AFL soldiers shouldn’t return to the past

It is highly regrettable that soldiers of the Armed Forces of Liberia would mobilize from barracks and move into a town to brutalize unarmed villagers, including pregnant women and children in apparent retribution, leaving at least 15 citizens wounded.

That’s exactly what transpired on Friday, 19 May in Wainsue, Jorquelleh District, Bong County in central Liberia when troops of the 23rd Infantry Brigade of the Armed Forces of Liberia from the Camp Tubman Military Barracks in Gbarnga ,drove in the town and flogged anyone who came their way in reprisal for a colleague soldier, who had have dispute with a resident of the area.

Reports gathered by our correspondent and corroborated by multiple sources, including Bong Representative George Mulbah, who also heads the Defense Committee of the lower House, County Superintendent Salena Poison Mappy, and others narrate that it all began when a feud developed between a female soldier and a male resident of Wainsue.

We did not immediately establish what led to the dispute, but the female soldier in question reportedly alerted four of her colleagues from the barracks to come in her defense. Eyewitnesses say one of the soldiers, dressed in plain clothes, allegedly slapped a civilian, but was counter-attacked. The soldiers then returned to barracks for reinforcement and mobilized a pick-up load of troops, who descended on the town, kicking and flogging anyone they encountered, inflicting serious bodily harm on the residents, including pregnant women and children. The wounded were admitted both at the C.B. Dunbar and Phebe Hospitals in the county with four of the victims reportedly on critical list.

Although the merit and demerit of the fracas are being investigated by authorities of the Camp Tubman Barracks along with officials of Bong, but the ugly situation reminds us of the dark days of brutal leadership and gross banditry when thugs under the guise of soldiers, indiscriminately violated the rights of innocent citizens.
We believe under no circumstances should a dispute between a soldier and a civilian warrant the marching of troops against an entire village, town or population. Thank God that there was no report of gunfire or use of live weapons, as this would have resulted to loss of lives.
The new AFL has been labeled as “Soldiers for good.” It should therefore exemplify this labeling in deeds and actions, particularly with the civilian population that it took oath to defend, including the Motherland.

When a soldier has misunderstanding with a civilian, specifically outside of barracks, the professional action to take is to report the issue to the civilian authority for prompt redress rather than moving troops against an entire community as was the case in Wainsue.

We do not want a replay of those days when soldiers grossly abused civilians and went with impunity. The new AFL must in all sincerity, demonstrate a departure from the past to continuously maintain the confidence of the citizenry. Overzealous individual soldiers who think the uniform and gun are a license to commit abuses should be told in no uncertain terms that such acts of sheer banditry have not place in a professionally discipline army that all Liberians envisage.

Consequently, we call for prompt investigation of the 19 May violence in Wainsue, Bong County against unarmed civilians, including pregnant woman and children by soldiers from the Camp Tubman Military Barracks so that the perpetrators may be brought to book to avoid a reoccurrence.

Cultivating mutual partnership with the Trump Administration

President Donald Trump last week dispatched his Secretary of Health, Dr. Tom Price, to Liberia with a special message that the United States, particularly the Trump Administration is committed to working with Liberia to addressing remaining challenges in the country’s recovery programs after the devastating Ebola crisis.

Dr. Price, who was on a global health promotion, made a stopover at the Roberts International Airport in Margibi County last Wednesday, 17 May and met with President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in the VIP Lounge of the airport.

“Together, we have worked hand-in-hand to fight the tragedy of Ebola, and in the process have succeeded in improving the health system here in Liberia”, Dr. Price notes, and adds that the U.S. looks forward to continuing to work side by side with Liberia to improve disease prevention, enhance laboratory services and maintain a rapid and effective disease response services here.

We firmly believe Liberia should seize this opportunity and go all out in further strengthening the already existing historic mutual partnership with the United States, specifically the Trump Administration, not only in the health sector, but all areas of human advancement and global peace.
The bond that exists between the United States and Liberia is a people to people relationship that cannot be confined to any particular government or administration, as has been demonstrated over the years.

President Trump is re-cementing this tie by opening the door to this historic African country with a population of 4 Million. We must take advantage of this opportunity, specifically as this country prepares for free and fair democratic elections in October that would usher in a new administration by January 2018 after the Sirleaf Administration.

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is currently visiting the United States after the historic visit to Liberia by Secretary of Health Dr. Tom Price, the first visit ever after President Trump came to power.

The current engagement provides a unique opportunity for our respective governments and peoples to renew commitment to partnering for mutual benefits. Liberia looks forward to remaining a trusted ally of the United States even as the country moves towards political transition.

No matter who eventually becomes the next President of Liberia in October, this country would need the United States’ continued support in the business of governance and human development, without which no leader can succeed here. Our past history is a hint to the wise. Therefore, we stress the need to cultivating mutual partnership with the Trump Administration in solidifying the already existing historic ties between our two countries and peoples for common benefits and global peace.

Towards a resilient health system

If the recent health situation in Sinoe County that struck 13 persons dead, leaving behind 31 cases after rapidly spreading to Grand Bassa and Montserrado counties is anything to judge by, then Liberia’s much heralded resilient health system leaves much to be desired, in all sincerity.

Since the first incident occurred in the county in mid-April, it was only on Monday, 8 May that the Minister of Health Dr. Bernice Dahn came up with findings, attributing the cause of death to Meningitis Fever after health authorities ruled out the possibility of Ebola Virus Disease.

According to the Health Minister, as of May 7, a total of 31 cases, including 13 deaths have been reported from Sinoe, Grand Bassa, and Montserrado counties, respectively with Sinoe along recording 27 cases and 10 deaths, Montserrado, two cases with two deaths, and Grand Bassa, two cases with one death.

She also disclosed that a Kenyan pathologist has arrived in Liberia to conduct autopsy on remains of some of the victims, while specimens have been sent to the France, Center for Disease Control in the United States, and other partners to help in dealing with the situation.

While this is ongoing, three counties have been affected, including Montserrado, which hosts the nation’s capital, Monrovia that is heavily populated. If an entire population that had suffered a devastating Ebola outbreak just two years ago (2014) has to go thru another health crisis that is likely to spread further, particularly in an election year, it should be cause for serious concern.

We must admit that our health system is still under the curve, plagued with barrage of challenges ranging from lack of trained manpower, political will to equipment and corruption, despite huge budgetary and donor support.

More than a dozen of our fellow compatriots have died in less than a month and we are still struggling to establish what actually is responsible for their demise. It’s so sad that we would have to live with such disappointing reality after several national conferences on the health sector of our country.

We must muster enough courage and blame ourselves as a nation, especially so when almost all of our national leaders go abroad to seek medication, leaving the challenging health sector with posterity, which will surely treat us, unkindly for our neglect or seeming lack of willpower.

We are taken aback that, until now, the situation has not claimed the attention of lawmakers on Capitol Hill. Instead, members of the First Branch of Government, especially those in the House of Representatives, who are pre-occupied with seeking reelection, while senators are gearing up to endorse the candidacy of Vice President Joseph Nyumah Boakai for the Presidency.

With just one month to the start of campaign for the October’s Presidential and Representative elections, we call on both the Executive and the Legislature to address the current health situation that has claimed over a dozen lives with utmost urgency before it goes off hand.

Chasing the mutilated Liberian banknotes

The Central Bank of Liberia bluntly told members of the House of Representatives last week that it cannot account for 10.9 Billion Liberian Dollars in the economy because they were put in circulation outside of the banking system.

Central Bank of Liberia Executive Governor Milton Weeks made the startling revelation when he appeared before the House’s Plenary to provide reason for the huge mutilated Liberian Banknotes still in circulation despite the printing of new banknotes to replace the mutilated ones.

Governor Weeks notes that huge quantity of old Liberian banknotes that were put in circulation by his predecessors have become mutilated, while others are being pocketed by private citizens and companies, outside the banking system thus, making it very difficult if not impossible for the CBL to with draw the mutilated banknotes and replaced them with the new banknotes printed by the government.

The Executive Governor’s assertion raises a very grave concern about the uncertainty that seems to becloud our monetary system. Something urgent needs to be done to rescue the economy from too much money chasing few goods in the market, which is a by-product of inflation.

If the institution that is statutorily responsible to monitor the country’s monetary system can come out publicly to say it has no control over 10.9 Billion of the national currency in circulation and therefore, unable to regulate its movement in the economy, it creates enough room for concern.

The Liberian economy is facing serious recession, with the exchange rate between 110 and 111LRD to one United States Dollar, far above the official rate of 100LRD to $1.00.
Governor Weeks told the lawmakers that this problem has put the CBL in a difficult position in replacing mutilated banknotes currently in circulation without further exacerbating the already inflationary posture of the economy.

He pointed out that currently, the Liberian government possesses 12.6 Billon of the newly printed Liberian Banknotes, and of this amount, only 1.6 Billion LRD is in circulation, and 9 billon LRD has been distributed among commercial banks, while the rest, which he did not disclose, is in the vault of the Central Bank.
Governor Weeks’ predecessor Dr. Joseph Mills Jones executed a controversial loan scheme while serving at the bank that saw the infusion of huge amount of Liberian dollars in circulation with the actual amount today still remaining an issue of big debate here.

The loan scheme saw millions of Liberian dollars being put in the hands of community residents, mainly rural dwellers as stimulant packages, but beneficiaries of the scheme have become partisans and sympathizers for Dr. Jones, who has become a presidential aspirant and standard bearer of the Movement for Economic Empowerment or MOVEE party.

Chasing the 10.9 Billion Liberian Banknotes wherever they are may not only become a cumbersome task, but illusive both for this administration and the new government to come.


Issues-driven politics, not personality game

Politicians here are taking Liberian electorates for granted by avoiding the real issues confronting the country and instead, playing the personality game characterized by name-calling and blame-shifting. That’s not what the people want to hear, and not what they deserve.

Let’s look at some recent comments by some presidential hopefuls, beginning with businessman Benoni Urey, leader of the All Liberian Party or ALP. Mr. Urey announces to the public that if elected President in October, he would not take salary for two years, but does not say how he intends to expense the national resources for that same period for the general good of the people except that he would empower citizens of Bong County and Caresyburg in Montserrado County.

He stresses that the living condition of Liberians need improvement, but refuses to make any promise and claims that the real problem is lack of leadership, so he wants to give Liberia back to the common people.

Next is Cllr. Charles Walker Brumskine, standard bearer of the Liberty Party, who claims he is upright and spotless, but there are others in the race whom he alleges have tainted records, describing some as little boy running around with stolen money.

According to him, if given the opportunity to serve as the next President of Liberia, he would lead the country like it had never been led before, whatever that means. Cllr. Brumskine also promises to create an enabling environment under his presidency where every Liberian would feel part of his transformation strategy, but fails to explain how he intends to achieve this.

Ex-bank governor Dr. Joseph Mills Jones is calling for change. He wants the old system to go away, and for change to come, he must be elected President without clearly detailing what kind of change he has for the people, except that he enjoys popularity dividends from his controversial loan scheme while serving at the Central Bank of Liberia.

Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) standard bearer Senator George Weah is not saying much, but insists that this is his time to become President of Liberia-period!

On the other hand, Alternative National Congress (ANC) standard bearer and Coca-Cola executive Alexander Cummings, new on the political scene, is moving from county to county, thanking Liberians for endorsing him as standard bearer, and promising empowerment for the people.

Although official campaign starts in July, but none of the above candidates is specifically saying how health, education, corruption, food and national security, among others would be addressed if elected in October.

As campaign is barely a month away, the Liberian people expect specifics from those aspiring to become their next President after Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to build on where she would stop rather than who is short or tall, and that Liberia will become a paradise if any of them were elected.

Looking at the PYJ-Urey marriage

In a 90 degree turnaround, Senator Prince Yormie Johnson of Nimba County tuned off his Congo-native rhetoric over the weekend and formed a political merger with businessman Benoni Urey to present a common front in the October 10th presidential and general elections.

Sen. Johnson’s Movement for Democracy and Reconstruction or MDR party and Mr. Urey’s All Liberian Party or ALP reportedly sealed a deal on Saturday, 22 April that would see both parties collaborating in their quest for the Presidency.

Mr. Urey by any characterization is a descendant of Americo-Liberians and an influential leader of the free Masons with huge investments in Liberia.But until last weekend’s conclusion of merger talks, Sen. Johnson had gone from county to county preaching divisive politics, calling on electorates to reject so-called ‘minority rule’ at the ballot box come October. Implicitly, he told voters in his native Nimba County and southeast Liberia that it is time for the ‘majority’ to take power here.

The man whose public speeches are marked by many contradictions, appeared on a live radio talk show recently and denounced in no uncertain terms the Coalition for Democratic Change or CDC for having on board criminally indicted former speaker Alex J. Tyler, arguing that the founder of the Liberian People Democratic Party or LPDP should first go and exonerate himself from all charges.

Paradoxically however, when confronted with the fact that his name is among several warring faction leaders and ex-generals listed in the Final Report of Truth and Reconciliation Commission for committing hideous atrocities and crimes against humanity, he defended that under Liberia’s Legal Jurisprudence, an accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

Lest we be misconstrued, the New Dawn wholeheartedly welcomes the merger between Sen. Johnson and Mr. Urey, which we strongly believe is towards tearing down self-proclaimed and perceived barricades to unite Liberians, a people of less than 5 million.

We challenge both leaders to abandon the rhetoric and cease this opportunity to unite the citizenry because if the ALP-MDR ticket were to win the Presidency in October, it would not only govern the so-called ‘majority’, but the entire 43,000 square miles of Liberia that includes those Sen. PYJ refers to as ‘minority’.

With barely six months and few days to elections, we encourage more political parties to enter merger or coalition so as to depopulate the playing field to enable voters to make sound decision on polling day by putting Liberia first.

The ALP-MDR ticket should erase the Congo-Native rhetoric and now begin to tell Liberians in clear terms how it’s going to provide better political and economic environment that would improve the standard of leaving in the country. We all know that no single administration or government can address all of the needs, but the citizenry craves to see significant impacts of a leadership in a giving period.


Life-skill education an impetus to girls’ empowerment

Liberia’s Foreign Minister, Madam Marjon Kamara, emphasized here recently that for girls and women to become productive in society, they need life-skill training, which is crucial to nation building.

She said the culture of dependency in the society could be mitigated by investing in adolescents through livelihood support as well as vocational and life-skill training, stressing that it enhances productive capacities of girls and young women with multiple impacts, while boosting their self-esteem.

“Economic empowerment and education of the girl child has been proven to be one of the most impactful strategies for poverty alleviation, and the prospect of gainful employment and the courage to resist injustices and assert their quality with male counterparts”, said the Foreign Minister, who is also Dean of the Cabinet when she spoke recently at the official launch of the Girls Ebola Recovery Livelihood Support Project at the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection in Monrovia.

Indeed, life-skill training is one of the effective tools to eradicating poverty and promoting sustainable livelihood, not only among girls and women, but young people in general.

Liberia, with an overwhelming youthful population, should prioritize life-skill training in every facet of its educational system in order to produce functionally literate graduates, particularly at tertiary and university levels.

This is why we commend government for resuscitating and upgrading the Monrovia Vocational Training Center (M.V.T.C.) in Gardnersville and the other skill training center in Bomi County.

According to Minister Kamara, before the Ebola crisis in the country, a demographic health survey conducted in 2013 showed that 56 percent of Liberian youth less than 18 years was without parental care or not living with both parents.

She said the survey also revealed substantial enrolment gap between males and females with 47 percent women without formal education as compared to 33 percent male.
These grim pictures could be revised if we continued on the path of life-skill training and empowerment for young people, for they are our future leaders. We owe it to them both as parents and national leaders. Liberia would not rise further if her future generation continued to wallop in idleness and trivialities.

The Police and public safety

The Liberia National Police or LNP has grossly ignored public safety regulations on the movement of container trucks, including trailers that ply the streets in very dilapidated conditions, posing serious danger to lives and properties.

These trucks have increasingly become killing machines as they usually ply in congested streets and densely populated communities, killing unsuspecting residents, including women and children with the latest accident occurring over the weekend, leaving at least six persons reportedly dead, and scores of others injured.

The Police are still investigating details surrounding a container truck with license plate TB-0511 that left the Freeport of Monrovia late Saturday, 8 April headed down the end of Johnson Street with 40-feet container loaded onboard into the densely populated Soniwein slum community that connects the Rally Time General Market, killing and injuring innocent persons.

But they are usually hired by business people and private individuals to transport goods from the Freeport of Monrovia in their excruciating dilapidated states to business houses and private premises in Monrovia and its environs in clear view of traffic police officers, who absolutely take no action about their unworthiness to ply the streets.

What is even highly disappointing is that some police officers are seen escorting them, particularly in broad daylight amid huge traffic congestions to their final destination, scaring the public away with blaring horns.

It has become glaring that police public safety, particularly as it relates to movements of container trucks in the streets has been relegated to protecting both the interests of business people and the Truckers Union at the detriment of the public.

Time and again, the LNP has announced regulations to guide movement of heavy duty vehicles, including container trucks, but enforcement is lacking. Lip service seems to have taken precedent over real intentions.

The police need to match actions with pronouncements by enforcing laws on the book without fear or favor. The police traffic division should prioritize protecting lives and properties by ensuring that traffic officers in the streets enforce traffic regulations and safety measures.

Most time, we have observed with much disdain that some traffic officers in the streets are committed to enforcing the law, but their bosses at headquarters pick up telephones and instruct the men in the field to release violators without any explanation. Such compromise is counterproductive to law enforcement.

We believe that if public safety laws on the book were vigorously enforced without compromise, the loss of lives and properties in such magnitude as it occurred over the weekend would have been avoided. In a nutshell, having good laws on the book would become meaningless if their intents and purposes, as in this case, protecting lives and properties, are not achieved.

PATEL and Government must dialogue

A reported plan by a consortium of local business people in Monrovia under the banner, Patriotic Entrepreneurs of Liberia or PATEL, to protest for a third time against high tariffs and other regulations and government’s warning to quell any street protest has a potential to create unnecessary tension in an already politically-charged atmosphere here.

According to the Minister of Information, Cultural Affairs and Tourism, Lenn Eugene Nagbe, some individuals supposedly from PATEL were dropping leaflets at some business houses owned by Indians and Lebanese, threatening them that if they don’t join the upcoming protest, their businesses could face attack.

Minister Nagbe said the threat has been reported to the government. He emphasized on Prime Morning Drive, a live broadcast talkshow on Tuesday, 4th April that government has a duty to protect the peace and provide security for both Liberians and foreign residents in the country.

Already, there are reports that the Chairman of PATEL Mr. Presley Tenwah was picked up by the Ministry of Justice while addressing a forum in Monrovia. Police Spokesman Inspector Sam Collins confirmed to this paper when contacted on Wednesday, April 5, that Mr. Tenwah was called in for questioning and advice on his activities.
We think that the authorities should remain engaged with PATEL, particularly its leadership. As local business people contributing to the economy, members of the association have some concerns that government needs to address.

On the other hand, the Chairman of PATEL Mr. Tenwah should exercise leadership and responsibility at all times in his activities, keeping in mind the peace and stability of Liberia, and not just the profit motive. No one needs to remind us as Liberians that when the country is in turmoil, economic activities will not thrive because we all saw it during the civil war.
When the association shut down business houses in the capital for three days last December to demand government’s invention, it affected both sides and the general population. Government lost revenue, PATEL lost sales and the public was stranded. Certainly, we do not want to continue on this path.

The reality is that the economy is in serious recession as a result of global shocks. Rather than us being in acrimonious disagreement over how to proceed, we need to sit down as Liberians and brainstorm on how to revive the current economic situation rather than playing the blame game.

Yes, we agreed that some policy measures adapted by the government relative to tariffs and other regulations should be reviewed, given constraints faced by local business people, but it does not warrants threats and counter-threats. Instead, both sides need to meet regularly and keep talking to find a way out of the current quagmire.

President Sirleaf’s last mile journey

On her last journey out of power by January 2018 to end 12 years or two consecutive six-year terms in office, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf chaired her final Cabinet Retreat or so it seems last week Thursday, 30 March in Julijuah, Bomi County with a call to cabinet ministers to exercise “mutual respect” for one another.

Presidential Press Secretary J. Matthews Piah has been outlining highlights of the Cabinet Retreat to the media, but our attention is drawn to the call coming from the President to members of the cabinet to accord mutual respect to fellow cabinet ministers.

We don’t know how long such behavior has existed among cabinet ministers, but we can clearly say to those concerned that this is not a good posture to adapt, particularly with barely nine months left for the government to relinquish power.

On the contrary, we think cabinet ministers should even collaborate more and demonstrate respect for one another on the last mile journey of the government to ensure an amicable exit of the administration. While we accept that there may be disagreements or divergent views on policy issues or strategies, it shouldn’t extend to the level where some members of the cabinet are not speaking to their colleagues or not sharing notes on key strategies that could move the country forward.

The Sirleaf administration no doubt has made significant strides on several fronts in the last 11 years and there are tangible proofs of progress that cannot go unnoticed or be ignored. Arguably, we believe more could have been achieved. But be that as it may, the facts cannot be swept under the carpet.

The head of the President’s Delivery Unit at the Ministry of State, Dr. Clarence Moniba during the cabinet retreat listed key accomplishments by the government, including construction of the Mount Coffee Hydropower Plant, asphalt paved roads, housing estates, hospitals and community colleges, among others.

The cabinet plays a vital role in achieving these gains and we think cabinet ministers should not allow personal difference and personality contest to becloud the achievements of the government. This would be a gross disservice to President Sirleaf, if members of her cabinet would want to end on this path.

“We want to ask you to have more in terms of coordination… that’s been one of our chief shortcomings. People not talking to each other; people not communicating with each other; people not sharing with each other”, the President pleaded with her cabinet last week.

We believe the last mile journey of the administration should be pre-occupied with fine toning rough edges of deliverables other than dwelling on egotistic strife that does not benefit the general good of the country.

Therefore, we join President Sirleaf in reiterating to members of the cabinet to see the bigger picture – Liberia in terms of delivering basic services to the people rather than one minister trying to downplay or portray the other as irrelevant, even on the last mile to the end.

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