By Dr. Musa Dukuly
Lecturer of Economics, University of Liberia
The pronouncement of the 2011 Elections results induced me to release a cautionary piece of development article titled: “Liberia’s Post 2011 Electoral Development Paradigms: International appeasement, self-enrichment or national development priority”. The thematic emphasis was on eliciting the conjectural expectations about the performance of officials-elect relative to preference for international appeasement, national development or self-enrichment (source: African news standard, 2012). The article also endeavored to guide officials-elect to trade self-enrichment as well as international appeasement for gross national happiness by putting human capacity at the center stage of national development. Looking at the below excerpt from the article, Liberians, in particular, the current political leaders may apparently redefine their thought:
“Our conviction is tied to those whom we have elected on the basis of confidence and optimism, that they are leaders of ideas and positive change to implement and execute sound policies and laws. It must not be an astonishment to see the opposite of our conviction, but continuity of Liberia must never be compromised because of possibly ill-performance of those voted in. By the unpredictable nature of human behavior, let’s not be over excited with the belief that genuine human development and transformational change could automatically be achieved through the officials-elect in Liberia. Possibly, we could go another six years with many new thoughts, misconceptions and controversies, especially as it pertains to the issue of rent-seeking, neglect for youth development and employment as well as women empowerment. The new challenges dictate putting things in perspective for our work to be connected to our own struggle. Everything may not necessarily be done, but some pressing needs must inevitably be undertaken to keep the hopes of Liberians alive”.
Almost two years now, political officials, especially those within the legislature seem to be swaying from the nucleus of development priorities to possible adoption of “false paradigm” framework perceived as instrument for strengthening political institutions. The motivation of this piece of work is to constructively add to the ongoing debate relative to pushing for a democratic sustenance bill in the parliament to fund political parties and candidates at the expense of the pervasive and appalling socioeconomic maladies. Any development rationalist would concur with the view that the preference to attain human development and the fight to sustain democracy go hand in hand, but human development reinforces strong political institutions for sustainable democracy. The questions are: should we support strong political institution amidst low human development, threatening food insecurity, weak security apparatus, fragile tertiary institutions, dilapidated housings, inadequate public transportation and outdated medical facilities? Does human development drive strong political institutions or is the reverse true?
Strengthening political institution is good for democratic sustenance, but it must not be allowed to compromise pressing priorities. This calls for a paradigm that aggressively anchors development agenda to the pursuance of gross national happiness (GNH) where the ideology of legislators should reflect putting human life at the center stage of national development, instead of seeking to fund political parties and candidates. Human development is interestingly among the key fundamentals for strengthening political institutions to ensure immense opportunities and freedoms. In the face of the appalling social imbalances, the concern is whether the distributive process of Liberia’s meager resources to political parties takes the path of self-enrichment or national development priority. This requires critical mass of viable policy decisions, because the timing of the bill is completely off track in contemporary context.
Empowered with the decision to ultimately veto or pass the bill, the executive should not permit any component of this bill to stand on the way of providing inevitable public goods to the destitute Liberians. Political institutions are not robot to operate on their own. Quality human capital and decent environment are pre-requisite to direct the robot. If the overwhelming quest, which I doubt, is to have strong political institutions to drive human development, then our thought should be thoroughly re-examined and diagnosed. Botswana and Mauritius are Africa’s two success stories. Their development inception was via human development. Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and other African nations are also threading this same path. Linking this argument to Liberia, genuine development should be tackled from bottom to top and not the reverse as it pertains to ongoing decision of using scarce public revenue to fund political parties and candidates, at the expense of pressing national priorities. With the low level of human development in the different parties, I foresee tandem of chaos within parties in the likely event that the bill succeeds and the funds begin to flow to the parties. Given the ongoing struggle with the county development funds, there is no guarantee that the parties shall use the fund to develop human capacity and political institutions across the country.
Let's generally understand that the attainment of large pool of quality human capital is the inception for decentralizing political parties around individuals for sustainable democracy in Liberia. Bringing some of our vital statistics into context, the country's human capital position is unimpressive, evidenced by very low human development index of 0.329 (ranked as 182 out of 189 countries, UNDP, 2012). In addition to weak infrastructure, the security sector is struggling for logistics to effectively function throughout the country. Awfully, the health sector is not only over-stretched with very limited and specialized medical doctors, but still using outdated medical facilities to proffer health services in only few populated urban towns. Terribly, the country’s renowned knowledge producing institution, the University of Liberia, is ranked 7900 in the world and outside of the top 200 universities in Africa (World University Ranking, 2012: www.4icu.org), with limited quality staff and output to compete on the frontier of academic knowledge. Low energy supply (power) stands as major macroeconomic constraint for a thriving investment climate. Amidst all of these, the national budget operates in perennial deficit, and we amazingly hunt for fiscal allotment to finance another “allocative extravagance”.
To economically take-off, the country needs to confront the dilemma of its own underdeveloped past and see the image reflected therein through an unbiased paradigm. Sustainable development in Liberia should be seen as a “generational challenge” anchored on promulgating innovative policies and strategies to foster progress and induce socioeconomic change, which begins with the downtrodden and poverty enclaves. These people expressed their voices for sustainable development through the far-sighted legislators, who are now perceivably betraying the people's confidence by deceptively using their power to allocate resources for the perpetuation of their political hegemony. With the ongoing decision to fund parties from the country's scarce national budget, one actually marvels about the precise period Liberia would be ready to move out of the “underdevelopment box” and venture to converge with other progressive African nations. These legislators must come to reason that the actualization of Liberia’s development aspiration by tremendously reducing abject poverty depends on exhaustively tackling our priorities: infrastructure, education, health, security and agriculture. These are vital elements to drive a decentralized political parties.
The main inference suggests that the prerequisite for sustainable socioeconomic development is via capital formation, particularly human capital, which are nourishing elements for the attainment of strong political institutions. Policy for strengthening political institutions should be integrated to national human development priority with less emphasis on directly funding parties and candidates for democratic sustenance. Socioeconomic insecurities in the context of “gross national unhappiness” are bound to loom in the absence of adequately using the legislature as frontline for Liberia's national human development and institutional strengthening. Any use of public fund for parties and candidates could expose Liberia to more political woes, because the political parties are still built around individuals with “egoistic” mind.