Liberians to Remain in the Dark, As President Taylor Declares Electricity A "Luxury"
By Massa-Amelia Washington

His Excellency Dakpanah Dr. Charles Gankay Taylor, President of Liberia, stunned Liberians, when he informed them that the nation's capital Monrovia, would remain in darkness unless those residing therein and desiring electricity bought their private generators.

Responding to a reporter's question on the grim power situation in the country in a tete a tete with the press held at the parlours of the Executive Mansion recently, President Taylor said that his government did not have the resources to restore electricity supply to the city. However he stated that even if he had the money to do so, he would rather build more roads, because electricity is a "luxury". He then challenged those calling for the restoration of electricity, especially Monrovians to indulge themselves by purchasing private generators. "If you in Monrovia want light, then buy your generators" he said.

President Taylor's statement could not have come at a worst time. As if having provided his people with the basic necessities of life as a responsible government is obliged to do. The implication is that Monrovians have the audacity to cry for more goodies, especially electricity which they do not need. They are like spoiled brats demanding luxuries. How cute to be informed in this modern age, and by a man who himself indulges in excessive luxury made possible through technology that electricity is a luxury. How very cute indeed

This is not the first time that the Liberian leader has exhibited haughtiness in addressing the concerns of the people of Liberia, not to speak of the over 75% of Liberians who overwhelmingly voted him into office in July of 1997. For nearly two years now, people have had to put up with the President's contemptuous manners. As a matter of fact, the president was only reinforcing threats made last October, stressing during a nationwide tour that it was not expedient on his part to commit $US 25 million to restore power to Monrovia when he could instead buy a 500 kV generator for Kakata. "Monrovia is a quick sand, why should I spend $25 million to fix light there when I can bring light to you my people," he asked? The statement, a mere rhetoric, was intended to serve one purpose to fool the people of Kakata into believing that the President cares for them best, when in reality what he was really doing was reselling himself to the rural inhabitants under the guise of a nationwide tour. Kakata is located in central Liberia and is the capital city of Margibi County one of several rural strategic points where the erstwhile NPFL under Taylor maintained a strong presence throughout the war.

Therefore, the statement in part was not news but declaring electricity a luxury certainly sent shock waves through many. This latest insult in a series of indignities is not going down too well with Monrovians whom the president largely blames for the slow pace of foreign assistance into the country. During his Executive Mansion press meeting, he told Monrovians to buy their generators if they wanted lights, because they are the ones discouraging foreign aid and investors from the country through negative propaganda being perpetrated against his ruling National Patriotic Party led government.

In separate interviews with a cross-section of Liberians in Monrovia in April, in an attempt to understand the president's statement, majority of those interviewed reached the conclusion that the remark is a manifestation of the president's lack of concern and good intent to address the sufferings of the people, and that it serves to further aggravate the state of frustration in which Liberians find themselves. "I find his statement very mysterious and disturbing" said Mrs. Janneh Coleman, a business woman and mother of four who blames her low productivity at work and poor performance of her children at school mainly to the absent of power. "Is the president trying to say that those of us who cannot afford our own generators will remain in darkness," she asked? A male government employee requesting anonymity complained thus "the president has no respect whatsoever for us. He talks to us as if we work on his farm. Do you think that Bill Clinton or Jerry Rawlings would make such a statement and still keep their jobs? I am sorry for us," he lamented. A presidential aide answering the question as to whether he thought the president had good advisors replied, "I think the president has some smart people, but he seems like a man who takes counsel of himself and unto himself if not, he would know that the statement was politically incorrect. Someone would have advised him otherwise." "We only want Taylor to give us back what he took from us. Light, water, and our lives back", said Mrs. Brown a housewife in venting out her frustration. For his part, 17 year old Amos Johnson of the Monrovia Consolidated School System (MCSS) expressed disappointment in the president. In a mocking tune, he stated "the president promised each student of this country access to his own computer in the near future. How are we going to power these computers if and when we get them if we do not have electricity, will it be by candle", he laughed?

It can be recalled that immediately following the announcement of the elections results, President Taylor then still in a state of euphoria at his having won a landslide victory defeating formidable opponents like the United Nations Eminent person, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, and others announced to the nation that one of his first priority was restoring basic facilities to residents of the country. In this regard, he promised that electricity supply would be forthcoming by August 8, 1997 the day of his inauguration as Liberia's 21st President. In similar fashion, President Taylor again on June 2, 1998, promised the students of Liberia computers and other technological hard wares, announcing that "Taylor's Time is Technology Time," amidst thunderous applause when he delivered the keynote address at programmes marking the commencement convocation of the University of Liberia.

In 1990 at the initial stage of the war, electricity and water supplies, were cut off to residents of Monrovia and it's environs when rebel forces of the then National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) under the leadership of the then Major General Charles G. Taylor seized control of the hydroelectric dam causing substantial damage to the facilities. Since then, several attempts over the years at rehabilitating the system have proven futile.

The latest effort through an agreement signed last December between the Government of Liberia and Consolidated Associates Engineering Development (CAED), an American based power company has yet to materialise. Still awaiting ratification by the national Legislature, the agreement has already spiked much controversy. Under the agreement, CAED is to provide power supply to the 13 sub-division of the country under an investment package totalling about $US 215 million which include, power generators, units, distributing lines and the overhauling of the hydro electricity dam, etc, etc, in exchange of certain privileges. The agreement places no restriction on repatriation of funds by CAED for the 20 year life span of the project and relieves the company of all responsibilities for custom duties, taxes, bank charges, and other local government fees. The Power Company also proposes to increase tariff, surcharges and penalties over the years. The Managing Director of the Liberia Electricity Corporation (LEC), Mr. Ian Yarp, is crying foul that Liberia is not getting a fair deal while the Chairman of the Board of Directors of LEC, Lands, Mines and Energy Minister Jenkins Dunbar is pushing forward with the deal. In the meantime, a representative of CAED Dr. Bruce Hall has accused some officials in government of corruption, claiming that those involved in concluding the agreement are demanding "pay-off" as a pre-requisite for approval of the deal.

While authorities grapple with the merits of restoring electricity, the absence of the commodity continues to have its toll on every facet of national life. Business owner's constantly mourn the situation, blaming their low productivity and marginal profit rating as a direct result of the problem. The chief government person for trade, commerce and industry, Minister Ibrahima Kabba, himself, decried the situation, when he announced recently in a news conference that the lack of electricity was responsible for the low level of mass production of locally manufactured products.

For the general public, the situation remains one of sheer hell. Local prices are determined by gains or losses sustained by businesses, together with the rate of the US Dollar, against the local currencies (JJ and Liberty). By 7pm, darkness descends upon the land like a fairytale town under a wicked spell. Apart from few street lights made possible through private generators owned by Lebanese businesses, and lighting from the homes of the chosen elite, the city remains as dark as a thousand midnights.

Insecurity is also associated with the darkness. Like the press, the populace is practising self- censorship. People hurry off the streets by 9pm in an attempt to stay out of harms reach and grab the last commercial vehicles plying the streets before they park for the night beginning 9:30pm. By 10pm, most residents are already in deep slumber. The situation has seriously affected people's physiological ability, that is why it becomes a serious matter when the President remarks in the way he has.

Meanwhile, the flippant Liberian leader recently said that electricity will be restored in Monrovia by the end of the year. Those keeping abreast of current events in the country conclude that the statement is yet another political gimmick by President Taylor.

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