Good Governance Is A Prerequisite For National Recovery And Development In Liberia
By Eric S. Kaba
The JFK Memorial Medical Center in Monrovia is a case in point. It is a government-owned and government-run entity, funded with taxpayer dollars and donations from foreign governments and organizations given to the people of Liberia through their elected government. The government of Liberia has the power and resources to put an immediate stop to the evil, "unhospital-like" treatment that is being meted out to our people when they go to that facility in search of medical attention. It won't do so and it has not done so for years because the government does not respect the people of the country and it does not feel bound by the laws of the nation. The people who are in leadership positions, including those who call themselves elected representatives and senators of the people, are interested in only ONE thing - to enrich themselves as quickly and as often as possible.
When I visited Liberia in May 2008, a relative of my uncle's wife went to give birth at the JFK Memorial Medical Center. The beautiful young lady, probably in her very late teens or early 20s, took a bath in the late afternoon hours one day and walked with friends/relatives from the Old Road/Airfield junction to the JFK Medical Center, barely a mile away, after she began feeling labor pains. Before they left to go to the hospital, I had the occasion to wish her good luck and God's blessings because I was pumping water from the well right in front of the house where my uncle and his family resided. I woke up the next morning to the cries of family member and friends. When I asked what had happened I was told that the young lady who went to give birth at the JKF Medical Center had died. I was told that nobody attended to her from the time she arrived at the hospital late the previous afternoon until the early hours of the next morning. By the time they paid attention to her it was too late. She died with her unborn baby.
A very close relative of mine died at the JFK Medical Center in March 2010 after having been at the facility for more than 24 hours without being attended to. He was transferred to the JKF Center from the Redemption Hospital on Bushrod Island, another Liberian government-owned and run medical facility. The doctors at the Redemption Hospital said they did not have the necessary equipment and medicines to treat him. When the family took my relative to the JFK Medical Center, the admission clerks did not even pay him any attention. He spent several hours in the hallways of the JFK Medical Center. One of my nieces called and informed me of the situation. I immediately wire transferred money to Liberia. No sooner had the money arrived in Monrovia than my relative was admitted and hooked up to intravenous tubes. At that point he was unresponsive, after having already suffered a massive stroke (it was subsequently learned). It was further learned that he had an extremely elevated blood pressure and very high blood sugar levels, conditions that had gone undiagnosed due to the nearly complete lack of good healthcare in the country as a whole and in the rural areas in particular.
On April 1, 2012, my niece (not the one referred to above) died of what is believed to be tuberculosis. She was a young twenty-something year old lady. She had gone in and out of the JFK Medical Center several times without apparently ever receiving the right diagnosis and therefore the right medicines and treatment for her condition. It was only after she went to a "Chinese hospital" was she able to get a diagnosis of and prescriptions for her illness. By that time it was too late. She finally died at the Redemption Hospital on Bushrod Island. They held her 40th Day Feast just this past Sunday.
There are thousands of poor voiceless Liberians who experience situations similar to (if not worse than) the ones I have enumerated above, nearly every day. And even in the midst of all that human degradation and suffering, there are a few people who live in such luxury that were one to fall from the sky unto this earth for the very first time and land within the confines of one of those luxury homes, one would never believe it, if he/she were told that there are tens of thousands of citizens in the city of Monrovia who barely have enough to eat during any given day.
What Liberia needs is a national leadership that will begin to lay the foundations for a society that is centered around the aspirations, expectations and needs of the majority of its population - not the handful and powerful few. Those foundations will and should include accountability to the people for everything the government does (and does not do) and respect (in practice, not just mere words) for our people and the laws of the country. An accountable government accounts to its citizens for every penny of resource the country generates. It uses the national resources to create the climate in which individual citizens have the opportunity to develop the capacity (skills, knowledge, etc.) to care for themselves. And a citizenry that is able to care for itself also contributes to the advancement and sustainability of the country.
When a government knows that it has to account for the nation's resources (as well as for all of its actions and lack thereof), it tends to put those resources to good use and act in ways that improve, promote and advance the cause of the citizens because it (the government) knows it will have to tell and show the people how it used the resources in its custody and it will have to provide justification for its actions and lack of action. Conversely, a government that feels, sees and knows no obligation to account to the citizenry can (and usually does tend to) do whatever it feels like doing with the nation's resources and act in ways that bear no tangible, viable fruit for the nation and its people. And that usually includes pillaging, misusing, misapplying and misappropriating resources and behaving in ways that show disregard for the laws of the land, as has been the case with Liberia's past governments and as it is with its current one.
There was a once-in-two-lifetimes opportunity for Liberia to begin to lay the foundations for a true and honest system of national governance when President Sirleaf was sworn into office in January 2006. No sane and reasonable person ever expected the President to rebuild the country in six years or even in twelve. Not even a “Marshall Plan” devised and supported by the world’s richest nations could have rebuilt Liberia so quickly! The phyical constraints alone would limit attainment of such a goal in such a short period of time given the fact that Liberia was totally destroyed during the civil war.
The end of the 14-year civil war in Liberia and the subsequent ouster (in August 2003) of the barbarian Charles Taylor signaled a fresh start for the country. It was a prime (and "God-given") opportunity to break away from the past - completely, totally and absolutely. All of the institutions of government, along with the economy and the social and physical structures and infrastructures, had been completely destroyed. It was as if Liberia was being founded all over again - like it was when the first freed slaves landed on Bushrod Island in about 1820. Out of the ruins of a once proud and gallant nation the foundations for a future great society could have been put into place.
President Sirleaf was simply expected to depart or deviate, at the minimum, markedly (preferably totally) from the past. That goal alone, if successfully achieved, would have been IT! She failed very miserably to do this and missed a golden opportunity to put the country on a "FRESH START". In bankruptcy parlance a fresh start is when a person has taken on so much debt that his/her liabilities have far, far exceeded his/her resources (assets). He/she then asks a judge or court to discharge all of his/her debts (that qualify for discharge). Upon attainment of a discharge of (the dischargeable) debts the once heavily indebted (now newly debt-free) person gets to start all over, with a completely new and clean slate.
The President could have put systems in place to begin to diminish the level of corruption in government. With a reduction in corruption, even if gradual and minimal at first, Liberia would have begun to put its resources to use in some of the most need-filled areas, like basic healthcare, education, food production and infrastructure rehabilitation, instead of those resources landing in the private (and often overseas) bank accounts of corrupt and disreputable government officials. Her legacy would have been the richest and it would have been carved in forever-unbreakable quadruple alloyed steel.
Let's hope it does not take another round of civil wars for Liberia to get another chance at a FRESH START.