What This (2003) Election Should Be All About (Part 2)

By James W. Harris

The Perspective

August 20, 2001

As Liberians look forward to the elections of 2003, the subject of "accountability" should be one of the major issues to consider. The recent scandal at the Liberian Ministry of Defense involving so-called "ghost soldiers" has not helped the NPP government's already "negative" international image either. For a country like Liberia, this is nothing new, as some government officials, both past and present, have grown accustomed to "padding" their payrolls in order to get some extra "cash" for themselves. This practice could still be continuing today, especially, in these extremely difficult economic times.

Commenting recently on the "ghost soldiers" saga, Philibert Brown, spokesman for the Defense Ministry in Monrovia, told the Reuters news agency [that some senior officers had been regularly receiving salaries on behalf of people who did not exist]. But as sorry as it sounds, this kind of problem CAN definitely be fixed.

For example, some "well qualified" Liberian "Certified Public Accountants" (CPA), have suggested that it would be a very good idea to audit the entire government "independently "before the 2003 elections take place. They believe that it would be necessary in order to come up with a "report card" on the NPP government's performance for the past four years. Audits, you know, especially if done on the basis of "acceptable international and professional standards", as it would be in this case, have a way of coming up with "raw data" that could be used, to say, measure a country's "economic performance" for a set period of time. More specifically, audits could also go a long way in solving "most" of the problems that we are now seeing in places, like the Ministry of Defense.

On another positive note, auditing the NPP government and all its "affiliates" would provide many talented Liberian CPAs and other financial professionals the "once-in-a-lifetime" opportunity to contribute their quota towards their country's progress. Some of them have even offered to provide their "professional services free of charge" just for this purpose. And so, an exercise like this, if it were to occur at all, should not be seen as a "witch-hunt", but an honest attempt to put Liberia "back on track "after so many "wasted" years.

Some of President Charles Taylor's loyalists would bend heads over heals to defend the long-time practice of Liberian government officials "actively" running their very own "private" businesses, sometime out of the confines of their "public" offices, but I hope that the Liberian people would look far beyond the "smoke screen" this time. They should open their eyes widely and see clearly where the present group of Liberian political "actors" wants to take them.

Liberians should also realize that their country is in complete disarray and has not seen reasonable progress in the past four years in terms of "physical development". It could well be that their public officials are busy putting more interests in their own "private" businesses rather than paying close attention to their country's development needs.

But didn't the NPP government come into power on supposedly "popular vote", promising to make things better for the Liberian people? This is exactly the kind of question that a "viable" Liberian opposition would be asking by now, because it is evident that the NPP has "squandered" its opportunity to unite and lead the country. It has had its chance, but it cannot lead!

While there are numerous examples of the NPP government's gross inability to solve the nation's worsening problems, the surest way to verify the ruling party's "many" accomplishments, in addition to a possible general audit, is to look around the country, particularly, in the rural areas. And by just visiting those areas as the President has lately been doing, without his government taking on a new attitude and providing the right kind of "leadership", things in those places will definitely remain deplorable for a long time to come.

Given the present "state of affairs" in the country, any "serious" Liberian opposition should be able to garner "popular" support and possibly defeat the Taylor-led NPP government. But it would take courage and a clear focus on "issues" confronting the Liberian people, as compared to dealing with "personalities". But in order to do that successfully, the opposition has to first organize itself throughout the country on the "grass-root" level. It must be able to articulate its position on various issues facing Liberia and then suggest ways in which the country could move forward progressively from now on.

Although there are many groups calling themselves the opposition, like, the Liberian People's Party (LPP); Unity Party (UP); True Whig Party (TWP); All Liberia Coalition Party (ALCOP); and the United Peoples Party (UPP), among others, but they all have one common problem that seem to be haunting them - most of their leadership, at one time or another, has served in previous "corrupt" governments in "high" positions It is, therefore, very difficult to sell them to the Liberian people based on their individual "records" of the past.

Take for example, former ULIMO-K warlord and now turned ALCOP leader, Mr. Alhaji G. V. Kromah. Long before Mr. Charles Taylor's brutal civil war engulfed Liberia, Mr. Kromah was seen as an "opportunist"; someone who constantly played the country's political game to his selfish advantage. From his days at St. Patrick's high school in Monrovia, it is said that he was quickly identified as a "smart boy". Utilizing his skills and talents as a "dual" print and broadcast journalist later in life, he rose through the ranks of the Ministry of Information, becoming one of the country's youngest Ministers.

During this period, he was also said to have been a student at the University of Liberia, a well-known breeding ground for young Liberian student activists. But unlike other students at the university that were risking their lives by speaking out against successive "corrupt" regimes (and in good faith), Mr. Kromah and others felt that nothing was wrong with the "system" apparently until the coup had occurred in 1980. Looking back at those years and considering his role in the country's recent civil war, it is interesting how his bid for the Liberian presidency will turn out if he does decide to run Would the Liberian people want to forgive him for whatever role he may have played in destroying their country without him coming completely "clean"? We'll have to see!

Only God knows how well the so-called opposition groups will do in the upcoming elections, because so far, they really haven't proven anything to the Liberian people. If these groups are "dead serious" about challenging the NPP, they must begin to put out their various political platforms and explain what kind of "alternative leadership" that they can provide for the country. They should tell Liberians in no uncertain terms where exactly they want to take the nation and provide the roadmap to get them there.

The chairman of the NPP, Mr. Cyril Allen, was correct when he recently told the local POLL newspaper in Monrovia that no other Liberian group could beat his party in the forth coming elections unless they had been "providing jobs and undertaking major and minor projects at the constituency levels."

While these comments may sound boastful in some quarters, the fact on the ground suggests that he's somewhat right. Because instead of fighting on behalf of their "constituency" as "real" oppositions do, a lot of so-called opposition leaders have opted to improve their personal economic fortunes at the expense of the people that they claim to represent.

One such individual is United Peoples Party (UPP) leader, Mr. G. Bacchus Matthews, who is now said to be working as a public relations officer for the Oriental Timber Company (OTC), one of President Taylor's known "presidential pepperbushes". Sadly, he is no longer the young "fire-brand" Liberian politician that the "people" used to know. Whether or not they would want him to be their president has yet to be determined.

Incidentally, Mr. Matthews is said to have some sort of linkage to Grand Bassa County, the area in which his OTC has been accused of "raping" Liberia's previously "virgin" forests. His OTC has also come under fire lately from several international activist environmental groups, including, Global Witness and Greenpeace, for trafficking in arms to Sierra Leone's feared Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels. Despite criticisms about his company's logging practices, including, denying the most menial jobs to native Liberians, Mr. Matthews really hasn't said much, and business goes on there as usual.

Given this unfortunate scenario, it is obvious that Liberians will really have a difficult time in choosing their next leader. And to make matter worse, the Taylor government's continuous clamp down on the local and international media, has all but made the opposition completely impotent and voiceless. But unless the UN and the international community step in once again and pressure Mr. Taylor to allow greater freedom of speech and of the press, the collective voice of the opposition, which suppose to represent the "people", will remain silent for the foreseeable future.

As the country's various political parties prepare to "officially" kick off their respective campaigns and attempt to take their messages to the "people" in the near future, the NPP government could quickly improve its own image by cooperating with the international community in removing some of the unnecessary "road blocks" that are presently in the way of the opposition.

When the Taylor government, through its mouthpiece, the Ministry of Information, abruptly shuts down a radio station or newspaper in the country for whatever reason, it hurts the public's interest to be informed. By taking this kind of drastic action, the government or ministry often deny the Liberian people their basic rights to the "free access" of information.

In spite of this situation, the so-called opposition must find a way to get their messages out to the Liberian people, if it even means creating a network through which, such things as, press releases and party policy statements, can be disseminated from abroad. The traditional way of communicating, by "word of mouth", could prove to be very effective under these difficult circumstances. But they can never tell until they try!

First and foremost, this 2003 election should be about "new ideas" and "reclaiming" Liberia's lost pride. It should also be about the following: Uniting the country; addressing the nation's current high unemployment rate; revitalizing the "crippled" economy; improving health delivery systems in the country; providing schools and housing; building roads throughout the country to promote economic activities amongst the peoples; check and balances between the three branches of government - executive, legislative and judiciary. Among other things, this election should be about the rule of law so that no one person is above it.

That's what this election should hopefully be all about. Contrary to what some people might want us to believe, this election should not be about the Taylor's, Kromah's or Matthews', rather, it should be about bringing "new leadership" and "total development" to Liberia.

As long as Liberians can keep these basic issues in mind as they prepare to go to the polls in 2003, with God's help, they should be able to easily elect a government that would finally be capable of addressing their needs.

Click the link before for related article:
What This (2003) Election Should Be All About (Part 1)

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