By Alston C. Armah
To say that the confirmation of Madam Angelique Weeks as LTA chairman is a disappointment would be an understatement. It is a travesty and a sheer lack of fortitude and leadership at the Liberian Senate.
Chinua Achebe, an African writer of sainted memory, wrote in 1983 that “the problem of Africa is the lack of leadership.” No assertion could be more truthful than this. I have often paraphrased the author to say that the problem of Liberia is poor leadership or the lack thereof. This lack of leadership came full circle a fortnight ago at the Capitol when the joint Public Accounts Committee of the Legislature held a public hearing on audit reports covering the Liberia Telecommunication Authority and the National Oil Company of Liberia. A day before the referenced public hearing, Madam Weeks had been rejected by the senate.
What should have been a public service reckoning forum – an opportunity for commissioners of the LTA to account of their stewardship and/or mismanagement of the public trust - turned out to be a forum for people to proffer flimsy excuses about why or why not duties entrusted to them were not carried out fully and responsibly. And then followed a time of wining and dining as if to say the heads of the entities under scrutiny had gone to have breakfast or lunch with the Legislature.
It was quite a dismal performance shown by the LTA commissioners. Even my illiterate grandmother would see lies and deceit in the kneejerk testimonies of these commissioners. Madam Angelique Weeks, the Chairman of the LTA struggled and fumbled as she tried to answer to barrage of questions posed by legislators. In spite of the weak responses she tried to provide, I found it a most flimsy attempt for her to blame the LTA’s failure to implement GAC’s recommendations on the lack of capacity. The GAC audit pointed out irregularities in foreign travels (i.e. travel plans not in sync with the GOL foreign travel ordinance), expenditures without an approved budget, weak internal controls and lack of system to track fixed assets of the LTA. Among many things, the GAC audit report recommended the setup of a fixed assets registry, a task which is as simple as counting 1, 2, 3… To date, more than four years after the audit was conducted, the LTA has not implemented the GAC recommendations, even the one which is as simple as setting up an assets registry.
In my view, the failure to implement the audit recommendations is more a lack of leadership than the lack of capacity. How long does it take to prepare an assets registry? Madam Angelique Weeks’ response to this question was “I don’t know.” By this response, I can say without any fear of contradiction that the LTA management does not have accurate information on its fixed assets (vehicles, furniture, equipment, etc.). I wonder how the LTA prepares its balance sheet if the management does not know or have no list of what the institution’s fixed assets are.
The major obstacle to our forward march as a nation state is not that we don’t have resources. Our major problem is not that other people were created through special dispensation, and we were created by a system less than divine providence. We are not children of a lesser God. The obstacle to our forward march is our lack of leadership, and unless we can find that right quality leadership that will lead all sectors of our country, we are bound by fate to continue facing the perennial problems which have beset us: poverty, corruption, hunger, diseases, etc. The leadership referenced here is the one that brings about a character transplant – a DNA transplant – so that our dominant desire will be the instinct to do that which is good, honest, sincere, patriotic and in the national interest.
We need a character and mental revolution that will dismantle the system whereby the select few live in affluence while the vast majority of our people live in abject poverty. We need a character transplant that will make our leaders to begin seeing themselves as servants and not masters of the people. Liberia needs leaders who are men and women of integrity and credibility and who are willing to sacrifice personal comfort for the greater good of the country.
We complain that we are poor. It is no secret that this country and its people are poor and in dire strait, needing the smallest pennies to invest in education, health, job creation and infrastructural development. Ironically, Madam Weeks and other LTA Commissioners, like other government officials, would elect to fly business/premium class in the name of official matters when in fact some of their foreign travels are meant for pleasure. Madam Weeks and her commissioners are reported to have used some public money in excess of US$48,000.00 for incidentals, yet these incidental expenses were neither incurred nor was the money ever refunded. This amount, when refunded, could have otherwise been used to build a four-bedroom clinic in Rivercess County, in which case the outcome would be beneficial to the entire nation.
Leadership is an opportunity for service and honor. People who aspire for leadership should do so because they want to serve. Unfortunately, in Liberia the situation is different. Our misleaders who masquerade as leaders are only interested in satisfying their egos, lining up their pockets and purses through broad day stealing. Today, Liberia is a country where, to quote a Zambian colleague, “our young girls upon reaching puberty cannot afford sanitary pads yet our public servants hold ipads which they do not know how to use.” Liberia is a country where government officials ride some of the most expensive cars yet the masses of the people continue to remain stranded, struggling for cars along the streets. The scene of hundreds of people scrambling for commercial cars to meet their transport needs is a daily phenomenon. How can it be that more than 10 years into this post-war era, Liberians are still suffering and living like brutes as if we were still in the 1990s – the heydays of our civil conflict? This is a testament to the lack of leadership.
The Legislature has (or should have) three cardinal functions – lawmaking, representation and oversight. The scrupulous execution of these functions no doubt constitutes the significance of the Legislature and the core of legislative duties and politics. Regrettably most of our “honorables” do not understand these functions or I should lack the moral high ground to discharge these functions. Serving in the Legislature has now become a money making venture – any wonder why even buffoons would stand up to contest a legislative seat? The confirmation of Madam Weeks and several other officials who were confirmed under questionable circumstances speak volumes of the lack of integrity and credibility in ourawmakers. Instead of scrutinizing presidential appointees and confirming or rejecting them on the basis of merit and character, our senators will elect to take bribes and approve corrupt, incompetent people to serve in positions of public trust. How I wish we had men and women of character, integrity, nobility in the Legislature!
We have the power to restore sanity and integrity in the Legislature. The way to do it is to elect men and women of impeccable character and records of serving with integrity to serve in the Legislature. Let’s begin with the forthcoming Senatorial Elections. Those who think the Legislature is a place to amass wealth by making ill-fated decisions must be voted out. We have the power to do so, don’t we?
About the author:
The author is a student of the University of Liberia and a patriotic citizen commenting on issues of national concerns. He can be contacted via email: firstname.lastname@example.org