A growing feature of Liberia’s deepening democracy, for which this administration is proud, is the effusive freedom with which Liberians are expressing themselves. At home and abroad, bordering on truths, half-truths, and sometimes, outright falsehoods, Liberians are speaking out without fear or restraints. Of course, Liberians have always been opinionated. But the environment did not permit these opinions to be freely and publicly expressed.
Not so anymore.
Today, anyone who has something to say about anything (and anyone) can do so. We admit that we are still grappling with how to do so responsibly. And so, for various reasons, Liberians are speaking out. Some only wish to be heard – having been silenced for too long. For others, this new-found freedom of expression presents an experience in value-addition to the once-hidden meaning of Liberian citizenship – that we own Liberia together and can have a say in where it is headed. Certainly, these experiences meaningfully enable Liberia’s ongoing transition and steady transformation, and as such, enliven the desire of the administration to continue to expand the space for liberties and freedoms to flourish.
And yet, unfortunately, with the internet and other available means of communication by which public opinion can be influenced, there still are those for whom Liberia’s unparalleled flow of freedom and increased consolidation of democracy actually present powerful tools not to contribute to the resolution of our myriad post-conflict challenges. Wholly self-serving, today, some are employing our freedom to pull others down. This is the only way they know to succeed. Truthfully and sadly, for many years, this is the only way that they have known and employed to achieve personal and or political success.
And so, with slants of nullification and vilification, these newly-hatched ‘critics’ who obviously doubted the resolve of this leadership and the Liberian people for real change are only just waking up to find themselves in shoddy places of irrelevance. They have been swept away by the tidal wave of development and the force of change engulfing the entire country.
Admittedly, some of these ‘critics’ were once ‘friends’ of the administration who imagined that their ‘friendships’ meant that they would defiantly hold onto “their jobs” for the life of the administration; be permitted to apply themselves minimally at the expense of the people; be permitted to be unaccountable and abusive of the public trust and confidence; and be permitted to simply cruise along the oft-travelled paths of previous administrations which led Liberia to nowhere – the paths of promising change and delivering disappointments.
Today, some of these ‘old friends’ of the administration find themselves trapped outside the ongoing change efforts more by their disappointing display of intolerable ineptitude than anything else. Unsurprisingly, they are angry. They are bitter. And they are remonstrating in mournful diatribes for attention, for revenge, and perhaps, for redemption.
Inside Dr. Sarr Abdulai Vandi.
In a sore piece posted to The Perspective, an angry Vandi laments that the salary regime of the administration legalizes bribery and normalizes corruption in the country. Forget the fact that Vandi just stumbled upon this epiphany as he opts to exile himself from his homeland having served in many capacities including the first chair of the Liberia Telecommunication Authority (LTA) where he was instrumental in setting the salary scale, and from which he was removed, like in many other places of public trust, “under less than favorable circumstances”.
For additional support for his outlandish claims, Vandi slams the TOKTEN and SES Programs; both supported by Liberia’s partners especially the UNDP. TOKTEN is the Transfer of knowledge Through Expatriate Nationals in Liberia and the SES is the Senior Executive Service, two of the most popular and far-reaching products of the administration’s capacity building initiative intended to address critical human resource challenges particularly in the civil service, by staffing key positions in the public sector with qualified Liberian experts and professionals.
According to a recent Final Evaluation Report of the Senior Executive Service and the Transfer of Knowledge Through Expatriate Nationals in Liberia, in 2006, the administration inherited a massive brain drain, or “large-scale emigration of skilled people for better opportunities in other countries due primarily to the prolonged civil war”, and risked achieving very little with the cadre of the available workforce.
Said the Evaluation Report, “The Government ran a huge risk of failure if nothing was done quickly to address this critical challenge… (and) undertook a multipronged capacity initiative, not only to address urgent capacity needs, but to build a cadre of competent professionals who could drive the country development agenda, particular the PRS.” The 2014 Report found and concluded that the SES and TOKTEN programmes “were and still remain highly relevant to Liberia’s post-conflict rebuilding priorities.” It furthered that “The programmes are aligned strategically with and in support of achieving the national development priorities of the country … focused specifically on the much needed capacity building of the Government of Liberia (GOL).”
How did Vandi miss all this? How could he miss the fact that the “SES programme was effective in terms of the recruitment and deployment of 98 SES professionals in 29 MACs for initial period of 3 years.” And similarly, the “TOKTEN programme recruited and fielded one hundred twenty-nine (129) professionals in various capacities within 26 government institutions for a period of 6 to 18 months.” The evaluation concluded that “together, this was an impressive reach in the provision of mid-level managerial and technical skills to support and build the capacity in the Civil Service at the national and county levels.” The simple answer is that Vandi’s hateful lenses have blurred his vision.
By the way, the report recommends a continuation of the programmes which currently boasts 54 SES assigned in 23 MACs (none of whom earns more than $3,000.00) with stronger Liberian ownership through increased budgetary support.
Had a more objective mind – many have steadfastly argued that objectivity is the bedrock of true intellectualism – concerned itself with true intellectualism, it would have also discovered the numerous efforts being applied across the various agencies of the government to reform the civil service. Unlike Vandi, such minds would have found that the GoL, led by the Civil Service Agency, and working with development partners, is ensuring coordination and oversight of activities aimed at rationalizing public sector employment and compensation as well as wage bill sustainability, in order to deliver on the government’s reform agenda.
They are already reporting success. The civil service payroll cleanup is almost complete having successfully deleted from the payroll 815 misrepresentations, 884 partial shows, and 2,931 no shows with savings expected to run from US$4-6million per year. Working with the Kenya School of Government, a technical capacity assessment has been undertaken in each institution across the government. In collaboration with the Liberia Institute of Public Administration (LIPA), training modules are being developed to fill the technical gaps that were identified.
All of these efforts are elements of a thoughtful and detailed reform program of the Public Sector Modernization (PSM) project which is showing strong progress in the three major areas of optimizing the size of the civil service, reforming the pay system, and professionalizing the workforce. We intend to spend each waking moment of this administration pursuing this game-changing reform of a civil service whose least paid now earns $125 as opposed to $15 at the advent of this administration.
And as to Vandi’s claim about corruption, the fact today is that thanks to the audacity of the President to make corruption public enemy number one, Liberians are more aware of and resolved to fight the menace, institutionally and individually, than at any point in our history. The objective evidence and the products of these dedicated efforts are all about us. From Liberia’s continuation in the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) program of the United States to the Global Corruption Perception Index as well as the Mo Ibrahim Report of Good Governance on the African Continent, Liberia continues to make significant progress in the fight against corruption. We will continue to do so.
The truth also is that we are expected to do more even as we achieve unprecedented success in areas of transparent and accountable governance as well as infrastructural development. In many of Liberia’s ongoing developmental and change initiatives, we are not where we intend to be. However, it is disingenuous to think that we are where we used to be. Vandi and his ilk ought to know this although we delude ourselves when we expect them to admit it. We ask of them that which is not in their nature to give. We ask them to be honest and to be selfless.
Again, why would Vandi want to know, and admit to Liberia’s ongoing achievements? Too often, pseudo intellectuals forgive themselves thinking that their absence – in this case created by a separation which was compelled by the need of the administration to do better – leaves a vacuum that is difficult to fill. A cursory review of the Vandi record of service, which for his own sake we will keep sealed, leaves the conclusion that it was Vandi’s presence which created the vacuum. So much more has happened in the best interests of our people since the administration happily parted company with Vandi. And for the sake of our people, we intend to keep it that way – focused on the progress of the country as well as those things by which all Liberians will be uplifted.