Sharpening Contradictions, Exposing Falsehoods, Revealing Lies and Uprooting Deceits
By Martin K. N. Kollie
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
Democracy at a Glance
The primary intent of democracy is to maintain national stability and sustain a proactive framework of mutual existence and tolerance through freedom, equality, and justice. Under this system of governance, all power is inherent in the people and they have an exclusive authority to decide their own destiny. The reliance of their fundamental rights and privileges is a supreme legal instrument called Constitution. This sacrosanct document highlights basic principles and values which are meant to properly govern the State and all those who live therein. The Constitution guides public action and circumvents an atmosphere of anarchy, autocracy, and monocracy.
It is a matter of statutory obligation and mandate for State actors, opinion leaders, duty-bearers, and all citizens to always adhere to every single provision within the constitution because it serves as the organic jurisprudence of the land. No citizen, not even the President, Vice President, Speaker, or Senate Pro Tempore is above the Constitution. Everyone subscribes and submits himself to this non-negotiable and absolute document. This is why no law is above it. Furthermore, it is worth knowing that the constitution is the fundamental cornerstone of every democratic nation.
According to Article 58 of the 1986 Liberian Constitution “The President shall, on the fourth working Monday in January of each year, present the administration’s legislative program for the ensuing session, and shall once a year report to the Legislature on the state of the Republic. In presenting the economic condition of the Republic, the report shall cover expenditure as well as income.” In adherence to and concordance with this mandate, President Sirleaf on January 26, 2015 delivered the State of the Nation Address flagging several critical issues. The Madam did well by exercising her legitimate function as a Head of State which is in accordance with permissible guidelines. I must commend her for using her energy to perform business as usual, even though she did not have choice.
Whenever an annual address is given by the President of a country, there are usually divergent opinions and views proffered from citizens and foreign nationals. This is a normal formality within every society that is heavily driven by the tenets of egalitarianism. In fact, freedom of speech under an arrangement of democracy is not a privilege, but a universal right that no one dares to reverse. Even though tyrants and despots ignore this fact sometimes, but they are usually taught painful lessons whenever they refuse to guarantee civil liberty and good governance.
Every Liberian has a stick in the determination of national decision. The overall duty to reshape a new future lies in our purview and we cannot afford to misuse this opportunity now and even tomorrow. History has two unique ways of remembering every man. Either you become a subject or an object of history. The need to pass on a legacy of greatness to succeeding generations is essential to democratic sustainability and conservation. It is not enough to become just a citizen, but a loyal patriot whose self-sacrificing contribution can revive hope and renew optimism.
It is our right to raise alarm about critical issues when they arise. The essence of citizenship is to exhibit relentless allegiance and dedication to one’s nation through proactive national engagement and objective exchanges. Therefore, I am under solemn mandate as a youth activist and citizen of this country to give my candid perspective on the recent annual address delivered on January 26, 2015 by our President Nobel Laureate Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Permit me now to provide an objective criticism and analysis in a sequential manner.
Consolidating for Continuity
The caption of President Sirleaf’s speech sounds interesting and worth reading even though we heard similar words overtime and more powerful titles than this. The words consolidating and continuity are not strange to us, because they were said in her first and second inauguration addresses more than eight times. Unfortunately, Madam President is yet to make those words come to reality. How can President Sirleaf speak about ‘consolidating for continuity’ when she careless about deconcentrating development and decentralizing governance in a more practical way. National consolidation is not possible until everyone feels the impact of Liberia’s natural wealth. The continuity of genuine growth and development can only achieve a profitable end if the words we speak are not just from our lips, but hearts.
Presidential Prologue – Another Big Farce
The President in her introductory statement said our agenda was hindered due to Ebola during the course of 2014, but she fell short to inform us when Ebola came to Liberia from Guinea. The hard truth is Ebola came to Liberia after three months (90 days) in 2014. On March 30, 2014, the first Liberian case of Ebola was identified in Foya Town, Lofa County. The critical question now is ‘what did Madam President and her government achieve within three months period since Ebola was not around at that time?’ Let it be known that before Ebola, the economy of Liberia was on the verge of colossal collapse.
The nation had experienced over three consecutive years of budget shortfall before the unusual arrival of this life-threatening epidemic. The rate of inflation was 6.8% with an exchange rate fluctuating between 85-90%. Household income or consumption by percentage share was 10% while budget deficit was -2.7% of GDP. Government did not have money to sponsor most of its key public programs and initiatives due to low tax revenue generation, corruption, and fiscal indiscipline.
The President did well by asking Liberians to stand in a moment of silence to honor the memory of the thousands of our people who lost their lives to Ebola and other related diseases that ravaged our nation, but she failed to highlight that this disease overran us as a result of a deplorable health system under her regime. Most lives would have not been lost if this regime was serious to revamp our health system since 2006. I too feel the pain of families who lost their love ones, but this could not have happened if health workers were well-paid and modern medical facilities made available. Even before the outbreak of this virus, there were series of nationwide strikes by health practitioners in demand for better wages and incentives.
The President thanked members of the Legislature for the passage of several pieces of legislation relevant to the consolidation of the processes of our Nation’s Agenda for Transformation and the National Vision 2030 which began several years ago to chart a course for Liberia’s growth and sustained development. This is indeed a point to ponder over. Our country has all of the legislations, but we are yet to realize the impact of these laws. I expected our President to caution Legislators about the multiplying effect of bogus agreements, because our country has so many of them according to Moore Stephens Audit Report.
In fact, what did Liberians benefit from the Poverty Reduction Strategy? This economic roadmap was just another mere charade evident by its miserable failure. The Agenda for Transformation and the Vision 2030 are far from achieving their targets because of patronage, greed, and dishonesty. I also want to use this medium to commend Madam Sirleaf and the Legislators for passing into law some good bills, but more needs to done in order to enforce those laws. The comprehensive completion of any legislation goes beyond just its passage.
The President is also seeking Legislative endorsement for several international and concessional agreements such as agreements between Liberia and the Export-Import Bank of India, the Kuwait Fund, the African Development Bank, the International Development Association of the World Bank, the Mineral Development Agreement, Liberia Cocoa Corporation, etc. Are these the first group of agreements our President has recommended for ratification. No! No! No! There are several multi-million concessionary operations ongoing without yielding real socio-economic results. I am left to wonder whether all these proposed agreements will improve the living condition of our people after 9 years of public destitution.
Liberia is a host to international business entities such as Chevron, Anadarko, Exxon-mobile, BHP Billiton, CRC, Sime Darby, Arcelor Mittal, Repsol, Firestone, LAC, Putu Mountain, China Union, APM Terminal, etc. but unemployment and poverty are major challenges obstructing national development and integration. Furthermore, it makes no sense to keep on submitting bills without making sure those bills when passed into law benefit citizens who are far below the economic equator. Leaders around the world ratify and sign bills to advance the destiny and interest of their respective countries.
LACC Prosecutorial Power
The suggestion of President Sirleaf to give LACC prosecutorial power is good, but hypocritical and deceptive. In 2006, this President made a vow to make corruption public enemy number one, but after 9 years in power, corruption has torn her legacy into pieces. The President usually makes huge commitments without fulfilling them.
Today, GAC is dysfunctional as a result of the lack of political will to prosecute corruption government officials. If our President is serious about fighting corruption, then she needs to begin prosecuting some of her confidants who have stolen public resources. Giving extrajudicial power to LACC is an excellent idea, but who will administer Justice? Will they not be our same old corrupt judges and lawyers?
Economic and Financial Performance
The President continues to shift unnecessary blame on Ebola for ravaging our economy sharply without considering our pre-Ebola status. This is comical and portrays an insignia of irony. I agree that Ebola affected our economy, but our nation was already slopping on a path of economic recession before Ebola. Didn’t Liberia have budget shortfall for three consecutive years before Ebola?
Did President Sirleaf forget to mention that the rate of inflation before Ebola was 6.8% with an exchange rate fluctuating between 85-90%? The fact is that many citizens were experiencing acute hardship and adversity before Ebola as the government began a campaign to appeal for international assistance and aids. The government did not have money to sponsor key developmental programs as public strikes for better incentive became imminent. Needed tax revenues to mitigate economic gaps were not being generated as a result of conflict of interest, fiscal indiscipline, and corruption.
Operations of NGOs
The need to efficiently and effectively regulate all NGOs and INGOs operating in Liberia is an imperative as it would help make our economy more vibrant through result-driven interventions. I agree with President Sirleaf about putting in place policy guidelines for NGOs. This is indeed a great step forward to ensure a coherent framework of diversity in socio-economic interventions and outputs among NGOs and INGOs.
Furthermore, our President wants for NGOs to account for their operations at local level where they work and ensure transparency. NGOs can become more liable and answerable to government when State actors begin to exhibit an image of integrity and transparency. The President cannot be telling NGOs to be transparent when her government is very corrupt. It makes no sense for a corrupt regime to tell NGOs to practice accountability and transparency.
Fight Against Ebola
I want to commend this government for its ability to attract international assistance during the most challenging days of Ebola. I disagree with our President when she said Ebola virtually collapsed our health care system. This statement presents a fragment of falsehood, because Liberia had a very deplorable health care delivery system before Ebola.
The health sector was in ruin yesteryear as medical workers were threatening consistent go-slow actions if government did not meet their demands. There were hospitals and health centers without basic equipments to carter for critical medical cases. There was shortage of drugs and trained manpower. Most health facilities were not getting sufficient support in order to meet public demands. Why did President Sirleaf dodge these facts?
If Liberia had a better health system, over 3,608 of our citizens including 178 health professionals would not have fallen prey to this lethal pandemic. Unfortunately, we had to lose these precious lives due to the failure of this government to institute robust reform within the health sector. As we redraft and flip through our history, these fallen heroes and heroines will always be remembered.
Recognition without Hon. Saah Joseph
It was good for President Sirleaf to recognize personal contribution of individuals, but it was unfair for her to apply the theory of selectivism and partiality. I agree that Hon. Tolbert Nyenswah and Dr. Jerry Brown did a great job, but what about Hon Saah Joseph whose ambulances and employees were available all through our fight against Ebola?
In fact, Hon. Saah Joseph himself was at the forefront making sure that Liberia achieves a triumphant victory over Ebola. What more can anyone give to his country other than himself and his personal resources? I think recognizing former Senate Pro Temp who miserably failed the people of Bassa County was less important than recognizing Hon. Saah Joseph. The decision of Madam Sirleaf to not acknowledge Hon. Joseph was well-intentioned and conspired.
Tribute to African Countries
The President was right to have paid tribute to nations that came to our rescue when Ebola was raging. The timely solidarity and support from these countries will never be forgotten. Thanks to our ever-supporting Partner, Nigeria for standing by us once more to eradicate this plague. I extend my utmost gratitude to His Excellency, President Goodluck Jonathan for providing half of million United States Dollars from his personal pocket even though our President did not tell us what she contributed personally from her purse to help combat Ebola.
Besides support coming from humanitarian and philanthropic global institutions to revitalize Liberia’s poor health sector, 19 percent of its national budget is allocated to health. With all of these, Liberia cannot even boast of modern medical facilities that are responsive to challenging public health needs.
The 404 public health facilities and 252 private facilities lack contemporary medical equipments and professional doctors to address critical issues. The need to empower nurses and public health workers cannot be overemphasized. Nine years is sufficient for a government to institute aggressive transformation within any sector, especially health.
Our people continue to die from curable disease like malaria, fever, typhoid, cold, diarrhea, etc. It is too ludicrous to blame Ebola for almost all of our problems. Our problems, including health were enormous before Ebola; unfortunately President Sirleaf failed to accept this inevitable reality.
The President cannot be telling us that Education remains a number one priority in her government when existing reality speaks otherwise. The country has over 5,181 schools (3,074 public and 2,107 private) with an enrollment of 1,500,000 students (800,000 boys and 700,000 girls). This is a good development and we commend our government for building more schools even though none of those structures can be compared to Tubman High, D. Tweh Memorial High, Bostwain, Zwedru and Multilateral in terms of infrastructural value and longevity. The enrollment is as well encouraging if this figure was not manufactured to falsely impress!
The President said “We have thus succeeded in the achievement of quantity goals by increased enrollment, but quality of education has declined even further, evidenced by the failure in the entrance exam to the University of Liberia and in the WAEC exams which have been set at a substandard level for Liberia.”
What good is it to have quantity and not quality? It makes no sense to build 1000 schools when you do not even have at least 100 professional teachers to empower students academically. Education is about quality not quantity! The future is about quality, not quantity!
Education in Liberia nowadays is not only a mess, but a trash simply because major stakeholders have deliberately refused to prioritize this indispensable asset. The future of Liberia can only become fruitful if we train men and women who are prepared to mitigate unforeseen challenges. The promise made by Madam Sirleaf to offer financial support to all girls willing to remain in school until the completion of high school is excellent, but again we cannot trust this President because there are abundant of promises still awaiting fulfillment. Similar promise was made in August 2013 at a national stakeholder conference on Education.
The rate of illiteracy can maximally reduce if modern libraries, laboratories, internet facilities, and research centers are made available on every campus including universities. There is an imperative demand to invest more resources in education in order to attract trained teachers, increase wages and incentives, provide empowerment opportunities and logistics. I also want to use this medium to call on this government to provide subsidy for all schools during this time of disaster.
The Hydrocarbon Sector
The President did brag about ongoing reform within our Petroleum Industry since 2011. It is quite disgusting for our President to have given blind eyes to issues of corruption within this sector.
Less than 10 years, 17 of our most lucrative oil blocks were cheaply auctioned to International Oil Companies without considering technical and financial due diligence. The President was unable to tell us about the two last oil blocks that they recently sold amidst expert opinion not to proceed with such deal.
According to section 3.2 of the 2002 Petroleum Law which protects ‘CITIZEN EQUITY’ says ordinary Liberians should be given the opportunity to buy shares in Oil Companies. How many ordinary Liberians currently own shares in these companies? Section 3.3 of the law also says NOCAL should have 20% state equity share in the blocks. But NOCAL is telling us that this is ‘UNREALISTIC’. What is unrealistic about having 20% share in something you own? I think we should even be demanding more instead of shooting bullets in our own legs.
According to NOCAL, from July 1, 2013 – June 30, 2014, she spent the following:
a. Manpower training & capacity building ………..........8,029,848.00USD
b. Allowances & benefits………………………………..2,703,805.24USD
c. Board Expenditure……………………………………1,372,000.00USD
d. Travel & Consultancy………………………………...3,234,482.00USD
Why must NOCAL spend over 1 million just on board members and 3,234,482 million for travel and consultancy? This is financial mismanagement!! In 12 months period, NOCAL alone has used 28,542,685.60USD while unemployment, poor healthcare, messy education, insecurity, poverty, etc. remain the order of the day.
Massive employment can only come through self-reliance. The need to empower Liberians is critical to national development. I wonder sometimes whether our Liberianization policy was meant to be kept on the shelf or to be implemented. Today, President Sirleaf is telling us she intends to push hard by diversifying our economy under a canopy of Liberianization, even though in February 2008 she was strongly calling for the amendment of our Liberianization Act which could attract foreign investment accordingly to her. I was one of those who were totally against this proposal until it was finally withdrawn by the President.
The President is not doing enough to protect local business interest by ensuring full adherence to the Liberianization Policy. Foreigners are operating almost all the 26 exclusive businesses that are to be done by Liberians only under our Laws. This is a gross violation that our Leaders, including President Sirleaf continue to give less attention to. Enforcement of public policy and statutes has been a serious challenge to this regime since its inception.
Water and Sanitation
The issue of water and sanitation is a far from improving in Liberia as most citizens lack access to safe drinking water. It was a cartoonistic and shocking mistake for President Sirleaf to have even said 67 percent of our population has access to clean water. I really do not know how this statistic was derived. This government is well-known for marketing fake statistics in order to entice ordinary citizens and foreign donors. I think the Liberia Water and Sewer Corporation misled President Sirleaf by giving her unrealistic figure. It is a concocted misrepresentation of the fact for anyone to make a groundless assertion that Liberians have 67 percent access to clean water, when LWSC is just beginning to mount underground pipes in Monrovia and its environs.
Here are the real facts. In preparing its second Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS2, 2012–17), Liberia adopted 77 percent for water supply and 56 percent for improved sanitation as its national sector targets. This projection remains unrealistic even up to now due to the inability of government to give much attention to this sector.
Up to date in Liberia, only 25 percent of the population has access to clean water and 15 percent has access to sanitation services. Eighteen percent of all deaths in Liberia are related to illnesses caused by poor water and sanitation. It would interest you to know that residents of Montserrado specifically Todee District are still drinking from creeks and unsafe wells.
I would have gone further to sharpen more contradictions and uncover deceits in the State of the Nation Address, but I hope these few points will help present the real picture of Liberia after 9 years of democratic rule under Madam Sirleaf. I commend our Leader for the courage mustered to have delivered such an elongated speech with several promises made again. I would like to encourage her to go beyond those sweet words and begin to act in accordance with public interest. Liberians are no longer interested in fine speeches; rather they are interested in the fulfillment of those flowery words. It is time to work more and talk less!
Above all interests, Liberia is Supreme.
About the Author: Martin K. N. Kollie is a Liberian youth activist, and student leader. He is currently a student at the University of Liberia reading Economics and a member of the Student Unification Party (SUP). Martin K. N. Kollie can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org