Liberia's Joint Ownership Of Its Natural Does Not Only Yield High Profits, But Transfers Technology, And Inoculates The Country From Security Threat


By J. Yanqui Zaza

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
May 30, 2007


It is about time for Liberia to establish joint ownership of its natural resources and lure investors onto labor-intensive economic sectors such as manufacturing industries. Such an approach would not only diversify Liberia's economic activities, but also perhaps extend the life span of our depletable resources and inoculates Liberia from security threat. On the other hand a non-ownership status of our natural resources through long-term agreements would continue to empower investors as de facto owners, whose interest might be at variant with Liberia's. In the case of diamonds, which does not require huge investment and long-term agreement, the government should play a major role rather than give out certificates to 3,000 applicants would not be deterred by any regulations including the Kimberly rules. (NY Times, 3/25/07).
Unlike an arrangement where government owns everything, government joint ownership would mitigate the errors and rampant corruption associated with government's management. Concurrently, it would reduce an environment where greedy investors would be inhibited from minimizing government's interest. And besides the issue of lower profits from our natural resources, transfer of technology, security concern, etc, Liberia might lose additional source of employment since auxiliary companies would operate outside of Liberia. Further, inferring from the Firestone-Dog Sexgate, de facto owners would import even dogs from overseas to perform security functions.
Without ownership there are additional problems, especially so now that greedy profiteers have excess cash reserves, $174 billion dollars in 2005, along with the tools of globalization. Using business principles of meager or acquisition, stocks and currency speculators are ruining international corporations. The scheme appears to be good until they sell the companies. So with excess cash, they usually buy companies, slim them down, then load the companies with huge debt to pay billion dollars in compensation, and sell them. Subsequently, the companies become bankrupt and layoff employees.
Such a concern was on the minds of managers of the Chrysler Company, one of the U.S. Big Three automakers, when they sought for help from U.S. government. (NY Time, 5/18/07). However, companies partly owned by a government might be shielded from the "buy and sell scheme" by evoking security reasons. Predictably, Liberian companies such as Mitall Steel might not be saved since Liberia lacks an effective monitoring system and has a weak Legislature.
If Liberia is to establish joint ownership of its natural resources and increase its security portfolios as well as prevent stock speculators from destroying companies, then there is a need for a debate. This is especially true since the twenty-plus year civil war was a rebellious protest against economic inequities in our society. Notably, a demand for change is not unique to Liberia. Oppressed citizens protested economic injustices, for example, in Great Britain (1689-99), France (1786), Italy (1846), Russia (1917), and China (1927-50) which forced the governments in those countries to initiate reform. Even the civil war that engulfed the U.S. was largely on reasons to reform its economic system. Corporations and slaveholders insisted on gaining super profits from slaves (captured natural resources) without any compensation, while non-slaveholders wanted a change.
Rightly so, each government did consider itself as an arbiter with the responsibility to deter and prevent consumers/citizens on the one hand and producers/investors on the other hand from owning 85% of the economic dividends of the country's resources. Our government wouldn't be seen as a fair arbiter if it continues to allow de facto owners to control our natural resources that made up 85 % of the country gross national products prior to 1980.
Why is the government maintaining Liberia's failed economic system? It appears that President Sirleaf and her advisors are concerned with quick fixes and see nothing wrong with Liberia's old economic policies. To reinforce the reasons for selling Liberia's natural resources to profiteers, they have launched a publicity campaign to convince voters that Liberia can gain more benefits. The Minister of Finance, Dr. Antoinette Sayeh, at the workshop held at YMCA in Monrovia, disclosed that Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (LEITI) would ensure that the selling of mineral, oil, gas, and forestry rights to profiteers would yield good results. In buttressing the government's case FrontPage Africa, a Liberian Web Site quoted the Minister of Lands and Mines, Dr. Eugene Shannon saying that Mital Steel would provide three million dollars earmarked for three counties, US $200,000 a year to fund local and foreign scholarships, etc.

Ironically, while our post-war government is embracing its capitalist policy that bred the civil war, officials of the prosperous nation on earth are yearning to reform their capitalist system. In presenting the Democratic Party's response to U.S. President George Bush 2007 State of the Union Speech U.S. Senator Jim Webb of Virginia called for reform of America's capitalist system. The Senator said that the capitalist system was unfairly shifting excessive wealth to few Americans as in the early days of the 20th Century.

Surprisingly, the condemnation of the capitalist system did not end with U.S. democrats. Pope Benedict XVII, in addressing Latin America's Bishops, said capitalism has failed to bridge the "distance between the rich and poor" and is giving rise to a worrying degradation of personal dignity through drugs, alcohol and deceptive illusion of happiness." (NY Times, 5/14/07). He did not have kind words for Marxism either.

Is our post-war government unaware of the spoils of our capitalist system? That's a million dollar question. However, there are signs or actions that should indicate that President Sirleaf knows why or why not her government is embracing the failed economic policies. For instance, why did she say as the Chair of the Reform Commission and Presidential hopeful, when her predecessor, Interim President Bryant, an unelected President, signed agreements that her advisors are fighting now to amend?

Why did she allow profiteers, through the World Bank and UNDP, to pay U.S. $25,000.00 per month (according to a Liberian Local Newspaper, New Democrat, May 8, 2007) as allowance to certain Ministers? Did such huge payments create a cozy relationship between representatives of Liberia and profiteers? Or why did her government give arrears in rent payments to Monrovia landlords and waived their property taxes, while poor students can't afford to buy food, chair, or desk because their parents are jobless and, or have been declared redundant? Or why has her anti-corruption compass not been directed at the World Bank to account for the U.S. $520 million dollars pledged in 2004? Most importantly, why has President Sirleaf outsourced the reforming of Liberia's economic policies to expatriates such as the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative? Once we find answers to these questions, Liberia might begin to reduce investors' 100% ownership of our natural resources and lure them to labor.

© 2007 by The Perspective

To Submit article for publication, go to the following URL: