By: Jones Nhinson Williams
Decades ago, Liberians fled their country because of Charles Taylor’s dictatorship and tyranny which made the country a politically failed state, and a society in which democracy and free speech were lacking. Today, and under President Sirleaf’s administration, Liberians are fleeing their homeland in droves while those in refugee camps in West Africa and abroad are scared to return home because of waste, corruption, abuse, fraud and epic mismanagement, all of which threaten Liberia’s economic viability, peace, reconciliation, and national security.
On one hand, Taylor’s casualties in and on Liberia posed a short-term effect because we can reconcile, unite and move forward, if we choose to do so under the rule of law and in a collective process of healing. On the other hand, President Sirleaf’s administration’s enabling culture of institutionalized greed, waste and epic mismanagement is posing a long-term impact that is dangerous to the future of Liberia since it is positioning the country to degenerate into a corrupt, failed state.
Corruption is among the greatest obstacles to Liberia’s economic and social development. As such, it foments political intolerance and infuses fear and insecurity as well as national vulnerability––particularly in a sub region under attack from Boko Haram and affiliated global terrorists. The harmful effects of the corruption, fraud and waste under the current Liberian administration are especially severe on the country’s poor, who are hardest hit by economic disaster and exploitation, most reliant on the provision of an ineffective and hardly non-existent public service, and least capable of paying the extra costs associated with the uncontrollable bribery, fraud, and the misappropriation of economic privileges the country has ever witnessed since independence in 1847. What is also sad is that corruption under the watch of this president also represents a significant additional cost of doing business in our country. Moreover, it undermines our country’s development by distorting the rule of law and weakening the institutional foundation upon which our nation’s economic growth and social cohesion depend.
The little unveiling good news is that the New Year 2016 has given our president some fear of God and wisdom to internally admit moral guilt and shame by refusing to attend the dedication ceremony of Speaker Alex Tyler’s multi-million edifice on the Robertsfield Road, outside the capital Monrovia. Apart from the fact that everyone has heard and perhaps knows that the Speaker of the House and most members of the Liberian legislature are accused of widespread corruption, what makes Speaker Tyler’s new found wealth notable is not just his audacity and greed, but his willingness to profit at the expense of mostly poor Liberian children who cannot afford to go to school in his district in Bomi County and throughout Liberia, and those who attend public schools, even when the Liberian school system is essentially insolvent and with so many children far behind in academic achievements and nutritional capacity. The fact is, Speaker Tyler, who apparently hailed from the same tribe and county with the president, was a very poor and needy man prior to and in 2006, the year President Sirleaf came to office. He became very wealthy after he joined the Sirleaf’s administration in which corruption is well organized and acceptable, and which has introduced a society in which corrupt elected and appointed officials are praised for dishing out goodies to the very citizens they steal from in return for more political and economic power.
First and foremost, what moral justification and good governance philosophy permit the annual allotment of over US $1 million dollars to the Speaker’s office and a similar appropriation to the Office of the President Pro Temp of the Liberian senate when no single school district in the country has an annual budget of US$100,000 dollars? In fact, the gross wages of all of the public school teachers in Liberia combined do not amount to US$1 million dollars annually. In the same vein, the combined wages of all of the professional nurses and doctors in the largest medical institution (John F. Kennedy Medical Center) in the country do not amount to US$1 million dollars, too. It does not require a degree from NYU, Princeton, Stanford, Oxford or Harvard to understand that this makes no policy or economic sense. A typical villager with common sense in River Gee County, Liberia would consider this as a waste, especially when the University of Liberia has no fitting and credible research center.
Over and again, we and most Liberians have pleaded with, and at times harshly challenged, our president to consider reducing the salaries and other allowances of elected and appointed officials in her administration, but again as usual, she, her advisers and beneficiaries pay no mind. Instead, they choose to run the country autocratically as if her administration answers to no one, and so they regularly waste money and resources when poverty level is excruciating and unemployment is unmeasurable due to the lack of variables. And as a result of this pervasive attitude combined with the growing number of bureaucracies and hegemonies that act as if they are fiefdoms, Liberia is languishing under a wave of greed, corruption and an epic waste of resources and mismanagement while our neighbors are making vehicles and advancing in social and economic development. As youthful Canadian singer Justin Bieber would say in his latest song: “Is it too late to say sorry” to the Liberian people, Madam President?
Can this President and her administration speak of any defined and credible legacy other than globetrotting to collect accolades through the intervention of pseudo public relations’ groups abroad? Only people with no knowledge of the working of the international intricacies would not know that free money can make high-paying international public relations firms to make even a sinner to look like an angel.
On that note, let me clearly point out that while I don’t share Senator Varney Sherman’s values and vision of Liberia, I agreed with him when he painted a depressing future for Liberia and the country’s recent young graduates who anticipate entering a non-existing labor market and an environment filled with destructive-minded politicians and others. The Grand Cape Mount’s Senator’s honesty and position as the sitting chairman of the governing Unity Party is commendable because it clearly shows that the majority of Liberians who think our Unity Party’s government has failed, after a decade in power, are right and their president who attacks them when they voiced frustration is respectfully wrong.
True be told, the open theft in the Sirleaf’s administration is not surprising, giving the history of patronage, hegemony, nepotism, favoritism, incompetence as well as political, social and economic corruption since the inception of the administration. Even so, some opposition groups are recruited in the administration’s culture of corruption and exploitation, directly and indirectly. This is why this history is more disturbing and unacceptable.
Both elected and appointed officials in the administration steal and go free on a seemingly routine basis. All Liberian citizens, with the exception of the administration’s nepotistic economic beneficiaries, are sick and tired of the corruption, waste, fraud and abuse in all levels of the current Liberian government. This is why we need - and all should demand - change and reforms to bring absolute integrity and honesty to all levels of service in the Liberian government. If we as a people cannot do this, corruption will continue to damage every policy and program that aims to reduce poverty, unemployment, insecurity and conflicts in our country.
In all fairness, this does not erase the fact that our president is likeable, well connected internationally, and understands the distinctions in manipulating the global community. I too personally like her and wish her well in her new front of guilt and shame, hoping that her final two years would be different and good. That said, I feel obliged to put my thoughts forward because my education and training from my days in training for the Catholic priesthood, which I painfully aborted when Liberia faced a similar crisis period under warlord Charles Taylor, do not allow me to sit idle and see human suffering resulting from man-made or manufactured greed and abuse. Finally, I am happy that a wakeup call has hit our President and for this we must commend her for shunning a shadowy investment by a public servant who supposed to be the Speaker for the Liberian people in the House of Representatives. As my aging mother would say, only two people don’t change: God and a fool. We are glad our President is changing and seeing our reality. This will help make Liberia better in her remaining two years.
About the Author: Williams is a Catholic educated philosopher and an American trained public policy professional. He was instrumental in restoring Liberia from factional conflicts and corruptible wars to a normal functioning society and democratic governance in addition to providing the framework for the country's 2003 -2005 national disarmament process pro bono. Since 2003, he has been aiding African immigrants around the world and working toward solutions that would enable all Liberian refugees throughout Africa and in the west to return home. He has served as head of the Jewish Family Services International Refugee Program, and is an international advocate on forced migration, refugee flow, food insecurity, and the philosophy of governance.