At the National Conference Vision 2024 convened/sponsored by the Liberian Government on The Future of Liberia and held at the Unity Conference Center, Virginia, Liberia, on July 19, 1998, a former official of government had the privilege/opportunity to be present as Presenter.
This former official of government, a Public Policy Advisor, is ethnic/tribal, Liberian citizen with social cultural, Traditional Society Egalitarian/Utilitarian beliefs and background.
Recalling the socio-economic and political indignities to which the overwhelming majority of the nation’s citizens had been, and are subjected, the former official of government presented the Paper, entitled “Decentralization” to the Conference.
The Paper re-visited/re-introduced the ideas of Decentralization of administrative, economic and political power for the election of public officials of the Provinces – the Counties – as a necessary, viable, socio-economic and political alternative option for the future of our nation.
The Paper, also, coined/introduced the prevailing reality of Liberia’s Presidents as imperial presidents; identified and outlined institutional reforms for re-structure and re-organization of government and its functions, designed to introduce and implement fundamental, comprehensive, socio-economic and political transformation, necessary to ensure modern, democratic practice and Local Governance, in the effort to facilitate, among many others, national reconciliation, healing, peace, unity and national security, after the brutal, civil war. There was, and had been, no response from the Taylor Government.
The President’s Pledge & Governance Commission
Then, in her first Inaugural Speech delivered on January 6, 2006, a little less than 8 years after the presentation of the Paper, Mrs. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, as President of Liberia, demonstrated profound courage, foresight and encouragement for the future of our country by the declaration that “. . . I pledge to bring the government closer to the people. The days of the imperial presidency . . . are over in Liberia . . . The Executive Mansion and ‘Monrovia’ will, no longer, be the only center of power . . . The people and their interests, as defined by them, will be at the very heart of our new dispensation of decentralization and the devolution of power (Vol. 1 No. 1, Governance Commission Decentralization Bulletin, March 31, 2011)”. Indeed, these pledges of encouragement are, in fact, two of the major themes of the Paper on Decentralization.
It was, and is, also, a pleasing encouragement to note that the President followed the announcement with formation and establishment of the national Governance Commission as a think tank, so to speak, on Decentralization for Public Sector Reform. For, this action affirms decentralization as a compelling, social, economic and political need in our country at this point in time.
But, the administration of the provinces, or Counties, the national constituent, political sub-divisions and their sub-structures that, together, constitute the Republic of Liberia, are caught in vicious shackles of policy confusions and contradictions due to policy decisions made and dispensed by bureaucrats sitting in their Monrovia offices, creating more and more new sub-structures such as Town, Clan and Paramount Chiefdoms, townships, administrative and statutory districts, in addition to existing sub-structures created by ancient, Liberia Law governing Hinterland Liberia, without benefit of current, on-ground and in-county research information.
The results have been and are profoundly disappointing. In her Annual Message delivered on January 28, 2013, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf drew national attention to this, disabling condition when she observed that:
“. . . the challenges of the Decentralization Policy . . . the present local (the political, administrative subdivisions) governance structures are bloated, and difficult to manage. For example, there are more than 149 cities – 33 in Sinoe . . . 93 Administrative Districts; 251 Paramount Chiefs; more than 689 Clan Chiefs; 1,410 General Town Chiefs; and 250 Township Commissioners”, (indicating the creation of that number of townships). “Moreover”, the President continued, “the government has to deliver services to more than 16,000 TOWNS AND VILLAGES. As if these statistics were not daunting enough, the boundaries of all these localities overlap, leading to confusion over jurisdiction and administrative authority . . .”
The Unitary Structure of Government
The Unitary Structure of the Liberian Government became an oligarchy that dominated and continues to dominate national decision-making, mainly, to protect and preserve the interests of a very few, the emerged/emerging “political class” of indigenous, ethnic/tribal Liberian citizens and the traditional Americo-/Congo-Liberian citizens.
Consistent with this structure (Unitary) of government, political, economic and administrative power was vested solely-, highly- and rigidly-centralized in imperial presidents in faraway Executive Mansion, Monrovia, and enshrined in the nation’s constitution of 1847. This ancient log-jam placed on modern democratic process must be removed for the required, indeed demanded, Change.
Preamble, National Policy on Decentralization & Local Governance
The incoming Government of President Weah inherited, fortunately, the proclamation and establishment of the National Policy on Decentralization and Local Governance. The Policy Preamble to this National Policy provides that:
• “. . .Since 1847 and throughout the history of Liberia, governance and public administration have remained highly centralized in Monrovia and controlled mainly by institutions and structures of the central state which have not allowed adequate legal opportunities for the establishment of a system of participatory local governance”.
• “. . . The highly centralized system of governance has impeded popular participation and local initiative, especially in the provision of public goods and services, and has contributed to the need for greater accountability and transparency in the management of public affairs and led to the gap in economic growth and development, equal access to social and economic opportunities and human well-being between Monrovia and the rest of Liberia”.
• “. . . These conditions have slowed down (in fact, prevented) Liberia’s overall economic growth and development and democratization process, leading to underinvestment in human resources and human wellbeing throughout the Republic.”
• “. . . The Government of Liberia (therefore) realizes the need to ensure (and ensures, hereby) greater participation of the Liberian people in their own development process and for equitable distribution of the nation’s resources so as to ensure a more wholesome process of development and democratic governance.”
Thus, the national, public policy announcement states, agreed and admitted that, based on its (foregoing) analysis and conclusion, the most, major culprit for the socio-economic and political under-development, socio-economic and political paralysis and the resulting “failed state” condition of the Republic of Liberia is the prevailing Unitary Structure of the Liberian Government, utilized during these 170 years. It is, indeed, the major source of, almost, all of Liberia’s socio-economic and political ills.
But, we are told by the national, public policy theorists and advisors, the Governance Commission, that “Liberia shall remain a unitary state with a system of local government and administration which shall be decentralized with the county as the principal focus of the devolution of power and authority (Section 1.0, page 2, National Policy on Decentralization & Local Governance, January 2011)”.
This conclusion is, an apparent, complete and profound contradiction. For, decentralization-devolution of political power is not the same under the Federal structure of government as required by the preamble and, in fact, desired and demanded by the overwhelming majority of the Liberian People. We hasten to provide comparative, contrasting analysis below, showing the critical difference between the two, main, systems of government – Federal and Unitary.
Decentralization – Federal & Unitary Structures
Although both Federal and Unitary structures refer to or define “devolution” as decentralization of political power, but there are distinct, important legal differences and conditions, critical to successful democratic practice and results, particularly, in the light of Liberia’s turbulent past, for examples:
In the Federal structure, devolution-decentralization is guaranteed by written, constitutional provisions, with terms and conditions binding upon the central, federal government and its regional, semi-autonomous constituents;
Whereas, in the Unitary structure, devolution-decentralization is non-constitutional and that the central, unitary government reserves the right to alter, re-arrange or abolish the devolved-decentralized powers because, unlike federal system, the Unitary regional constituents lack constitutional right to exist, in the first place;
Therefore, it is compelling and, in fact, reasonable to implement change, with reforms, in the light of doing the same thing for a century with disastrous results. For, throughout 170 years, successive, Liberian, political leaderships and derivatives, held on to the unitary structure, while the nation becomes a “failed State”. But surprisingly, we are told by the Governance Commission that “Liberia shall remain a unitary state”, a complete, profound contradiction, as indicated earlier.
Not only because federalized devolution-decentralization of political power recognizes, supports and constitutionally-guarantees the right of citizens to vote in the election of their Superintendents, Mayors of cities, Paramount, Clan and Town Chiefs as expected, desired and demanded by the overwhelming majority of this nation’s citizens. But the Unitary system, now prevailing in Liberia is unconstitutional and continuation/retention of “business as usual”.
The Liberian voters in Fish Town, River Gee; Saniquellie, Nimba; Tubmanburg, Bomi and Bentol, Montserrado Counties do not need a rocket scientist to tell them that this unitary structure has been and is undemocratic!!
Therefore, it is our hope that the foregoing, graphic description of Liberia’s prevailing, political dynamics convey, will convey, clearly, the critical challenges facing this nation for political electoral Change.
The New Political Dispensation
President George Weah’s success, as President of the Republic, depends on complete, fundamental and comprehensive paradigm shift from the 12-year record of his predecessor ( only learn to benefit from her mistakes) to a progressive, liberal, pluralistic democratic politics –Decentralization - of administrative, economic and political power to ensure local democratic governance; that is, the election of all public officials of the provinces or Counties, superintendents, mayors of cities, paramount, clan, town chiefs, etc., consistent with Federal structure, the relatively, proven democratic success. But these political officials are, now, appointed by Monrovia.
Elsewhere, in a speech, we held that “In a representative democracy, the right to vote in the selection of important public officials is regarded not as a privilege, but an inalienable right that inheres to adult citizens by virtue of their citizenship. It is the primary means of ensuring that governments are responsive to the wishes of the governed”.
Change and Pro-poor Governance
It is widely-expected that President Weah, who campaigned as candidate on “Change and Pro-poor” Themes, will place emphasis on democratic elections of county public officials, with the Change/replacement of the Unitary structure with the time-tested, relatively, democratic Federal structure of government.
Finally, Structure influences behavior, according to Organization Theory. The structure of an organization influences the performance behavior of individuals in organization. Similarly, the structure of the Liberian Government influenced, influences the performance behavior of some 3000 plus, important functionaries of the Liberian Government into Corruption, Incorporated, the celebrated public dishonesty. Decentralization of the sweeping powers of the President is, will be hopeful reduction of this public dishonesty.
This, indeed, is the first order of democratic political business; all else will, and must, follow and fall, hopefully, smoothly, in expected, demanded place.