From Decentralization Plan to Deconcentration Platform
By Martin K. N. Kollie
Whenever key State actors congregate to forecast new ideas and advance public policies in an effort to promote genuine development and wide-ranging transformation in a nation, we expect them to demonstrate extraordinary devotion, sincerity and commitment to those they represent. The towering display of patriotism becomes very crucial during such an engagement, but in most cases, our destiny-drivers and duty-bearers in Liberia careless about concretizing and prioritizing national interest at such gathering. In fact, some of them take advantage of this moment to misuse public resources for social jamboree and feasting. One of our major challenges has been fake projection of strategic development initiatives. The demonstration of an unrealistic approach by policy-framers and forerunners to mitigate prevailing socio-economic gaps continues to germinate into public hopelessness and societal breakdown.
The recent launch of a De-concentration Platform in Gbarnga by this government is another big bluff only meant to falsely impress and showoff to those who are unaware about existing realities in Liberia. The duplication of public policy in Liberia is a normal phenomenon while less consideration is given to implementation. The need for Liberians to take exclusive ownership of their own destiny through a comprehensive and realistic decentralization structure is crucial, but it has been proven beyond doubts that this regime is not ready to actualize this national plan, even though millions of dollars have been spent. The highest form of injustice is for public trustees to become deceptive and dishonest to those they are serving. The greatest form of disservice is for top-ranking officers of government to envelop themselves into a scheme of falsehood and pretense.
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
Liberia needs patriots and not impressionists. Liberia needs nationalists and not swindlers. The living condition of most Liberians continues to decline due to public insincerity and mistrust. If NATIONAL CONFERENCES of major policy-actors and higher-ups could develop a country, then Liberia would have been one of the most developed countries on planet earth. Unfortunately, inclusive socio-economic development does not come through conducting mere retreats, consultations, summits, symposiums, and forums, but it comes through the genuine implementation of national vision and public policies. Since 2006 up to present, there has been countless number of meetings held by this government, but what impact have these gatherings made in order to advance a new Liberia of socio-economic transformation. The system is even getting worse daily as dishonest public characters remain restless in their campaign to rob Liberians through a well-organized arrangement of conspiracy.
They misuse our resources without any remorse under the pretext of finding solution to poverty and inequality. They act as if they are unaware about key challenges confronting Liberians. Even though they are conscious about prevailing realities permeating our society, but they usually pretend in shame about these existing circumstances. Are they not informed about the rising rate of poverty, corruption, inequality, and injustice in Liberia? Are they not aware about our broken health care system and messy education sector? Are they not aware that the people need safe drinking water, electricity, housing facilities, better sanitation, good roads, and other basic social necessities? It is disappointingly discouraging for any regime to ignore its overall mandate and attaches itself to a spree of money-eating.
The order of business in Liberia nowadays is taking an adverse trend as millions of dollars are spent habitually to organize fruitless public gatherings. Albert Einstein was right when he said “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” It is pointless and needless for this government to continue organizing consultative sessions without reaping genuine outcomes. What can Liberians show from all those national conferences/meetings held since Madam Sirleaf became President? Liberia is gradually gravitating into a dysfunctional State due to rampant corruption and bad governance. Political greed and sinister motives are amputating Liberia’s development. It is time for national leaders to undress themselves of self and promote public welfare through dedication and honesty.
There has always been an overwhelming demand to advance local governance participation through an agenda of decentralization. The interest of Liberians to achieving this nationwide plan remains paramount up-to-date. The transfer of POWER to those who have the constitutional authority to give POWER is fundamental to sustaining peace, maintaining security, and preserving democracy in Liberia. As a result of this, I was one of those who agreed with this regime when it launched the National Policy on Decentralization and Local Governance in January 2012. The real intent of this Decentralization Policy was to ensure that the greatest number of the Liberian people take part in local governance, enjoy equitable access to the nation’s resources, and become beneficiaries of local development activities.
The policy was also aimed at systematically providing guidance to the process of decentralizing power, authority, functions and responsibilities from the central government to local governments. The policy provides that administrative institutions in the counties be revised, restructured and harmonized to implement a responsible and responsive system of local governance and public administration, and to ensure accountable, efficient and transparent management of local resources. Alongside this National Policy is a Decentralization Implementation Plan which provides further prioritization for advancing decentralization.
In order to implement the National Decentralization Policy, the Government has designed a Liberia Decentralization Support Program (LDSP) for the period 2013 to 2017. The LDSP is a five-year Government of Liberia program to support the implementation of the National Policy on Decentralization and Local Governance. The program is one of the priority areas in the Agenda for Transformation. A National Decentralization Secretariat (NDS) has been set up in the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) to manage the LDSP, support sector decentralization activities and coordinate donor support to decentralization reforms. The NDS supports capacity building, change management, and monitoring and evaluation of the Liberia Decentralization Implementation Plan (LDIP).
Since the National Decentralization Plan was conceived, I am left to wonder whether power has really been given back to local authorities and the people in general as per this plan. Has local governance been strengthened since 2012? Are there accountability, transparency, and efficiency of local resources through a system of public administration and management? The targets of the Decentralization Implementation Plan of Liberia are yet to be met due to the government’s inability to practically pursue this vision. The National Decentralization Secretariat (NDS) which falls under the Ministry of Internal Affair is a SLEEPING GIANT. The decentralization plan has lost its taste due to the lack of political will.
The accomplishment of any genuine national development does not just rely on vision forecasting and policy formulation, but it relies on public trust, commitment, and determination. The central government needs to be more serious about what it says it will do. It is regrettably sadden that after adopting a decentralization plan three (3) ago, the people’s power still remains centralized, even though millions of dollars have been committed to this process by global financial institutions, international organizations, and friendly nations.
Today, local authorities such as Superintendents, Commissioners, Mayors, and Chiefs are appointed and dismissed by the President. There crusade to decentralize governance cannot become a reality when local stakeholders are more answerable to the President than the people. It is time for central government to give all fifteen (15) political sub-divisions of Liberia a status of suffrage to decide who their local leaders become and how their resources are managed. If this is done, participatory democracy through decentralization will not be an abstract reality, but a milestone even for generations yet unborn. The strength of every local government structure hinges on capacity building and unhindered support from central government.
After more than three (3) years since the Decentralization Plan was first introduced, government has launched another campaign call the De-concentration Platform. This platform was launched by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in February 2015 with agencies and ministries of government promising to work directly with county superintendents and other local authorities to deliver public services. The government of Liberia under Madam Sirleaf is becoming comical and perplexed on a daily basis. Why De-concentration Platform when you already have Deconcentration Plan? It makes no sense to me, because De-concentration is a form of Administrative Decentralization. Wasn’t De-concentration Platform considered under the Decentralization Policy/Plan in January 2012? The recent launch of a ‘Deconcentration Platform’ is another big bluff and a callous approach of wasting public revenues.
It is important for Liberians to know what decentralization is all about in order to make sound judgments during their thought processes about this ‘De-concentration Platform’. As for me, I strongly oppose this newest campaign because it is a complete repetition of government’s previous plan. According to World Bank, there types of Decentralization include political, administrative, fiscal, and market decentralization.
Administrative Decentralization seeks to redistribute authority, responsibility and financial resources for providing public services among different levels of government. It is the transfer of responsibility for the planning, financing and management of certain public functions from the central government and its agencies to field units of government agencies, subordinate units or levels of government, semi-autonomous public authorities or corporations, or area-wide, regional or functional authorities. The three major forms of administrative decentralization are deconcentration, delegation, and devolution.
Didn’t government consider Administrative Decentralization under its National Decentralization Plan since de-concentration is just a subset under this type of decentralization? Of course it did, but again this regime is well-known for preferring redundant policies. What next after deconcentration platform? Most countries around us are succeeding because they are fully committed to enhancing decentralization through actions and not words. South Africa, Nigeria, Ghana, Cote d’ Ivoire, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia, Ghana, Mali, Namibia, Gambia, Kenya, Senegal, Uganda, and other African countries are making steady progress because they have adopted the ‘bottom-to-top’ approach.
State actors in Liberia need to understand that modern development does not start from upward, but it begins from downward. It must begin from peasants to bourgeoisies. It must start with marketers, shoeshine boys, pen-pen riders, drivers, vendors, and street peddlers. It must originate from town chiefs, mayors, commissioners, superintendents, and other local authorities. The involvement of all citizens during this process is critical. Returning power to the people is a major step forward under any democratic arrangement, but this must be done with sincerity and devotion. The propagation of decentralization through rhetoric is hampering inclusive growth and genuine development in Liberia.
Liberia is one of the poorest countries today on earth with a ridiculous capital city, because national development has always been driven by the top-to-bottom approach through a system of centralization. It is time to change this mode of public operation by taking practical measures leading to an all-inclusive governance system. Liberia can get better if local authorities become more answerable to the PEOPLE.