GRC To Organize National Citizens Convention, 1000 Delegates To Attend, Says Governance Reform Commission Acting Chairman Francis M. Carbah


By Abdoulaye W. Dukulé

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
September 14, 2005


Chairman Francis Carbah
GRC Acting Chairman
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One of the most important structures put in place by the Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA) signed in Accra, Ghana, in 2003 was without a doubt the Governance Reform Commission (GRC), which, short of constitutional reform, was charged with the task of looking at every aspect of governance in Liberia, carried studies and formulates proposals. Acting Chairman Francis Carbah, who took over from Mrs. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, said that the commission is to be seen “as a conflict prevention program, because it seeks to address all the issues that brought conflict into Liberia.”

In a recent interview, Mr. Carbah said that the Commission was now reaching a stage in its work where it plans to submit to the Liberian people, a “set of definite, clear and actionable proposals” developed out of the months of consultations with the people of Liberia through town meetings and other forums. Mr. Carbah said that the work plan of the Commission incorporated a three-stage national consultations strategy, which he describes as follows: “First we held meetings with communities, which we call town meetings, across the length and breathe of the nation to assemble the views of the ordinary citizenry on several issues regarding the governance of the country. This stage also included consultations with other stakeholder groups and knowledgeable individuals. It was the research stage.

At the second stage, at which we are, reform proposals formulated by consultants out of those proposals will be subjected to expert working sessions for review and improvement; after which specialized stakeholders of diverse professional areas and political organizations will again review the improved proposals for what we are terming reality-check. We would like to know, for example, whether the code of conduct being drafted now, will have the desire effect or what additional measures would be necessary to make it work.

The final stage of the national consultations will bring together the citizenry, through its representatives from the political subdivisions of the country and the Diasporas, to discuss and endorse proposals.”

Mr. Carbah emphasized that this last stage of the national consultation is crucial. He says “After having consulted the people, it is important that they are given a chance to come and examine the definite and final proposals we have developed for implementation. We have to ascertain that we understood them correctly, that the proposals we are putting forward will address their concerns.” In other words, the work of the GRC, as a reform-oriented think tank will only be complete after the National Citizen Convention, which, in current calculation, could bring together no less than 1,000 people and in an 8-day session. In the end, says Mr. Carbah, “the new government will have the courage to undertake and implement reforms, knowing that the people of Liberia are behind those changes.”

Apart from representatives from every political subdivision in the country, the conference will also bring together representatives of Liberian communities in the Diaspora, elected officials of the in-coming government as well as members of the outgoing administration, including the legislators.

Funding of Convention

Acting Chairman Carbah said that the Commission is currently in consultation with a number of donor agencies but specifically noted that the African Development Bank (ADB), has provided US$145,000 to support these consensus-building exercises. The Commission expects that government will also make a substantial contribution. The ADB funds will be applied to the expert and other professional working sessions and portion of the citizens’ convention.

The Agenda

The agenda of the conference will be carefully delineated and the commission is keeping its focused on the executive branch of government. Says Mr. Carbah, “governance is a broad issue and it embraces all aspects by which we try to manage a society, including the process of providing guidance to our people, protecting their lives, rights and properties as well as dispensing justice or promote the rule of law, which is the cardinal principle by which a society should live. Once all these aspects are functioning properly, everything else will fall into place.” Therefore, the convention will not be a potpourri where everyone will bring an agenda item to be added to the program and discussed; rather, it will remain centered on those issues that were discussed with the citizenry, and have been formulated by experts and stakeholders into actionable proposals.

We will be presenting at the conference, for example, a code of conduct for public officials; new mandates and structures for each of the government ministries and central management agencies; a blue-print for a decentralized political and economic governance system for our country, etc.

“The GRC immediate concern in the many issues of governance was to ensure that the next, elected, government would endure. In that case, any new government must be able to respond to the immediate needs of our people.” Streamlining, rebuilding and refocusing the executive branch was therefore a top priority. Again not because other branches or issues are not important; but that is the executive that must make the first good impression and lead the process of national restoration.

When asked about what he perceives as the three major and current governance problems in the nation, Mr. Carbah underlined the lack of balance in powers between the three branches of government; the inept and corrupt conduct of government over the last two-decades or so to the extent that it has become detested by the population because of its inability to provide even basic services; and finally he cites the over-centralization of power whereby for a town to even erect a clinic, it must have the approval stamp of the Minister of Health and the President made it impossible for the local people to address some of their peculiar local problems.

When asked if the GRC has looked into other areas such as the justice system and the military, Mr. Carbah said that these are institutions that are currently undertaking reforms in their own systems, for example, he says the Chief Justice has been outspoken about the independence of the judiciary. He cited the restructuring of both the police and the army by UNMIL would inject new behaviors into those corps. “These are mostly technical matters that can be addressed once the major issues in governance have been dealt with.”

Commenting On GEMAP

Recently, a development-aid plan developed by the international donor community was submitted to the transitional government under the name of EGAP. The government made some suggestions and it became GEMAP. At one point Chairman Gyude Bryant threatened that he would not sign such a plan because it contained major shortcomings. He was finally constrained to endorse it just before leaving for the UN general assembly meeting in New York. When asked if the GRC had any input in the formulation of the plan, Mr. Carbah said that although many of the issues covered in the GEMAP scheme were part of the work undertaken by the Commission, the GRC had not been consulted in the process of formulation of the scheme.

He regards the GEMAP as the “expression of the frustration felt by the international community over the conduct of government and widespread reports of corruption, the misuse and application of public resources. And one must concede that given where we are, especially the level of our dependence on external support, we need a new cooperation framework with our international friends and partners. However, the reaction of the international community in this form and manner, as good and well intentioned as it may be, was impulsive and therefore misses a crucial step: it is not supported by any diagnostic studies that would allow specific issues to be addressed and specific results achieved. There is has no input-output relationship expressed anywhere in the plan.”

“The GEMAP has lot of specific inputs being proposed but the objectives that should be achieved are not concretely defined. And that is a major flaw. What does the presence of the international expert at the Central Bank change? I am not saying that his presence would not change anything. I just do not know what that expected change is.” It seems we have the cart leading the horse here.” He says that the next government would have to accept the plan as a concept and refine it so that every input is directed towards an identifiable output.

The Future of the GRC

With the elections scheduled to be held shortly and a new government coming to power, the CPA and all its institutions will cease to function. Mr. Carbah says that he has hopes that the GRC, as an institution – not necessarily as structured and with the individual members – will continue to function. He said that although the Commission has been slow in responding to governance needs, it has worked on some important issues that will help shape the future. He says that “in the very long-term, one would expect that the GRC or its replacing agency will no longer be needed because it would have fulfilled its mission. By then, good governance would have become a practice and every institution would have internalized self-examination and correction and would not require outside pressure.”

In the intermediate term, Mr. Carbah says, that there should be an entity with the competence and resources to do research on “our culture, political and belief systems that determine the way we conduct ourselves and our country. Without an understanding of our culture, it would be difficult to govern ourselves.” The Acting Chairman of the Commission feels that an institution capable to set the framework for the development of a national vision is necessary. “There must be and there has to be something we have to look forward to as a nation.”

In the immediate future, and this is where the National Citizen Convention comes in, Mr. Carbah says “we have to address those issues that brought the conflict on us. This Convention will be like the one we should have held in 1847, when the country was being founded, to determine how we were going to govern ourselves, what institutions we needed and how they would operate. What we have started at the GRC is the initiation of a process for formulating a conflict prevention programme for our country.