Editorial: The Need For A Fresh Start

For more than a year, The Perspective has underscored some of the causes of the problems that ail Liberian society. Problems which culminated into a violent eruption of a civil war in which we almost destroyed ourselves as a nation by wrecking unnecessary atrocities upon the hapless civilian population, killing more than 150,000 of our fellow citizens.

When we started the publication of The Perspective in June 1996, we had advanced a laundry list of characters and institutions who played leading roles in Liberia's self-strangulation. We have, in a meticulous way, presented the facts as they relate to a series of national policies, which was designed to control and suppress the advancement of a significant majority of the citizenry. In addition, we had catalogued the culpability of different regimes of the defunct political monopoly, and the rationale which underpinned those policy decisions.

In essence, we had reviewed a significant portion of our history over the past several months. And what we found have been both disappointing and disheartening. Our review sadly uncovered a portrait of a nation resolutely committed to retrogression by pursuing national policies which nurtured a vile class system. We also discovered an entrenched political establishment which deliberately formulated national policies for the benefits of a few at the expense of the majority.

One may be curious to know why we have devoted all this time trying to reveal the worst in our past? What do we intend to prove? Why have we cast the political establishment in such a dark light and portrayed its leaders and supporters in negative terms? Are we saying that we are more patriotic than other Liberians?

In order to adequately address the issues inherent in the questions presented here, we must proceed from the backdrop of our orientation as a people, and in the context of our recent civil war during which our country was besieged by a killing frenzy.

By orientation, Liberians are generally apt to ignore the wrongdoing of others, so long such actions or policies do not directly affect our personal interest. So, over the years, we allowed a system of separation and containment of our people to evolve without much opposition, which in turn led us to see one another as enemies. There is a consensus among many Liberians that the way in which we conducted the affairs of state in the past 150 years may have served the limited interest of a select few. But that approach also drastically hindered and undermined the national interest of Liberia.

Our failure to speak out against national policies which promoted division, alienation, and inequality created an atmosphere of hostility with heightened animosity among our people. This apathy to engage ourselves in serious discussion and dialogue contributed to our recent civil war.

In view of this experience, The Perspective has concluded - and we continue to believe - that the war has provided the right opportunity. Unfortunately, for us to confront our past and engage ourselves in serious, meaningful examination of the issues that caused the national tragedy. Our efforts have been aimed at stimulating a national debate among the Liberian people, so that we will be able to see beyond our narrow perspectives, freely expressing our views and thoughts, exchanging ideas with the aim of generating a set of paradigms to our common problems. Our approach has been bold, deliberate and direct.

No doubt, some people had voiced disagreement with the manner in which The Perspective has tackled the issues. By the same token, however, others had applauded our consistent adherence to the veracity and accuracy of our argument. In other words, while some people do not necessarily like what we say and disagree with our timing, most people agree that we are talking the truth, no matter how painful.

All along, our effort is to expose the evil of past national policies, and the danger which awaits us if we continue to tread along this divisive path. However, we have been careful not to use our unfortunate experience as a metaphor for class warfare. Our country bears indelible scars of this erroneous notion of consigning our people to artificial categories. The Perspective abhors discrimination of any kind and commits itself to the rights of the individual to decide for himself.

Are we more patriotic than other Liberians? No. We believe most Liberians love their country and are determined to do whatever is possible to help rebuild our shattered infrastructures and contribute to a healthy discussion of our future. No person or group of individuals has a repository of solutions to our problems. Liberia needs the collective efforts of all its citizens as the nation attempts to deal with the dire decimation of human psyche and physical reconstruction.

What's more, Liberia is at a crossroads, painfully struggling to make the transition from decades of dictatorship, military repression and factional warfare to a democratic society. Undoubtedly the process will be slow and agonizing for all Liberians, since the nation is being governed by a leader who believes in violence as a vehicle to political power. The situation is further complicated by an uninformed electorate, and the weariness of the war.

The Perspective believes democracy is a continuum of stages, with each level requiring serious commitment from the citizenry to succeed. And as an advocate for democracy, individual freedom and civil liberties, The Perspective is poised to play a leading role in this national transformation. We urge all citizens to be engaged in the political process to help shape a dynamic future of a people who have known nothing more than economic, social and political degradation.

During the past several months, we had been engaged in this endeavor of reviewing our history, not because we were obsessed with the ugliness of our past. We did so because we believe the past can serve as barometer, a sort of foundation, upon which we can begin to chart a new course for Liberia's future. In that connection, we have laid out most of the unfortunate legacies and cleavages of a nation doomed for self-destruction.

In this edition, we will proceed to the second phase of our two- plunged strategy, which is providing alternative approaches and appropriate paradigms for our problems. As such, we will advance, from time to time, meaningful proposals which we regard as essential and relevant to our revitalization efforts.

Over the past six months, The Perspective has eagerly awaited the Taylor administration's blueprint, a definite agenda, giving concrete indications regarding the direction in which Mr. Taylor intends to lead the country. The Perspective believes a period of six months is an adequate time for any administration to outline its programs to the public.

Unfortunately, however, President Taylor has failed to put forth such programs to deal with our problems. Perhaps, such a program of action exists in official circles, but what we have been able to gather so far is a government by fragmentation, or rather an administration by inaction, where different ministries and agencies are doing different things without a coordinated, central objective.

Based on this reason, and for other prudent economic and effective administrative purposes, The Perspective urges President Taylor to eliminate the following ministries: 1) the Ministry of Information, Ministry of Rural Development, Ministry of National Security, Ministry of Planning, Ministry of Labor, Ministry of Transportation and Ministry of Youth and Sports.

Each of these ministries was not created on a need basis. Rather, they each came into being to support the patronage system of the True Whig Party, which ignored sound economic reasoning of private sector job-creation.

This bloated bureaucracy was used to foster a dependency for various constituencies. It did not effectively serve the public interest then, it is not going to do so now.

We have selected these agencies because we believe they have the minimal usefulness to efficient operation of government.

For instance, in an open, democratic society, the free press can adequately assume the role of informing the public. Such an agency was necessary during the dictatorial eras, but the ministry of information is no longer needed. The functions of Planning can be taken over by Finance and Commerce. The Ministry of Public Works can assume the role of Transportation, while the functions for Rural Development can be transferred to Internal Affairs or Agriculture, with Labor reduced to a bureau and the role of Youth & Sports be transferred to Education or taken over by private agencies.

Instead of adhering to the failed expansion of government, which was designed to pander certain sectors of society, the civil war, ironically, has given us the opportunity to streamline the bureaucracy, pursue fiscal discipline and at the same time provide efficient delivery of services.

We are not naive to think that these radical proposals don't have inherent social consequences. With government being the major provider of employment, and with the existence of a social "economy of affection," that encourages dependency rather than productivity, such a measure or policy action is bound to produce an adverse effect.

But the effect need not be long-term or permanent. A gradual and incremental approach to the process of restructuring would be a sound strategy. This strategy should include but not be limited to a broad range of steps such as consolidation, mergers and privatization. Government ministries and agencies whose functions and mission overlap, or where there is duplication of responsibilities, could serve as candidates for consolidation or mergers. Whereas others that generate their own revenues such as Post and Telecommunications could be privatized or made semi-autonomous. The timing is appropriate, since these agencies were non- functional for seven years of guerrilla warfare, and Liberia is virtually bankrupt. There should be no illusions about our dire situation. The country must prioritize.

We will, however, be gullible to think that by reducing the ministries of government is the panacea or solution to the serious problems we have in Liberia. Trimming the size of government alone is not enough to assure Liberians that their leaders will pursue the kind of democratic reforms necessary for a new Liberia. We as citizens must demand our leaders to adhere to all the democratic tenets and practices, which include respect for human rights, freedom of the press and individual civil liberties.

Central to the success of any Liberian revitalization programs will depend, to a large extent, on the confidence of the international community in the Liberian government. The international community, especially the U. S., has been hesitant to provide direct assistance to Liberia until Mr. Taylor can demonstrate serious commitment to democracy, respect and adherence to international standards in the areas of human rights abuses and press freedom.

It is about time that Liberians shelve the collective indulgence of complacency and begin to address the critical issues that will determine the future of the country.