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.

When the devil becomes the judge

Field Marshall Prince Yormie Johnson now Senator for Nimba County has got nothing absolutely to defend for summary executions he carried out on his disbanded INPFL rebels base in the Caldwell Township, Montserrado County during the heat of the civil war here in 1990.

The only crime those armless citizens committed for which they were murdered in cold blood in their dozens, most of them hungry and helpless was that they went on the murderers’ camp dubbed as a base in search of food and security, which the Doe regime could no longer provide.

Those fellow Liberians like the hundreds of thousands others that were gunned down in various massacres committed by rival warring factions across the country, including the Doe regime, became victims of the situation, like the late South African reggae star Lucky ‘Tamba’ Dube recorded in one of his many songs. Their fate was like jumping from the frying pan into the fire.

When the devil ascribes to himself the power to judge and condemn to death, then hell breaks loose because nobody is there to defend the innocent. Such were the plights of our fellow citizens murdered by PYJ and his INPFL rebels.

Through the barrel of the gun they presided over jungle justice, taking the lives of people who had ran to them for protection as Monrovia became no man’s land. The blood of those fallen souls yearn for real justice which they never had except for General Johnson’s style of justice.

Reflecting on those sad days in the history of the country when some group went to honor him in his office at the Capitol Building in Monrovia on Tuesday, 28 March he argued that those who survived under his carnage and are still alive should be grateful to him and stop branding him as warmonger.

And that is the characteristic of the devil. It never wants to be identified by its true identity rather, it wants to be accepted by its face value, with no trace of its past. But history has a way of reminding all of us of our past activities whether good or bad, which we can never run away from.

Today, after a transitional justice system characterized by truth and reconciliation in place of retribution, the once dreaded rebel general is wearing the face of an angle with the Holy Bible in his hands reminding people of their sins and God’s judgement that awaits them if they don’t repent.
However, he refuses to seek mercy and forgiveness both to God and his fellow compatriots for the wickedness committed by unilaterally taking the lives of defenseless people, and is instead, bent on justifying his actions.

This is the real nature of man, a political being, heavily under the influence of the devil. He only sees the spike in the eyes of others, ignoring his own. As far as he is concerned, he’s above reproach, but quick to judge others and bring them to condemnation.

The general needs to demonstrate remorse first before the Creator, God Almighty and to fellow Liberians for the atrocities he committed during his so-called freedom battle that yielded nothing but deaths and destruction, which Liberia is yet to fully recover from rather than knocking his chest and presenting himself as a messiah when the only one and true Messiah is the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave his life on the Cross to save mankind. If only our compatriots were tasty for justice like most of us are men of his kind whom be seated in high places to justify his barbaric acts against mankind.


Millions unaccounted for

Millions of dollars are unaccounted for at the end of each budgetary period due to failure or refusal of ministries and agencies under the Executive branch of government to produce performance reports to the Legislature, not only as required by law, but in line with best practices.

What this seems to suggest is that millions of taxpayers’ money collected thru revenue are expended anyhow by spending institutions within the Executive without least regard on the need to account for allotments entrusted in their care based on proposed programs or what they say they would do.

Yet, at the start of each budgetary period, institutions scramble and scream for more money to be allotted to their respective budgets, with the argument that they have more programs and projects to execute.

The Director for Press and Publications at the House of Representatives, Isaac G. Redd, flagged this issue on Tuesday, 28 March when he appeared on State-owned Liberia Broadcasting System or LBS and disclosed that despite these lapses, ministries and agencies would want their allotments increased and approved without indicating performance for the previous period.

This is not only highly disappointing, but demonstrates lack of responsibility by ministries and agencies in conducting financial matters based on transparency and accountability. There are clear policy procedures on the book, but implementation seems lacking.

Now the 2017/2018 budgetary period is here, and ministries and agencies have completed forecasts for their respective institutions, which have been captured in a draft national budget to be submitted to the Liberian Legislature shortly for scrutiny and public hearings.
Heads of various ministries and agencies must be reminded in no uncertain terms that transparency and accountability should be the hallmark of a democratic governance process characterized by check and balance as enshrined in the Constitution of Liberia.

But when officials, particularly cabinet ministries decide to evade openness in their operations as it relates to usage of public funds, it leaves room for suspicions, which eventually resorts to confidence crisis. This has been the problem with the budget hearing process with lawmakers and spending institutions seem to be continuously in disagreement.

When officials continue to behave in such manner, it does not portray any positive lesson that our next generation of leaders could learn from. And so, we wallop in a cycle of no accountability and transparency. There has to be a change from such practice that benefits only a group of selfish and greedy individuals at the expense of the vast majority.

It is not enough to demand more money, but taxpayers deserve to know how funds allotted and approved, are expended because those millions that vanish in thin air without trace, could be used to execute some tangible programs in other sectors of the economy. Therefore, we call on the Executive to, this time around, make it mandatory that ministries and agencies submit performance reports from the previous budgetary period along with their projections for the coming fiscal year, which would indicate how many allotted and approved are being expended.

Capacity building: an essential ingredient for efficient performance

Several senior-level media practitioners, mainly editors and analysts from the Budget Office of the Liberian Legislature ended a five-day vigorous workshop here over the weekend on Economic and Financial Analysis organized by the Central Bank of Liberia and facilitated by the West Africa Institute for Financial and Economic Management or WAIFEM, based in Lagos, Nigeria.

The CBL initiated the exercise in response to earlier dialogue held between Executive Governor Milton Weeks and media executives on the need to help build the capacity of journalists to enable them professionally report on financial and economic issues, including the national budget.

A total o0f 25 participants benefited, including 20 media practitioners and five analysts from the Legislative Budget Office - two key professionals from distinct backgrounds, who are fortunate to directly come in contact with the National Budget based on their respective scopes of work: the media to make in-depth analysis and inform the public, and the Legislative budget office to analyze and make recommendations.

But they cannot perform their respective duties with limited knowledge or no knowledge at all on the subject matter hence, the relevance of the workshop. Capacity in any institution is very cardinal to the survivability of that institution, and that is why policy and decision makers should prioritize training in their various places of work in order to achieve significant progress.

In other words, we believe strongly that it is about time that policymakers whether in the private or public sector invest in capacity building in order to yield the desired results or performance output.

Lest we should forget, the National Budget is the roadmap to economic development and national growth, because it captures various sources of revenue and provides expenditure priorities. However, if media practitioners are not knowledgeable enough to comprehend, analyze and interpret budgetary issues, it could become disastrous for the entire country and citizens would be kept in darkness.

For instance, editors should be properly equipped to analyze and interpret macroeconomic policies and identify pitfalls, if any to draw attention of decision makers to engender corrective measures.

This is why we say hat-off to Executive Governor Weeks for making resources available and particularly WAIFEM for placing its rich human and material resources at our doorstep, for which we remain very grateful.

WAIFEM Director General Professor Akpan H. Ekpo and his team of highly skilled professionals should be hailed for leading a campaign to empower financial and economic analysts not only in West Africa, but the rest of the Continent so that African governments would be able to get economic and financial staffed with the best brains to improve governance.

Accessible and affordable power stimulates economic growth

The Government of Liberia thru the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning has announced a major boost to the energy sector here, with the reported approval of US$42.48 million, a combined loan and grant financing agreement with partners to smoothly implement the Liberian Energy Efficiency Project or LEEAP, for short.

A release from the MFDP says the project is a multi-partnership approach financed with the African Development Bank Group’s resources from the African Development Fund (ADF), the Transition Support Facility (TSF), and the Nigeria Trust Fund (NTF), as well as from the European Union Africa Infrastructure Trust Fund (EU-AITF) and the Global Environment Facility (GEF) trust fund and the Bank as implementing agency and the Government of Liberia providing counterpart funding.

Liberia’s Finance & Development Planning Minister, Boima S. Kamara, signed the grant recently on behalf of the Liberian government, which is to be forwarded to the Liberian Legislature for ratification.
Efforts by the government to provide accessible and cheap electricity across the country with support from partners are highly commendable and should be welcomed by all well-meaningful Liberians. Energy is a viable lubricant that moves the engine of any economy.
The economy here will not make any remarkable stride if we remained on the traditional practice of exporting raw materials rather than processed products, which are one of the key stimulants for GDP growth. However, investors would never be attracted to manufacturing if lack of accessible and cheap power continues to pose a challenge.

According to the release, the LEEAP project has a four-year lifespan with preparatory activities that commenced in 2016and is expected to provide a total of 13,000 electricity connections that would impact about 65,000 people, who will gain access to reliable electricity, through the connections of up to 40,000 households.

The objective is to increasing access to electricity from the current 2 percent to 5 percent by 2019, while promoting energy efficiency and strengthening the institutional capacity in the electricity sector.
LEEAP is part of a larger multi-donor program that aims to improve access to electricity across Liberia, which involves construction of 46.1 km of transmission line and 280 km of distribution line in the corridors of the Roberts International Airport (RIA) in Margibi County, and probably beyond.
However, we caution authorities at the Liberia Electricity Corporation and the government as a whole to move aggressively in tackling power theft that poses serious hindrance to energy deliverance and sustainability. Government should clampdown specifically on unscrupulous business people who want to make their wealth by stealing power, often in connivance with insiders instead of paying required fees.

We strongly believe this is where government should lay emphasis if sustainability of the current effort to provide accessible and affordable electricity is to be achieved, not only in the interest of the entire country, but to maintain partner’s trust.

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