Liberty Party presidential candidate Cllr. Charles Walker Brumskine’s last Thursday walk away from the first presidential debate among four of the six presidential candidates vying in the October elections smiling, with many callers grading him at 98%.
The LP man who was graded by most callers far above his contenders in the race as exemplified by his frank discussion of issues that confront Liberia’s peace and socio-economic development with much exuberance and high-level confidence of his ability to provide solutions and bring about change.
He was closely followed by Alternative National Congress or ANC’s Alexander Cummings, whose exceptional performance as a first timer was, graded 90% by callers.
The first major face to face interaction among candidates vying for the Liberian presidency, the debate brought together four of the top six candidates, including Cllr. Brumskine of the Liberty Party, Vice President Joseph Nyumah Boakai of the governing Unity Party, All Liberian People Party (ALP) standard bearer, businessman Benoni Urey, and former Coca cola executive Alexander B. Cummings of the Alternative National Congress.
The exercise, which provides Liberians an opportunity to hear from candidates vying to become their next President, is an initiative of the Deepening Democracy Coalition or DDC, a conglomeration of five Liberian media organizations, including the Press Union of Liberia held under the sponsorship of the Open Society Initiative for West Africa, OSIWA.
Brumskine, a two times contestant for the presidency, vividly understands Liberia’s governance challenges, having served in government himself for many years, and is therefore, prepared and willing to debate the issues as raised in six thematic areas, including the economy, youth empowerment, peace and reconciliation, rule of law and security, corruption, education and health, moderated by three Liberian journalists: Boakai Fofana of Capitol FM, Raymond Zarby of UNMIL Radio and media development expert, Miss Maureen Sieh at the Paynesville Town Hall outside Monrovia.
He vows to slash his own salary by 50 percent if elected President, and to make his officials comply accordingly in order to redirect those funds to most needy areas of the economy to meet basic social services as well as improve salaries of teachers, doctors, security and the entire civil service. “I have been tested, proven, and I’m ready to serve”, Brumskine assures Liberians.
For instance, on the question of budget deficit, which has persistently been around 8.5 percent, Vice President Joseph Boakai, a member of the current administration, quickly blames lack of fiscal discipline in the public sector, saying “We need to spend our money wisely.” Alexander Cummings of the ANC attributes the deficit to too much money being in the hands of few individuals sitting at the top of government, while the majority of the people suffer. He calls for a reversal of this path.
“If you take the money from the hands of few and put it in the hands of the majority”, he argues, “it will reduce budget deficit.” The ANC leader also stresses privatization of key services such as power and water to avoid waste and maintain constant supply, while Benoni Urey of the ALP thinks that budget deficit persists because the government appears to be business unfriendly, adding that “We will continue to have deficit unless we plan properly.” He points out that 80 percent of the budget is on recurrent expenditure, particularly salaries and other benefits, while the remaining 20 percent, which is very insufficient, is directed at development.
But Cllr. Brumskine believes budget deficit is not necessarily bad, if other neglected sectors of the economy were to be funded adequately, particularly agriculture, where he notes the need to train technicians to move away from subsistence farming to mechanized production.
He stresses a need to reverse the flow of revenue from top down, meaning salaries of the President, Vice President, Speaker, and others in that hierarchy should be cut to augment salaries for civil servants and other low ranking officials.
While Vice President Boakai attempts to excuse himself from the lapses of this administration after nearly 12 years in power, he stresses continuity and asks Liberians to elect him as the next President of Liberia, with an analogy that a racing car that is packed in the garage would have to be tested in order to determine its strength.
But Cllr. Brumskine vehemently disagrees, countering that the Vice President cannot receive salaries and incentives for the past 12 years and yet claims he has not been tested for leadership.
He also stresses the need to centralize government petroleum distribution process as a cost-saving measure, instead of regularly issuing millions of gas slips to officials some of which end up in the black market.
The debate, which is the first in a series before the October 10th polls, was held at the Paynesville Town Hall in Paynesville City, outside Monrovia. It was attended by members of the diplomatic corps, international partners and thousands of Liberians in a poll that would deliver the country’s first post-war political transition from a sitting President to an elected successor. Story by Jonathan Browne