expectation (Part I)
“ From corruption, and social irresponsibility to capacity building, and political and socio-economic re-orientation”.
By Sunny Nyemah
December 10, 2005
As we ushered in the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf led government, the year 2006 seems to offer a chance for Liberians and their trouble homeland-Liberia. Hoping that she will turn things around, end the general agony, and garner some respect without interference from recycled politicians. Understandably, there is some social and political euphoria overtaking Liberia as the majority of Liberians optimistically look forward to a government that will not be based on mere political inclusion and accommodation, but practical qualification (Qualification that is not based only on education, but applied skills and experience), impeccable characters, and relevant backgrounds.
It is obvious that the reason for such euphoria is the fact that Liberians will expect too soon the provision of basic necessities, such as pipe-borne water, electricity, employment, and the opportunities for ordinary Liberian to better his or her live. The looming question that permeates the new social and political scene now and in the feature is whether the Ellen led government will have the political will to boldly, and decisively tackle corruption, and institute realistic policies that will promote good governance?
For the Ellen led government to address the above question, it must first preview Liberia’s basis macroeconomics scorecard, understand the determinants of corruption in Liberia, and identifies key actors that have constituted, and institutionalized corruption in Liberia. On one hand we have a dismal macroeconomics disaster, and on the other hand we have corruption epidemic. According to the joint needs assessment on Liberia conducted by the United Nations, and World Bank, Liberia per capita GDP in 2004 was pathetically $118M, unemployment stood at 85%, and those living below poverty level was at 80% (Percentage of population living on less than $1.00 per day). Additionally, the CIA World fact book estimated Liberia population to be approximately 3.0 million, of which 43.4 % was between the ages 0-14 years; such basis macroeconomics data is alarming. A cursory look at some determinants, and actors of corruption would point at the weak structure of municipal government, Lebanese business Mafioso (so-called business partners), lack of professional standards, obsolete regulations, and weak civil institutions. Let look at some of these determinants and actors in depth:
The Liberian municipal structure (local government) is more unitary, and needs to be reviewed to reflect a more federal, or combination of a federal and unitary form of government. We understand that this matter is a constitutional issue, but it could be an immediate agenda item that needs to be promoted and urgently prioritized by the incoming government. Liberia’s present municipal structure does not allow for the election of superintendent, and or local councils. This breeds an inequitable distribution, and mismanagement of revenue that is generated at the municipal level. Moreover, it allows the central government to influence all decision concerning municipal development, and inhibits the local government to independently attract direct investments to their respective municipalities.
The Lebanese Businessmen (so-called partners in progress) are key actors in the proliferation of corruption due to the fact they are organized, have lot of resources, and significantly influenced policies promulgation on all facets of the Liberian government apparatus. Moreover, most of these so-called partners indulge in acts of briberies, and kickbacks in their dealings with government officials thereby allowing them to control a significant portion of the import, banking, and domestic procurement sectors. This assertion is not intended to incite Liberians against our Lebanese brethrens, neither is it intended to eliminate the involvement of the Lebanese in the political, and socio-economic development of Liberia. It is intended to draw an attention to a serious problem that has the propensity to infest the incoming government; it is also intended to prompt the government into dialogue with the Lebanese on how corruption can be discouraged, and how good and fair business practices can be encouraged.
The lack of professional standards, and organized professional organizations has led to a vulnerability that has been exploited by Liberians, and non-Liberians. Every Dick and Harry can be employed as an engineer, contractor, or professed to be a professional in other fields without any guidance, standards, regulations, and or self-regulatory bodies to evaluate their credential, and regulate their activities. We need fluency in these areas, as well as standards setting bodies, and the establishment of professional organizations in most of the above-mentioned areas. Moreover, the incoming government will have to encourage the promulgation of standards, and the establishment of professional institutions in areas such areas as accounting and auditing, engineering, mining, construction, real estate, insurance, investment, banking, and information technology.
Obsolete regulations-When last did Liberia review, and updated its tax codes, licensing requirements, ordinances, and regulations? A thorough review, evaluation, and updating of these areas will served as a basis for self-control, promote a vibrant private sector, and support a workable Liberianization program.
Civil institutions play a very significant role in helping promote good governance, awareness, advocacy, as well as compliment government in providing some basic social services. The Liberian Council of Churches, FIND, and the Justice and Peace organization of the Catholic Church are the few visible, and organized civil institutions that are resourceful, and capable of delivering in present day Liberia. We have to encourage the formation of more civil institutions in other sectors, such as the youth, women, and labor.
In harnessing our expectation-we must not expect too much too soon. Liberians must expect from themselves an attitude of patience, resolve, and tolerance. We must re-orientate ourselves towards self-empowerment, self-employment, and self-improvement by engaging in self-initiatives that will create employment opportunities. We should stop seeing government as the only employer, and the only means to change our lives. We must rather encourage the government to provide an enabling environment (legal, economic, education, security, etc) that would prepare us to freely participate. Furthermore, we must support the incoming government in an appraisal process (appraising the budgetary component of the “Comprehensive Peace Agreement”, outgoing government indebtedness, all sources of revenue collection, the Central Bank, concessions, agreements, contracts, and public corporations). This appraisal process should not be construed as witch hunting, but as an important aspect of understanding the magnitude of what government will inherit, as well as a basis for instilling, and implementing a culture of transparency and accountability. Liberians can vouch for Ellen integrity, and her resolve to govern as a transparent, and capable leader.
However, it will take all three branches of the Liberian government to work cohesively to ensure a culture of transparency, and accountability. The executive branch will have to develop some strategies in dealing with legislative branch. Considering that some of those elected members of the house are old schools-with their individual agendas, and expectations (Government is a place for self-enrichment). The government has to leverage the masses through referendums, and specialized commissions, such as the anti-corruption commission, commission on good governance, and commission on privatization of public corporation. Liberians must be made aware that the time for handouts-multilateral or bilateral grant is over. Let us not deceived ourselves that institutional investors and or developed countries will come running to us for collaboration, and genuine business development because of our natural resources. No, we must earn it, prepare, and create an enabling environment. We must remember that all macroeconomics, and demographic indicators are against us in the truest sense. We must find new ways to attract foreign direct investment, while at the same time develop strong public and private enterprise initiative, and a vibrant consuming public. As a developing country, Liberia must be innovative in harnessing its natural, and human resources. Policy development must not be based solely on old microeconomics school of thoughts, but inclusive of technology, and geo-political dynamics of the Minor River Union, ECOWAS, and global regional union such as the EU.
In part II of “harnessing our expectation” we will propose some practical solutions on how the incoming government can address the above mentioned determinants and actors of corruption in part (I), and technically, look at capacity building by dissecting the budget and deliverables of the “Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA)” as well as how Liberia can identify, and define its niche in the global market place with implement-able roadmaps, and action steps.