Our Country Has Seen Nothing But Failed Leadership

(Speech delivered by the Standard bearer of the Alliance, Hon. John Sembe Morlu, at the formal opening of Elections Campaign 2005 in Monrovia, Liberia on August 18, 2005)


The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
August 23, 2005

John S. Morlu - center
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Partisans; alliance members; fellow Liberians; dignitaries; ladies and gentlemen.

Today marks the beginning of a new chapter in the history of Africa’s first republic, our beloved country, Liberia. Liberia and the Liberian people have suffered too long. Our country has seen nothing but a failed leadership for the past 158 years. Our country and its people were engulfed in a self-inflicted, senseless civil war that caused physical and psychosocial wounds, displaced thousands of people and blighted nearly 300 lives.

On August 13, we were among several political parties certificated by the National Elections Commission to contest in the October elections. On Monday, August 15, we were given the green light to begin to canvass for votes. We have now begun that long, laborious, but patriotic march to reach our people. Whether you live in our traditional hamlets, villages, towns and displaced camps, we will reach you.

Whether you live in the cities - or the remotest parts of this beautiful country, we are most humble to experience your ways of life - and to encourage you to join forces with us to create, formulate and build a new vibrant Liberia.

We will urge you to pick up the plow shares, the cutlasses, the chain-saws and other tools so that together we can build a new nation. So that in union, we will cut the chains of corruption, mismanagement, faked patriotism and false leadership that have ensnarled and continue to ensnarl our people for so long.

For we have always done so on ordinary days - in good times, and in bad times. Until we march to the polls on October 11, we will let you know that this alliance is your alliance. This alliance represents the true leadership aspirations and hopes of all Liberians.

This alliance is a symbol of responsible leadership; a symbol of the fulfillment of your dreams to fill the leadership vacuum that has plagued this nation and its people for over one and a half centuries.

This alliance is no old wine in new bottle. This alliance is freshly brewed - free from the dee-dee-baa or corrupt practices of past and present leaderships. This alliance feels and understands your pains, your cries and your prayers for a true leadership. This alliance is no-monkey work, baboon-draw organization.

This alliance believes that a country of under three million people with vast natural resources should never, ever have to worry about food, shelter and clothing. Now that our people are impoverished - and can hardly afford food, medicine or shelter indicates that something is amiss…something is terribly wrong.

What, then, is wrong with us, fellow Liberians? What is wrong with this small country - once Africa’s pride and hope for a sustainable, well-structured leadership? Why has Africa’s beacon of hope suddenly fallen - tumbling down a steep in manners that amaze the entire world?

We were there when the League of Nations was born; we were again there when the United Nations replaced the League of Nations. We were a leader of the group of countries that conceived the need for the then Organization of African Unity, now the African Union. We are founding members of the Mano River Union.

Our young men fought in the two world wars. We were the indisputable, lone voice at every international conference championing the need for independence for all countries in Africa. We provided material and moral support for liberation struggles in Africa - in the west and the east; in the south and the north. This country and its people were no sleeping giant. We were - and are still - our African brothers’ keeper. My fellow Liberians, we were always among the ‘firsts’.

Yet, we failed then - and now - to give meaning to the lives of our countrymen. Our leaders continue to ignore the people’s plea to provide basic amenities of life…so that they too can live and dance when the moonlight shines in the villages and towns; in the hinterland and cities. Our leaders just ignored the people, and continue to ignore the people’s cries.

Now here comes another election. We have the responsibility on October 11 to build or destroy Liberia. For the future of this great nation - a true champion of freedom and liberty for Africa and humanity - rests squarely in your hands - you the voters. For the second time, ladies and gentlemen, you will, again, be given the opportunity to decide who leads you.

It is a chance for you to decide who leads this country from years of sycophancy, irresponsible leadership and endemic corruption into a brighter future. Indeed, our leaders continue to fail us. Liberia’s problem, then - and now - is leadership-based.

We believe that it is only a truly committed leadership that genuinely cares for its people that can move Liberia forward. This alliance believes it has the strength, political will to change things in this country for the better, if not best.

We are convinced that Liberia’s best days are still ahead of us and that together we can deliver genuine reconciliation and build a new Liberia for all. We are optimistic of a brighter future for this country.

Before I begin to tell you some of our plans when we become President, let me, first and foremost, make two things very clear. We have 22 people vying for the Presidency. We have 22 people seeking the position of Vice President. And we have 512 people seeking to represent you in the National Legislature. We are all Liberians vying for your votes. Some of us are good and decent people. Some of us mean well for this country. Some of us love this country.

Some of us want to see this country move forward in a way that benefits all Liberians, not just a select few. We, from the alliance, are united in that common agenda - to forge ahead with all Liberians, irrespective of social status, religion or tribe. For us there is only one Liberia, one people, indivisible and united in purpose to build a great nation.

The second point that we would like to make is that every presidential candidate will present to you a long list of promises of things to deliver when you vote us in office. We are going to promise you that we will bring you pipe-borne water. We are going to promise you first-class infrastructure and highways that will once, again, modernize our landscape and link this country to the outside world.

We are going to promise that we will build and renovate our schools and spend the maximum dollar necessary to educate every child in this country free of charge. We are going to promise that we will bring you electricity and build for you a modern transportation system so that you can stop walking from place to place. We are going to promise that we will reconcile and unify this country during our first 100 days in office.

Bluntly, ladies and gentlemen, fellow Liberians, we, the members of the “Class of 22 Presidential Aspirants” will promise you that we will give you practically everything free under the sun when you allow us to serve as your next President.

But, I also need to make one salient point. You, the Liberian people, do not need to give any of us a free pass to the Executive Mansion. Do not vote for us just because we come from a particular group. Don’t vote us simply because we struggle frantically to feed you during these elections’ period.

Resist us if we try to buy your votes with a cup of rice. Equally so, do not vote for us based on popularity. This is no popularity contest. It is a contest for sound, analytical minds, not in the games of soccer or the acrobatic movements of a tall chap who could not win the confidence of his own team-mates to lead their association, which represents the game that has won him many great accolades - and made him a booming celebrity overnight.

This contest is not for people who can mobilize fine young people and turn them into hooligans by the snap of the fingers. The contest can never be for people whose thinking process is so confused, not on the basis of some chemical imbalances, but on the basis of mental inadequacies that clearly convey to the contestant that he or she does not measure up to the task ahead. It is foolhardy for one to think that running a country is that simple. Only simpletons and dishonest people go into battle known they lack the required know-how or expertise. Good, morally upright people know their abilities. Buffoons see the larger picture from a moronic, myopic perspective. God bless Liberia for the people to see a child wanting to run a household.

God bless Liberians to choose our next leaders wisely; any mistake this time around would lead to another round of hardship and suffering.

We, therefore, challenge every Liberian to take this process seriously and vote for the right person. Liberians should review and analyze the merits of our proposed agendas for the future, especially the likelihood of achieving them.

Empty rhetoric should be the thing of the past. For example, if a man or woman running for President tells you he is going to provide educational opportunity to you but does not tell how he or she plans to do that, then that should raise a red flag.

The media can be very instrumental in examining and informing the public about the various proposals we are each making. The media should insist on each candidate delivering a platform that outlines how to move the country forward.

Second, every Liberian should scrutinize the track record of each of us vying for public office. All that is required is that it be done in a fair, balanced and consistent manner. We have each put ourselves forth to represent you, making us the ultimate job seekers in town.

And I am sure that many Liberians will not want to hire people with a checkered past, which include rewarding people with state power, who participated in the civil war, who are part of the corrupt mindset in Monrovia, or some discredited, so-called educated political gurus, who are now jumping from political party to political party in search of greener pastures.

Sometimes, it makes many Liberians to wonder why we killed Tolbert, Doe, and drove Taylor out of town when so many of those recycled politicians who were once card-carrying members of the inner circles of failed leaderships are now the new card-carrying members of the inner circles of some major political parties contesting in these elections.

Yes, we are all Liberians. Yes, we need to forgive and move on. But my God, do we have to go back to the old days of inefficiency and corruption. And that is exactly what we will get if Liberians were to make another mistake and elect candidates, who are considered discredited politicians, and who were once your tormentors.

Another way to check the track record of a candidate is to look at what he or she is doing today. For example, a man tells you that he will reconcile and unite people across this country. He attends a meeting with all the other Presidential candidates where everyone agrees to abide by some code of conduct.

But on the first day of campaigning you heard reports indicating that his people are tearing down other people posters and shouting at them; you better think twice about that candidate.

In elections, we must engage each other on issues and make a stark contrast based on our track records vis-à-vis other candidates. But tearing down and engaging in a near fist fight is undemocratic and must be condemned by all peace loving Liberians.

We are going to need to attract foreign investment in this country to create jobs and career opportunities for our people. And the appearance to the outside world that we are not beyond war and anger will undermine those efforts. No sound business man or woman will want to put their hard dollars in a country that is unstable and violent-prone. I am glad several other Presidential candidates are calling on their supports to behave in this important history-making process in our country.

Fellow Liberians, I must repeat again that we have gathered today to open a new chapter in the history of our country. We call this a new chapter because there were periods in the history of our country when many people dare to challenge the seat of the presidency of this country.

There were periods in the history of our country when all of us, fellow Liberians, were denied our God’s given rights to freely choose our leaders. Our rights were either siphoned or totally curtailed by those who were bent on maintaining the status quos.

Today, that disenfranchisement has withered to the past amidst unquestionable pains and anguish. Fellow Liberians, the elections ahead of us is about placing our country in the hands of its true patriotic, responsible and law-abiding citizens; we can not afford to reward the architects of our nightmare with our own lives as we did in the 1997 elections.

Nor can we afford to place our government in the hands of an individual with no experience, and an amateur, who only claims to the Executive Mansion, is based on the notion of popularity.

We cannot afford to place our government in the hands of people who have redefine grassroots movement to mean violent campaigning and hooliganism.

Nor can we stand by and allow our beautiful land of liberty fall in the hands of some crooked lawyers, who will have no qualms providing legal advice to businesses that evict our poor and suffering people.

Nor can we afford to give state power to people who destroyed this beautiful country and send many of our people to their untimely deaths and others in refugee camps in and outside of this country.

Many of those architects have come in various forms: some claim to have international contacts, and they will go about deceiving you again that they will rebuild the country once again, since it has been destroyed on their orders. Some claim to have received divine blessings from God to lead this country.

God bless this nation!
Some have come under the banner of unification to join a party they did not believe in but to create the appearance of reconciliation. Some have come using adopted names that will only remind people of more than 27-year of autocratic rule, outright segregation, impoverishment and exclusion of the masses from the echelon of government.

Ladies and gentlemen of the new and vibrant Liberia, they will say the nicest things to get elected. But don’t you ever believe them. If they claim to truly love something, they would never have destroyed it before fixing it.

They would never have been a part of the inner circle of people that excluded you from participating in government; they would not have been part of the inner circle of people who excluded you from benefiting from our shared resources.

Fellow Liberians, this election is, therefore, the most important election of our lifetime. The stakes are high. We cannot afford to make mistakes, like in 1997, when our people sang and danced in the streets: “You kill my pa, you kill my ma, I will vote for you.”

The 1997 elections symbolized a successful use of fear and trickery by a conman for a war-wreaked people to either vote for him or face war and deaths again. They people chose to live in peace. But, they were wrong. The conman and his hoodlums were empowered to legitimized violence against the people. This is why you must weigh, scrutinize and cast your votes—not out of fear—for people who will bring peace to you and change your lives. We are a nation that has been at war—at war with our neighbors and ourselves. That has to change!

Our lives and the lives of our children hang in the balance in these elections; so let’s approach it with seriousness. Let’s make sound judgment as to who is most prepared, untainted by war, corruption and misrule to lead this country in these times of difficulties.

Basic social services and primary health care are virtually extinct. There is no middle class system; you are either rich at the expense of the poor or you are miserably overwhelmed by poverty. Our once decent and proud people have all turned into beggars. Our farmers are today poor in record numbers.

Our market women have not received the necessary support and are struggling to make it. Our children have been turned into child soldiers and are being left behind to suffer. Fathers and grand parents today are more and more dependent on the young children for food and shelter.

We need to fix these problems. We cannot, however, do so by giving power to recycled corrupt politicians who have made countless promises in the past and have yet to deliver.

Or politicians, who, when given the opportunity to hold position of trust have developed a big-shot mentality, engaged in rampant corruption, wasteful spending and lavish lifestyles in the presence of untold human suffering and degradation.

The Morlu-Demen administration will end all of these and take Liberia into a brighter future by doing some simple things.

First, we will submit a budget that will prioritize and emphasize spending on development programs. Gone are the days when more than a third of our national expenditure went to security related items. We believe the people of this great country are peace loving people. We see no need to hide behind bullet proof cars. Instead, in our administration we will spend money on building educational institutions, hospitals and clinics across the land to meet the basic needs of our people.

Second, we will do our utmost to deemphasize government as sole employer in town. Instead we will focus on creating an ownership society in which government is the last resort for employment. Ladies and gentlemen, it is unsustainable for our government to be the largest employer in town.

We will work to foster a three-way partnership among government, civil society and the private sector. The private sector will be the main thrust for economic growth and job creation; civil society will be the training ground for people leaving college for the private sector; government will always be last place for employment.

We can only do this by creating an enabling environment and an agenda that is keenly focus on creating an ownership society, where every Liberian has a chance of owning a business and a home. We will create a Small Business Administration to provide the necessary business and financial support for the creation of Liberian own enterprises.

We cannot create a prosperous nation by simply relying on outsiders. Nor can we create a sustainable vibrant economy or become a rich nation by solely relying on natural resources or imports through some third party non-Liberian merchants.

Undoubtedly, we cannot import our way to prosperity, fellow Liberians. That has never anywhere, and we are not going to do here in Liberia. As a matter of fact, we have imported more things from abroad over the past one and half century and we are still stuck at the bottomless pit.

We must figure out a way to create a vibrant manufacturing sector. The Morlu-Demen administration will partner with international investors, and Liberian entrepreneurs to create a manufacturing sector in this country, even if that means producing clothing and latex products for the world market.
In addition, in order to foster the creation of Liberian owned business, we will insist on two government contracting initiatives: A significant percentage above 50 percent of all government contracts must go to Liberian businesses or businesses with significant Liberian ownership.

Yes, we want free enterprise. Yes, we investors to come in and help us build this nation from the bottom up. But we want Liberians to become the champions of their own destiny. The Morlu-Demen administration will insist on that.

We will subsidize our farmers and encourage them to return home to begin producing again. We are blessed with fertile soil and there is no reason we cannot feed ourselves. Our farmers are willing to produce but government must be there to support them. In addition to direct subsidies to farmers, we will implement a government program through the Small Business Administration to guarantee long-term loans so that they can make the necessary capital investment.

And as part of creating an ownership society initiative, we will also work to privatize many state-owned enterprises, which have become nothing but a financial burden on the people of Liberia.

It is now widely known that many past and current administrations have rewarded loyal followers with Board Memberships on many of these non-productive public corporations.

As a matter of fact, one of the Presidential aspirants was forced to resign from one of these financial boondoggles, the Liberian Petroleum and Refinery Corporation (LPRC), where he served as Chairman of the Board but claimed to be a non-government employee.

Third, we will work with the Legislature to create a time limited Affirmative action program for Women and the disabled people. Women today constitute about 50% of the Liberian population, and we must strive for them to be represented in policy-making positions of government and other sectors of society.
We can achieve maximum participation by women and the disabled by also creating job training and educational programs that directly benefit them. In this new Liberia, we cannot leave anyone behind. And we will not. Women and disabled will be representing at the seat of decision making.

We will also invest in job training and education programs to build on the work of the international community to fully integrate ex-combantants in society. These children are our children and they will not be forgotten in our administration.

Fourth, we will work with the Legislature to decentralize our body-politic. For far too long, the center of decision making has been in Monrovia. This has made all of our development efforts to focus on cities, forcing everyone to come to Monrovia for jobs and higher education.

In the New Liberia, we must reverse that. We must implement a system that takes a bottom-up, rural-to-city approach to development. And we can only do that by decentralizing economic and political powers. We will work on a formula that will allow the election of our supritendents, commissioners and local leaders. We will work on a formula that will allocate in a fair and balanced manner the resources of this country between the national government and the counties.

Sixth, we will work to unify and reconcile the bitter wounds of Liberians. First and foremost, we will fully fund and make operational the Truth and Reconciliation. We will insist on a government policy that celebrates merits rather then nepotism, tribal or religious affiliation.

We will implement a zero tolerance approach on discrimination in all forms and shapes. The bottom line is that we will enforce all anti-discrimination laws. In addition, we will work to develop a social security system that helps to identify Liberians, so that we can eliminate all these checkpoints throughout this country. As soon as a person is within the borders of this country, he or she should not be harassed just on the basis of his or her name or physical appearance.

Furthermore, we cannot just talk about the need for unity without putting processes and institutions in place that will allow us to achieve lasting peace and unity. One such institution is the establishment of Presidential Council.

The Presidential Council will be composed of people with impeccable standing and respect chosen from the various tribes in Liberia. Council members will be appointed to serve not more than a 2-year term, subject to reappointment based on presidential prerogatives.

Council members will be given specific mandates and responsibilities, including holding periodic meetings to resolve tribal matters as well develop policies and recommendations on how to improve tribal relations in Liberia.

Seventh, the era of big government, financial indiscipline, lack of transparency and corruption will end under our administration. We will usher in a new era that will exercise fiscal discipline and fight rampant corruption. We have too many ministries in this country. We will eliminate some and combine some of them.

We will overhaul this government and squeeze out every bit of waste and inefficiency. I am not a man who likes big, big bureaucracy. Instead I rather use the savings from reducing and streamlining government to invest in programs that create jobs and help the youth to become productive members of society. We will also insist on a balanced budget amendment in which we don’t spend more than we take in the treasury.

In this country, not only has our government spent more than it has; it also spends the little it has on luxurious items—big fancy cars, etc. We will also develop an overall debt management policy that will allow us to reduce our debt obligation in a fair, balanced and consistent manner, including setting up a sinking fund.

On transparency, we will insist on an open budget process in which citizens will see where the money is coming from and where it is being spent.
On corruption, we will attack it on several fronts. First and foremost, we will recruit qualified, credible and ethical people to serve in positions of trust. We will pay them a living wage and on time. We will set up institutions such as an Anti-Corruption Agency and empowered the General Accounting Office to fight corruption.

We will require that each ministry or agency has an Independent Inspector General and Chief Financial Officer that will be charged to produce timely and accurate independently audited program and financial reports on activities annually. But at the end of the day, when all is said and done, we will throw people in jail for stealing government money. There will be no exception to this zero tolerance policy.

Eighth, we will actively participate to strengthen our role in regional organizations. We will work assiduously to revive and strengthen the Mano River Union. We will work with member countries to reduce all forms of trade barriers amongst our countries, and to maintain stability on our borders through extensive cooperation and communication on all matters of security and economics.

Specifically, we will propose establishing a direct line of communications between our government and those member states, including Cote D’voire, Guinea and Sierra Leone. We will do our utmost not to antagonize our neighbors, or be a source of instability in the region. We will encourage cooperation on major projects—highways, roads, electricity, water and sanitation, to name but a few.

We will also continue our active engagement in other organizations on the continent and internationally, including ECOWAS, the organization of African Unity, the United Nations, and the World Trade Organization. In addition, we’ll explore opportunities and ways to join other trading regimes, and form bilateral trade agreements with countries in Asia, the Americas, Africa, and Europe.

We will work through each organization to liberalize trade, encourage capital and labor mobility on the continent, promote political stability and improve sustainable, environmentally smart economic development. We will work with the United States Government and the international community to fight global terrorism.

Fellow Liberians, I have laid out some of things we planned to do when we are elected on October 11. Let us move forward together with unity, and create a new Liberia where everyone will be treated fairly and given an equal chance at the Liberian dream—good education, affordable health care, job opportunities, freedom of speech and association, and equal protection under the law.

In October 2005, Liberians will go to the polls to elect a president, and a generation of leaders that will invariably shape the future of the country.

We fervently believe that the priority will and should center on reconstruction, unification, economic development, good governance and adequate human rights protection.

After all, this is not about us. This is about Liberia. It is time for new a leadership to move the country forward again. We are in a better position to meet these issues and deliver meaningful results.

We have laid out an ambitious agenda for the future. We only ask that you hold us accountable, because we plan to usher in a new thinking on how we achieve our development objectives.

After 158 years of failed leadership, we are finally at the end of the long struggle to achieve economic, social and political justice. We were at war with each other for over 14 years, and we have come together to end that great divide. We ask you now to join us in laying down our divisions.

Let us all seek God’s help so that we “show malice toward none and charity toward all.” We strongly believe that Liberia’s best days are still ahead of us, and we must take on the challenge to improve our collective well-being.

We thank you very much for joining forces with us today to begin this historic journey.

May God bless Liberia and its hardworking and patient people. May God bless Africa’s oldest republic, as we enter a new chapter in our collective march toward achieving our dreams.

Thank you!