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Developing Liberia is a National Emergency: Reasons for Underdevelopment of Liberia

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By Hun-Bu Tulay/ntevoma@gmail.com

Liberia has remained underdeveloped even though it has vast natural resources (gold, diamonds, timber, fertile soil for agriculture, etc.). The county’s leaders have for the better part of 174 years gone out begging for assistance. Our leaders have failed to maximize the potential we have of becoming a great nation. They wait for instructions from power leaders and nations to tell them what is good. The country got political independence 174 years ago but yet she is an economic slave. She entered bigot concession agreements and gave the right of our resources to companies owned by former slave masters.

The former masters control the economy, hence dictate to politicians what is good for their people. They make us believe that nothing good comes from Africa (foods, clothes, drinks, education, etc.). These leaders spend over 50% of the national budget to purchase foreign items thereby creating jobs in the former colonial masters’ countries to their detriment. The youths are poorly educated, the streets are poorly constructed, the hospitals are poorly managed and the youths go without jobs.

These leaders are satisfied with the situation in the country because they loot the resources and they have the funds to travel to foreign lands for good medical treatment, send their children to foreign counties for schools. In the words of Donald Trump African countries have become shithole countries.  When Trump said this, they thwacked him. This is what the late Kwame Nkrumah wrote about 52 years ago when he published the book “Neocolonialism and The Last Day of Imperialism”. The late Dr. Nkrumah predicted what is happening today. Our leaders of today have faded memories. Many of them have mansions in foreign countries.

The country remains underdeveloped even after political independence many years ago.  Whenever one tunes his/her radio or television, he or she hears one of the poorest countries are in Africa (Liberia second poorest in South Sahara Africa), and the most underdeveloped are also in Africa despite the numerous natural resources of some of these countries, and the most corrupt countries are in Africa. The ‘WHY’ of this phenomenon has jaded my little mind and I have tried to answer the question.  

Unlike Liberia, some countries in Africa are developing much faster than others. I once asked a friend this question and he said to me that many people in Africa, particularly government officials who should champion development do not allocate resources for programs/infrastructural development. He further said in many Africa cities, if one traveled and returned twenty years later, he would not see any change in the neighborhood where he left after years of absence.  To prove or disprove him, I visited Soniwein, a small community behind AME University on Camp Johnson Road, where I once lived 50 years ago and realized my friend was right.

The purpose of this article is to share my answer to the question ‘Why’ Liberia continues to remain underdeveloped. The answer to the ‘why’ has always been under our noses and yet we cannot see it. We have been blinded for over 100 years. To answer the question, I first want to ask many of our political actors and even our intellectuals if they have seen and read a book titled “Small is Beautiful” by Ernst Frederich Shumaecher, published in 1973. In this book, the author identified the greatest enemies of development. He identified these enemies as Envy and Greed. The author said that these two human vices if systematically cultivated, the inevitable result is nothing less than the collapse in human intelligence.

Political actors driven by these human vices lose the power to see things as they really are. And if a nation is infected by these vices, the political actors become increasingly incapable of solving the nation’s most ‘elementary’ problems of the everyday existence of the people. These vices make political actors live on ideas that conflict with the constitution and laws governing the country and the universe. Whenever a nation reaches this stage, conflict abounds, because the people will demand answers from their political leaders.

Hence it was not surprising to many people the events of the 1979 Rice Riot, the 1980 Coup d’état, and the 1990 popular uprising that resulted in the killing of over 250,000 Liberians and the destruction of the very fabric of our society (health care, water and sanitation services, the energy sector, education, agriculture and basic infrastructures (roads and bridges).

When former masters realized that our leaders are covetous and greedy, they identified those leaders that are envious and greedy and used them to unseat progressive Leaders, who wanted and want to develop the country. The first Coup d’état in Liberia happened 150 years ago and it has continued. Even some of the civic crises and conflicts in Liberia are masterminded by the former masters for their interest.

Over the past 150 years, since the first military coup d’état, many African countries have declined economically, socially, educationally, and infrastructurally. However, some have bent back and are on course. For example, Ghana has recovered and has achieved its vision of 2020. In the case of Liberia, she has not. She has mortgaged her seaport, energy sector to the former colonial masters. Just investigate, who are the individuals behind the ATM Terminal contract and the LEC Management Contract.

In respect of infrastructure, before the military coup d’état, most of the road networks in Liberia were not paved, but even a sedan could be driven from Monrovia to Harper or Foya in under two days. Today, 41 years later, even 4×4 vehicles take more than a week to cover the distance to these cities. Things have gotten worse over the past sixteen years.

These two human vices give birth to egocentricity and corruption. I will address each of these for the reading public to understand.

  1. Egocentricity

In many African countries, the national budgets are drafted to give worth to political actors. Just review the salaries and wages of these actors. The employees/compensations are often 50% plus of the national budgets and the lion’s share goes to the members of the parliament, the presidents, and the ministers. Some countries have approved national budgets between US$500 to 600 million and employees’ compensations are US$296.0 million (56.22%). There are No budget lines for programs and as a result, the educational, agriculture, health, and infrastructure sectors are in deplorable condition.  In some countries, the conditions are so bad that you might want to send your ‘dog’ for treatment in the clinic or health center.

Even if the revenue envelope dropped from US$600 million to US$535 million these political actors do not adjust their salaries and wages, what is interesting is that they in fact increased the salaries and wages and sometimes introduced budget lines to get more money in their pockets. It is often the donor partners that raised the Red Flag and because they want the donor partners to support the budget, they complied with whatever is recommended by the partners. Some Finance and Economic Development ministers sometimes claimed a budget surplus.  But nobody sees the impact because salaries of the government employees continue to be delayed in the wake of the surplus.

I do not know how many of our political actors have this book by Robert Kiyosaki and Sharon Lechter “Rich Dad Poor Dad”. In the book, the authors suggested that whenever a person’s financial situation changes, he/she needs to adjust his/her expenditures. It is only men and women of greed that fail to do this. 

Many of the political actors in Liberia believe that their country is a middle-income country. This notion is false. It is time to face the truth.  Only a few countries in Africa are working toward becoming middle-income country and Liberia is not one of those countries. The Sirleaf Administration developed Vision 2030 (Making Liberia a Middle-Income). Country by 2030). The projected cost of achieving this vision was estimated to be US$5.0 billion.  If we as a country had aligned our national budget on some of the activities instead of developing new goals and vision, we would be moving in the right direction. This is what Ghana did to all succeeding governments after Jerry Rawling for the 2020 vision plan. Today, she is 90% there. Until African Leaders begin to continue what their predecessors started, many countries will continue to be underdeveloped. 

  • Corruption

Corruption has many definitions but for the purpose of this article, we will look at two definitions. Corruption is defined by the World Bank as a form of dishonesty or criminal offense which is undertaken by a person or organization that is entrusted with a position of authority, in order to acquire illicit benefit or abuse power for one’s private gain. Another definition is the abuse of entrusted power for private gain. Both definitions apply to the abuse of power for private gain.

In Liberia, those who are entrusted to allocate the resources for the development often allocate those resources for private gains. For example, such budget lines, Presidential Projects and Legislative Engagement, as well as the Legislative projects. These funds go directly to them. They are thereby putting money in their pockets and making them wealthy. If funds are allocated to such projects, how much is left for government projects? Absolutely little or nothing. During the days of Kwame Nkrumah, Sekou Toure, Tubman, Tolbert, Doe, Siaka Stevens, etc., all the late presidents never allocated funds for presidential projects. This is new in Africa. This new act on the part of Political Leaders is not corruption but BROAD DAYLIGHT STEALING of the RESOURCES.  Are the Legislators and the presidents of these countries beneficially? The answer is yes. Hence this is an act of corruption as by the World Bank’s definition.

Corruption erodes trust, weakens democracy, hampers economic development, and further exacerbates inequality, poverty, social division, and environmental crisis. These budget lines put thousands of dollars in the pockets of these actors and no budget line for programs to uplift the ordinary citizens from poverty; hence, the citizens go to them begging for handouts. They become demigods/slave masters for the ordinary citizens.

These actors also allocate huge quantities of petroleum products to themselves. In some countries, members of parliament/legislators allocate 500 gallons of petroleum products monthly (the equivalent of US$1,600.00). Some of them even said this quantity is small. In countries, they received gifts to ratify concession agreements.

For example, in 2006, the Legislators of Liberia received 103 pickup trucks from ArcelorMittal while this company’s concession agreement was under review by these lawmakers. Immediately upon the receipt of the pickup trucks, the concession agreement was ratified within 48 hours. This is corruption. It is alleged that all68 concession agreements entered into during Sirleaf’s Administration, were embroidered with incentives for each ratification, and that is why sixty-six of the sixty-eight concession agreements did not meet international standards or best practices. 

If those that have oversight are corrupted what hope is there a corrupt free government?

In the 1970s and 1980s corruption in the Legislature was not heard of.  Maybe there was, but at low key. Corruption was mainly in the Executive Branch of the Government (Ministries and Autonomous Agencies). When the coup d’état occurred on April 12, 1980 in Liberia, the military leaders said they overthrew the Tolbert Government because of Rampant Corruption and Nepotism.

A year after the coup d’état, a United States Technical Advisor assigned to the Ministry of Finance wrote that during the Tolbert Administration the door of corruption was wide enough for a Volkswagen to drive through but under the Doe Administration it was wide for Helicopters to fly through. President Sirleaf labeled corruption as a Vampire. She once said “I did not give it to them, they took it”; reference to the benefits of the Legislators in the National budget. Under the Weah Administration, the corruption door is so wide that the largest Cruise Ship, the Harmony of the Sea can easily ship through. During the Doe Administration corruption was only rampant in the Executive; during the Sirleaf, Administration corruption extended its tentacles in Legislature, and under the Weah Administration corruption has extended its tentacles in Judiciary for the first time in the history of Liberia. It is alleged that all three Branches of Government are deemed corrupt to the extent even the children can discern this national anomaly.

The Chief Justice of the country has confirmed that some judges are corrupt. But this same Chief Justice requested the United State Treasury Department to give names of judges that were bribed.  With this assertion and confirmed revelation, this means the nation is in very serious trouble.  The Chief Justice also failed to give the names of corrupt judges.  Fundamentally, this admittance is enough to impeach the Chief Justice because he failed to recommend the impeachment of those judges that are corrupt. Simply put, corruption has become an epidemic.

This nation does not need handouts to finance its development programs.  All the country needs are financial discipline, probity, and the recruitment of individuals who want to serve and not those who want to acquire wealth unscrupulously. Undoubtedly, a government job is for service to the country. If we look at the budget for example, as mentioned earlier, for the 2017/2018 fiscal year, the national budget was US$526,000,000.00 and employees’ compensation was US$296,000,000.00 or 56.22%. The best practice is to allocate 30% for employees’ compensation (US$157,800,000.00). This is a savings of US$138,200,000.00. Imagine what this can do for the infrastructure in respect of the construction of roads and bridges. This amount can pave 138 or 150 kilometers of road per year. The 138 kilometers cover from Ganta to Fish Town and Zwedru to Greenville respectively. Is it possible to sacrifice for the next ten years to enable the paving of all primary roads connecting the county’s capitals? This we must do in order to reduce the hardship on our citizens instead of our leaders being egotistic.

  • Sacrifices are needed to achieve development needs of the people

For the past 173 plus years, particularly during the past 15 years the political actors have looted the resources for their benefit not for the benefit of the people. US$292.00 million of US$535.00 million of the national budget for compensation does not represent a government serious about uplifting ordinary Liberians from poverty.

The Poor -Poor Agenda for Transformation should be reflected in the national budget. We do not see this. All good managers allocate around 30% of the budget for compensation. Developing Liberia is a National Emergency. If we do this, US$138.00 million will be freed and this can be allocated for programs that would outlift the ordinary Liberians.

If the political actors want to make the present salaries and benefits, they will provide better oversight and pass laws to increase the revenue envelope. And for them to make the current salaries and benefits the revenue envelope needs to be increased to US$995.00 million. We believe this can be done and we need to work toward this.

If we make this sacrifice for 10 years and become financially disciplined, we will achieve the goal of making this country a middle-income country. In the 2015/2016 National Budget, the compensation was 40.5% or US$252 million and the budget was US$622.743 million. Since 2015, the national budget continues to decrease but the compensation has continued to increase. For example, in 2018-2019 the national budget was US$526 million and in 2019-2020 it was US$535 million but the compensation was US$296 and US$295 million or 56.22% and 53.55% respectively.

We Liberians are willing to make the sacrifices to develop the country. Any sacrifice we need to make for the development of the country is worth it.

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