In the article under the headline quoted above (New Dawn, February 7, 2013) the newspaper reported that “The Constitution Review Commission’s two days symposium was money spent in the right direction. Since the Liberian civil war, it seems that the review process is the first substantive move to deal with causative factors which led to the Liberian conflagration”.
The Critical Issues
Indeed, there are several, multi-faceted, critical challenges facing twenty-first century Liberia. However, of all of these challenges, none, in our view, is much more initial, immediate, demanding and pressing for peaceful solution/resolution of the many challenges than the prevailing, rapid population growth, urbanization (rural to urban migration), consumption-without-production, etc., etc., the result of more than a century of in-attention to rural Liberia, where the overwhelming majority of the nation’s population lives, and where the known natural resources of the nation are located – decentralization of political, economic and administrative power.
The Preamble to the Policy on Decentralization Provides:
• “. . . Since 1847 and throughout the history of Liberia, governance and public administration have remained highly centralized in Monrovia and controlled mainly by institutions and structures of the central state which have not allowed adequate legal opportunities for the establishment of a system of participatory local governance”.
• “. . . The highly centralized system of governance has impeded popular participation and local initiative, especially in the provision of public goods and services, and has contributed to the need for greater accountability and transparency in the management of public affairs and led to the gap in economic growth and development, equal access to social and economic opportunities and human wellbeing between Monrovia and the rest of Liberia”.
• “ . . . These conditions have slowed down Liberia’s overall economic growth and development and democratization process, leading to underinvestment in human resources and human wellbeing throughout the Republic.”
• “. . . The Government of Liberia realizes the need to ensure greater participation of the Liberian people in their own development process and for equitable distribution of the nation’s resources so as to ensure a more wholesome process of development and democratic governance.”
• “ . . . The Government of Liberia . . . committed to perfect the unity of the Republic by providing equal opportunity for all of its citizens to engage in the governance of their affairs thereby promoting local self-governance through the sharing of political, fiscal and administrative powers with county authorities through the devolution of certain political, fiscal and administrative powers and institutions from the national government to the county governments”.
However, since the founding of this nation 166 years ago, political, economic and administrative power has been, and continues to be, rigidly concentrated in, controlled and dispensed from the Republic of Monrovia, consistent with the doctrine of Unitary-structured governance, with socio-economic development, such as education, trade and commerce (import/export), minor industrial development centralized, also, in Monrovia. Meanwhile, there has been little or no meaningful, socio-economic and political development undertaken in rural Liberia – educational, agricultural, industrial, trade and commerce and communication system of all-weather roads/highways, the most important and required “Multiplier effect” in national, economic development for production and exchange of goods and services, both national and international.
Moreover, the administration of counties – the national, constituent, political sub-divisions and their sub-structures which, together, constitute the Republic, are caught in vicious shackles of policy contradictions and confusions due to policies made and dispensed by bureaucrats in Monrovia, sitting in their offices, creating more, new sub-structures such as clan and paramount chiefdoms, townships, administrative and statutory districts, in addition to existing sub-structures created by ancient, Liberia Law governing Hinterland Liberia, without the benefit of current, research information.
In her most recent, Annual Message delivered on January 28, 2013, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was constrained to draw national attention to this, disabling condition when she observed that “. . . the challenges of the Decentralization Policy . . . the present local (in the counties) governance structures are bloated, and difficult to manage. For example, there are more than 149 cities – 33 in Sinoe (County) . . . 93 Administrative Districts; 251 Paramount Chiefs; more than 689 Clan Chiefs; 1,410 General Town Chiefs; and 250 Township Commissioners. Moreover”, the President continued, “the government has to deliver services to more than 16,000 Towns and Villages. As if these statistics were not daunting enough, the boundaries of all these localities overlap, leading to confusion over jurisdiction and administrative authority . . .”
The negative impact or consequences of these socio-economic and political, public policy confusions are numerous and devastating. They include, for example, the following:
- The rapid population growth and urbanization, in the absence or lack of the required planning, regulation and control.
- Populations migrations 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 its urban transport nightmare, rendering the capital city over-populated, congested and ungovernable.
- The 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 conditions, it is reasonable to conclude that the rational resolution of Liberia’s major socio-economic and political problems lies in the application of the most, modern theory and successful practice of classical democratic thought and convention, 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, back to their home counties, and entrepreneurs wishing to migrate, Decentralization is the rational approach for the resolution of our social, economic and political under-development.
However, Section 6.0 of Policy Guidelies provides “that the implementation of the National Policy on Decentralization and Local Governance shall be incremental over a period of ten years”.
Indeed, while we understand and are in agreement with the notion of an incremental approach, we hold, however, that the basic, initial legal requirement for formal, timely and effective/efficient implementation of the Policy depends on constitutional amendment and/or repeal of the relevant provisions of our constitution that should and must be undertaken and accomplished. A Chinese proverb says that a journey of a thousand miles begins with single step.
It was, and is, in this respect that we wrote a detailed argument regarding several critical, constitutional issues to be considered by the Constitutional Review Commission, including the legal requirement for National Decentralization, hand-delivered to Counselor Gloria Scott, in person.