By Ambassador (Prof) Dew Tuan-Wleh Mayson
Amb. Dew Mason
Once again, only the patriotic responsibility to respond to our Legislature's latest primitive, discriminatory, and anti-democratic act has made me feel obliged to break the omerta--vow of silence--which I have adopted following the acrimonious elections in our country in October 2011.
In a piece of legislation railroaded through the legislative process with uncommon speed and in neglect of the usual procedures, the Legislature has targeted for "cruel and unusual" sanction the Governor of the Central Bank of Liberia, Dr. Mills Jones, a man of unquestionable integrity, great intelligence and experience, and singular devotion to duty.
Without stopping to analyze in detail this legislative act, it will suffice to point out the following:
1. In amending Part IV, Section 13 of the Act establishing the Central Bank, the Legislature sets itself up as both judge and jury by outlining a series of offenses under which the Governor and the Board Members can be impeached and then arrogating to itself the right to determine whether "an impeachable offense" has in fact been committed. Obviously, the legislators have not heard of, or prefer to ignore, that age-old legal maxim: Nemo judex in causa sua--no man should be a judge in his own case.
2. In amending Part IX, Section 44 of the Act, the Legislature, in clear contravention of Article 11, Section C of our Constitution which forbids any act of discrimination against anyone, went on to bar the Governor and members of the Board from contesting in any elections while "serving in their respective offices" and for three consecutive years "after the expiration of their tenure". What a piece of discriminatory and retroactive legislation! What an "unconstitutional act"--as that courageous and learned lawyer, Counsellor Tiawon Gongloe, has already labelled it!
Let us be clear here. Even though the Amended Act names both the Governor and the Members of the Board as targets for possible sanctions, we all know as to whom the sanctions are directed. They are directed at Dr. Jones. That is why Dr. Amos Sawyer, head of the Good Governance Commission, has likened this Act to those Acts perpetrated by that diabolical Apartheid regime in old South Africa which singled out our world acclaimed hero, the late Nelson Mandela, for continued imprisonment on that notorious Robben Island.
And why Dr. Jones, we may ask?
There are those who claim that Dr. Jones is interested in contesting the presidency in the next elections. That is why his political opponents have ganged up to have the Legislature pass a law effectively aimed at stopping him from contesting. I ask you--you People of Liberia: Is Dr. Jones not qualified to contest the presidency? Is he not, arguably, one of the few Government officials who is both honest and intelligent--qualities which are rarely found in any one individual but which are indispensable in our struggle for national development? Is he not?
Then there are those who claim that both the Executive Mansion and Capitol Building have combined forces against the Governor because they are not in favor of his Loan Extension and Availability Facility (LEAF) which is the only Government program providing access to credit for Liberian-owned businesses. Since its inception two years ago, LEAF has provided loans to Liberians in all the 15 counties amounting to over $200 million Liberian dollars. Again, I ask you--you People of Liberia: What is wrong with a policy which takes Liberian money and lends it to Liberians? Doesn't our Government take Liberian money and gives it to foreign companies in the form of duty free privileges and tax holidays?
And, pray tell me: Why is this Government--the Executive and the Legislature--so blatantly against the empowerment of Liberians? For under this regime, we have seen the wholesale concessioning out of our resources to foreign companies without any thought being given to reserving any of these resources for Liberians or even getting Liberians to partner with the foreign companies. The iron ore mines, the oil blocks, the forest--all these resources have been given to foreign companies by the Executive with the active concurrence of the Legislature.
But this is bad economics and bad politics.
In the first place, it reflects the sterility and bankruptcy in our economic thinking and planning; for this strategy, except for minor modifications, has been pursued in Liberia since the 1960s. It did not bring about economic development but only "growth without development"--as famously described by the economists from Northwestern University in the US.
That is why today life for most Liberians is poverty-stricken--and short. These statistics about our Liberia, published by the American Central Intelligence Agency, speak for themselves: 85 per cent unemployment; extremely high infant mortality rate (93 deaths per 1000 live births); widespread poverty (80 per cent of the population live below the poverty line); 80 per cent illiteracy; inadequate schools and even more inadequate health centers; corruption in high places (Transparency International, that Global watch dog, has rated Liberia as "one of the most corrupt countries in the world"); growing insecurity (rapid rise in the serious crime rate).
No wonder our beloved Liberia is now rated as "the second most miserable country to live in in the whole world"! Bad economics. Yes, indeed. This is the situation the practice of "Bad economics" has brought us to. Bad economics.
But this is also "Bad Politics". Because by refusing to involve and support Liberians in the exploitation of their God-given natural resources, the Government is alienating the vast majority of Liberians who feel cheated, frustrated and humiliated by the fact that their resources are being expropriated by foreign companies and a small class of Liberian collaborators. Our people feel cheated, frustrated and humiliated by the fact that they are citizens of a country rich in resources yet they continue to live in the most deplorable conditions of poverty. Rich country, poor people. What a bitter irony?
If Liberia is to make progress after 167 years of "independence", if Liberia is to avoid another civil conflagration, we need to change strategy. We need to make the wellbeing and progress of the Liberian child, woman and man the subject and object of ALL our Government's policies and actions.
Yes, it is true that the Sirleaf administration has registered some progress--commendable progress. But this progress has been achieved, in the main, by the sheer personality of the President herself. To consolidate and accelerate this progress, the creative energies of the Liberian people must be mobilized and harnessed to conquer social degradation and achieve national development.
Simply put, Liberians must be empowered to fully participate in the development of their country. This is the worthy objective which the CBL loan initiatives, however limited, are aimed at achieving. This is the model of development that has been followed by our Big Sister, the US. It is not, therefore, surprising that the US Ambassador, H.E. Deborah Malac, has given a ringing endorsement of the CBL loan initiatives, stressing that Governor Jones' effort at stimulating the Liberian economy and assisting Liberian businesses was "a step in the right direction."
Indeed, the United States assists American businesses through various means: affirmative action, strategic sectors and contracts reserved only for nationals, etc. China practices it with its policy of "guoijin mintui"--meaning, the state advances while the private sector retreats. Nigeria is implementing it with its policy of "local content" which obliges foreign companies to partner with Nigerian companies in the execution of most contracts in Nigeria.
The reason is simple--and we must repeat it ad nauseum: Our development will only be assured through the creative energies of the Liberian people themselves. For unlike what obtains in classical Greek drama and in some Liberian folklore, there is no Deus ex machina (God from the machine) who will come and develop us. Of course, we will continue to count on and be grateful for the assistance of our friends. But in the main, the responsibility for our development remains on our shoulders. Oh yes, we may blunder here and make mistakes there, but in the end we shall succeed.
And so, our Government needs to embrace and expand the initiatives of the CBL aimed at the empowerment of Liberians. This is Good Economics and indeed Good Politics. For as more and more Liberians become prosperous, (Good Economics), more and more Liberians will come to support the government (Good Politics).
The practice of this policy of Good Economics and Good Politics, in the present situation, must begin with the veto by the President of the atrocious amendments to the CBL Act. In fact, for a President who has prided herself on her commitment to justice and good governance, there is no choice: She MUST veto the bill and thereby save the credibility which she personally has garnered before and since her election to the Presidency. By her veto, the President will also be saving Liberia from a Legislature bent on further shaming us by enacting Apartheid-type laws in a country which was so vocal in its condemnation of Apartheid!
And the President, hand in hand with the vast majority of Liberians, must use all the resources at her command to ensure that her veto is sustained and not trumped by a group of lawmakers completely oblivious of the elementary tenets of justice and good governance and who are said to be influenced by one and only one "god"--those white and brown envelopes stuffed with cash. This is the experience which Mr. Clemenceau Urey, former chairman of the National Oil Company, has recently recounted to the legislators themselves and to which they have, unbelievably, responded with deafening silence.
Oh yes, the Legislature is accused of so many acts not befitting those to whom so much has been given by the suffering Liberian masses--huge salaries, vehicles, gas slips, emoluments of various kinds, a closed eye to so many instances of conflict of interest, corruption, etc. etc. We all know this, People of Liberia, and we have tolerated it for ever so long. But when this Legislature decides to infringe on our constitutionally guaranteed rights (I take it that infringement on the rights of one is infringement on the rights of us all), then it is time to say enough is enough. All Liberian patriots are therefore duty bound to protest, with all the peaceable means at our disposal, this latest outrage by the Legislature. We must encourage ourselves by the words and actions of Elie Weisel who led the campaign for the capture of the Nazi murderers of the Jews. Weisel advised: "There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest."
I know that many legislators have confided that the Amendments to the CBL Act were passed without their consent. Railroaded, they assert. I listen politely. Then I propound the question: And why have we not heard a voice, or even a whisper, of protest from you? I propound the same question to the senators and representatives from my county, Sinoe, who boast of being among "the intellectual powerhouse of the Legislature". I ask them if they did not listen to the honorable position taken by Representative Berian? They mumble in reply some gibberish but clearly the question has floored them.
The fact is that too many of our "honorable ladies and gentlemen" of the Legislature are an integral part of that group of men and women in our country who always have an excuse when it comes to defending the cause of justice and fairplay; when it comes to standing up in defense of all those in our Liberia who are injured by various acts of injustice.
Dr. Jones should not, however, be disappointed by the misdeeds of his critics who constitute a minuscule and often inconsequential part of our political calculus. He and his program for the empowerment of Liberians have already received the gratitude of the vast majority of our people. His character and his capabilities have brought into the limelight the qualities so lacking in his opponents. That is why the moral Lilliputians in our society are trying to bring Dr. Jones down to their own debased level. History will, of course, expose their plots and machinations.
I am about to conclude, and in so doing, I recommend to Dr. Jones these verses adapted from Melvin B. Tolson:
Who is the judge?
The judge is God.
Why is He God?
Because He decides who wins or loses, not your opponents.
Who are your opponents?
They do not exist.
Why don't they exist?
Because they are mere dissenting voices of the truth you speak.
That is all. Dixit et salvavi anima meam - I have spoken and saved my soul!*
*Quoted from Dante, The Divine Comedy.
On Face book: Jay Wion