By Bai M. Gbala, Sr.
The NewDawn newspaper, proclaims that in the forthcoming presidential and general elections, there are no front-runners, reflecting assessments by the United Nation, political observers, analysts and writers on Liberian politics.
The analysts and observers argue the existence of this condition. We concur with that assessment which, we hold, could produce long-term negative, disastrous impact on the nation and people because of:
a) The Imperial Power of the President.
In Liberia, nothing is done without the agreement with and/or practical participation by the President. The analysts’ assessment says that “the President appoints nearly (we say, all executive) public officials . . . seen as (the classic example of) winner-take all contest which could be (in fact, will be) highly contentious, as was (had been, and is, throughout Liberia’s 169-year history) the case in 2005 and 2011”. This power of the President was cast in iron, enshrined in the Constitution in 1847 and encapsulated in the doctrine of the Unitary Structure, was, and is, the nail that closed the coffin containing the dead body of real, meaningful, pluralistic political process grounded on effective, political competition.
Indeed, these individuals, “public officials”– highly educated, trained/experienced professionals - are the intellectual, academic, technological, socio-economic and political “cream of the crop” of Liberia’s elite; they research, study, write, teach, analyze, prescribe and recommend, as well as manage/implement, the plans and programs that determine present and future directions of our nation; they constitute the middle and upper classes of Liberian society. But their lives – dreams, plans, hopes, careers, fears and personal growth and development – depend upon and are determined, to a large extent, by the “will and pleasure” of one person, the imperial president, who is answerable to no one, according to the “doctrine” of the “Unitary Structure” of the Liberian government. Very few, if any, will or can muster the “guts” or courage to challenge “presidential power and prerogatives”, for fear of “losing it all”, including being labeled a “trouble-maker” who wants to “rock the boat” and be ostracized socially, economically and politically.
b) Political Party Beliefs or Ideology
After the 1980 Event, there was a “gold rush” for multi-party, pluralistic, democratic political process authorized for the first time in Liberia; therefore, Liberian politicians embarked upon establishment of the present-prevailing multiplicity of political parties, organized and managed along ethnic/tribal lines, the argument (for this approach) being:
1. The century-long history of exclusion, marginalization, oppression and denial of basic, civil, political liberties of indigenous, ethnic/tribal citizens, interests for which political parties had been and are organized; and
2. The tradition of the overwhelming majority of the population of the new political state and the historical, socio-cultural nation-state (of many tribe-nations) in which the Tribe had been, still is, the only visible, tangible, traditional source and guarantor of interests, upon and for which governments are instituted to secure, defend, protect and preserve such interests.
c) But Liberia has changed and is changing dramatically
From the 1847 one-party, single socio-economic class rule, the nation has changed considerably, dramatically. The time has come for Liberia to adopt the modernist political culture – political thought and practice in which political parties are identified and recognized by a set of beliefs (“shared beliefs” or philosophy), the practical application and achievement of and to which the political parties are committed, if elected. These beliefs are defined, generally, as Liberal-progressive or left and Conservative-traditionalist or right. They (the beliefs) are socio-economic and political views held by the two main political orientations (there are others) on the political spectrum.
However, despite historical change and the tragedy of the civil war, there is irony in Liberian National Politics; in that, the increasing western-educated elites of indigenous, ethnic/tribal citizens have become not only emerged/emerging political class, but also, joined the African-American, political traditionalists in exploiting the unfortunate, uneducated, uninformed condition of the citizens, the overwhelming majority of which is their rural village-dwelling parents, uncles and extended relations, for personal political and economic benefits.
This political marriage, the making of strange bed-fellows, by the indigenous, ethnic/tribal, emerged/emerging political class and the African-American traditional political ruling class having no defined political beliefs, philosophies or ideology, but fierce, cut-throat competition for presidential political power, the perceived wealth associated with that power and, most importantly, for control of public/private dishonesty – graft and greed or corruption that stinks to high heaven in recent times and in the executive suites of the Liberian government, as we shall see later.
d) National Elections Commission (NEC)
This national agency, the referee and lawful manager of the electoral process that determines the most powerful executive in the land, is seen by the Liberian people as being manipulated and controlled by ruling political parties. The recent, unusual and un-ceremonial resignation of a chairman of the Nation’s National Elections Commission and un-announced departure from the country while in the midst of several allegations of electoral fraud is a case in point.
Recently, the leader of a major political party, a prominent politician, accused the current Chairman of the National Elections Commission of being citizen of a foreign country. In fact, it has been alleged that the Chairman of the Commission permitted several individuals who are foreign citizens to campaign as candidates for the National Legislature (some successful), an act which is patently illegal. For these and many, dubious others, it is reasonable for the Liberian people to have no confidence in Elections Commission.
Candidates for President Satisfied with Status Quo
It is deeply troubling and extremely disappointing to note that none of the 2017 candidates for President of Liberia has come out, unequivocally, for Change – reforms, socio-economic and political transformation in Liberia. For example, no one came out for or against decentralization, with particular respect to the right to vote, the election of mayors, town, clan and paramount chiefs and superintendents of the provinces or counties in which an overwhelming majority of the nation’s population lives. Indeed Suffrage, “the right to vote” in a representative democracy, particularly, in the selection of important, public officials, is regarded NOT as a privilege, but rather, an inalienable right that inheres to adult citizens by virtue of their citizenships. It is the primary means of ensuring that governments are responsive to the governed.
Some of the candidates for president of Liberia have been accused of being citizens of foreign countries, with families living, permanently, in those foreign countries. Others, who were candidates for the National Legislature (senate) and now elected, were accused of being foreign citizens (reminder of Article 30 of the Constitution against foreign citizenship) during the last, senatorial campaign, but consciously neglected a response, one way or the other. Today, they are members of Legislature.
But all candidates for President of Liberia premised their rule, if elected, on 169 year-old, 1847 assumptions – the Unitary structure of the Liberian Government. For no other reason, one would think, that any reasonable public administrator, democratic politician answerable to the citizens, would seek change in the light of doing the same thing for a century with disastrous results. Throughout 169 years, successive, political leaderships and derivatives held on to the unitary structure, while the nation became and becomes a “failed State”. Now, we are told by the Governance Commission, the powerful public policy counsel to the Liberian Government, that “Liberia shall remain a unitary state with a system of local government and administration which shall be decentralized with the county as the principal focus of the devolution of power and authority” (Section 1.0, page 2, National Policy on Decentralization & Local Governance, January 2011).
In this connection, we provided, below, that there is a critical difference between the two, main systems of government, Federal and Unitary. For, according to the Candidates for President, come 2017, the Liberian nation will have to wait for another 169 years or more for the needed Change, reforms and transformation!!
Both Federal and Unitary systems define “devolution”as decentralization of power. But there are distinct, important differences and conditions, critical to successful democratic practice and results, particularly, in the light of Liberia’s turbulent past. In the Federal system, devolution-decentralization is guaranteed by written constitution with binding terms and conditions upon the Central, Federal Government and its regional, semi-autonomous constituents; whereas, in the Unitary system, devolution-decentralization is non-constitutional; that the Central, Unitary Government reserves the right to alter, re-arrange or abolish the devolved-decentralized powers without consultation and/or consent of the regional constituents,because, unlike federal system, the regional constituents lack constitutional right to exist, in the first place.
In other words, devolution of political power as defined – the right to vote in the election of Mayors, Town, Clan, and Paramount Chiefs and Superintendents, as desired and expected by the citizens – is not governed by constitution and that the Unitary, Central government, the system now prevailing in Liberia, reserves the right to change and/or abolish the devolved powers without consultation and/or consent of the regional constituents, the counties in the Republic of Liberia.
Liberia’s Major Economic Development Plight
The facts of Liberian history and the nation’s present-prevailing experience show that Liberia’s lack of socio-economic and political development or under-development is due to three primary factors:
a) Corruption (public/private dishonesty or graft & greed)
These factors are distributed and found in the Liberian society, in terms of national decision-making regarding national development and total national income (tax revenue and related collections) from which national development expenditures are made show the participants to be:
a) The Ruling Political Class or Government of the nation who collects all national income and spends according to its wishes. The Political Ruling Class or government consists of the following:
1. The Super Ministry of Finance & Development Planning, the paymaster who has the keys the national treasury and therefore, the most powerful political “paymaster who must collect something from the nation’s people that he pays”.
2. The First Branch of Government – the National Legislature, through its County Legislative Caucuses is paid and controls hundreds of thousands of social and county development grants to the counties, in cooperation with county authorities. No questions asked about transparency and accountability.
3. The Second Branch of Government – the Executive dominates as the highest paid with President in the lead.
4. The Third Branch of Government – the Justices of the Supreme Court.
These payments are all salaries and allowances, not concerned with national development – roads, education, healthcare, etc. No wonder that all candidates for President are satisfied with the present-prevailing political conditions because it is in their best interest to retain or hold on to the prevailing conditions.
b & c) Are the overwhelming majority of the nation’s population
Rural village-dwelling Citizens, poor, uninformed, uneducated (illiterate) on government and political operations with respect to national development, socio-political rights and the use of these rights to secure individual, community and national development benefits.
We noted under item ( C) above that “ . . . despite historical change and the tragedy of the civil war, there is irony in Liberian National Politics; in that, the increasing western-educated elites of indigenous, ethnic/tribal citizens have become not only emerged/emerging political class, but also, joined the African-American, political traditionalists in exploiting the unfortunate, uneducated, uninformed, illiterate condition of the citizens, the overwhelming majority of which is their rural village-dwelling parents, uncles and extended relations, for personal political and economic benefits”.
In addition to the astronomical payments stolen out of tax revenue, donor grants, loans, etc., there are cases such as the GW allegations with its celebrated issue of Big Boys 1 &2, yet unidentified. There is, really, no need to rehash the graft, greed, lies, deceit, thievery, etc., that is the government of the Republic of Liberia.