The thesis of the author is that there is a need for
a comprehensive Local Government Legislation to decentralize
state power in Liberia. Decentralization is considered
here in connection with the transfer of state power
from central to local authority. It relates to the reorganization
of centralized institutions to give greater autonomy
to local bodies throughout Liberia.
The issue of decentralization of administrative
authority in Liberia can be traced to circumstances
that existed when the nation declared its independence.
At the time of the birth of the nation in 1847, very
little provision was made for a meaningful local government
system. There was a major communication problem. There
were only forty-six miles of road from Monrovia along
the coast. Geographically, the country was divided in
numerous places by rivers flowing from northeast to
southwest, which widen considerably as they reach the
Atlantic. The section of Liberia referred to as the
"hinterland" (the former Eastern, Western
and Central provinces) and areas away from the administrative
seat of government in the old coastal counties known
as the "interior," where most indigenous Liberians
live, were inaccessible.
The interior areas of the counties along the
coast and the hinterland provinces were partitioned
into districts, which were in turn subdivided into paramount
chiefdoms, and again into clans and town chiefdoms.
The administrative divisions called paramount chiefdoms
evolved over time. It was part of provincial and interior
administration and features in both the new and old
county systems. Roads did not begin to link even the
original coastal ,counties of Montserrado, Bassa and.
Sinoe until the mid-1800s.
Officials in Monrovia could not exert effective authority
over areas that were not within reach of the government.
The system of governance that was adopted for Monrovia
and the coastal areas differed substantially from those
that were introduced in the interior and hinterland.
Therefore, it was not even possible to extend citizenship
to the inhabitants of those areas until 1904, when President
Arthur Barclay unconditionally conferred citizenship
on all blacks living within the territory claimed by
the government of Liberia.
A joint study by the World Bank and two United Nations
organizations in the early 1980s, found that only twelve
out of seventy-five developing countries around the
world had not embarked on a program of transferring
political power to the local government. Liberia was
not listed among the seventy-five countries.
Over the years, the idea of transferring power
and administrative authority from center to local units
has been an emotional issue. Under our unitary system
of government, decentralization has been viewed by most
chief executives as a political undertaking aimed at
divesting the executive branch of power and securing
it at the periphery. Therefore, the local governance
arrangement that exists has been carefully designed
and intended to comply with the wishes of the central
authority to whom it is responsible. Currently, representatives
of the Ministries of Education, Finance, Justice, Health
and Social Welfare, among others, serve in an advisory
capacity in the counties and are required to report
to their respective ministries in Monrovia. The problem
with this arrangement is that there is no accountability
to the people in the rural areas whose daily lives are
affected by officials from Monrovia.
Another problem has been the creation of a large number
of statutory districts and cities in various parts of
the country in response to the wishes of politicians,
but with little or no meaningful devolution of authority
from the center to the rural areas.
Major Existing Constitutional and Statutory Provisions
The major relevant provisions of the present constitution
are Article 34(a), which authorizes the Legislature
to create new counties and other political subdivision
and readjust existing country boundaries. Article 54(d),
which empowers the president to nominate and, with the
consent of the Senate, appoint and commission superintendents
and officials of other political subdivision. Article
25(a) of the Statutory Laws of the Ministry of Internal
Affairs mandates the Ministry to oversee the successful
conduct and improvement of local government. There are
also a number of statutes relating to the establishment
of cities and statutory Proposal for Reform
In light of the aforementioned experiences
and the new democratic culture that has dawned in Liberia,
decentralization of state power in Liberia should be
viewed as an idea whose time has come. The idea can
be achieved by the enactment of a comprehensive local
government statute that provides appropriate institutions
for "changes” at the center and that ideally
distributes responsibilities, resources authority and
autonomy from center to periphery. Constitutional changes
can be postponed for now.
The proposed local government structure should be based
on the "county" as a unit under which there
will be lower-level administrative units including cities
and districts. Local government units should include
2. A sub-county/city division council
3. A municipal council/municipal division council