"Liberians must find an African solution that makes the healing of our country the foremost priority", says Honorable Cletus Wotorson
Honorable Cletus Wotorson, President Pro-Tempore of the Senate Speaks on TRC Report, National Reconciliation, UP-LAP mergers and other issues.
In An Interview Conducted by Dr. Abdoulaye W. Dukulé
September 13, 2009
So far we can say we have achieved peace, how about national reconciliation? What are some of the impediments to a national reconciliation process?
Now that the guns are silent, we must all be committed to ensuring that peace is sustained. Peace comes with a certain degree of obligations and expectations. Basic to the sustenance of this peace and the stability that Liberia seeks and needs is the virtue of RECONCILIATION. When we ushered in the elected Government of Charles Taylor in 1997, we overlooked the mandatory Conference of Reconciliation. Again, since the January 16, 2006 Inauguration of the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf government, we have so far neglected that option. I am of the conviction that a missed opportunity is not always a lost opportunity. To stimulate national solidarity and re-capture our national identity, it is compelling that the issue of a National Reconciliation Conference is the foremost priority for Liberians where the Government and civil society will focus with openness and in all sincerity engage in robust consultations, firstly at the political community levels towards the hosting of a National Conference. The planning of such a conference should involve all Liberians, so that at the end of the day we can all rejoice and sing “we did it the Liberian way.”
A few weeks ago, in the heat of the release of the TRC Report, you made some suggestions regarding justice, peace and national reconciliation. Do you care to elaborate on those issues?
On the 13th of August, 2009, I issued a Statement reflecting my personal views on this national undertaking that was dictated by the CPA and approved by the 51st Legislature-The TRC REPORT. The report was submitted to the National Legislature, since that national body gave authority for the creation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). The intent of the drafters who created the TRC was underpinned by the belief that as Africans, the Commission would reference the experience of countries in Africa who have suffered similar debacles, South Africa, Nigeria, Rwanda and others within the relevance of African traditional Jurisprudence. After the difficult period of governance prior to 2006, Liberians in their usual resilience have been trying to heal their wounds, resuscitate and restructure their lives, improve their well being and move on in life. Regrettably, as all of us noticed, the growing economic challenges, the consequences of violence, the weakness of an environment to unleash the entrepreneurship of Liberians, the slow pace of job creations which seems to propel some of our youth into criminal activities, Liberians still remain divided and distracted without yet a rallying totem for national identity. In retrospect we note that all Liberia’s peace meetings during our struggle have had the continuous call for National Unity, Security and Reconciliation. It is in view of all the complexities and vicissitudes of our lives as Liberians and finding ourselves at crossroads, confused as to whether we implement the recommendations of the commission which seems to have the potential to widen the divisiveness amongst Liberians, or we resort to restorative justice within the context of African traditional jurisprudence which goes through consultations of a “palaver house traditional practice”, without overlooking any wrong doing, that I chose the option of restorative justice, as I believe healing our country is more important and crucial to our survival than the pre-occupation on punitive actions on alleged perpetrators. But my caution is to not address the wrong doing as an end in itself. We are aware that the notion of restorative justice in the Western practice deals with reparations for the victim, but once again going back to the experiences of the African countries that went through similar dislocations, Liberians must find an African solution that makes the healing of our country the foremost priority. I appeal to the actors in our dilemma to be contrite and sincerely and honestly engage our fellow Liberians who suffered the brutal hurt.
What role do you think the Legislature as the representative and voice of the people will play in the process?
It was the Legislature that created the TRC with the intent of reconciling our country and healing its wounds, informing us that the Legislature must take action on the report. Moreover if there is a sense of imminent danger as a consequence of the diversity of strongly held views and a potential for security threat, it is the Legislature and only the Legislature which has responsibility for the security of the nation that must act. However, it is my belief that Legislators need to soberly reflect on the recommendations of the Commission more from a political perspective. That requires consultations with those who elected them to decide how to present their views in the supreme national interest, during their legislative break. As you can see implementing some of the recommendations may require legislation which will be underpinned by the input of their constituencies.
Let’s backtrack to you… In 1997, you ran as presidential candidate. And in 2005, you decided to go for Senate seat. What prompted that choice?
You are correct that I ran in the presidential electoral sweepstakes in 1997. My decision to run in 1997 was informed by the fact that individuals who had positioned themselves to run were mostly warlords who had brought the turmoil on this country, and that it was time that the Liberian people be rewarded with a candidate who played no role in the war and whose track record of management could handle the leadership requirements of the nation. As in any democracy, the minority has its say, but the majority has its way. So the majority opted for a warlord at that time. But considering that our form of Government has three separate, co-ordinate and equal branches of government, all of which have a sacred responsibility in the effective running of the State, I felt I could represent the wishes of my county and the nation, as a whole, in the Liberian Senate as I would be making laws that I would have had to implement had I become President.. So that decision was proper and I have not regretted. At this level in Government I can initiate positive dialogues with the Executive in determining whether the key pillars of our nascent democracy and vision for the future remain enriched in restoring the hopes and aspirations of our people.
You came to the leadership of the Senate through a crisis, are things quiet there now or are there some tempest brewing in the teapot?
You know when we got in the Senate in January 2006, we entered on a learning curve; we were not conversant with the leadership styles of each other. As we progressed in time, some Senators appeared not to be in tune with the leadership style of the then President Pro Tempore and rallied with their colleagues for a change. One can never satisfy everybody all of the time, nor everybody some of the time or some body some of the time. Sometimes we clamor for utopianism. It is not possible. One does what he can and leaves the rest to his conscience. Now and then, there will always be people who believe they can do your job much better than you can... So we expect criticisms, and constructive criticisms and alternatives are always welcome. We are pleased with the level of co-operation and respect we are receiving from our colleagues; thus far considering that the 30 Senators come from different backgrounds, each with a diverse training and practice; and co-coordinating such diversity is challenging.
How is your relationship with the Executive?
Oh, my relationship with the Executive is fine. I think you know me well enough. I am a man of principles, where I believe there is a difference of opinion I will readily make my disagreements known.
What would you consider as the major accomplishments of the Senate under your leadership?
My major accomplishments are firstly, getting the Senate united; secondly we have passed most bills that we had heretofore not done for a long time. It is true that we have taken more time in scrutiny than before. But let me caution the Liberian people, that as the Executive presents bills that are necessary to drive its program of national recovery, so also we ask the indulgence of the President and the Liberian people to allow the Legislature to thoroughly study these bills towards ensuring that they are in the best interest of all Liberians. Our responsibility is to make certain that passage of any bills does not amount to a cover up of any failure or inability to implement existing laws. It is not about the number of bills this Senate passes but how many substantive and quality bills we pass that will improve the quality of life of our people and sustain the rule of law and order. A few of the bills we .have passed include amongst others, the Financial Management Act, The National Budget Act, several investment concessions, including Mineral, Oil and Forestry Development Agreements, The Act Creating the Professional Medical Council, The Land Commission Act and several other which can be accessed on our website
What outstanding issues are you preparing for after the Agricultural break?
Of priority to the Liberian Legislature is the issue of roads; The President must ensure that she can visit the capital of all counties. The slow pace of disbursement of donor funds for rehabilitation of rural roads and therefore a lack of vehicular accessible roads sort of dampen the effective realization of the PRS program, as its effects might take a long time to trickle down to those in these localities of impossible access, including Grand Kru County, the County that I represent. It is my belief that the infrastructure development program must be re-visited with a paradigm shift towards the inaccessible counties being upgraded to the level of extreme urgent priority. For over three years, these counties have received messages of unfulfilled expectations. We have brought this to the constant attention of the President and we have received some assurances, this time, that the roads of such counties such as Grand Kru, Gbarpolu, River Gee, and Maryland will receive needed urgent attention. While we easily spent $30 million rehabilitating urban roads we seem to forget the roads of those areas that will indeed assist to create the productive capacities of those counties and stimulate economic activities so badly needed in these areas. This continued concentration of our efforts on urban restoration of its roads may give the impression that road rehabilitation program is intended to satisfy the access needs purposely of those who provide donor funds for the rehabilitation. As rehabilitating the Monrovia and Robertsfield Highway to the exclusion of the rural roads of Gpapolu, Grand Kru or Lofa provides only access for their road comfort. Here again we wish to appeal to our co-operating partners in progress to make good in a timely manner on the various pledges made towards Liberia’s reconstruction..
Some important legislations have been on your desk for quite awhile, such as the Information Bill, the Code of Conduct… why the delay?
It is true that what you define as some important bills, including the Information Bill, the Code of Conduct have been delayed for sometime. We have had a backlog of some 33 bills including the priority economic bills that are job centric. We will get to these bills immediately upon our return from our vacation. As I mentioned it is not the number of bills we pass, but the substantive nature of these bills that characterize their urgencies. Some of those we had to pass were necessary for Liberia’s efforts to meet the HIPC completion point as we struggle to qualify for Brentwood Institution lending. We do not in any way try to marginalize the passage of the bills mentioned. We will get to them in time.
“Corruption” is and has been the most commonly used expression in Liberian politics; how do you view the stance of the current government on fighting it?
I would like to commend the efforts of the government on its fight on corruption. Consistent with the support to the reform programs of the Executive, the Legislature has not only passed the Anti-Corruption Bill creating the Anti-Corruption Commission, but has provided acceptable levels of funding for the execution of its mandate. However, there is a serious need to improve the evidence gathering capacity of the law enforcement agencies to empower prosecutors to secure unquestionable evidence on allegations, commissions or rumors. You know it is interesting, but the mind set of most Liberians is that everybody who works for Government is corrupt. I found out that this is not unique to Liberia as that impression is widely held for public servants even in developed countries. In Liberia it is unfortunate that international institutions who perceive Liberians as being corrupt do not account to anybody and transparency is not a priority in their actions to set examples for Liberians. I believe it is about time that the Ministry of Planning and Economic Affairs provides to the Liberian Legislature performance reports with profiles of expenses, including projects and personal costs. This requirement coming from me is not in any way intended to pass the buck, but one must teach by examples.
Your party, LAP, signed a MOU with the governing party, how is that working?
It is true that some time in March 2009, the Liberian Action Party of which I am an Executive member and the governing Unity Party signed some documents towards the eventual merging of their political entities. In keeping with the tenets of the Memorandum, their respective Conventions would review the documents towards their ratification. The Liberia Action Party has not held their convention to date. As a politician, I earnestly believe in the reduction of the number of political parties presently registered in Liberia. This may be accomplished through mergers or by scrupulous application of the Election Commission laws on the operation of political parties. I believe merging would provide the Liberian populace an effective opportunity to choose wisely. I think the initiation of the talks between our parties is just the beginning and could very well involve other political parties who share common vision. The contacts remain open for others. So I look forward to our convention, where the partisans can get a clearer picture of what our executives are trying to commit them to.
Do you see the possibility of Liberians in the Diaspora participating in the future elections?
With regards to the question of Liberian exercising their constitutional obligations while in the Diaspora, I share the aspirations that one day the electoral mechanisms can be worked out to ensure that Liberians properly identified as Liberians will not be denied that right. You know the great Siaka Stephens when questioned about the free movement of ECOWAS Citizens said “I like the free movement of peoples but free movement of “Identifiable”. We must ensure that transparency and acceptable worldwide procedures are perfected for this exercise.
What s your vision for Liberia in the next 10, 20 years?
My vision for Liberia is stability, with equal opportunities for all consistent with our cultural norms. I would hope that within 10 to 20 years Liberia would have a clearer national identity with National Mottoes that Unite us rather than divide us; and living under one flag that is representative of us as a reconciled African Nation, depicting our resilience.
In closing, your words
In closing I would like to say we welcome and appreciate the assistance of Liberia’s Co-operating Partners, particularly, The UN Security Council, United States, China, the European Union, Nigeria, Ghana, Members of ECOWAS, The African Union for supporting Liberia’s efforts towards her reform programs. We urge and encourage our co-operating partners to evolve a program that is participatory. We as Liberians we must not lose track of the fact that Liberia’s development and turn-around can only be done by Liberians, and no amount of aid will make us solve our problems. Aid flowing to Liberia must be within the context of partnership. We must begin now to adopt a sense of Nationalism and love of country, no matter what our short-comings. Liberia is a unique country and we MUST remain Liberians and love each other.