A Review of the NTGL



A Year-end Statement By K-Hastings Panyonnoh



The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
January 5, 2005

I welcome you to the offices of the Center for Democracy and Elections (CENDE), Inc. wishing you all and the general Liberian public belated Merry Christmas and a Prosperous and happy New Year.

We give our prayerful thanks to our Great Benevolent Father who has scrupulously guided our state of ship from long years of civil turmoil to the calm shore of peace and order. During this time last year, Liberians were still totting personal effects and grappling with the fresh wounds of three successive chaotic battles in the heart of Liberia’s capital Monrovia. Many more citizens, particularly those who were residing in the hinterland, were still under siege. Marauding thugs were having field days, looting, plundering and raping at will.

Heartfelt thanks, first to our Heavenly Father, and second to the international stabilization force for creating the social, economic and political space through which we today breathe an air of relief from our nation’s dark chapter, characterized by naked banditry, torture and mayhem.

Life has returned to the communities; our roads are open into the hinterland and Liberians are freely moving about; children have begun to play again; school doors are open; and a lot has been achieved since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. It is time for Liberians to join hands and sing one chorus, saying, “Thank God for the international community.”

While our international friends are fighting tooth and nail to give us peace and a new beginning in building a new era for our strife-torn country, there are attempts by certain Liberians to subvert and squander the enormous external goodwill put at our disposal.

Liberian old folks are noted for the proverbial saying, “When someone is bathing your back, you must strive to bath your stomach.” But that has not been the case during this transitional period. While the international community is providing us security, empowering our democratic institutions, and charting the way for durable

peace, some people of Liberia, including the transitional leadership concurrently continues to derail those earnest efforts.

Throughout 2004, the world was appalled by acts inimical to peace and sanity and detrimental to the good and happiness of all Liberians. And both the transitional leadership, as well as some ordinary Liberians, are culprits in the subversion and derailing of peace and happiness in Liberia.

For the record, we must state a few of the several things that occurred in the country, which again did bring the reputation of Liberians into the limelight.

...We are all fresh witnesses of serial violence in our streets and communities, violence the bypassed the court process and beat all sanity. During the year, our streets that were doomed by mob violence; several incidences in which unarmed Liberians hacked to death fellow Liberians perceived as criminals, but deemed innocent in the eye of the law until conclusive court verdicts.

We remember the incidents in the Free Port area, 72nd community and other places where residents in these areas lynched perceived criminals to death without regard to due process.

I guess some of those who were involved in mob violence, butchered and poisoned their fellow Liberians to death, who shed blood in broad daylight during the year, are people who are holding bitter sentiments against rebels. It beats the conscience of any sane persons to see so-called civilians - who are not acting under the influence of drug and war - to jump at the throat of their fellow compatriots in the full view of the world and kill them in cold blood.

The culture of mob violence in the country matured in the last quarter of the year when thugs and villains nearly crippled the peace established by the international stabilization force when they opened volumes of gunfire in the city, burnt properties and killed people in the untenable cause of religious conflict.

There are some commentators who say - and probably rightly so - that by so doing some ordinary Liberians have failed to demonstrate that they appreciate and support the international community’s strives to reestablish order and build a lasting peace and harmony in the country.

Chairman Gyude Bryant
The National Transitional Government of Liberia, established to buttress the international community’s efforts to reconstitute the collapsed Liberian state, has so far miserably failed to deliver upon its mandate. Even in the mob violence phenomenon, the government has amply demonstrated its acquiescence. Not single persons arrested by the vigilant UNMIL forces has been put on trial or prosecuted. All we see is a government that stands aloof in the face of the most hideous savagery against peaceful Liberians, as the NTGL was a toothless bulldog. And we refuse to agree that this government is toothless.

From one mob savagery to another, even including the recent street fighting, the NTGL only announced the establishment of somewhat bogus committees, which never reported the promised action of dealing with the perpetrators.

The apathy and indifference of the transitional government during the year not only sent out the signal that Liberia was still a country of men and not of laws, but it also exposed innocent Liberians to arbitrary brutality and death.

The Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed by former belligerent forces and other stakeholders in Accra, Ghana, is meant not merely for the cessation of hostilities in the country but also to build a foundation upon which a responsive post-conflict political establishment would be based. Various provision of the CPA created various structures and public institutions germane to the radical reconstitution of a failed and rotten Liberian state.

The mandate of the Transitional Government is therefore, amongst other things, to oversee the state reconstitution process. State reconstitution being a pivotal

component of the transitional process, the CPA established the Governance Reform Commission, National Elections Commission, National Human Rights, Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Monopoly Commission, amongst others.
The framers of the CPA did not establish these commissions for political accommodation or employment opportunity. In our view, they were meant as instruments of transformation, which must overhaul and reconstitute a debauched social, economic and political system before the transition ends.

The logic here is clear. Radical political transformation of long years of corrupt systems cannot be entrusted to an elected, post-war government, since records show that our political leaders are very notorious in slighting and substituting beautiful manifestos for a draconian and repressive style of governance.

The framers of the CPA might have hoped that this transitional government, which conglomerates former political adversaries and noted political activists, would ably preside over the state reconstitution process and set a pace for a truly democratic and people-centered post-transitional government. But sadly enough, that has not been the case. The transitional government has woefully failed to live up to its mandate. Things are drifting by the day, confirming skeptics’ view that the Gyude Bryant administration lacks all moral and political credentials to transit the nation from a bleak past to a prosperous and stable tomorrow. It takes only true democrats and nationalists to reform or transform a failed state. The NTGL is not.

Firstly, the failure of the NTGL is manifested in its lukewarm attitude towards the cause of several CPA-established commissions that are intended to serve as prime catalysts in the state transformation process. It was only recently, for example, that the National Transitional Legislative Assembly, following incessant local and international pressure, passed the Electoral Reform Bill into law.

As we speak, the Acts creating both the National Human Rights Commission and the Truth and Reconciliation are yet to be processed. These two basic institutions intended to advance the cause of justice, equality and good governance are fragrantly ignored and buried in the debris of bureaucracy.

The Monopoly Commission is likewise yet to be given any teeth to bite, while our people continue to suffocate under uncontrolled prices and other unscrupulous business practices associated to monopoly.

One wonders why the transitional government is so indifferent to state transformation agenda. Or it is because officials of this government think that state power awaits them after the transitional period and therefore seek the maintenance of the systemic odds of the nation for their personal advantage?

Secondly, the government dismally performed in terms of providing basic social services for the common Liberian. With the international community helping to provide some services to the people, including colossal cost for national security, health and others, this 14 months old transitional government is yet to take the first step in addressing Liberians’ basic needs.

The nation’s capital still wallows in darkness; pipe-born water is yet to be restored to our homes; public schools, particularly those in the rural parts are in ruins; salaries for civil servants are painfully low and erratically paid; and life is generally nauseating, as our people keep eking out a living in the mist of plenty.

Most vexing of NTGL failure has to do with the price of rice and transport vehicles recently brought into the country by Government. The price of rice, probably for the first time under a standing government, has reached US$35. Ironically, this is happening under the leadership of a man who openly promised to lower the price of rice. What is also interesting about the whole affair is that the price of rice did not reach this height during the regime of the most detested government of Charles Taylor.

Again one wonders whether a Taylor government was sensitive to the plight of Liberians than the present Government. And this is said because all the former Taylor adversaries - all those who charged the government of insensitivity - are well placed in this government, but they are saying absolutely nothing about the current price of rice notwithstanding the acute difficulties the common Liberian faces.

We are also troubled by the manner and form that the distribution of public buses purchased by the NTGL has taken. Professedly, the government meant the buses to alleviate the strenuous transportation situation in this overcrowded city.

Notwithstanding the excruciatingly long time it took to procure and bring the buses, the Monrovia public was quite happy when it was said that the vehicles touched ground. But again, the transitional government proved its ingrained insensitivity to the plight of the suffering masses, not only by sharing the buses with some parastratals of government and private transport agencies, but also by sidelining the Monrovia Transport Agency, created by law to service public transport needs.

Consequently, the intended impact is yet to be felt even thought these buses have begun to ply the streets. It is as if the government has done nothing to remedy the situation. Our people are still scrambling for cars and enduring congestion in the few vehicles that are available.

We regard the piecemeal distribution of the buses as a complete disincentive for the ordinary Liberian, a disincentive that further unveils the NTGL’s lack of interest and concern for suffering Liberians.

We all witnessed the decisive reaction of the Liberian public to the naked disregard of their welfare by the transitional government during the year. Student demonstration, civil servants strike actions and recently protest by members of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) are all stalk reminder of the unpopular record of the government.

More besides, the protest and booing of the head of the Government at Waterside and in Buchanan City, coupled with the besieging of the convoy of House Speaker George Dweh, by ordinary Liberians are clear indications that the transitional government has miserably fallen into grace with the people.

We seriously suspect that venomous public dissensions against this transitional government could lead to full-scale uproar if nothing is done to share public funds with ordinary Liberians, one way or the other.

As far as we are concerned, this government has no excuse for not restoring electricity, even if it were streetlights. This government does not have any excuse for not ensuring that the price of rice is reduced and affordable, even if it were brought to US$15.00.

This is a government that does not undertake any meaningful public project and which does not pay its employees regularly and substantively must be kind enough to wave all taxes that lead to the rise in the price of the people’s staple food.

We are all aware that the government is not involved in major public projects, like the building of infrastructures - roads, government buildings and so forth. And we know that this government accrues millions of dollars monthly from taxes and donations. So, to what does the government commit public funds? Cherokee jeeps, building of personal mansions and to personal coffers?

We hold this government to its words and to its mandate. With less than 10 months left for this government, not a single inaugural pledge has been fulfilled by Chairman Bryant. The promised exit of business as usual only turns out to be rampant as ever before, even to the extent that the world body, the United Nations, to which we owe our support and sustenance now, joins the common chorus that the Bryant Administration is corrupt and wanting of transparency and accountability.

It is quite regrettable that we are left with just eight months to elections, yet the government continues to hold up on its cardinal responsibility of spreading civil rule and providing support necessary for free, fair and transparent elections.

The state restructuring agenda is shelved, as several instrumental bodies germane to the state restructuring exercise are left unattended to.

We feel - and very strongly - that elections without a thorough examination and overhaul of the collapsed Liberian state is a recipe for post-transitional conflict. Liberian politicians, from experience, are too demagogueric to be entrusted with the state restructuring exercise. The question of extensive presidential powers, long regime tenures, residential requirements and other constitutional questions must be addressed by a regime like the transitional government which is assumed to be non-partisan regime and which does not have electoral mandate.

But since this transitional government is lacking the democratic and political traits, latitude and character to oversee a transformation or reconstitution process, it is only wise to replace them quickly and install a new transitional body that will lead Liberians to a post-conflict situation void of hanky-panky and buggy traps.

That would not be a tedious endeavor. And if one argues that it has side effects, than we must first measure and compare the options: whether the change of a corrupt inept transitional government is more risky than maintaining it to supervise a process that demands a more progressive and upright leadership.

And before I conclude, let me once again comment on the rice phenomenon in this country. Our staple, no doubt, is a volatile question in this country. It is both a serious political and economic question. The Bryant administration cannot afford to toy with this phenomenon. If Bryant decides or is naturally incapable to do anything for the people of Liberia during this transitional period, one thing he cannot overlook: the reduction of the price of rice.

Our people are unemployed. The countryside no more produces foodstuff to complement that staple. Bryant cannot wait for our people to take to the garbage in search of food before he knows that a lot are going to bed nearly every day before their staple is unaffordable. He must do something, and do it now.

I thank you.

K-Hastings Panyonnoh is director of the Center for Democracy and Elections (CENDE), Inc.