Weighing the Liberia Economic Governance Action Plan: The So-called "Trusteeship"
William E. Allen, Ph.D.
July 5, 2005
The notion of placing Liberia under an international trusteeship should rightly evoke
deep emotions among Liberians (and all Africans for that matter) because trusteeship brings forth the memory of the racism that was inherent in European colonial rule in Africa in the nineteenth century. Trusteeship was established in Africa following the defeat of Germany in World War One when the victorious allies (including Britain and France) parceled out the German colonies among themselves. Under the arrangement, the former German colonies, the trust territories, were to be administered by European colonial powers, called the "trustees," under the auspices of the then League of Nations. For instance, the erstwhile German territory of Cameroon was divided in half, with the western section assigned to Britain and the rest allocated to France. The trustees (in this case Britain and France) were supposed to govern Cameroon until both colonial powers were satisfied that Cameroonians were fit to rule themselves, or in other words, to become independent.
The assumption that Cameroonians were unfit to govern themselves was not
based on empirical evidence but on nineteenth century pseudo-science or false
science, developed mainly by whites, who supported the enslavement of Africans
in the United States. Herein lies the racism. This quasi-science alleged that
blacks had the least intelligence in the human family, thereby making them
an innately inferior race. On the other hand, according to this racist theory,
the white race was the most intelligent and consequently had the God-given
responsibility to "civilize" blacks. Given this backdrop, one can
understand the strong emotions Liberians are expressing about the Liberia
Economic Governance Plan of Action, a plan that seemingly places Liberia's
sovereignty in the hands of the "white man." No doubt, to many Liberians,
the LEGAP is reminiscent of the nineteenth-century racist theory, the notion
that blacks are intellectually inferior to whites.
The Reality: It Walks and Quacks, but it is not a Duck
As indicated, conventional wisdom has led the majority to the conclusion that LEGAP is a "trusteeship." This realization has resulted in strong condemnation in certain quarters. The LEGAP certainly looks like a trusteeship; but is it actually a trusteeship? Under the LEGAP, Liberia's government finances would be controlled basically by a group of non-Liberians who would decide how to spend it. Also, non-Liberian judges would be appointed to run Liberian courts. These measures, according to the findings by the European Community and ECOWAS, are necessary if the current wave of widespread corruption is to be repressed and if Liberia is to continue receiving international financial support. Under the LEGAP, the Liberian legislature will continue to be run wholly by Liberians who will make all the laws of Liberia, and the Executive Branch will be headed by an elected Liberian president. The president will retain (more or less) all the constitutional powers of the Executive, although under the LEGAP he/she will lose the customary privilege to steal public money. Under LEGAP, the judiciary will be significantly transformed by the appointment of foreign judges. Some wary supporters of LEGAP, such as the Liberian History, Education, and Development Inc. (LIHEDE), have pointed out, among other things, that the provision for foreign judges is a violation of the Liberian constitution (theperspective.org, June 28, 2005).
LEGAP may look like a trusteeship, but it hardly fits the historical description of a trusteeship. The British and French trusteeship administrations in the Cameroon, like those in other parts of Africa, controlled all the principal functions of government, i.e., the executive, the legislative, and the judiciary; Europeans were the chief executives, the lawmakers and the judges. In the few cases where Africans were given the privilege to make laws, those laws had to be ultimately approved by Europeans. Most importantly, under the European trusteeship, Africans were not allowed to vote, to choose their leaders. LEGAP will neither take away Liberians right to vote, nor appoint the president; it will fully recognize all the leaders that Liberians will elect this October. LEGAP has no power to make laws; all Liberians laws will continue to be made by Liberian legislators. In short, while LEGAP with its white financial overseers may resemble a trusteeship, it is technically not a trusteeship with the characteristic absolute authority. LEGAP will look even less like a trusteeship if the provision for foreign judges is abolished, which I believe it should be.
LEGAP Potential Benefits
Let me mention from the onset that there is no guarantee that LEGAP can achieve the goals it has outlined (e.g., streamlining government to eliminate waste and corruption). Moreover, given that the UN, a partner in LEGAP, has been accused in the past of corruption and ineptitude (e.g. the UN Iraqi oil-for-food scandal that cannot account for millions of dollars), one must wonder if the organization has the moral fortitude to carry out reforms in Liberia. I would therefore suggest that if LEGAP is to be adopted, Liberians must insist on a precise timetable for implementation, and progress should be jointly monitored, i.e., by the Liberian Government and LEGAP. Finally, Liberia must reserve the right to terminate LEGAP if it is confirmed that measurable progress has not been accomplished within the timetable. Notwithstanding the above, LEGAP has the potential to succeed. Its attempt to streamline government, to ensure that public funds are used primarily to improve Liberia's crumbling infrastructure means that more money will now be available for development. The LEGAP was prompted by the recent independent audit conducted by the European Community and ECOWAS. Initially, the audit was vehemently opposed by prominent Liberian government officials on the dubious grounds that it would infringe on Liberia's sovereignty. In the end, the lame sovereignty argument was disregarded and the assessment was done. The conclusion was that "systematic and endemic corruption" was widespread and has hindered attempts by international donors to improve the lives of the vast majority of Liberians who continue to live in misery. This finding was no surprise, for since the inception of the interim government nearly two years ago, the news media have been constantly laden with reports of corruption and mismanagement. For example, just last December Interim Chairman, Gyude Bryant, confessed he was unable to account for millions entrusted to his government by the international community (allAfrica.com Dec. 14, 2004). Mr. Bryant's confession came in the wake of reports that some members of the Interim Legislative Assembly misappropriated hundreds of thousands of dollars through questionable stipends for trips that many did not make. All this fraud is taking place at a time when an estimated half of the school-age children are out of school, hospitals shelves are empty, and civil servants go without pay because of the lack of funds. LEGAP, with its emphasis on accountability, could almost certainly reverse this thievery and use the money to improve the lives of ordinary Liberians.
Here is a quick illustration of how much money could be recovered through LEGAP. The main goal of LEGAP is to restructure the government in a way that will minimize or discourage embezzlement. One aspect of the restructuring calls for realignment of the mining sector "to avoid any illegal production and/or export" of diamonds and timber. To arrive at a rough estimate of just how much money is involved in the illicit diamond and timber trade, one should remember that Charles Taylor and his band of thieves financed their wars and their multi-million dollar lifestyle through the illegal sales of diamonds and timber. The fact that the UN is still trying to confiscate millions more still in the hands of Taylor and his fellow racketeers speaks volume of the amount at stake in this illegal trade. Under LEGAP, the International Partners to Liberia would supervise and monitor the production and sale of these resources. The millions recovered from the diamond trade then become available to help furnish hospitals, renovate schools, and pay civil servants, among others. Another example of how LEGAP would prevent embezzlement and recover millions of dollars is its plan to restructure procurement activities, an area that has become a bonanza for government officials. One recalls that it was through procurement at the General Service Agency (GSA) that then Director Charles Taylor (under the Samuel Doe Government) stole the millions, which he used to initially finance his war of "liberation." GSA directors are customarily big spenders, showering girlfriends and relatives with cars and elegant homes. Under LEGAP, all this embezzled money would be used to electrify the country, to build better roads, and to finance public education, etc.
As an historian and an African, I am also sensitive to racism and colonialism, two evils that have contributed to Africa's underdevelopment. Apparently, the Economic Governance Action Plan is not based on the racist notion that blacks are inferior to whites, nor is it technically a trusteeship. Liberia's past leaderships have generally been mired by corruption, and as a result, funds for development usually end in the personal accounts of government officials; the current interim leadership is just as miserable. An outright rejection of LEGAP will send the wrong signal to the international community. A majority of the International Partners to Liberia, sponsors of LEGAP, are presently meeting in Scotland for the G-8 (eight wealthiest nations) conference. They are currently considering forgiving Africa's more than $293 billion dollar debt; Liberia owes slightly under $3 billion. Imagine what a relief it would be for Liberia if it were no longer burdened with this estimated $3 billion debt; that money could go toward meaningful development. However, the G-8 nations are making accountability and good governance a pre-condition for wiping out Africa's debt, the same conditions that LEGAP has proposed. If Liberia flatly turns down LEGAP, it signals to the G-8 Liberia's unwillingness to espouse accountability and good governance. Consequently, Liberia will lose millions in international support, and it will have to repay the nearly $3 billion it owes. I am glad that Liberians are beginning to see the potential advantages of LEGAP; in a statement over the weekend, the Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas (ULAA) indicted that it is "cautiously" throwing its weight behind LEGAP (theperspective.org, July 2, 2005).
Given the tremendous impact that LEGAP could have on all Liberians, the decision to accept or reject it should be made by all Liberians, literate as well as non-literate. This is even more reason for Liberians to support the recent call for a national conference in Liberia prior to the October elections. The conference could, among other things, allow the majority to decide whether they support LEGAP. Once again, I am delighted that ULAA is backing the call for a national conference to be held in Liberia, "preferably before the elections" (theperspective.org, July 2, 2005). Finally, I urge Liberians to accept LEGAP with the recommendations made above and those outlined by groups like LIHEDA and ULAA; the LEGAP potential benefits outweigh the inconvenience of infringement on our sovereignty. LEGAP offers Liberians a unique opportunity to repair our war-torn country and at the same time prove to the world that we are indeed a decent and civilized nation.