Legislate Counties and Local Government Codes to Measure with 21st Century Governing Realities: Findley’s and Tyler’s Legislators’ Challenge
Liberia’s development processes demand a new outlook of governing strategies which has to reflect 21st century realities. The absence of progressive interior development agenda and the continue utilization of century old foundations has impeded and will impede counties and local development growth which had and continues to cause urban migration and overpopulation of the capital.
During the Tubman’s and Tolbert’s administrations, counties experienced minor changes in infrastructures when either the President’s birthday or independence day was scheduled in the counties on rotational basis. Budget appropriation to counties was infinitesimal and lacked the requirements for major or demanding developments. Counties and local governments’ budgets for roads, health deliveries, education and other social services were infused in the national budget and controlled by government departments or ministries as the nomenclature has now taken. This trend has not significantly been altered.
Thus, superintendents were at the mercies of heads of departments or ministries. Under such condition with its high bureaucratic complications, local and county developments were at slow and unprogressive growth pace. Today, counties have more primitive look and poverty litter in towns and villages as if they belong to the days when Liberia was called the Grain Coast. Moreover, businesses and industries operating in those counties and local government areas were and are also subject to central control while tax or revenues allocation did not and have not taken cognizance of the production or wealth creation areas. As such, no major benefits affected the development growth of the citizens of those areas. This trend also has not significantly changed though some progress are being made.
Agriculture sectors were at major disadvantages and caused rural citizens to live on subsistence farming. Reliability of agricultural services and rice production has and continues to be provided through foreign importations with heavy subsidy burdens on the national economy. This meant that GOL resources were somehow wrongfully directed and the economy became reliant on foreign investors. Liberia’s economy is still struggling for redemption under the control of foreigners.
Economists believe the incapacitation of citizens and the political formation which national policies have been derived over the years have instituted a tradition so powerful to overcome and so potent to draw the nation out of the web of poverty and underdevelopment. Liberians must take cognizance of the fact that this political tradition has infected and infested social orientations and progress and de-stimulated development for so long to devastating national tragedies. The process should be disengaged for a more fulfilling and progressive Liberia that compares with the modernity of other nations, they advise.
As President Sirleaf begins another term of office which in fact is her last and only opportunity to transform Liberia’s governing processes as her legacy. Policies which created the feelings of rural abandonment and intense central control have to be revisited. If this does not happen in her administration, her legacy would be the continuity of former administrations that left behind trails of disaffections, and movements for another revolution. The solution would therefore be an effective and transparent decentralization that would alter counties and local governance from what it had been. In the past, changes made on the surface without deeply reviewing the real problems were described by Dr. Amos Sawyer, the late Baccus Mathews and supporters such as Blamo Nelson and others as cosmetic.
The National Legislature in conjunction with the Executive Branch through the Ministry of Internal Affairs must begin to think and enact laws that will establish Counties and Local Government CodeS that would give empowerment for local development and governing. The responsibilities of Legislators are to dig deeply and understand the problems that affect development in their constituencies and have vision and foresight to overcome them. In other words, their concentration must be diverted from much media promotion and official functions to tackling genuine problems that would translate their constituencies from a primitive look and a begging poverty stricken people and undeveloped towns to one that drags Liberia proudly into 21st century development.
Controversial and political goal scoring bills and pronouncements do not suggest a hardworking Legislature. Debating budgetary allocations for the counties and ignoring the passage of revenue allocation laws that make budgetary transfers to counties and local governments based on taxes and accumulated revenues from industries operating there which should form the basis for counties and local governments development plans cannot be said to be hard working.
A county and local governing code has to adopt some degrees of autonomy such as empowerment to create and manage wealth; powers to levy taxes on certain businesses; controlling its finances from such revenues; giving eminent domain; having budgetary allocations, equipments, funding, personnel and other resources controlled by ministries transferred to them in an orderly and systematic way. Further, local government councils should be policies and programmes implementing bodies and national laws determining how local government resources are spent should be passed. There should also be County Health Boards; Tax and Revenue Boards, health boards, local peace councils, economic zones with some autonomy and other essential units that make the decentralization programme work. The Internal Affairs Minister has a responsibility to ensure this.
Without genuine decentralization and financial management requirements and privileges extended to counties and local governments, reliability on meager budgetary allocations and lack of participation in concession agreements affecting their localities as well as a fraction of royalty will continue to hinder county and local administrations. They will continue to have no economy, no budgetary and development plans derived from their own peculiar needs. This is not proposing a federal system; but one that will reduce absolute reliance on central government.
An analyst says the huge concentration of responsibilities on central institutions is responsible for neglect for rural development needs and breeds inefficiencies and to an extent, corruption. Article 34 of the Liberian Constitution gives enormous powers to the Legislature to deal with the defects. I think it is a violation of the constitution to ignore or breach same. Internal Affairs Minister Blamo Nelson has a great opportunity to fulfill his revolutionary pledge to Liberians as one of the progressives at the time by submitting a comprehensive decentralization plan to the President that does not store enormous powers to himself but one that devolute substantial and uncosmetic powers to counties and local administration.
On the other hand, President Protemp Findley and Speaker Tyler need to redirect debates and bills to substantive areas that would leave a solid foundation for other administrations to build on when President Sirleaf leaves. Cabinet Ministers need to take a re-look at their operating plans submitted to the President and understand that the wars that were fought were predicated on a few persons controlling the destiny of so many in a wrongful and insensitive direction. This is a serious matter and as soon as we grasp the realities of making counties and local governing structures more independent and resourceful, they will be making a super jump to an unfulfilled legacy for Madam President.