The United Nations--Liberia Trusteeship Issue

By Alex Redd

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
July 8, 2005


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The issue of the United Nations’ effort to assist Liberia with an economic plan is aimed at rescuing the country from the current shackles of ineffective fiscal management and fragile judicial system. The news of the plan has sparked the attention of Gyude Byrant, head of the transitional administration and a handful of Liberian politicians as well as other members of the Liberian society. It is worth noting that these concerns are being misinterpreted particularly by a handful of Liberian politicians. The UN economic governance plan would be helpful to recalibrate the Liberian bureaucratic system and the judicial system as well. What is the UN’s economic recovery plan for Liberia? Why is it that the UN wants to implement such economic plan? This recovery plan is easy and simple to understand. It requires both a collaborative effort of the international community and Liberian authority as well. The plan is coming to light based on certain stipulation of the Accra Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which the Bryant team fails to implement.

The current inclusive power-sharing administration headed by Gyude Bryant has been tainted by gross violation of the October 2003 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which mandated the administration to function as a transition to ensure good governance and pave the way for a future national government through an electoral process. Up to date, the transitional administration has not acted in good faith to deliver basic life necessities to the Liberian people. In short, the Bryant team has failed to deliver basic social services as expected. The Liberian public is fed up and has openly expressed outrage about the manner and way in which a handful of government officials are getting rich overnight. The transitional government chairman, Gyude Bryant is being routinely booed in public by angry public servants and street vendors as well. The criminal justice system is weak to prosecute public officials for their ugly acts and misdeeds.

In sum, unabated corruption, lack of accountability and transparency, as well as widespread disregard for reform characterized the current Liberian transitional administration. Hence, the mandate of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) gives the international community the legitimacy to intervene and restore the good faith and integrity of the CPA on behalf of the suffering Liberian masses. The UN, EU, ECOWAS, including the United States of America latest plan is legitimized based on Article XXVI .7 of the CPA, which it signed as witness in August 2003.The article states: “ The parties call on the UN, ECOWAS, African Union (AU), International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, African Development Bank and other international institutions in a position to do so, to assign trained personnel and international experts for the purpose of providing technical support and assistance to the National Transitional Government of Liberia (NGTL), especially for the functioning of the ministries and parastatals”.

The international community is trying to help Liberian authority to properly manage generated revenues accrued from the resources of the country at least for the next three years given the mismanagement and organized plunder carried out by public officials. The UN plan dubbed as Economic Governance Action Plan for Liberia is about protecting the economic and social rights of the Liberian people. The plan is intended to ensure that the revenue generated by the government is secured for the reconstruction and development of the country and its people. According to reports, the plan will be implemented by an Economic Governance Steering Committee, which will be chaired by Gyude Bryant with the American ambassador as co-chairman (both men will provide political leadership) while the 11-member committee will provide technical direction and approval for economic governance reforms. All members of the committee will have veto powers and will be responsible to supervise and monitor the action plan. Putting into place a transparent check and balance economic framework would truly nurture the economic and social development of the country. What is key to the latest UN effort is to restore financial integrity and public accountability.

The UN panel of experts on Liberia recent report to the UN Security Council expressed strong concerns about the poor performance of Bryant transitional administration as well as future of the country.The transitional government executive order #2 mandates that all revenues are to be credited to a consolidated fund in the Central Bank of Liberia, for instance, taxes on rubber, petroleum products and other import and export goods and services. But the prevalence of revenue mismanagement at the Freeport of Monrovia is alarming. Trading of government revenue for personal gain is a commonplace. Individuals, owners of business and companies are granted duty-free.

The Auditor-General’s office reports that goods valued at US$5,170,995 passed through the port duty-free to several business entities and individuals, which result in revenue loss of US $ 79,053 to the transitional government. The Commerce Minister, Sam Wlue is reportedly the culprit for trading government revenue for personal gain. It is also reported that the transitional government should have collected more than US$ 27.9 million between January 2004 and April 2005, but only US$ 5.2 million was collected as import revenues from petroleum products importers. All this is indicative of an ineffective bureaucratic system riddled with organized pattern of criminal activity. This is one of the reasons why the new UN plan is poised to create an Anti-Corruption Commission that will be supported by donors, international partners, and the Liberian transitional government to purposefully clean up the current circle of corruption.

This latest UN plan sounds good because Liberia has long been plaqued by economic and political corruption and mismanagement despite many transitional arrangements. Some of the country’s political leaders including war-turned politicians are bent on pocketing the country’s wealth without remorse for the declining living condition of the common people. There is no piped water, no public electricity, the motor roads are deplorable, no well-functioning justice system and the closest approximation to a middle class is 60,000 civil servants who have hardly been paid in fourteen years. According to the Economist magazine, there are 450,000 prosperous and well-educated Liberians, but they live in America and show no sign of returning. The way things are turning out in the country may make most of these educated Liberians living abroad nervous to work in an environment plaqued with cultural impunity. That is also the reason why the UN plan would help to radically reform the Liberian criminal justice so as to dispense justice in accordance to international standard. Public officials would then be bound to respect the law as well as ethical standards that define the essence of their responsibility.

Liberia is not even ranked on the UNDP’s annual “human development index”, for lack of data. The only large organization that functions adequately in Liberia is the UN. Besides keeping the peace, the UN helps refugees return home, inoculates babies, feeds a fifth of the population and trains local teachers, policemen, judges, army officers and so forth. This is helpful, but it is hard to support such a weak government without supplanting it. Because the UN offers the best salaries in town, and actually pays on time, it often ends up poaching the most able public servants. This begs the question, is the Gyude Bryant administration in firm control to serve the Liberian people? The UN economic recovery approach is a good option because the country is riddled with corruption.

Sound home grown economic policy reforms would allow a country to get richer by making money, not necessarily by depending on foreign aid. Liberia needs a nurtured home grown policy with help of international experts to enable the country fall in line with the global market. This would require honest and committed well-meaning Liberians to ensure an efficient and effective bureaucracy at all levels of state power. States can fail because they can decay from within. For example, in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Congo, these states were looted into putrescence, thus inviting rebellion and ultimately, collapse. Even scholars cannot agree how to define a failed state, but most concur that state failure is one of the world’s gravest challenges. States that have lost control over most of their territory and stopped providing even the most basic services to their people are considered inept. States that have lost control over its territory are prone to receive a full-blown UN trusteeship. But in the case of Liberia, the country has not lost its territorial integrity but rather its financial, political and judicial integrity. The country has not been able to provide the necessary life support for its citizenry. Therefore, it is fair to say that Liberia is prone to receive a genuine treatment plan for economic and social recovery under the watchful eyes of the international community. The UN is not attempting to place Liberia under a full-blown trusteeship as alleged by few Liberian politicians. What the UN is trying to do is to help Liberians manage the financial integrity of the country. Only Somalia unambiguously fits the definition of a failed state while Zimbabwe is cantering towards a cliff-edge. Liberia might again fall into the cliff-edge category if opinion leaders do not get their act together to move the country forward. Others, having recently failed, appeared to be recovering, if fitfully: Haiti, Sierra Leone, and Afghanistan.

It is tough to mend a failed state, but the fact that some formerly failed states are now doing quite well—eg, Mozambique and East Timor—shows that it is not impossible for Liberia to recover with well-timed, well-armed peacekeeping missions, such as the Britain’s sortie into Sierra Leone. Liberia’s next-door neighbor, Sierra Leone, which collapsed just bloodily in the late 1990s, offers a heartening example. Three years ago, it was in roughly the same situation as Liberia today, held together only by 17, 000 blue helmets. The peacekeepers have pulled out gradually, as the Sierra Leonean army has grown stronger with British training. Although the country is still poor and ill governed, but it is no longer a charnel house, so it has a chance. An important reason for optimism is that with the UN’s help, Sierra Leone is holding to account those most responsible for despoiling the country.

Mozambique is a favorite example of recovery from war with assistance of the international community’s active stake in the process of its recovery. In partnership with the international community, Mozambique received aid worth half of its national income in the mid-1990s and it has grown quickly and become less dependent on aid in recent years. Ghana’s economy has grown steadily and its government has raised more in tax revenue, not less, since international aid started flowing. Tanzania and Ethiopia, for instance, could join the queue for its economic improvement. Although these African countries may have their unique culture and history, but their recovery and stability should be learned as a model.

Liberia may be well on its way to genuine recovery only if political opinion leaders are honest to put the interest of the country above all else. Those Liberians that are opposing the UN plan need to understand that peacekeeping mission is quite expensive. The UN mission in Liberia costs $800 million a year. Therefore, there is a strong need to work with international partners to straighten up the Liberian economy as well as its fragile judicial system. This would help the country get back on good footing with the international community.

Although many Liberians seem to embrace and support the idea that it would be wise to allow the UN to help the government to restore sound economic policy, it is disheartening to hear that some Liberian politicians are ruthlessly fretting over the UN latest effort. Some of these Liberian politicians are not being clear in explaining the true essence of the UN economic recovery plan to the Liberian people. Instead, they are hyping the news of the UN plan in the media, describing it as surrendering the sovereignty of Liberia. The UN latest plan is to collaborate with Liberian political leaders as well as the civil society to help deliver basic social services and sustainable economic and political stability. This plan has nothing to do with territorial integrity as was recently alleged.

Amos Sawyer, a Liberian politician recently asked students at the University of Liberia to kick against the UN economic plan because, according to him, attempts by the UN to help re-align the Liberian economy to that of international standard is an act of establishing a colonial-like governance. The Liberian politician also provided a weak premise that accused the UN of trying to transform Liberia into a quasi-trust territory with institution of an expatriate management at a time many other African countries are deepening their democratic process. Simply to say, Amos Sawyer is being disingenuous with the Liberian people. Sawyer headed a patched-up interim government for five years that could not deliver national peace and prosperity during the 1990s.The Sawyer team was also riddled with corruption just as Gyude Bryant’s. The Inquirer newspaper uncovered Sawyer’s purchase of luxurious home in America while residents of Monrovia were unable to make ends meet. Sawyer’s latest rhetorical discourse to reject the UN plan is out of touch with circumstances and reality of the Liberian people, who are still reeling from the brunt of the civil war.

This Liberian politician euphemistically coined an interim government of national unity that did not provide harmony and unity among the Liberian people. One of the reasons that may well explain Sawyer’s opposition of the UN plan is the rough edge he encountered with the UN during his interim administration. According to a UN fact finding mission report, Sawyer’s IGNU was responsible for the Harbel massacre. As commander –in chief of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), Sawyer was pressured to withdraw AFL soldiers from Harbel because of the UN indictment. Sawyer strongly felt the UN findings were bias against him given the way the then notorious NPFL was exonerated. This has since resulted in a breakdown of trust between Sawyer and the UN. In short, Sawyer’s IGNU failed to deliver basic life necessities for inhabitants of Monrovia and its surroundings during his five years of hold on state power. In addition, another politician who is a deputy minister of the current administration at the education ministry has also rejected the idea of the UN economic plan.

Marcus Dahn, contender for the United People’s Party’s presidential ticket declared, sanguinely, that proponents of the UN plan are “enemies of the state”. The major premise to back these utterances is heavily hinged on one familiar word Liberians have heard over and over again: sovereignty. In any event, these remarks are misguided with the sole intention to brainwash the Liberian people. These remarks are hyped with zealous effort to undermine Liberia’s economic and political prosperity. What matters is that some politicians are out of touch with the plight and reality of the common Liberian people. Where do we draw the line of sovereignty, when our country has been invaded three times? The first by NPFL from the Ivorian border, the second by ULIMO from the Sierra Leonean border and the third by LURD from the Guinean border. Does Liberia have its own standing army or the necessary security apparatus to protect not only its border but also its citizens?

The argument about sovereignty does not duly hold when it comes to the current economic recovery plan, which the international community is trying to devise for our country. The current noise about sovereignty may remind most Liberians about their ugly experience with the debate that ensued between Charles Taylor and opposition politicians in the past. It can be recalled when Taylor demanded that ECOMOG leave Liberia after he became president, ignoring the ECOWAS and the international community peace plan of recovery that also included restructuring of the Liberian army. Some of these politicians who are now sounding loud about sovereignty were serious critics about Taylor’s emphasis to preserve Liberia’s sovereignty. What followed next to our sovereignty under the guise of Taylor’s reign? Widespread corruption, gross human rights violation coupled with undisciplined rag-tag youths, masquerading as soldiers, compromised our sovereignty under the Taylor regime. The Liberian people may not be willing to listen to another empty rhetorical discourse from politicians who have not been able to give cogent evidence that the UN economic intervention plan is bad for the country.

Nevertheless, I also agree with the need to respect and preserve our sovereignty but as it now appears from personal experience over a decade, Liberia has not yet developed the full capacity and ability to cannibalize absolute sovereignty. The country is depending on 15,000 blue helmets for security as well as foreign financial and humanitarian assistance from the same international community. Sovereignty, in the current case of economic and political recovery, is vulnerable because of our dependability on foreign forces.

Collaborative effort with well-intentioned international partners, such as the United Nations and other international subsidiaries, would help to get Liberia out of the current mess. The call for international intervention to restore financial and judicial integrity makes lot of sense given the continued pattern of rampant corruption and gross disregard for the rule of law and order.

The author is a Liberian journalist residing in Madison, Wisconsin.