By Theodore Hodge
As I ponder the major issues transpiring in Liberia, two words come to the forefront: Bankruptcy and Trusteeship. The president of the country and her principal spokesmen and women keep reminding and appealing to everyone who listens to them that the country is broke; the country has no money or essential resources to fight the devastating epidemic referred to as Ebola. How broke is the country? The government cannot even afford to buy rubber gloves to be used by health practitioners. In short, the country is bankrupt.
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the nation's president has seized every opportunity to remind listeners and admirers that she is a graduate of one of the most prestigious academic institutions on the face of the earth, Harvard University. Not only do her handlers refer to her as a "Harvard trained economist", she boasts of an impressive curriculum vitae. She once served as a Deputy Finance Minister and later Minister of Finance of the Republic of Liberia. She also went on to hold top managerial posts with Citi Bank and the World Bank. With such an impressive resume, she managed to convince voters that she was the most qualified to lead the country as president in the last two general elections. She got her wish and has headed the government for close to ten years now. During that time, she and her handlers have been telling the world that Liberia was moving along quite well on the path of recovery. Unfortunately, an unexpected natural virus has surfaced to expose the ugly reality behind the façade: The country is insolvent to the point where it can barely afford to purchase such basic items like rubber gloves and soap.
From the Free Encyclopedia comes this definition of the word bankruptcy: "A legal status of a person or other entity that cannot repay the debts it owes to creditors." It is important to note further: "In most jurisdictions, bankruptcy is imposed by a court order, OFTEN INITIATED BY THE DEBTOR."
The etymology of the word is interesting; it says, "The word bankruptcy is derived from the Italian 'banca rotta' , meaning 'broken bench', which may stem from a custom of breaking a money-changer's bench or counter to signify his insolvency.'
Let's consider the word 'trusteeship'. It is 'the administration or government of a territory by a foreign country under the supervision of the Trusteeship Council of the United Nations'.
It is quite clear, if one must believe what the Liberian government says, the country is bankrupt. It holds a bucket in hand sending envoys around the world to solicit funds from friendly governments. It (the government) has the impudence and the audacity to complain that the international community has been unresponsive to its cries. One would have thought that the notion of sovereignty would require that a country has the responsibility of administering and funding its own affairs, and that it would be only discretionary and voluntary for others to extend or offer aid. Liberia, although operating under the guise of sovereignty, now has adopted the policy of blaming the world for its own shortcomings.
A critical question is, how did the country become insolvent? An examination of events leading to our present situation would reveal incompetence, high levels of corruption and indifference. In short, fairness requires that one blames the administration for instituting bad policies leading to this sudden collapse and dysfunction. It is, therefore, my opinion that if the president could not effectively manage the affairs of such a small country, such a small economy, then it is irresponsible to simply pump money into the country and ask her to create sound policies to put things on the right track. She has been either unable to do so or rather indifferent. In either case, we need to consider other options.
And that is where the issue of trusteeship comes in. Here is a background: "In setting up an International Trusteeship System, the Charter established the Trusteeship Council as one of the main organs of the United Nations and assigned to it the task of supervising the administration of Trust Territories placed under the Trusteeship System. Major goals of the System were to promote the advancement of the inhabitants of Trust Territories and their progressive development towards self-government or independence. The Trusteeship Council is made up of the five permanent members of the Security Council --China, France, Russian Federation, United Kingdom and United States. The aims of the Trusteeship System have been fulfilled to such an extent that all Trust Territories have attained self-government or independence, either as separate States or by joining neighboring independent countries."
This describes the functions and powers of the council: "Under the Charter, the Trusteeship Council is authorized to examine and discuss reports from the Administering Authority on the political, economic, social and educational advancement of the peoples of Trust Territories and, in consultation with the Administering Authority, to examine petitions from and undertake periodic and other special missions to Trust Territories."
What is the present status of the council? "The Trusteeship Council suspended operation on 1 November 1994, with the independence of Palau, the last remaining United Nations trust territory, on 1 October 1994. By a resolution adopted on 25 May 1994, the Council amended its rules of procedure to drop the obligation to meet annually and agreed to meet as occasion required -- by its decision or the decision of its President, or at the request of a majority of its members or the General Assembly or the Security Council."
This proposition may sound too radical or too far-fetched. In reality, it is not. The United Nations already maintains the largest peace-time force in its history in Liberia. For a dozen or so years, the UN has deployed and kept a huge contingent of troops in Liberia. It is also no secret that without the UN troops (UNMIL) stationed in Liberia, the fragile peace would have shattered and collapsed; the country would have returned to war. So, if the UN is paying such a high price to keep Liberia stable, isn't the country already essentially under UN trusteeship? Only the technical details will differ, but the simple reality boils down to the same effect.
Here is the second aspect; we are told "The Trusteeship Council is made up of the five permanent members of the Security Council --China, France, Russian Federation, United Kingdom and United States." Liberia has already established herself as America's "step-child". It has refused to grow up and become a truly sovereign country; its independence is only paper-based, but in reality it has not been able to wean itself off its founder and parent-country. Anyone interested in studying the history of this country will come to that realization, sooner or later. Liberia does expect and take handouts from the US and the US tells Liberia how to run her affairs.
Recent example: When President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was forced to confront the enormity of the Ebola crisis, she took pen to hand and wrote President Obama for relief. Somehow miraculously, before her request actually got to the US President, her request was already being granted. She got what she asked for, and perhaps more. But here is one thing she didn't bargain for but she has been unable to publicly challenge or refuse: US Military presence. Why did the US decide it would use the military, instead of civilians, to deliver the assistance Liberia requested? Nobody seems to know the reason why. In effect, the point is moot to debate. The US does not consider Liberia an equal partner and nobody knows that better than Liberia. We quietly accept it and pretend we are an independent and sovereign nation; our foolish pride wouldn't lead us to an alternative conclusion... we delude ourselves.
So here's the proposition restated: Make Liberia a UN Trust Territory and make the United States the Administering Authority. (We have been told that the council suspended operation in 1994 when the last trust territory became independent, but a new chapter could be opened). Make it clear that the agreement stipulates a specific length of time, perhaps ten to fifteen years. To save face and appease Liberians, giving them a national sense of pride, allow the country (Liberia) to initiate the process, instead of forcibly mandating the process. They could always tell themselves: We initiated this deal as opposed to it was forced upon us; although in reality it wouldn't make any difference, anyhow.
I can respect the views of those who will stand in adamant opposition to this proposition. After all, it is not every day that a nation would require its independence renegotiated to a lesser status. But the fact is Liberia has not lived up to expectation; it has been an outright failure in more categories than I'd care to mention. It holds the distinction of "Africa's oldest Republic", but it pitifully lags behind other states in crucial categories. Our politicians have consistently failed us; they rob us blind and they do so shamelessly; in fact, they seem to take pride in converting our national resources to their personal use with impunity. Put a Liberian in a position and pay him (her) a reasonable salary and he'd manage to amass huge wealth in a relatively short time.
I am absolutely convinced that putting foreigners in charge of our affairs, or at least working in close consultation with them, would produce better results than we can show in our 167 years of so-called independence. We are insolvent. We must officially declare bankruptcy and admit we cannot manage our own affairs. The next step is to apply for UN Trusteeship. The UN is already there and the United States is strangely moving in with a huge heavy military presence; this proposition may not be that far-fetched; the process may have already begun unknowingly. That's what's on my mind.
Author: Theodore Hodge can be reached at email@example.com