Are The Likes Of Taylor's Allies To Own The Liberian Electricity Corporation, National Port Authority, Etc?

By J. Yanqui Zaza

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
October 18, 2006


Would the likes of Charles Taylor's allies become the new owners of utility companies such as the Liberian Electricity Corporations now that President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has promised to sell government-owned entities? (The Analyst, October 5, 2006). A new purchase of another utility asset would add on to the Cell phone (Lone Star Communications) business owned by Emmanuel Shaw, Benoni Urey, etc. Predictably, wouldn’t they also acquire Liberia natural resources such as gold, diamond, iron ore, etc? Why not since such a transaction would be part of a normal business activity.

In fact profiteers advocating for deregulations, limited government role, and the idea of shifting the ownership of public entities to private-hands are usually targeting natural resources. (World Bank Report, 2001: 183,188). The report indicates that, for example, forty percent of the $44 billion in revenues raised through privatization in 1999 came from the sale of developing countries’s natural resources. Most importantly, wouldn’t the accumulation of wealth by a privileged few makes Liberia a business-state once again, thereby, breeding another civil war in Liberia?

Is the threat of "Taylor Inc." real? Apparently, the fear that "Taylor, Inc." would control Liberia encouraged the United Nations in voting for provisions within U.N. Resolution 1532 to freeze assets of Taylor's loyalists. The Resolution, which was never enforced, was to prevent Taylor’s allies from buying political offices during the 2005 elections and, subsequently to prevent them from stealing additional wealth. Did Edwin Snowe use ill-gotten wealth to win his office as Speaker of the Liberian House of Representative? Is his win a tip of the iceberg of how Taylor’s allies would use commercial properties and wrestle control of Liberia’s vital resources?

Regrettably, the likes of Taylor and allies might be the would-be owners. Rumors indicate that they fall within the narrow group of Liberians who have money and also have the penchant to influence political authority. Even if Taylor's allies run short on cash, I also surmise that foreign investors would team with the likes of Taylor's allies, rather than co-opt individuals who advocate for economic justice. Profiteers see Taylor’s allies as good partners because they (Taylor’s allies) have demonstrated the willingness and sophistication to rule Liberia without consensus, or without accepting the inconvenient sides of democratic principles.

There could be other reasons why the "Iron Lady" made the announcement. However, it appears that she might be appeasing the World Bank, etc. In September 2004, experts from the World Bank included the policy of privatization as a prerequisite for future aid and any consideration of debt relief to Liberia. Apparently, international partners had coerced the Gudye Bryant Interim Government into signing an economic policy agreement, which included a policy to sell utility entities. Rumors indicate that provisions were included to ensure that Liberians do not back away from such policy because other countries have begun to question economic hardships of privatization.

For quick definition, privatization is any process that would shift government responsibilities and functions, even partially, to a profit-driven private sector. Many profiteers, relying on a policy designed by the World Bank and preached by the current Administration of the United States of America, continue to insist that privatization would bring efficiency and transparency and reduce corruption within government.

However, critics of privatization continue to pinpoint at devastating economic conditions inflicted by shifting public utility to private-owners. In addition, they argue that audited reports and U. S. Court records have debunked the theory that private owners of utility entities would be transparent, efficient, and less corrupt. They add that such records of Enron, WorldCom, Tyco, Marsh & McLennan and Parmalat, indicate that given the opportunity, private-owners have a higher propensity to become corrupt and unethical.

Even countries such as Japan and the U.S. are having second thoughts for shifting government’s functions to private owners. Besides Japanese officials calling for their government to monitor corporations, New York City Mayor, Mike Bloomberg wants new regulations to help reduce the cost of housing. Housing cost is chewing up more than 50% of many New Yorkers' take-home pay because government ended its role in building homes. For Sherrod Brown, a challenger for the U.S. senatorial seat in Ohio, said U.S. corporations, using the rules of deregulations, etc, have sold of the United States of America and betrayed the middle class. He is calling on the U.S. government to take on more responsibilities.

Reducing corruption would assist our leaders in providing basic necessities to our war-weary citizens. Nonetheless, the public outcry to remedy corruption should not be the only factor in determining a policy about the ownership of and use of our important assets. Utility entities such as water and sewer, electricity, etc are pivotal to the functioning of the entire country. We should consider factors such as the possibility of unscrupulous owners using those entities to blackmail, not only other business competitors, but blackmailing the country.

Why is the new Administration adopting new policies without any input from the Reform Commission? Evidently, a more open debate about the goals of economic reform would substantially increase the potential for understanding the responsibilities of both the private-owners and consumers. More so, participants would discuss how to prevent private-owners from instituting skyrocted prices and encourage the new owners to extend services to rural towns. In any case, what is the essence of a Reform Commission if one of the primary reasons for its establishment does not exist anymore? Or did Liberians vote on October 5, 2005, only for the World Bank and the new government to mortgage the country to the likes of Taylor’s allies? Or are government officials indicating that the consequences of selling of natural resources, in the case of Liberia, are manageable?

© 2006 by The Perspective

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