Serious Problems Related To The Proposed Transition Plan

By Mohamedu F. Jones


The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
December 2, 2005


President-Elect Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has named a Transition Team headed by Vice President-Elect Joseph N. Boakai. There are serious problems related to the proposed transition plan.

It is important to me that I indicate at the outset I do not seek public sector employment in Liberia, including for among other reasons, professional and family commitments that will not permit me to live in Liberia for the near to medium term. To cite Mr. John Morlu (Front Page, 11/27/05) I cannot quit my “$50,000 job in America to take a Liberia $1000, US$20 a month minister’s salary.” Also, it is my firm belief that electing Mrs. Johnson Sirleaf was the absolute right decision by Liberia, and it will pay off in the end. Finally, in personal terms, I know, admire, respect and like both Mrs. Johnson Sirleaf and Mr. Boakai. They both mean well for Liberia and will do well by Liberia.

Now, having stated all the preliminaries, Mrs. Johnson Sirleaf and Mr. Boakai need to act immediately to remedy some major defects in their transition approach or risk beginning their administration wrongly, which could trail them throughout their term of office.

The qualifying criteria for appointment to the Team are direct and simple:

1. Existing Government employees are not to be included on the transition team.

2. All appointed individuals should be qualified in their respective areas of assignment.

3. Except for a small stipend to cover the cost of transportation and gasoline, the assignments will attract no financial compensation.

4. For inclusion on the transition team, priority will be given to those who made substantial sacrifices during the presidential campaign.

5. In the selection process, consideration should be given to gender, youths and members of other parties.

The terms of reference for the team are pretty straight forward:

· Assess the current state of affairs in terms of resource availability and policy direction, identifying weaknesses and opportunities for change;
· Propose a vision of desired outcomes and an action plan that could include proposals for changes in institutional structures, budgetary allocations as well as program direction.

Applying the qualifying criteria and the terms of reference, the Transition Team appointments appear to be suitable and appropriate. It seems that the Team was meant to be comprised primarily of loyal technocrats, sprinkled with a smattering of opposition personnel, and mixed with a small number of public opinion leaders. Within the narrow confines of the criteria and assignments, the Team makes perfect sense. But to paraphrase James Carville (Clinton ’92), “It’s a Post-civil War Government, Stupid!” (Now let me say here unequivocally that I am not calling Mrs. Johnson Sirleaf, Mr. Boakai or any member of the Team “stupid” – and most readers will know why I needed to explain that.) The incoming government’s Transition Plan must extend beyond the narrow confines of what this Team has been assigned, and set the governance tone of the Johnson-Sirleaf administration.

Several persons have raised questions about the composition of the Team based on such matters as its ethnic composition, previous government experience and activities of some members, unresolved issues related to some members (e.g. Mr. Chris Massaquoi and Mr. Paul Mulbah), the “return of the old order,” and similar. Good arguments can be made in support of each of these issues, although I would proffer that none of them in and of themselves is so adverse as to have a lasting impact. For one thing, it seems to me that the ethnic issue has to be grossly distorted to suggest some form of ethnic exclusion, and it is untenable to argue that previous government service is an exclusionary criterion by definition. In addition, unproven accusations such as those made against Mr. Mulbah and Mr. Massaquoi are legally insufficient to bar their appointment.

The two major problems that I find with the outlined Transition plan is that there is no discernible opportunity for public input and its does not take affirmative action to engender good will from citizens.

Public input
Public input is the most essential ingredient for establishing legitimate democratic government in Liberia. Our country has long been governed top down and understandably so – our leaders have before now imposed themselves on us by trick, artifice or brute force. The people elected Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and she must begin her government by hearing them. It is perhaps reasonable to assume that illiterate rural citizens might not be able to contribute to international financial minutiae, however, it is inherently paternalistic and wrong for the government to attempt to develop good “policy direction, identifying weaknesses and opportunities for change” in agriculture, forestry, the private sector, and reconciliation, for example, without the input from the people in the villages and towns, and in the cities who are most affected by these policies in their day-to-day lives.

There are multiple identifiable areas of the Transition that require public input; the Transition Team must provide appropriate forum for public input in as many areas of the transition development as feasible. While not expecting the same resources to be employed as during her campaign for the presidency, Mrs. Johnson Sirleaf clearly recognized that she is now “campaigning” to govern, which is the very reason for the first Transition Team in the history of Liberia. She and Mr. Boakai must complete this bold step by finding out the areas of interests and concerns from the public – the ordinary citizens who voted for her and against her. What do they care about? And not consider solely what some professional thinks is in their best interest.

Participatory government, consultation and transparency are fundamental to public policy in Liberia going forward, especially in light of our historical and recent pasts. The current process of transition is antithetical to these basic constructs. This Transition formula risks a process for “being remote from the people, not listening enough and not seeking participation.” This would be a recipe for failure for Mrs. Johnson Sirleaf and Mr. Boakai. “Engaging citizens in policy-making allows governments to tap new sources of ideas, information and resources when making decisions.” (Caddy, Public Management Service).

Good Will
Another short-coming with the Transition program is that it does not do enough to engender goodwill in the country. Good will is an intangible but invaluable benefit in any organization, but particularly in a political democracy. Take the Inaugural Committee for example; there is no good reason that there are no representatives from outside Montserrado. There are many location outside of Montserrado that are near enough that it would be affordable to bring people in from. I can imagine how much good will would be generated if a strong supporter from Bomi or Kakata were part of planning the inauguration or even a strong opponent. Which member of the Inaugural Committee is a market woman? Are these not the very women whom the local media described as the grass roots supporters of their “own woman?” Traditional leaders have always attended Liberia’s presidential inauguration and I expect will attend this also; why don’t they have a role to play in planning it. One may reasonably surmise from the make-up of this Committee that they are likely to be thinking inauguration that looked like past inaugurations – something we hardly need and can ill afford.

The Transition plan simply does not sufficiently take into account and justify the good will that is so necessary to preserve stability and institute democracy in Liberia. Mrs. Johnson Sirleaf and Mr. Boakai cannot afford to misspend the good will extended to them by the majority of Liberians. Lost political goodwill is a near unrecoverable resource, and in a nascent democracy, can be down right dangerous.

The scope of the Transition plan in Liberia is too narrow, and technocratic; it needs to be expanded to encourage public input and engender good will toward the incoming government. By making these constructs the cornerstone of the their Transition, Mrs. Johnson Sirleaf and Mr. Boakai will begin tangible steps in formulating a government that finds solutions through deliberation, include ordinary people along with officials in finding solutions, begin the process of devolving appropriate decision making to the citizens, empowering ordinary citizens, and begin to transform governance in Liberia. The route outlined in the Transition Team plan as it stands just does not cut it.