In Liberia, "The Path
To Democracy Remains Elusive"
(A Statement issued by the Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas)
In our collective quest for solutions to Liberia's social, economic and political problems, the Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas (ULAA) has taken actions to engage the Taylor Government and the international community for the relative improvement of the situation in Liberia and the West African sub-region. The path to democracy remains elusive, notwithstanding the constitutional and legal framework of Liberia, which should form the basis for the growth of democracy. And economic development still appears to be an insurmountable challenge although Liberia is naturally endowed with resources (iron ore, diamonds, gold, forestry products, water resources, and arable land), and has a reservoir of human resource, dispersed over the globe because of the generally unbearable, and to some extent inhumane conditions under the Taylor government. Therefore, progress toward democratization and economic development has remained far-fetched. It is however our conviction, that in spite of the odds, we should look to the Constitution and as the means of resolving the problems our country faces today.
Over the past several months, the Union has maintained a position that the Government of Liberia has lost the trust and confidence of the people, both at home and abroad, including Liberians in the Americas, primarily due to the reported violations of the human rights and civil liberties of Liberians, the apparent lack of accountability, transparency and good governance in Government's operations; public disenchantment with the Government's inability to provide basic social services and to address quality of life issues (i.e. water, electricity, etc.). We also expressed our grave concerns about the military actions within and outside our borders as well as the image of the country especially in light of reports of diamonds and arms smuggling, and the Taylor Government's support for the RUF in Sierra Leone.
Notwithstanding, ULAA continued to constructively engage the Taylor Government in an attempt to have it make genuine improvements in the areas of the protection of fundamental rights; the institutionalization of democratic values; provision of basic social services; economic recovery, through reformed public policy initiatives and the practice of good governance, particularly by Government officials and security forces. The Government of Liberia responded to our initiative by sending a delegation headed by Director General of the Cabinet Blamoh Nelson, Senator Harrison Slewion of Sinoe County and Ambassador William V.S. Bull to ULAA's Board of Director's Meeting on August 26, 2000. President Taylor sent a second delegation comprising of Senator Thomas Nimely and Deputy Minister of Labor Bedell Fahn to the 26th Annual General Conference in Atlanta, Georgia, which took place October 6-8, 2000. Both delegations expressed the Taylor Government's willingness to work with Liberians in the Americas in strengthening institutions of Government in meeting the political, social and economic needs of the people of Liberia. The Government requested that the Union collaborate with it by conducting a Symposium to address the problems of economic recovery and reconstruction.
In response to the government's request, and as a show of good faith on the part of Government, ULAA submitted a list of inquiries to the Government regarding fundamental rights in Liberia, quality of life issues and governance. ULAA eagerly awaits Government's timely response to these inquiries, and continues to serve notice to the Government to "shape up " or "ship out". ULAA will continue to show a genuine commitment to witness and measure the performance of the Government as to the issues raised in the above-mentioned inquiries.
As the oldest and largest group of Liberian organizations in the Americas, ULAA has consistently upheld and defended the principles of freedom, liberty, justice and other civil as well as human rights of Liberians at home and abroad. Consequently, the Union shall continue to advocate and engage in activities that support and promote good governance and constitutional democracy. The Union will not support any individual or group whose aim is to bring untold suffering to the Liberian people already burdened by the insurmountable problems due to the non-performance of the Taylor Government over the past three years.
We reaffirm our respect for the Constitution of Liberia and
applaud any Liberian who accepts the challenge to contest elections
at the polls in 2003. ULAA will encourage and harness the energies
and resources of Liberians abroad to provide a platform for political
inclusion and development. ULAA has a moral obligation, and each
of its members has a constitutional duty, to promote democracy
in Liberia, as outlined in our Constitution. We look forward to
2003, when hopefully each Liberian can exercise his/her franchise.
More importantly, ULAA will initiate a vigorous voter education program aimed at educating all Liberians about their rights as guaranteed by the Constitution and how to make informed political decisions. Liberians must become aware that their collective security rests in the verdict at the polls and they have a right to give their leaders a mandate, hold them accountable in discharge of their duties, or remove them from office through Constitutional means. Liberians yearn for peace and government officials responsive to their needs.
Recently, there has been great outrage following the pronouncement by Deputy Finance Minister for Revenues, Mrs. Juanita Neal, that a fee of US$100.00 will be charged for each barrel coming into the country. This pronouncement has generated discussions, not only in Liberia, but also across the length and breadth of the United States about the insensitivity of the Taylor Government. This additional financial burden imposed upon the suffering masses, who rely primarily on barrels sent from their relatives in the United States containing clothing, canned foods, first aid supplies and other basic necessities for their survival, is unjust. This is a tax imposed on the "have-nots" for the benefit of the "haves". It should forthwith be abolished.
In addition, laws are supposed to be enacted by the Legislature and not the Ministry of Finance. ULAA calls upon the Liberian Legislature to review the barrel tax as well as the reintroduction of the hut tax in view of the economic hardships the suffering masses face at this time. Why tax the indigents who receive absolutely no public service, social or otherwise? The Union also notes with grave concern events taking place in the sub-region and the instability and human suffering which results therefrom. Hundreds of our people have been killed and thousands more made homeless. The infliction of atrocities by one group or another should not be allowed to continue. It is apparent that West Africans alone cannot solve the problems, which are causing instability in the sub-region. ULAA urges, appeals and encourages the international community to save West Africa from this nightmare. The infrastructure of these nations, their economies, social systems, and moral values have been severely damaged. Liberians, Sierra Leoneans, Ivoireans and Guineans are all one people, who should be able to co-exist in an environment of peace and tranquility.
The international community must therefore ensure that those who are responsible for the atrocities, genocide, and other war crimes committed in Sierra Leone and Liberia must be brought to justice in an expeditious manner, not only to alleviate the sufferings of the people of Liberia and Sierra Leone, but also to serve as a deterrent for other criminals.
Liberians in the Americas are deeply concerned about "President Taylor's refusal to show positive response to end Liberia's trafficking in weapons and illicit diamonds which fuels the war in Sierra Leone" resulting in the recent sanctions imposed by President Clinton barring President Taylor and his Government officials and their families from entering the United States. The Union is however grateful that the sanction imposed by the United States is selective, as it affects only those who are perceived as causing sufferings in the West African sub-region, and not the people of Liberia, who are themselves victimized by the Taylor government.
ULAA expresses the hope that the Government of Liberia will commit itself to the mandate of the Liberian people, and that President Taylor will show some genuine commitment to influencing the restoration of peace and stability in Sierra Leone and the West African sub-region. We look forward to a formal report of the United Nations, which we hope will exonerate the good name of our beloved country and improve our image. We also urge the Government of Liberia to improve its relations with the United States Government and the international community to prevent further hardships to our suffering people.
Issued this 31st day of October, 2000 in the City of Baltimore and the State of Maryland, USA
Mydea Reeves-Karpeh (Mrs.)
Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas