Proximity to Power

By Ezekiel Pajibo

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

May 6, 2004

In the scheme of things, particularly the prevailing social hierarchy, I am not doing that bad, but it gets embarrassingly depressing at times. Imagine, you are almost always in the political and social circles of individuals whose worth or lack thereof you are fully aware of and at times appreciate. You can afford to hang out at the same gigs, eat in the same restaurants/cookshop, attend governmental functions of the high level variety, get invited to the same parties, and maybe even keep the company of the same ladies. At times, many times in fact, one is obliged to engage in conversations and yet you can not help but say something that you believe in and stand for and all of a sudden you feel like, you don’t belong. That is the queasiness associated with a close proximity to power. It is not a syndrome because it can be healed. Just speak your mind and stand up for what you believe.

This brings me to a number of rather disturbing events that has the potential for undermining the body polity and distracting the public from the over riding need for peace, tranquillity and justice. The bad mouthing of the United Nations Mission in Liberia is a case in point. In a number of incidents this process took several dimensions.

In one, a senior government official stated in the presence of a high ranking UN official about how corrupt the UN system is and that if the UN does not do things differently, elements of the warring factions are able to make them run scare within “four days” and they will be “packing their bags” and “boarding planes.” Without pointing out the actual corruption in the UN system and the effect that this was having on the peace process, the government official proceeded to suggest that a fundamental requirement in the disarmament process should be the securing of commercial and profitable enterprises for disarmed fighters. According to the government official, armed factions are currently engaged in commercial activities and they would not countenance an interruption of these activities unless some other forms of compensatory devices are put into place for them to, essentially, continue their self-enrichment.

But what exactly are the commercial activities that elements of the armed factions are engaged in. For starters, Monrovia newspapers report on a daily basis of the shaking down of Liberians including exaction of toll fees from an already impoverished population who are desirous of returning to their home towns or are trying to get their commodities to market. There are also the armed robberies taking place in many parts of the country, where UNMIL has yet to deployed and even in places where they are deployed, including Tubmanburg, Buchanan and Gbarnga. Alongside these, are the burglaries and robberies that elements of the armed factions are known to be perpetrating. It is these sorts of “commercial” transactions that need to be catered to in order to please those who continue to visit mayhem, plunder and murder against our people. The fact that these individuals and their organizations are behaving criminally and should be held accountable for their crimes is not something our government official in question cares about. What a pitiable state of affairs.

The second area of concern involves the Minister of Commerce, Mr. Sam Wlue. Mr. Wlue has accused UNMIL of abusing its duty free privileges and that goods brought into the country under the duty free regime are sold to the public and this is wrong. One would have thought that in Mr. Wlue’s accusation, he would have produced evidence including some of the goods and those arrested who were selling prohibitive goods. He did not. The most the Minister suggested as evidence during his press briefing was that some UNMIL soldiers were selling their “rations” at exorbitant prices. He did not say exactly what these prices were and how they compare with the regular price structure of the country. Needless to say that the much talked about price reductions government declared upon coming to office have not happened and that several merchants continue to sell their goods including petrol at higher prices than those declared by government. For example, one gallon of gas is being sold at LD$130 and a one way trip from Pynesville to Monrovia, may at times be as much as LD$25 compared to LD$15 in an earlier period. The Minister is miffed on these questions.

No doubt abuses may be occurring in the duty free privileges but rigorous investigation need to happen and culprits caught before a government official, worth his salt, can make public declaration on these matters. Perhaps, once the Minister got wind of the probable violation of the laws, he would have contacted the relevant security agencies including the Liberia National Police or the Criminal Investigation Division to conduct investigations and establish illegality or crimes. The fact that these simple processes were not employed suggest that the Minister is posturing or in the least bad mouthing UNMIL.

Another dimension was added recently when a leader of the former ruling party, the National Patriotic Party (NPP), accused UNMIL of misplaced priorities. According to Mr. Cyril Allen, UNMIL Chief of Mission, Jacque Klein has purchased himself a car (An Audi) worth “$100,000”. According to him, the money came from funds allocated for the DDRRP thus the continuous postponement of the disarmament process. UNMIL said that Mr. Allen’s accusations were untrue and unfounded. Without any attempt to shoot the messenger in this case, it is certainly disingenuous on the part of Mr. Allen to level such accusations given the fact that his party is perhaps largely responsible for the current situation in the country. One must quickly add as well that UNMIL officials need to be acutely sensitive to the general impoverishment of the country. It is difficult to inspire confidence among people when their priorities including the disarmament process continue to hang in abeyance while those entrusted with such responsibilities are perceived to be living “high off the horses.”

The politics of our times demand that our leaders conduct themselves with probity and assiduousness Whatever the shortcomings of UNMIL, Liberians should first of all demonstrate a responsible, principle and honest leadership in order to enhance the prospects for durable peace. Areas of disagreement, including the alleged abuse of duty free privileges, the alleged unavailability of the more than 80 UN police vehicles to members of the Liberian National Police Force, UNMIL employment policies and practices, as well as the perceived misplacement of priorities are issues that can and should be discussed in earnest and mutual solutions arrived at. UNMIL presence in Liberia is important at least until all the weapons in the possession of the warring factions are taken away and destroyed. We can not afford to undermine their presence, we should seek to enhance the real chance, we have had in a while, to secure a durable peace with justice. Political posturing must stop.