The 2013 Independence Day Oration: A Response : Confession by Counselor Varney Sherman – “What Did He Know, When Did He Know It”?
July 26 of every year is the birth anniversary of the Republic of Liberia as an independent, sovereign nation-state, a fledgling democracy under the Rule of Law. The day is celebrated as a day of thanks-giving for another year of survival in peace, freedom and tranquility of the nation and people, with family reunions, feasting and merry-making. The festive occasion culminates in a formal, official gathering of state dignitaries, in pomp and pageantry, for sober reflections on the nation’s past, turbulent history of “trials & tribulations” or successes and failures, analysis of the recent past, the prevailing, critical issues of our time and, suggestions for challenges of the future. This retrospective and contemporary reflection is, traditionally, known as the National Oration.
Indeed, the Honorable, Harry Varney G. Sherman, Esq., Counselor-at-Law and Chairman of the Ruling, Unity Party, was or is profound at Tubmanburg, Bomi County, in rising to the call of his duties as the undisputed leader of his Political Party and, also, profound in going beyond the traditional challenges and expectations of a national Orator of Independence Day, when he, Counselor Sherman, delivered the July 26, 2013, National Oration on the topic that “Tomorrow is not an Option”. This topic, a statement that was or is made, in our view, in the effort to address, stimulate/invite reflections and capture, with commitment and diligence in a timely manner, the critical, multi-faceted challenges facing today’s Liberia.
But, upon careful, comprehensive review of the Oration, we must pose this additional question, how does the Counselor propose to perform and achieve defined objectives that he, so eloquently, identified/described in a rational, logical, timely sequential manner, when, in fact, the “Tomorrow” about which he speaks, follows, naturally, the “today” – time, day and date that are all gone, slipped away, with particular respect to the issues now at bar; and, most importantly, given the fact that the Counselor admits that “. . . as a political party . . . (of which the Counselor is Chairman) . . . took the helm of this country after the civil war . . .” for, at least, 8 of the 10 years after the conflict?
In the following pages, however, we present our humble response and suggestive reflections to the Oration, against the background of our nation’s history – past, recent and the prevailing realities of the Day.
The Oration – Need and Purpose
As indicated earlier, July 26 is, simply, the birth anniversary day of the Republic. On this day in the year 1847, the founders, freed, African-American Settlers from the Americas, and Indigenous Africans who lived on this land mass, declared to the world the birth of a nation, the Republic of Liberia, as an independent, sovereign, nation-state. For, these founders had common need and purpose – freedom, justice, equality of treatment and, above all, a place, a nation with recognized, territorial borders in which they may live in peace and security; harmony and the pursuit of happiness; and mutual respect, understanding and co-existence with others.
The leading founders, Settlers from the Americas, were held in slavery, mind-boggling conditions of human bondage, servitude, systematic denial of civil and political liberties and race discrimination. On the African Continent, the resident founders-indigenous Africans labored, for centuries, under the rule of tyrants – tribal chiefs/kings – who, not only excelled in dishing out brutality and injustice, denial of basic, civil liberties, but also used the villages and towns of their rule as population centers preyed upon by slave traders from west and to whom the despotic rulers, as slave merchants, sold their own people as human commodities.
Although there were, naturally, periodic skirmishes between the two groups of Africans, they came to realize and to be convinced that unity was one of the major, necessary preconditions to achieve their common objective and purpose of an independent, sovereign nation with freedom, justice and equality of treatment. Counselor Sherman confirmed that, indeed, July 26 “. . . Independence Day is a day of joy . . . for celebration . . . because we rejoice for the freedom, liberty and justice that independence has bestowed upon us as a people”.
A. Political Governance and Pluralism
Discourse on freedom, justice, equality of treatment and security, as raised and treated by the National Oration about the Republic, a nation comprised by a combination of some 17 ethnic/tribal, socio-cultural groups is, indeed, a discourse on decentralization – pluralism and political governance. For, decentralization – pluralism and local governance – is, and had been, at the core of the critical challenges, in fact, the major factor that confronts this nation, according to our public-service experience.
At this time, during and after the period of 166 years of the founding this nation, a period during which there have been many regional up-risings/resistances, demonstrations, etc. against unjust, socio-economic, political, minority rule, Counselor Sherman asks or wonders, “for our political governance, Liberians (should ?) asked themselves whether the Government of Liberia is sufficiently pluralistic”, and suggests that “. . . decentralization of political governance can be actualized through a combination of constitutional amendments, revision of law and changes in the practices of our leaders”. As citizens, our answer/response to the question (?) or statement (?), given his “confessions” and position in the political community, what did he do about the absence of political pluralism and local governance, and when did he become aware of them?
B. Centralization of Power
The leading founders of the Liberian nation-state, African-American men and women who fled the Americas from systematic denial of justice, freedom, equality of treatment and slavery, humankind’s worst inhumanity to others, crafted and enshrined in our Constitution (Article 3 of 1986 Constitution) a system of Unitary structured governance designed to confer, indeed arrogated to themselves not only a minority system of political rule, but also, a rigid centralization of political, economic and administrative power, vested in an imperial presidency (Article 50 of 1986 Constitution) in far-away, Executive Mansion in Monrovia. Thus, the seed of anger, discontent and others was sown and germinated in public demonstrations, political activism for change – a just, social, economic and political order throughout the 133 years of the history of this nation, but culminated in the violent action of the 1980 Event, the civil war that produced the prevailing conditions of today. The Learned Counselor knows and quoted, ably, in his Oration all of this Liberian History, such that it is not necessary for us or anyone else to burden him and Party with that which they know. But, the nagging questions persist, “what did he do during the 8 years at ‘helm’ of leadership in this country”?
On July 26, 2013, Counselor Sherman intoned, “today, after the nearly 10 years since the last gun was fired (or 10 years after the cessation of armed hostilities) we celebrate Independence Day with the theme ‘Consolidating Peace and Reconciliation for Transformation”. But the Counselor hastened to admit, “But my fellow Liberians, peace and reconciliation can never be achieved, if we ignore what caused our civil war . . . investment in infrastructures, such as road networks . . . public utility and social services, including but not limited to (electric) power, water, sanitation, transportation and telecommunication services as the foundation of economic recovery and national reconstruction”.
While we agree whole-heartedly with the Counselor, Chairman of the Ruling Party and the acclaimed mover, strategist/tactician of the plans/programs of his party government for, at least, the 8 years of his party rule, what did he know, and when did know all of these?
Now, securing and “Consolidating (national) Peace and Reconciliation For Transformation” in our Liberian political community that experienced illegal, armed conflict in which hundreds of thousands of innocent citizens were brutally tortured, maimed, raped and summarily executed, the families of the dead, loved ones, the living victims of this cruel adventure and the confessed, remorseful, guilty perpetrators come together, under the auspices of the national government (that “took over the helm of this country after the civil war . . .” for, at least, 8 of the 10 years after the war) to “settle the quarrel and re-establish friendly relations” – peaceful co-existence, mutual understanding, respect and cooperation – or national reconciliation.
This is done after, not before, reasonable, dedicated and diligent institutional reforms are made, when and where necessary, with the socio-economic well-being of the affected citizens addressed, including application of the recommended roadmap, Transitional Justice approach – the process, from systematic abuse of civil/political rights and post-conflict transition to democracy – designed for even-handed investigations, arrests, free, fair and open trials, conviction and punishment of human rights violators, with amnesties granted to deserving violators, as well as remedy to and satisfaction of the living victims and families of loved ones victimized during the war. As such, reconciliation is a final, end process, not a political party event designed to score political points. But, this approach has not been and is not being applied because, apparently, Counselor Sherman, the Ruling Political Party Chairman and a legal theorist and infinite technician, is opposed to some of the major elements of this roadmap, the Transitional Justice Approach, according to his public declarations.
Although Counselor Sherman admits and is fully aware of the awesome, all-embracing, imperial power of the Liberian presidency, enshrined in our constitution (“ here again, Madam President, everything political must be driven by the Office of the President in this country in order for it to succeed . . .”), he proposes “. . . develop the mechanisms and processes, within the limits of the law and (the same) constitution, to promote the successful decentralization of political governance in our country”. We wonder if this is Lawyerly craftsmanship or the “p o l I t r i c k s” of political double-talk?
At this point, Counselor Sherman raised one of the most important points, the requirement of fiscal responsibility, concerned with decentralization – efficient, transparent management of revenue or income and expenditure – as it relates to the critical success of decentralization.
Indeed, we concur with the Counselor (but disagree with his notion of “presidential supervisory responsibility” over elected officials) that the objective of decentralization is not only the grant of semi-autonomous status or the right/authority of citizens of the political subdivisions to elect their leaders, but also that the grant of that authority comes with the responsibility and capability of the elected/appointed officials to seek, diligently, new, additional sources of revenue to underwrite/manage, efficiently/effectively, the lawfully-defined, socio-economic and political plans/programs/operations of the regional subdivisions.
Perhaps there is, still, lack of understanding of what decentralization is all about or that proponents have not made their argument clear or, maybe, there is a planned, systematic attempt to ignore decentralization by policymakers. In any case, it is very important that we re-visit decentralization in the context of the Oration, since the Counselor dwelt on or raised some theoretical as well as practical questions about decentralization and, for the information of the reading public.
Decentralization: A Re-visit
Some 15 years ago, at Conference vision 2024 held at the Unity Conference Center, Virginia, Liberia, on July 19, 1998, Decentralization was re-introduced in a Paper entitled “Decentralization of Political Power in Liberia: A Framework for Regional Empowerment & Participation in National Decision-Making” and presented at the conference. Based on rural background, years of public service experience and the recent history of our devastating civil conflict, the Paper advanced the notion of decentralization as a new idea, an approach in our search for a viable, national, political option.
The Unitary System of our 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 and emerging “political class” – who, apparently, seem not to be concerned with, recognize or are oblivious to the worldwide, pro-democracy movement, dedicated to the attainment of basic civil liberties of democratic practice.
In the effort to achieve true democracy and the development of the nation’s regional, political subdivisions, prevent and eventually eradicate this panorama of social, economic and political ills intrinsic in the Unitary System and, to ensure free, fair, equal and equitable treatment of all citizens, the Paper suggested and recommended re-division of the nation into four (4), major provinces – Eastern, North Central, South Central and Western Provinces – given the right, authority and status of semi-autonomous governments to elect their local, political leaders, now appointed by “Monrovia”.
Re-division and demarcation of the nation into four, major provinces is inevitable. Our country is a small nation of less than four million people, with land area of some 43,000 square miles. In response to rising expectations and demand by the people, particularly, of rural Liberia, for political inclusion, participation and delivery of public services, President William V. S. Tubman created the first four counties of Grand Gedeh, Nimba, Bong and Lofa in 1964 and predicted that Liberia’s regional, political subdivisions will be re-visited with political power decentralized, sooner or later (Smith, 1964).
This 1964 division of the nation into nine (9) counties recognized the political subdivisions as constituent members of the national government. Although this action marked a significant way forward, the nation has not been able (a), to deliver adequate, public services effectively and efficiently and (b), successive administrations compounded this condition by creation of six (6) additional counties for the total of fifteen (15) counties, with some created on the basis of political party and personal considerations, while others are very small, in terms of geography and population, and lack human and natural resources required and necessary to perform the functions and carry out the responsibilities of a political subdivision effectively and efficiently, as prescribed by the Government Policy on National Decentralization & Local Governance.
Therefore, the Paper called for or proposed re-division of the nation, with amalgamation of the fifteen counties into four, major provinces, bringing together the critical requirements of geography, population, human and natural resources. Moreover, the term or nomenclature of “province” is much more appealing, internationally recognizable and connotes a regional, political subdivision of a federated nation, whereas, a “county” is a sub-structure.
A. The Provinces
Briefly, towards this end, each province shall be comprised of counties or political/administrative sub-structures as presently defined, with criteria for inclusion and boundary demarcation based, primarily, on geography and proximity. Criteria for individual settlement – ethnic/tribal kinship and socio-cultural commonality – shall be left to the citizens’ personal considerations and decisions, consistent with democratic principles of freedom of choice. In the effort to facilitate efficient/effective, reformed administration, particular emphasis shall be placed on population, human and natural resources (of the constituent village, town, clan, chiefdom and district) of the county or province. In this connection, the following distribution of the counties shall apply:
I. Eastern Province
- Grad Gedeh County
- Grand Kru County
- Maryland County
- River Gee County
- Sinoe County
II. North Central Province
- Bong County
- Nimba County
- River Cess County
III. South Central Province
- Grand Bassa County
- Margibi County
- Montserrado County
IV. Western Province
- Bomi County
- Gbarpolu County
- Grand Cape Mount County
- Lofa Cunty
B.Structure Influences Behavior
According to Organization Theory, Structure influences behavior. That is, that the Reporting/Accountability/Organization structure – constitution, bye-laws, rules & regulations of any organization that defines the mission, division of labor, in terms of functional, performance responsibilities and the reporting/accountability relationships – influences or dictates the performance behavior of the individuals in that organization. Similarly, the Unitary Structure of the Liberian Government, defined/prescribed by and enshrined in the Liberian constitution, its characteristic nature of conservatism and rigid centralization of political, economic, administrative and decision-making power, invested in an imperial president who dominated and continues to dominate the national government throughout these 166 years, influenced and created, continues to influence and create social, economic and political inequalities in the nation, with particular reference to economic and political development of rural Liberia. This region of the nation is an estimated 85% of the nation’s total, land mass in which the overwhelming majority of an estimated 90% of the nation’s population lives.
This Unitary structure of our government is outdated, archaic and not, any longer, relevant to the prevailing socio-economic and political conditions/realities of twenty-first century Liberia. Indeed, the system has outlived, clearly, its usefulness and, therefore, should and must be replaced by the much more, democratic system of regional, semi-autonomous, provincial governments, united to form a Liberian federation. Unless and until the unitary structure is replaced by the much more, reasonable, democratic, federal structure, the current efforts being made for “Public Sector Reform” or “decentralization” of political, economic and administrative power, in order to deliver public service efficiently/effectively, is highly likely to fail.
Achieving this goal of decentralization/federalism requires, firstly, repeal and/or amendment of the relevant provisions of the Liberian Constitution (the proverbial first, “single step of a 1,000-mile journey”) in order to be lawful and consistent. In this connection, it is appropriate and important to note that law made by individuals in society is not only to define and equitably regulate interactions and relationships in order to protect and preserve society’s vital interests, but also to protect the Powerless from the Powerful; the Weak from the Strong; and the Disadvantaged Poor from the Privileged Wealthy. As these interactions, relationships and vital interests change over time with complexity, as now, law must, inevitably, change in correspondence. So it is that the Unitary Structure and its supporting laws should and must be repealed.
SHAPE OF SEMI-AUTONOMOUS, PROVINCIAL GOVERNMENT
The organization and structure of the Provincial Government shall be modeled after the present national government of Liberia, particularly, the three, separate and co-equal branches of government – Judiciary, Executive, and Legislature – operating under the doctrine of “separation of powers” with “checks and balances.” In this connection, there shall be a Provincial Executive Branch to be headed by a Governor of the Province, assisted by a Deputy Governor; Provincial Legislative Assembly (houses of representatives and senate) to be headed by a Speaker, assisted by a Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives and President Pro-Temp of the Senate; and a Provincial Judiciary, to be headed by a Provincial Chief Justice.
The Governors and Deputy Governors, Members of the Provincial Legislative Assembly, and other appropriately-defined officials of the Provinces shall be elected by registered voters of the Provinces, while cabinet officials, executives, and other administrators of provincial agencies shall be appointed by the Governors upon senate confirmation.
A. Provincial Cabinet Portfolios (Suggested)
The Governor of the Province shall appoint, with confirmation of the Provincial Senate and have a cabinet comprising, more or less, of the following Portfolios of Commissioner, Department of:
Finance & Economic Planning, Education, Youth & Sports, Public Works , Transport, Agriculture & Forestry, Commerce, Industry & Investment, Labor & Industrial Relations, Health & Social Welfare, Justice, Police & Public Safety, Lands, Mines Energy, Etc.
The Ministries and Agencies having functional responsibilities of national character, significance and relevance such as Foreign Affairs, Justice, National Defense, Posts & Telecommunications, Information & Broadcasting, National Security & National Investigation, Immigration & Citizenship Services, etc. shall be retained at the national level.
However, for obvious reasons, particularly, the need to ensure non-biased, full protection of human, civil, and political rights of traditionally-vulnerable rural citizens, Police and related, traditional law enforcement agencies shall be decentralized. Each Province shall organize and administer its own Police and Public Safety Departments, utilizing the training facilities of the National Police Academy in Monrovia. The National Police approach, organized and presently administered from Monrovia, is woefully inefficient, corrupt and has failed and should be terminated.
Moreover, national jurisprudence – trial & punishment of national offences – shall be retained at the national level. However, the present, national court system involving trial and punishment of local (provincial) offences with judges sent from Monrovia to the counties is, similarly, inefficient, infested with corrupt practices, obsolete and unresponsive. Trial/punishment of local, provincial offences shall, also, be decentralized.
FISCAL POWERS – TAXATION, COLLECTION, EXPENDITURE
Whereas, it is not necessary that a Unitary Government have its taxing, collecting, and spending powers defined and specified by law, in terms of an agreement by and between it and its non-semi-autonomous, constituent members, a federation having semi-autonomous, constituent members, by necessity, must have such powers clearly specified and delineated by law. As a matter of fact, fiscal arrangements – the lawful assignment of taxing, collecting, and expenditure powers – constitute one of the most important reasons and, therefore, the basic, critical requirements for constitutional definitions of respective powers of semi-autonomous, constituent governments which form a federation with the national government.
More important is the fact that in the Liberian context of the Unitary system in which, over time, there has developed, entrenched and exists a culture of monopoly of the taxing, collecting, and spending powers by the unitary government, a condition with results of glaring, unequal and inequitable expenditures on socio-economic developments of the subdivisions, it becomes very important, indeed critical, for decentralization success, that taxing, collecting, and spending powers of the federal as well as the semi-autonomous, constituent, provincial governments be clearly delineated by law.
A. Financing Provincial Government
Consistent with this proposal and the social, economic and political objectives desired, the successful achievement of which depends the survival of our nation, Let it be known that “there shall be no free lunch”. That is, that while regional autonomy offers an exciting, excellent, democratic opportunity for local self-rule, it, also, carries with it the responsibility and ability to underwrite its operations. Indeed, the re-division and amalgamation of the fifteen (15) counties into four (4), major provinces is based on the idea and belief that putting or bringing together larger, geographic areas, having more in population and natural endowment of the human and natural resources required, will ensure adequate financing of local, regional, political subdivisions for socio-economic and political development and sustainability.
While personal and corporate income taxes and royalties on natural resources such as timber, gold, diamond, iron ore, off-shore oil, etc. shall be collected by the national government and shared equitably with the provinces from which such taxes and royalties are collected and natural resources exploited, the provinces shall seek additional tax and other sources of revenue, such as levies on provincial road use, local mining, motor vehicle, driver and other licenses, taxes on properties developed and registered in the provinces and fees for business registration, such as proprietorships, partnerships and corporate charters, should, must shall be vigorously pursued and collected. This example is by no means complete.
B.Primary Benefits of Decentralization/Federalism
Detailed, comparative, cost-benefit analysis of decentralization in socio-economic and political terms, at this point, is beyond the scope of this effort. However, for our immediate purpose and the need to inform, educate, persuade and convince, it is necessary to identify the primary, important benefits for an insight into the prevailing conditions and the logic of our proposal. This information will enable one to reflect, momentarily, on the crucial, national decisions now being made by “Monrovia” without the objective input by the vast majority of the Liberian people and the impact upon the development of the nation and the well-being of its people.
First, though legitimate under the present system of government, these decisions have profound, negative impact upon regional, indigenous citizens. The decisions include arrest and detention; trial and punishment; recruitment, selection and placement in suitable positions in national as well as county/provincial governments; taxation, collection, and expenditure; lack of access to quality education, healthcare and social welfare; unequal, inequitable, social and economic development of the subdivisions, including the coastal counties; and unequal protection of the law and the absence of national communications – all-weather highways/roads that drive national/international trade and commerce which, in turn, drive the economy by increased, efficient production and exchange of goods and services.
Second, local/regional semi-autonomy will afford officials of the provinces the opportunity to make many appointments; in other words, provincial administrations will assume the responsibility to provide employment opportunities for citizens of their provinces, thus eliminating perceived/real discrimination against regional citizens in employment. These employment opportunities will include appointments to provincial cabinets at top, middle, lower ministerial, director, and manager levels. In each of these many areas, there will be the need for thousands of support staff, recruited in the provinces or citizens of the provinces recruited from outside.
Third, there will also be Provincial, Legislative Assemblies and Judiciary branches of the Provincial governments. The provincial legislative assembly will need assemblymen and assemblywomen, while the Judiciary will need lawyers for judges as well as district, county, and provincial attorneys These appointments will be made by the provincial governments utilizing citizens of the provinces and others in general.
Fourth, decentralization/federalism will encourage and support pluralistic political process, democratization and decentralized, local governance, because it recognizes ethnic/tribal diversity and the right of participation in decision-making, designed to protect and safeguard the interests of citizens.
Fifth, and most importantly, decentralization/federalism will provide provincial, employment opportunities which, in turn, will serve as a beacon to attract qualified provincial professionals, now living in Monrovia and elsewhere, to return to their home provinces. They will return, take up employment, build homes, and contribute to provincial development. In this way, social, economic and political progress of the provinces will take on improved and meaningful scope; thus, reducing and eventually eradicating “rural, brain-drain and migration”, and the painful exodus of rural dwellers to urban centers with which some are unprepared to cope, in terms of marketable skills necessary for socio-economic survival. Moreover, this approach will ease and eventually eradicate the socio-economic condition of the city of Monrovia which is now breaking it at its seams with the unprecedented influx of economic (in search of education & employment) and political (who fled from the brutalities of the civil war) migrants into the city.
Sixth, with a national illiteracy rate of about 75% and upwards of about 80% un-informed among the indigenous citizens, an overwhelming majority of the nation’s population, decentralization/federalism will accelerate education which, in turn, will provide the necessary, important information that unreasonable political agitation which, more often than not, leads to violence and crime, hardly lays the foundation for the introduction and establishment of a just and lasting, social order under the rule of law.
And Seventh, decentralization/federalism will provide reasonably clear, recognized, lawfully enforced and accepted boundary demarcations for resolution of the prevailing conflicts/confusions and disputes between communities and farm land owners, arising from non-existent, deficient and/or lack of boundary demarcations.
Significantly, it was the inequity of the present, highly-centralized rule that gave rise to the formation and establishment of the first four, new counties in hinterland Liberia, with legislative representation for the hinterland, political subdivisions in 1964.
Now Counselor Sherman noted concerns about relieving the pressures – socio-economic and political – on our Capital City of Monrovia, pressures due to the negative impact or consequences of public policy confusions, contradictions, such as those that he, so eloquently, described. These include, for our Capital City, the following:
- Rapid population growth and urbanization, in the absence or lack of the required planning, regulation and control.
- Population movements with the rise of the “consumption generation”, without production.
- Rural-to-urban migration which gave rise to the prevailing, socio-economic and political constipation of the City of Monrovia, with urban transport nightmare, rendering the capital city over-populated, congested and ungovernable.
- The celebrated, uncontrollable, Monrovia Street-selling as the natural outcome.
- The 24-hour, Monrovia bumper-to-bumper, traffic jam, arising from the phenomenal increase in the volume of vehicular/pedestrian traffic, with no roads/streets to ply. Apparently, all vehicles imported to Liberia are concentrated in the Monrovia area because of the critical absence of roads/highways in rural Liberia.
- Other county dwellers, especially rural, migrate to Monrovia to avail themselves of employment/economic, educational, and personal growth and developmental opportunities.
In the light of these foregoing conditions, “we submit to” Counselor Sherman and Party, that it is, indeed, reasonable to conclude that the rational resolution of Liberia’s major socio-economic and political problems lies in the application of the most, modern, tried & tested theory and successful practice of classical democratic thought and organizational practice – Administrative, Financial, Economic, Political and Decentralization/Federalism.
Efficiently/effectively and diligently managed, with socio-economic and political incentives designed to attract, not only Monrovia street-sellers, but also, all other, rural migrants, including nurses, doctors, engineers, lawyers, educators/academicians, business managers, economists, investment promoters, information technologists, etc., here, in Monrovia and elsewhere, back to their home counties, including entrepreneurs wishing to emigrate, Decentralization is the rational approach for the resolution of our social, economic and political under-development.
Although this concept and approach may not solve all of Liberia’s problems, but it will, certainly, go a long way in resolving the nation’s major, often contested issue of political power (with untold human and material sacrifices as we have already experienced), local self-rule or political participation, with the critical ability for political compromise, give-and-take, the CHANGE for which the April 12, 1980 Event took place.
Indeed, in practical terms and perception, corruption is or has become “Liberia’s public enemy No. 1”, according to the nation’s current President (although we disagree with this assessment because corruption is an effect, not a cause). In any case, because of the incidence of this vice and its “Liberian” uniqueness, corruption has become the popular subject for newspaper headlines, radio and television talk-shows, talk of the Capital City and the nation. It spilled over into the national Oration, like other socio-economic and political challenges of our time.
Expressing his concerns about corruption like many other Liberians, but on that Day in the City of Tubmanburg, said Counselor Sherman, “Madam President, something similarly new, different and aggressive must be employed to tackle corruption in Liberia, or else the ‘talk and talk, and talk, about corruption will overshadow all our achievements . . . there is something that we have not done right or . . . that we ought to do that we have not done, that makes our people . . . to criticize us for corruption in our society . . . If corruption remains on the lips (and minds) of our people the day you (Madam President) retire from office in January 2018 . . . our legacy as a Political Party, the Unity Party, which took over the helm of this country after the civil war, will be marred forever. Our country cannot be transformed when public service is evaluated by the Liberian people at large as the place where corruption exists and is perceived as a matter of course and with impunity”.
Accordingly, the Counselor-at-Law suggested, among others, in his lawyerly fashion that:
1. “. . . I strongly believe that prosecutorial powers to the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) will expedite the management of corruption matters. So, I recommend to you (‘as everything political must be driven by the office of the President in this country in order for it to succeed. . .’) and members of the Legislature to reconsider . . . and pass the necessary law to enable us to move vigorously fight corruption in our country”.
2. “We conduct a study of how countries, similarly situated as ours, managed to reduce the incidence of corruption or stamp it out completely. Our LACC should be staffed by men and omen who are not only capable and qualified, but in whom you (Madam President) personally have the strongest confidence . . .”.
3. “We need to change the conversation . . . the debate. We need for the Liberian people to talk about your (Madam President’s) achievements . . . in tackling corruption just as your achievements . . . in getting our international debt waived”.
My response or answer, if asked, will be an unequivocal “none of the above”. Here are the reasons:w
First, there has been and is an entrenched tug-of-war, for prosecutorial turf between the Ministry of Justice, the official, legal prosecutorial arm of the government, and the LACC, a sort of a watch-dog agency against corruption, with cabinet rank, for prosecution of suspects accused of corruption. Both LACC and the Ministry of Justice are members of the Executive Branch of Government. The fight for turf went before the National Legislature in the form of an Act submitted by the President, seeking legislation to empower LACC prosecutorial authority. In this contest, the Legislature, in rejecting the Act, is aligned with the lawyers from the Ministry of Justice, an Executive Branch member, against LACC and the President, Head of the Branch. Therefore, there is no legal grounds, whatsoever, to pursue a rejected issue.
Further, there is, absolutely, need to hire additional “capable and qualified staff”. The current executive head of LACC is an experienced attorney, former Justice of the Supreme Court and former head of the National Elections Commission. Nor is there the need to “conduct a study (another international, expensive, wasteful adventure of needed capital) of other countries of how” to deal effectively with public/private dishonesty. For, we have the talent and well-paid professionals.
Our major problem is the awesome power of Corruption, Inc. today in Liberia. At or about the time that the President’s Act went before the Legislature or there about, the FY 2012-2013 National Budget went before the Senate for hearings/approval. Informed, verified reports revealed a “a tip of the iceberg” of hundreds of thousands of US dollars allocated as salary/wage allowances in several, unexplained categories, in favor of all executives of government ministries, agencies, the Legislature and state enterprise executives.
Second, Liberia needs NO new laws to arrest, detain and prosecute suspects charged with theft, fraud and deceit involving a few or billions of dollars, a high-profile, elegantly-attired person or the average Joe Blow next door. We have the necessary laws, already, on the books. But what Liberia needs, and needs desperately, first, is honesty, commitment, patriotism; second, is trial lawyers, judges and police officers. Government lawyers, ministers and judges are well-paid (salary/wage allowance recipients, already) enough to perform assigned duties with honesty and diligence.
Finally, there is a compelling need, at this moment, for comprehensive review of the salary/wage allowance “allocations”. There is an apparent, massive abuse of this necessary, lawful system. We published a tip of the iceberg of this abuse last month. Corruption, Inc. has infiltrated all business – trade, commerce and industrial, including the insurance companies and banks (they transfer all the huge sums, in billions of US dollars earned in Liberia, out of Liberia).