By: James Thomas-Queh
For some of us who have witnessed our history a little longer, we experienced the effects of the real powers of the Speaker of the House of Representatives. As an equal among the equals of that time, what he said or did vibrated and echoed just as much as the President’s or the Chief Justice’s. Thus the force with which Honourable Alex Tyler has totally metamorphosed in recent time to reaffirm his status as the reborn SPEAKER, must be a welcome development for our nation now and in the future. The man now talks like the Speaker; he walks like the Speaker, and he acts and performs like the Speaker. These sudden u-turns, transformations or mea culpa of some of our current officials must be keenly analysed to enhance our ability to better profile and make the right choice for the next generation of national leaders.
Assertions, Actions, and Speech
Under one stroke Speaker Alex Tyler has taken the political center stage, charging like a bull – gloved and ready for the political battle. He resigned from the ruling Unity Party and formed his own group – Liberia People’s Democratic Party (LPDP); next, he accused the Unity Party chairman, Hon. Varney Sherman, as a coward and a bold face liar; then came the dedication of his 5-star multimillion dollar hotel – Jandy’s Paradise - in pomp and pageantry, comparable only to the unofficial inauguration of “Juilijuah” - the President’s farm in Bomi. A proof to those he had already accused of taking Liberia “only as their farm” to come and make money but not to invest, that he is a diehard patriot – investing his hard earnings in his country to create jobs for the people. Still on the stage, the Honourable Speaker put a fleet of pick-ups at the disposal of his party – a cue from the Unity Party in 2011 – except that at that time the government waived import duties on imported cars. Then to climax it all, the Speaker delivered a gallant speech at the opening session of the 53rd Legislature (www.theperspective.org/2016/01152016.php) - second only to that of the President (19 Nov. 2015), in terms of achievements.
Yes, you and I may not have been among the ardent fans of the Honourable Speaker, but on this one, we have to extend him a warm hand-shake for his audacity in standing up to the hypocrisy, deceit, manipulations, wheeling and dealing, dishonesty, vindictiveness, mistrust, etc. - all ills that have poisoned an already broken country and society in the last ten years. And true, the Legislature, Judiciary and the entire government may all be corrupt - but who is the chief planner and principal beneficiary, if not the Executive. Isn’t it time too that the Judiciary should be awaken as gallant men and women with spine to help reassure our national future and secure their rightful place in history, instead of begging only for UNMIL to stay on forever? Believe me, it is never too late to salvage a nation.
The Merits/ Demerits
On a visit to Liberia two years ago, I asked a political friend on the potential presidential candidates. The man listed all the declared and undeclared candidates and then ended on Speaker Alex Tyler. And I said you must joking. “Seriously”, he replied. Why? “The man has money”, was the answer. It must be noted that the major requirement to become a president today is “money” and not the famous “educated” vs the “uneducated” as in 2005. That is, in ten years free and “big money” making has polluted the minds and morality of Liberians.
So I asked my friend from where did the Speaker get his money. Then the man went on to narrate that the generous distribution of the state coffers by the Executive to corrupt the regime, certain banks opened line of credit to the Legislature, and the Speaker was one of the wisest who made use of this opportunity to the fullest. The Honourable, I was told, had established himself a business empire – trading in anything that makes money: fire coal, wood, cold water, ice, and you name it. For this reason, I was not surprise when, during the dedication of his 5-star hotel, the Speaker made mention of a million dollar loan from a bank.
And let me add further, were I to have earned legally 15-20 thousand dollars per month, with free gas slips, phone cards and with a premium of a million dollar budget at my disposal – in a country of mass poverty, and where labour is practically free -frankly, I would have out done even the Speaker (without any need to open a single ‘brown envelop’, but to let it sleep on my bank account).
Now, let us cool our hearts and reflect soberly on the following question. All those who benefited so generously from the regime as much as the Speaker – Executive, Judiciary, Commissions, Boards, etc. – what can they show in terms of service and investment for the public good after tens years (apart from their luxurious mansions sitting in the midst of ruined former mansions infested with jobless squatters, while the rest of the loot is dispensed and hidden elsewhere) for Liberians to forgive them for leaving the people in such an abject poverty, bankrupt nation, broken school system/healthcare, bad roads, no electricity/pipe borne water, etc.? Who is more patriotic or pardonable – Speaker Tyler or the others?
For my part, if this regime were ever to be sanctioned for rampant corruption and bad governance before a competent court of justice, I would definitely select the Honourable Speaker to stand as the state witness. And after that, I would advise him to please stay out of politics to remain a prosperous businessman and a future king-maker. Because frankly, while we may not eliminate corruption in our society or even have the courage to bring to justice the perpetrator of the epidemic - at least, those who deplete the state coffers, but have some remorse and conscience and a bit of patriotism to reinvest in their own country and people – it is a trend of a new moral awakening in our society that Speaker Tyler is not the first initiator. Oh yes, the example may be inglorious, but we must begin taking into account the mitigating circumstances before the conviction of each accused. Or else, we could continue forever the spiral of putting everyone to poles.
Well, there may also be another rational to the Speaker’s bullying reactions and extravagance. The strong antagonism between the “illegal immigrants” (dual nationals who hold high state positions clandestinely), and those who consider themselves as the local-based or home-groomed politicians -has reached a boiling point. The formers are extremely arrogant, acting as the new breed of foreign expatriates. They consider the local-based politicians as their employees and servants who should be forever grateful to them. The Unity Party’s infamous campaign slogan: “Monkey work and bamboo draw” in 2011 demonstrated that deep contempt of the locals.
Thus as 2017 approaches, the home-based politicians have discover a fearsome political weapon – dual citizenship – which, if rejected by the Legislature could definitely unmask the current “untouchables” or illegal state officials, end their political aspirations and impede others in the Diaspora from rushing into the Liberian political arena for enrichment. This is why dual citizenship has suddenly become an urgent issue for those the Speaker accused of “taking Liberia as their farm”; and while he and the other home-groomed politicians are obliged to stock their jack-pot into local investments and banks.
It must be emphasized that ‘dual citizenship’ – though unconstitutional - was never a problem in Liberia; it is the manner of governance of this regime that has brought it unto the surface. Now that the tides are turning, we are being tutored that “dual nationality” is a perfect instrument to integration and development of Liberia. I refute that argument; it is an alibi. I am a Liberian and a naturalized citizen of a foreign country, but no one impedes my contribution to Liberia nor establishes any difference between me and my people in the village. For me, the mean advantages of dual citizenship are only two: work in government and access in and out of the country.
On the Speaker’s new party – I regret that the Speaker did not reform or transform the Unity Party from the moment he suspected it of not being at the service of the people and nation. I have said before that the forming of multitude of “personalized” political parties is not too healthy for a nascent democracy. Liberia needs strong, stable political party institutions to effectively pilot its democratic and economic survival.
Notwithstanding, the Speaker having departed UP, and under the same breadth, charged its Chairman, Hon. Varney Sherman, of being a coward and a bold face liar – he must certainly know some important secrets or have a razor in the bottom of his shoe – to plunge the UP into a total schizophrenia and final demise. But if he should fail, I doubt whether his party could even reach 2017 in whole or as a skeleton.
Furthermore, the Honourable Speaker has broken a hypocritical moral taboo, that enrichment through the state largess and corruption is acceptable when that wealth is displayed ostentatiously and reinvested to save the same citizens left in destitute. But if the Speaker -instead of branching off quietly into a prosperous business magnet – wants to use the same wealth to lead the Liberian people; then I think he must be pushing his luck little too far beyond the accepted moral bound. Because he might find it difficult to prove how different – if not worst - would he be from a regime that enriched him on the backs of a starving population? And knowing, of course, that the temptation for a business interest to supersede that of the state is an unavoidable dangerous trap.
Precisely, mixing business interest with that of the state was one big error of President Tolbert and his brother Steve. The latter was a quiet, prosperous businessman out of government until his brother took power, and he became the most powerful Finance Minister. Gradually, Liberia was being transformed into a family business empire, and the Finance Ministry as the business headquarter. We all know the end of the story.
Liberians must therefore think twice before voting any business magnet or a business executive as their president.
The speech – Two paragraphs in the Speaker’s speech took my attention the most, and they read as follows:
“As we are cognizant, the National Legislature is the first Branch of Government. The Constitution of our nation confers all powers upon the people of this Country as enshrined in Article 1. These powers are transferred by the people to each legislator elected by them. In other words, their powers are configured in us and their expectation is that we will justify the confidence they have reposed in our abilities and integrity.
“What this means is that the Legislature must be the conduit of political, social and economic rights to the people. We must be their ears, eyes, mouth and planners of their destiny. We must intercede for them and be the custodians of their trust. The failure of the National Legislature to inspire and process economic growth and development as well as the social and economic rights of the people, shall indeed be a failure to exercise the powers they have conferred on us and the faith they have in us.”
Frankly, anyone reading the brilliant passage above would have thought the Honourable was just being enthroned as the Speaker. But no, Hon. Tyler has been the Speaker for the longest, while Liberians are suffering and dying from pervasive poverty. Worst, the rest of the speech could not make mention of any specific enactment of the Legislature that has impacted the lives of Liberians in the last ten years, except the famous “US$73m proposal for direct Districts impact projects” some two years ago. Apparently this proposal was made only after a nationwide tour by the Legislators “to sensitize citizens on the oil-gas sector reform bill.” And it was on that tour that the Speaker “was privy to the poverty, deprivation, neglect and hurt which our fellow citizens – especially from rural areas- suffer on a yearly, monthly, weekly, daily and hourly basis.” Wow!
But remember, the Legislators were supplied a fleet of pick-ups by ArcelorMittal for use during their 3 months of agricultural break each years, but apparently they have never been privy to the condition of their farm workers nor the poverty stricken villagers in the rural areas. What a pity for Liberia, Mr. Speaker.
And where did the US$73m go? Well, it went to another created body or NGO: Liberia Agency for Community Empowerment (LACE). It could be an agency under the umbrella of the Legislature, or else how could the Speaker have listed, so gallantly, its many unfinished projects around the country - patched up projects that should already be in serious financial limbo. Can you imagine, one agency or an NGO engaged in 35 impact state projects, while Ministries sit idol. And mind you, there was a very effective Ministry of Rural Development under William R. Tolbert, Jr.
In all, the Speaker’s speech, assertions and actions have reminded us that a national leadership without an iota of vision, no order, no patriotism, no care for the majority but self - is doomed to crumble dishonourably even by its own disciples, if not the power of the people.
May God give us wisdom to choose men and women of vision and courage to stir the future of our Land of Liberty.