Iron Lady’s Reform: Profiteers Undermine Another Reform?

By J. Yanqui Zaza


The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
February 21, 2006


Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf
If President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf intends to institute policies that would provide real reform, her government should become a guarantor of education, housing, food, utility, etc. The idea to leave major policies (i.e., social engineering) to the discretions of profiteers has and continues to create an environment not conducive for citizens to prosper. Housing prices, for example, has skyrocketed in Monrovia to the extend that hotel customers pay US $110.00 to $160.00 per night (Liberia as compared to the average of US $100.00 charged in New York City. Obviously, customers are not paying such an exorbitant price for the beauty of Monrovia; rather, profiteers are using the shortage in housing to exploit customers. Also, Liberia lacks adequate skilled manpower because the government had failed to provide high schools and vocational in rural towns as well as in suburbs of Monrovia from 1847 until the 70s (i.e., 100 plus years later).

Is it not interesting to see that our former leaders copied many other policies of America, but they failed to imitate or reason with the rationale why US officials continue to finance public education, low-cost housing, mass transit system, etc? (Rationale for government’s investment, J. Y. Zaza, The perspective, 4/4/05). Was it difficult for our leaders, especially having spent time in America, to learn that the high cost of housing and education does not only affect residents, but it also drives away potential employers? Did they also miss the message in the Kerner Commission Report which identified what fueled, and not what triggered, the riots and violence in the 60s that destroyed American cities? President Lyndon Johnson’s Commission recommended that providing housing, etc. (i.e., narrowing economic disparities) would minimize riots and violence.

Regrettably, it appears that our leaders have not learned from the past and continue to abandon policies to profiteers’ prerogatives. Putting other policies aside, let us review our current educational policy and determine whether our future university graduates would fulfill the employment need of corporations. There are five private-owned universities and one government-sponsored university in Liberia. Cuttington University is located outside of Monrovia; AME University uses the Monrovia College High School campus; AME Zion University uses the Zion High School campus, The United Methodist University uses the College of West Africa campus, Don Bosco University uses the St. Patrick high school campus. However, among the private-owned universities, only Don Bosco offers limited disciplines in Science, while the others offer disciplines such as Business Administration and Liberal Arts.

Unfortunately, the government sponsored university, which offers some variety of disciplines including medicine, engineering, agriculture, demography, communications, law, accounting, etc., has limited space for more talented students. Are owners of the five universities, who also own a significant number of buildings, eyeing profits, or are enticing employers? You be the judge.

The need to create an environment conducive for Liberians to prosper along with the call by two-thirds of the population of the world to shift policies from private hands to the control of government should encourage President Sirleaf to implement Liberia’s call for reform. Business and political leaders who met in Davos, Switzerland in January 2006 found out that majority of the population of the world wants government to take control of necessities such as food, education shelter, etc. (Economic Forum Report, 1/28/06). The new chancellor of Germany, Ms. Angela Merkel, responding to the wave of anti-privatization protests in South America and other third world countries, said that the growth brought by privatization is uneven, which is escalating fears and resentment (Economic Forum Report, 1/28/06). She was reported as saying that there will be more riots and violence if governments did not find a way for all to benefit.

Numerous independent reports indicate that the gap between the haves and have-nots is not wide in countries such as Canada, France, Germany, India, Israel, Russia, etc. where governments invest in social programs. Even in the United States, the call for government to restore its involvement is coming from all sectors. New York City, for example, has called for government to invest and expand low-cost housing program, not just to shelter the poor, but also to reduce the cost of housing for businesses as well residents, which eats up about 49% of New Yorkers’ take home-pay. (NY Times, 1/23/06). President George W. Bush has also called for government to reasserts its role in improving America’s educational system, especially in science and math, not just to study the Solar System, but also to keep jobs in America. Chief executives, although for different reasons, want US government to finance health care, an idea they rejected in 1993. Theda Skocpol, a Harvard dean who was an informal advisor to President William Clinton, said that there is a realization that American businesses would increase their profits if America’s health care system were like Canada’s. (NY Times, 1/29/06).

Reform is not a new idea in Liberia. Compelling mining companies or their successors to clean up chemical wastes and debris in the valleys of Bong Mines, Yekepa, etc., or ensuring that employees are paid on time is one kind of a reform. Such a reform might have been a part of President William R. Tolbert’s. However, those minimal reform efforts did not last long. In 1978, profiteers fearing the idea of ushering in a structural reform squashed the political reform (i.e., for example the “Sawyer for Mayor of the City of Monrovia Campaign”). Assumingly, profiteers did envisioned that a victory for the advocates, would not only bring the them to power during the elections scheduled in 1985, but they would institute policies that would reduce profiteers’ profits.

Profiteers squandered another opportunity to reform our policies in 1980. Just as countries such as France in 1718, Russia in 1917, and China in 1950, etc. used their violent incidents and restructured their societies, Liberia could have used the 1980 incident and reform its economic and political system. They coerced President Samuel K. Doe and deleted relevant recommendations from the Sawyer Constitutional Commission. In fact, they did more than weakening the constitution. Earlier on, they also trashed into the dustbin a Chinese educational scholarship program for thousands and plus students, which Dr. Boima Fahnbulleh negotiated on behalf of the Doe regime.

President Sirleaf, to her credit, has appointed few nominees with impeccable characters, including the chair of the Reform Commission, Dr. Amos Sawyer. Also, her suggestion on February 19, 2006 that her government would consider decentralizing the University of Liberia, thereby giving students living in rural towns the opportunity to acquire higher education is a good proposal. However, those who have and continue to resist real reform will put up a fight. Some skeptics have already begun to trivialize the idea of reform by equating it to a procedural problem (i.e., for example, paying employees on time). Also in the making is the idea to confuse the citizens by renaming reform efforts as government subsidies for unproductive or lazy citizens.

Further, using the regular template, profiteers will attack any messenger; especially those messengers who they believe are capable of instituting real reform. Therefore, the “Iron Lady” could remind profiteers and the general public that many of the international corporations are rushing to communist China and socialist India, not because they want to embrace socialism, rather they need cheap labor and low cost of living. Most importantly, if we failed for the third time, for the fourth time, or the fifth time to institute structural reforms as part of the economic ladders for all to benefit as Ms. Angela stated, poverty and ignorance will evidently bring violence and anarchy back to our society.