Besides being instrumental in the removal of Charles Taylor from power and ending the factional warfare, the United States government was the largest contributor to the reconstruction fund for Liberia and pledged some $224 million of the $520 million the international promised to donate to Liberia. The pledges have been slow in coming, partly because many donor nations channel their pledges through their NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and some are simply waiting for elections while a few others look for specific projects to fund that are not necessarily among the highest priorities in Liberia. In one of discussions, Mr. Klein cited the example of the University of Liberia, an institution with 15,000 students that is not on any single country donation list.
Among the most positive aspects of the peace process, Ambassador Klein talked about the disarmament process. Said he, “the results of the massive disarmament process undertaken by UNMIL have been profound: general peace and stability, freedom of movement throughout the country, resumption of economic activities and the increase pace of restoration of state authority.” Klein said that this atmosphere of security has “engendered a new level of discourse, and many more Liberians are now fully engaged in determining the future of their country as they prepare for national elections in October 2005.”
“We are also restructuring the police force and now training is undergoing for hundreds of recruits. These young men and women were recruited in a manner that ensured tribal and regional balance and they will soon graduate and commence service to provide security throughout the nation. Meanwhile, UNMIL is currently present throughout the breadth and length of the nation.”
Notwithstanding this relative success, the fate of the 101,448 combatants disarmed by UNMIL remains bleak. Among those who came forward to be disarmed, only about 13, 000 have been undergoing rehabilitation and reintegration and this is where Mr. Klein sees a “major and dangerous shortfall in funding.” He said pointedly that further resources are critical at this time to provide assistance to this vulnerable group and keep the momentum.
“A number of additional challenges must be overcome if the peace process is to culminate into a successful conclusion,” Mr. Klein said, adding “the capacity of the National Transitional Government of Liberia to provide basic services remains limited. NTGL Chairman Bryant and his government have taken some important steps to address the overwhelming needs of the people of Liberia but much remains to be done. Currently, unemployment stands at about 85 percent. Illiteracy rates are also staggering.”
Mr. Klein underlined the fact that basic services such as water, sewage and electricity are very essential not only for health and environmental reasons but also as an added incentive for investors. The normal 300, 000 population of the city of Monrovia is now towering near the million souls, most of them displaced people and former fighters. Human waste is thrown into to the sea just to be brought back on land and this contaminates well water. These basic services are also important to attract investors who, when arriving in a country, expect that the basic necessities of modern life, such as water and electricity are available.
For the current peace process to culminate into a successful conclusion, Mr. Klein said that government must be able to pay salaries in timely manner to public servants, to take real actions to curb corruption and ensure transparency in the management of public funds and agencies. The legacy of the Taylor regime to not pay salaries has criminalized the government, creating a web of corruption that it is still prevalent at every level of government.
He added that the government must expedite state authority nationwide and ensure that civil servants, police and judiciary in the regions receive the support they need to perform their functions effectively. This lack of state authority throughout the country was key in the UN Security Council’s decision to maintain sanctions on Liberia. The international body would not lift restrictive measures as long as certain factors are not put in place, the first and foremost being state authority through the presence of law enforcement, environmental measures as well as transparency. “The international community is ready to work with the government to ensure that the necessary criteria are met for the lifting of the sanctions, but the government has the primary responsibility to ensure that basic security, environmental measures and others are put in place.”
Speaking about the October 28 – 31, 2004 civil unrest in Monrovia, Mr. Klein said that the religious and ethnic dimensions assumed by these disturbances are deeply troubling. He said every effort should be made to promote reconciliation, understanding and tolerance among the diverse groups in the country. He said he was encouraged by the fact that many Liberians, both at home and in the Diaspora were now making concerted efforts to launch a national forum prior to elections.
Mr. Klein said such national consultations could lead to a discourse on many issues that Liberians may want to review prior to elections. “There are laws that were put in the Liberian constitution that may need to be reviewed for the country to change certain governance practices.” He said UNMIL would provide whatever support it can to such an undertaking. While in Washington, DC, Mr. Klein met with Mr. Arthur Watson, president of ULAA (Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas) and Mrs. Madea-Reeves Karpeh, Chair of the Steering Committee of the All Liberia Conference and assured them of his support in their attempt to hold a conference in the Diaspora. Efforts are also being made on the ground in Liberia towards the same objectives.
Mr. Klein says that Liberians and the international community are looking forward to elections scheduled for October this year but expressed dismay at the very large number of candidates vying for the presidency. According to him the elections commission has decided against allowing voting to take place in neighboring countries because of political and logistical reasons. He said a case could be made for the 400,000 Liberians in the United States and Canada where such problems are not posed.
In conclusion, Mr. Jacques Klein said that “Liberian government, political and religious leaders should be constantly reminded of their personal responsibility in ensuring that the peace process remains on track. At the same time, the sustained support and engagement of the international community remains vital not only to achieve progress, but to make sure that underlying causes of the conflict in Liberia are addressed.”