The Liberian Government under the auspices of its Governance Commission recently held a policy retreat in Gbarnga, Bong County to discuss and finalize a document it termed “Vision 2030.” Held under the theme, “Consolidating citizen-center development,” the conference brought together several stakeholders including some members of political parties, lawmakers, officials of government and youth representatives.
This latest development is once again being hailed by some as the best thing that has come out of the current administration; a government that has been accused of corruption, nepotism, and tokenism. However, some Liberians are skeptical of the viability of “Vision 2030” and how it would translate into reducing poverty, improving living conditions, and creating equality for all –which are the underlying themes of the nation founding fathers’ vision.
From a historical perspective, Liberia has seen many visions come and with little to no tangible development achievements to show for it. While some past governments had managed modest achievements, others have failed miserably in terms of improving basic living conditions for a nation of less than four million people.
In order to begin laying the ground work for a successful implementation of “Vision 2030”, it is incumbent upon government to set the stage by addressing some of the following critical issues of national significance. Let’s begin with the big four that are of outmost importance:
1) Make education and job creation priority number one: If we are to learn from history, we know that a nation that does not educate its citizens is unable to efficiently manage its own affairs. A nation that cannot manage its own affairs becomes a takeover target for profiteers and corporate hawks who seek to maximize profits with little or no investments, with no regard for what the consequences would be for the locals.
The high level of illiteracy and inadequacy in formal education continue to only empower a minority group, who maintains a firm grip on power and share more than 90% of the country’s wealth through riches passed on to them, wealth acquired in illicit dealings, embezzlement, and corruption. The nation’s resources – it human capital – if harnessed to its fullest potential, can help alleviate poverty in a very short period.
There are a number of strategies that are critical in harnessing the brain power of Liberians that would help break us away from the past. For example, the Government of Liberia, in partnership with qualified Liberian individuals and institutions, including those in the Diaspora, and the nation’s development partners could implement the following programs – a way forward to alleviating the high employment and crime rates:
· Set-up vocational training centers around the country where unemployed high school and college graduates can acquire technical skills in computer literacy, basic accountancy, drafting, carpentry, masonry, small businesses start-up, agriculture training, etc.;
· Institute a program that guarantee the reimbursement of student loans for advanced degree holders (Masters and PhDs) and/or students in the process of obtaining advanced degrees in key sectors that will spur development. This would enable qualified and skilled Liberians to return home to help in the development process.
2) Government should not be losing the war on corruption. I have heard some high ranking Liberian government officials say that corruption in Liberia is systemic and that everyone is corrupt in the country. I may not agree with such a statement, but I personally do believe that government needs to be seen as winning “the war on corruption” by doing a number things well:
· The non-existence of strong government systems in any nation encourages corruption at every level. The Liberian Government can learn from this experience and invest in system(s) automation and one-stop-shop processing centers for all government agencies at Finance, Commerce, Health Ministries, National Port Authority, and among others. The foregoing will not only diminish corruption, but it will also cut waste and increase productivity.
· Reduce waste in government by eliminating “pork-barrel” spending on non-essential goods and services like gasoline and phone cards for ministers and elected officials of government, and etc.
3) Small businesses are at the mercy of big corporations in Liberia. Small businesses are the engines of growth in many prosperous economies like those of the United States, Europe, Ghana and Senegal, just to name a few. As for the Liberian economy, the nation’s economy seems to be mineral and mining intensive.
Companies have been mining Liberia’s iron ore, gold, and silver, and have cut down large swatches of forests for more than a century, yet the socioeconomic conditions of ordinary Liberians remain in dire straits. Old strategies of economic growth must be adapted to meet the realities of the 21st century, including, but not limited to the following:
· Revamp the “Liberianization Policy” by assisting more Liberian-owned businesses, while providing skills training to encourage more locals to become entrepreneurs and business owners.
· Seek policies that will create pools of Liberian business owners through “crowd sourcing” in real estate development, import/export, artisanal work groups, and etc. Such initiatives would spark “wealth creation” for generations to come.
4) Separation of power must be respected and practiced while strengthening the Judicial Branch of Government: Liberia needs a strong and an independent judiciary that does not only enforce the nation’s laws, but that also helps the country shed its image as “a place where the rich can buy justice.”
· Enforce the law to the letter when it comes to land ownership and sale, taxes, bidding processes and purchase of goods and services, etc. This will ease tribal tensions and foster equity and transparency in government.
· The Liberian government must be proactive in the pursuit of justice against officials of government accused of embezzling public funds and if convicted, government should seek and find their overseas bank accounts and have the monies returned for development projects. When this is done, it will send a clear message to all corrupt officials that there is no where they can hide the stolen wealth. Future government officials will be on a radar watch. Zambia once recovered $60 million in assets stolen by government officials during Frederick Chiluba’s presidency. Nigeria has reported successes and Egypt is currently pursing ill-gotten wealth from former officials of Mubarak government.
In addition to what I term the “Big Four Issues” enumerated above, there must be political will at every level for “Vision 2030” to have any chance of success. The current administration must muster the courage and reach out to all groups and political parties who have been left out in the cold in the ongoing deliberations. By doing so is in no way a sign of weakness, but rather wisdom and knowledge in leading Liberia to the “promised land.”
There will be a rocky road ahead for the successful achievement of “Vision 2030.” However, if the government and the people of Liberia must dream of a new nation that is united in diversity; a nation that is prosperous; and where “everyone gets a fair shot” at success regardless of ethnic background or political affiliation, the government and people of Liberia must begin to lay the ground work through real measurable actions, not mere rhetoric. If anything falls of these recommendations as outlined herein, “Vision 2030” would be another document that has been crafted with brilliancy, but with no real achievement to show for it.
Let’s hope not to have to start over in 2017!
The Author is a community activist and founder of The Voice of Liberia (www.voiceofliberia.org). He is a survivor of the Liberian civil war and has written extensively on his country recent past. He can be reached via email: firstname.lastname@example.org