucky to be caught in a brazen fashion that raises public outcry, you are asked to quietly resign if you are a member of the inner circle or you are publicly named and shamed if you are out of favor with the center of power.
Outside the realm of the branches of government, police brutality has been repeatedly employed to cow the opposition, civil society and the student movement into submission, ahead of the now uncertain polls threatening even more drastic consequences in any event of civil disobedience. Additionally, the integrity and independence of the NEC was compromised when it was pressured into going back on its previous position that holding a successful referendum before the 2011 general and presidential elections was impossible and therefore unrealistic. Now that the referendum was held, the general and presidential election will suffer.
The success of the pending elections will depend on how the process is designed, managed and implemented in a systematic and organized manner that is transparent and fair to avoid violence. The Political will of governing authorities to be fair, transparent and tolerant of stakeholders concerns will contribute to a successful poll which has been seriously undermined by corruption including abuse of state resources, impunity enjoyed by political leaders and popular perceptions of the fairness of the process when state resources are placed to the disposal of incumbents.
It is time that Liberians and international stakeholders begin to dialogue on the most critical issues relating to the planning, organization, rescheduling and conduct of a successful poll. Holding credible elections in October 2011 is impracticable and a timely action in the form of stakeholders’ dialogue will spare Liberia the nightmare of a political and constitutional crisis that will negate the need for an interim administration when the elections are poorly managed or untimely scheduled.
In reaction to the mishap of the so-called Constitutional Referendum, I was told of the most bizarre comment yet made by a Liberian online which reminded me of an article once written in the “Economist” magazine in the aftermath of Charles Taylor’s election. Entitled “The Devil They Know”, the author lamented the post elections woes of Liberia and Taylor’s flamboyance, corruption and dismal human rights profile which did not stop Liberians from electing him even though they knew what a devil he was.
In his comment, apparently to opportunistically appease the anguish of political leaders generated from the referendum casualty, this Liberian suggested that critical voices of the missteps and constitutional excesses of the government should carry on our lives (as if we are not Liberians) and leave Liberia with them who prefer “the devil they know to the devil they don’t know” because Ellen is doing well. Too many of us who trust GOD ALMIGHTY and believe in the positive spirit of the Liberian people don’t prefer any devil for Liberia and we are exceedingly joyful that the people of Liberia have shamed the devil and the devil’s advocates and will do so again.
September 1, 2011