By Martin K. N. Kollie
The Promised Land Promised By Africa's First Female President: West Point, Bussy Quarter, Doe Community, Clara Town, PHP, Chicken Soup Factory, Logan Town, Soniwen, New Kru Town, Red Light, etc., etc.
If anybody deserves better, then it is the PEOPLE. Regrettably, the ‘leaders’ of the people have become lords and demagogues unto themselves. Instead of becoming servants, they have become kings and queens living in opulence, while the people decay in poverty. If anybody deserves quality education, better health care, electricity, safe drinking water, improved housing, and other basic social services, then it is the PEOPLE. Since all power is inherent in them according to Article one (1) of our Constitution, then it means that the welfare of the people must be an indispensable national priority.
Today in our country, only few citizens sleep under air-conditioners, while vast majority of the citizenry has no choice, but to battle with mosquitoes, rats, flies and cockroaches during night hours. Today in our country, only few citizens ride luxurious cars, while majority of the people are compelled to stand under hot sun waiting for uncomfortable buses and taxis.
Today in our country, only few citizens drink imported mineral water, while vast majority of the people drink from unsafe wells and creeks. Today in our country, only few citizens have absolute authority to seek foreign medical treatment with tax-dollars, while our people die every day from curable diseases, as a result of a broken health system. Today in our country, only few citizens have the economic strength to build mansions and own palaces, while our people live in shacks and huts.
Today in our country, few citizens misuse our resources to send their family members abroad to obtain foreign education, while thousands of struggling Liberian students are exposed to a messy educational sector. Today in our country, only few higher-ups (big-shots) have security, while our people live in fear and panic due to insecurity and the rising rate of mysterious deaths. Today in our country, only few citizens are given huge salaries, allowances and benefits, while civil servants remain underpaid.
Is this the kind of country we intend to pass on to the next generation? A country that gives hope to the minority and render the majority hopeless. A country that guarantees the security of few citizens and render the masses vulnerable to peril. A country that provides better health services only for government officials and their immediate families, and abandons peasants to die from minor illnesses. A country that turns its back on the underprivileged and marginalized. A country that suppresses the voiceless, powerless and choiceless. Is this the kind of country we anticipate to leave behind?
US President, Barack Obama is paid $400,000 a year even though the United State of America is the World Superpower. He also receives an extra expense allowance of just $50,000 a year. This means President Obama receives less than half a million (US$450,000) in 12 months even though he is the leader of the most powerful nation on earth.
The federal budget of the United States is US$4.0 trillion, but the first citizen is earning just US$450,000 per annum. This speaks volume about what it means to serve with passion and vision. Leadership is about service to the people and not pocketing astronomical salaries and allowances. I hope African Presidents can begin to adopt this approach.
Under President Obama’s leadership, 14 million jobs have been created for Americans with an unemployment rate below 5% for the first time in almost 8 years. A Patriot cares more about the general welfare of the people. His or her interest does not supersede the interest of the nation. In his or her agenda, the wellbeing of the state remains supreme. At least the American people can reap the benefits or dividends of the taxes they pay to their government.
They have access to basic services such as safe drinking water, quality education, health, good roads, improved infrastructure, better housing, electricity, clean environment, job opportunities, social security, etc. In America, a huge portion of the budget is used directly on the people. In Liberia, a huge portion of the budget is used directly on those in authority only, especially higher-ups. They (higher-ups) live in luxury and extravagance, while poverty strikes vast majority of the citizenry.
We are yet to see the 20,000 jobs Madam Sirleaf and her government promised to provide for Liberians on an annual basis. Outgoing Finance and Development Planning Minister, Amara Konneh was never wrong when he said in 2015 that “US$3.1 billion has been collected in revenue since President Sirleaf took over, but sadly, 60% of this amount has been spent on government administration, which represents just 40,000 people, as against 4.1 Liberians”. With this shocking revelation, we can reasonably conclude that Liberia is far from getting on a path towards inclusive national development.
No wonder why the Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS) died a natural death. The pillars of the National Decentralization Plan of Liberia have crumbled as a result of the lack of a genuine framework to practically pursue these plans. The Vision 2030 is just another big fiasco and dead dream. Projecting unrealistic and impractical public and economic policies creates a fertile ground for violence, insecurity and public discontent.
According to Liberia’s Labor Force Survey, 1.1 million Liberians are counted as employed in Liberia. However, there are only 195,000 paid employment positions. The other 850,000, which consist primarily of the youth population, are considered vulnerably employed, meaning they are self-employed mostly in the informal economy on unsustainable jobs. After almost 12 years under Madam Sirleaf with vast natural resources and huge foreign support available to her disposal, only 195,000 Liberians out of a population of 4.1 can boast of employment. Except for few, most of these ‘employees’ are not well paid in line with labor standards.
The escalating rate of unemployment and economic misery in Liberia is contributing to violence nationwide. Youth unemployment is especially a threat to our fragile democracy and volatile peace. The government must do all it can to derive a lasting remedy to this prevailing predicament; otherwise, we stand to risk a lot as a nation. It is time to eschew greed and corruption in public service, and focus more on empowering the people. The people were never wrong to have stood in long queues to cast their ballots in 2005 and 2011. Unfortunately, their ultimate desire to defeat hardship has been let down by those they thought would have done better.
In 2005, Liberia had an annual budget of US$80 million. In 2015/2016 fiscal year, our national budget is US$622, 743, 420. Why must our people severely suffer when we now have a budget of more than half a billion? The real fact is that those who allot and appropriate our resources careless about prioritizing public interest. You need to take a keen look at the annual budget of the President, Vice President, Speaker, Senate Pro Tempore, Deputy Speaker and other government officials. You maybe provoked!
While citizens in West Point, Doe Community, Clara Town, PHP, Chicken Soup Factory, Logan Town, Soniwen, New Kru Town, Red Light, and other slum communities across Liberia struggle to survive every day, those they elected 10 years ago have become multi-millionaires amidst extreme difficulties. The story of our people has to change if we are serious about consolidating peace, maintaining security and sustaining national unity. It requires public transparency and accountability! The way forward now is to ensure equal opportunities for all through inclusive national initiatives. Education, Empowerment and Employment are paramount!