By: Bai M. Gbala, Sr.
Hon. Bai Gbala, Sr.
In response to a Diaspora-based and on-ground-in-Liberia Rising Tide, an apparent avalanche under the banner of Better Liberia seeking replacement of the current President and Government with an interim arrangement, Dr. Amos Sawyer, former interim President of Liberia, now Chairman of the powerful, super-agency, the Governance Commission, in an e-mail communication from the USA to the Liberian press (FrontpageAfricaonline & Analyst, September 2, 2014), wrote:
“Those folks who are calling for an interim government (to replace President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf) are moving in the wrong direction and could never count on my support or that of others who are committed to this agenda. I want to let it be known that the idea of forming a transitional government is ridiculous and runs contrary to what Liberians now need to effectively address our governance challenges in the face of the Ebola epidemic and moving forward . . . My appeal is that we all find a silver lining in this terrible epidemic to first contain it and then eradicate it so that we can move our country forward not backward . . . We should strive to strengthen our governance institutions . . . rather than uproot and replace them with . . . interim arrangements . . . We want to move forward by deepening constitutional governance not by undermining it . . . My work and that of my colleagues is to recommend policies and strategies for strengthening our system of constitutional governance . . . These cannot be achieved through dismantling constitutional government and setting up interim structures”.
Behind these lofty, reasonable political arguments and pretensions is Dr. Amos C. Sawyer, former Professor of Political Science, University of Liberia; Liberia’s leading political thinker/philosopher and prominent member of the 1970’s ‘progressives’; the brains behind the Association of Constitutional Democracy in Liberia (ACDL), the political “doctors’ club” (according Tom Woewiyu’s Open Letter to Madam Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf); the intellectual think tank that rationalized and supported the removal of the Doe Government by force of arms, a government which he, Dr. Sawyer, supported and served diligently as chair of the 1986 Constitutional commission; and the premier political guru of Liberian politics who, together with the current President of Liberia (according to Tom Woewiyu’s Open Letter of confessions) sold the bale of goods of an Interim government for Liberia as the only reasonable approach for the resolution of the Charles “Taylor’s bloody civil war” (which they, Dr. Sawyer & Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, actively supported) to our African, Regional Leaders from offices in Washington, DC, or elsewhere, USA, with Mr. Charles Taylor, Mrs. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and Dr. Amos Sawyer as the only candidates. The rest is Liberian, public record and history.
Dr Amos Sawyer
In his famous Open Letter to Madam Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf under the sub-topic of “Double-crossing and Back-Scratching”, Mr. Woewiyu revealed that, “While waiting for your (Mrs. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s) arrival in the Ivory Coast, you (Mrs. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf) called to say that the venue of the meeting (of Liberian political parties and related organizations that were parties to the Liberian conflict) to be sponsored by ECOWAS for selection of Liberian leader/government) had been changed to Banjul, The Gambia. I found out later that . . . you (Mrs. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf) had another meeting with some people, including Randall Cooper who . . . represented the NPFL in the U.S., at the home of Ethelbert Cooper. At that gathering you (Mrs. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf) masterminded a petition to President Jarwara of The Gambia (then Chairman of ECOWAS) to host the meeting. Randall (Cooper), not realizing that this was a double cross, signed the document on behalf of the NPFL”.
“Drs. Gaywhea, Clinton and I advised that you (Mrs. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf) come with us to meet with Taylor and the men so that we could convince them to move the meeting to Banjul, since you said this was what the African Leaders wanted. You refused. In anger, Dr. Gaywhea continued his journey to Greater Liberia . . . and Dr. Clinton returned to Ethiopia. You (Mrs. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf) thought that the Banjul meeting would have given the government to you as the sole heir of Liberian Action Party (the re-incarnation of the dreaded True Whig Party). When it did not appear likely, you decided to skip the meeting”.
“From a distance in Washington, D.C., you (Mrs. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf) did the next best thing which was to maneuver to give the interim leadership to ‘Moose,’ Amos Sawyer. Liberians say, ‘You scratch my back I will scratch your back.’ It should not be a surprise that Moose is scratching your back today with his support for your presidency despite your history”.
So, at our meeting in Banjul, The Gambia, in 1990, hosted by the Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, pre-petitioned Jawara, Dr. Amos Sawyer was selected Interim President, a position that he held for, almost, five years. Thereafter, there were other interim governments, notably, the Councils of State and, later, the interim government of the Late Jude Bryant, with Dr. Sawyer’s & Mrs. Ellen Johnson’s blessings, succeeded by the present government of Mrs. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, now dominated by Dr. Sawyer. An idea of interim government which Dr. Sawyer, now, says “is ridiculous”. Do not get us wrong; for, we too, do not advise an interim replacement of a legitimate government with only 3 years to go.
Our differences are with Dr. Sawyer’s policy arguments and corresponding activities and go far beyond interim arrangements. A political academician, Dr. Sawyer has been actively involved in shaping the political dynamics of the Liberian state for decades. From the Liberian political grapevine, we are told that Dr. Sawyer was the leading member of a group who taught the youthful (age 20-something years) military boys (at the Marcus Garvey Night School, BTC) who undertook the military coup d’etat in April 1980; indeed, it is, also, said that this group provided the intellectual foundation for the regime-change by the now dubbed “lowly-ranked” military boys who did that which they have been taught and know best – the use of weapons of mass destruction, including government by force of arms (military coup d’etat) in the mode of the classic, bloody regime-change.
But the political, revolutionary theorists, philosophers/teachers, apparently, lacked the stomach or “guts” for such violence, took cover or just disappeared, evaporated in fears after the inevitable, military trials and executions that followed. That left the relatively young soldiers trained not in the political tradition of educational discourse - reasonable give-and-take, compromise, policy consensus, cooperation/collaboration, cordiality, civility, etc., to fend for themselves; for, these young soldiers were rigorously trained in the rigid, regimented, controlled military science of obey, obey, and obey, and found themselves within the Liberian, undemocratic, dishonest, political tradition.
An apparent supporter of the regime-change, Dr. Amos Sawyer accepted appointment by the People’s Redemption Council (the relatively young, military boys) as chairman of the Commission that drafted and, finally, wrote the 1986 Constitution that replaced the dreaded, draconian, unitary-structured, 1847 Constitution abrogated by the military action. Particularly aware of the undemocratic, minority-rule, Dr. Sawyer could have seized this excellent opportunity of his strategic appointment to prescribe democratic governance and rid our organic law of the century-long, unitary structure. In this high-profiled, glorified position with the requisite power, responsibility and authority, it was time and necessary to reform the system inherited from the past. But Dr. Sawyer did not and, rather, created some, new problems.
According to this unitary structure enshrined in our constitution throughout the 167 years of our existence, all executive power is vested in a president who has become an imperial president with unquestionable control and domination of the other two branches of government. Moreover, all power - political, economic and administrative – has been and is arrogated into the hands and control of the very few, rigidly centralized in and dispensed from the Republic of Monrovia, without objective input and/or consultation of the political sub-divisions. Rural Liberia, an estimated, over 80% of land area of the nation where an overwhelming majority of the nation’s population lives, and where all known, natural resources of the nation are located, with exception of known oil reserves, has been and is consciously ignored. The resulting impact is the prevailing over-crowded, congested, unhealthy and ungovernable, Capital City of Monrovia, now compounded by the Ebola Epidemic.
It has been and is reasonably argued with suggestions, continuously, that unless the prevailing doctrine of Unitary Structure is replaced by semi-autonomous (decentralized), amalgamated/re-demarcated, political sub-divisions, current reform efforts for democratic governance and efficient/effective, public service delivery will fail and that Liberia will continue to be a “failed state”, rather than a modern, functional nation.
Responding to this argument in her first Inaugural Speech delivered to the nation on January 6, 2006, Mrs. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, as President of Liberia, declared “. . . I pledge to bring the government closer to the people. The days of the imperial presidency . . . are over in Liberia . . . The Executive Mansion and ‘Monrovia’ will, no longer, be the only center of power . . . The people and their interests, as defined by them, will be at the very heart of our new dispensation of decentralization . . . of power (Vol. 1 No. 1, Governance Commission Decentralization Bulletin, March 31, 2011)”.
Indeed, these pledges of foresight and encouragement are, in fact, two of the major themes of the argument for reforms. It is, also, a pleasing encouragement to note that the President followed this pledge with commitment, diligence and the formation/establishment of the Governance Commission in 2011, a government “Think Tank”, so to speak, on “Decentralization for Public Sector Reform”, with appointment of Dr. Sawyer as Chairman.
However, some years later, the administration of counties – the national constituent, political sub-divisions and their sub-structures which, together, constitute the Republic of Liberia, were and are caught in vicious shackles of policy confusions and contradictions due, primarily, to policy and administrative decisions made and dispensed by bureaucrats sitting in their Monrovia offices, creating more, and more, new sub-structures such as Clan and Paramount Chiefdoms, Townships, Administrative and Statutory Districts, in addition to existing sub-structures created by ancient, Liberian Law governing Hinterland Liberia, without benefit of current, in county and on-ground, research information.
The results have been and are profoundly disappointing. In her most recent, Annual Message to the nation, delivered on January 28, 2013, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was constrained to draw national attention to this disabling condition when she observed that “. . . the challenges of the Decentralization Policy . . . the present local (political, administrative subdivisions) governance structures are bloated, and difficult to manage. For example, there are more than 149 cities – 33 in Sinoe . . . 93 Administrative Districts; 251 Paramount Chiefs; more than 689 clan chiefs; 1,410 General Town chiefs; and 250 Township Commissioners. The government has to deliver services to more than 16,000 Towns and villages. As if these statistics were not daunting enough, the boundaries of all these localities overlap, leading to confusion over jurisdiction and administrative authority . . .”
At the beginning of this Rejoinder, we stated that our major differences are with Dr. Sawyer’s policy arguments and actions, for examples:
Firstly, after the regime-change in 1980 (as indicated), Dr. Sawyer was given a public policy reform task on a silver platter. He was appointed, by the Military Government, Chairman of the Constitutional Commission that wrote the 1986 Constitution, replacing the abrogated, 1847 constitution. Dr. Sawyer had the power, authority and excellent opportunity for fundamental, constitutional reforms – to “address our governance challenges, deepening our constitutional governance”, and “strengthen our governance institutions” – but Dr. Sawyer failed miserably or refused to act. Now, there is Constitution Review Commission.
Secondly, in about 2011, Dr. Sawyer was appointed, by this Administration, Chairman of the newly-established Governance Commission with responsibility, power and authority to prescribe and implement National Decentralization & Local Governance Policy. Accordingly, Dr. Sawyer’s policy prescription found and holds, among others, that:
1. “ . . . Since 1847 and throughout the history of Liberia, governance and public administration have remained highly centralized in Monrovia and controlled mainly by institutions and structures of the central state which have not allowed adequate legal opportunities for the establishment of a system of participatory local governance”.
2. “. . . .The highly centralized system of governance has impeded popular participation and local initiative, especially in the provision of public goods and services, and has contributed to the need for greater accountability and transparency in the management of public affairs and led to the gap in economic growth and development, equal access to social and economic opportunities and human wellbeing between Monrovia and the rest of Liberia”.
3. “. . . These conditions have slowed down Liberia’s overall economic growth and development and democratization process, leading to underinvestment in human resources and human wellbeing throughout the Republic.”
The prescription recognized and, in fact, admits that centralization of political power, indeed, the Unitary structure of government, “since 1847 and throughout the history of Liberia, governance and public administration have remained highly centralized in Monrovia and controlled mainly by institutions and structures of the central state which have not allowed adequate legal opportunities for the establishment of a system of participatory local governance”. Therefore, Liberia’s socio-economic and political problems are due, mainly, to the unitary structure of government.
Although the prescription of the announced Policy on National Decentralization and Local Governance recognized and admits that Liberia’s socio-economic and political problems are due to the century-long centralization of political power under the doctrine of the Unitary Structure of Government/governance, but recommended retention and, in fact, retains and prescribes the same structure, according to (Dr. Sawyer’s policy) Section 1.0 of the policy which states that “Liberia shall remain a Unitary State with a system of local government and administration which shall be decentralized with the county as the principal focus of the devolution of power and authority” (Page 2 of the prescribed Decentralization & Local Governance Policy).