We are denying ourselves the opportunity for change in Liberia
By Charles Russell
The mid-term senatorial election is over and winners are rejoicing while losers are yet to figure out why they fought a losing battle. I am not surprised with the results that surfaced because, many of the defeated senators had alienated themselves from the voters after got elected, seeking instant gratification and therefore, not making any significant contributions in the lives of the electorates. The voters began to cry out loud at the reckless and corrupt behaviors of elected officials and they played deaf, dumb and blind. It is increasingly evident their admiration for corruption supersedes the voters’ interest.
Subsequently, they had lost credibility with the people and replacing them became necessary no matter who were the opposing candidates running against incumbents. Sadly, softhearted voters elected some men with questionable characters, dragging baggage of corruption with them to the House of Senate already tinted with its share of corruption. However, I am confused with the ingredients Liberians are looking for in our elected officials. As I read many write-ups regarding this mid-term election, there are many pertinent questions that need honest answers: 1. Why send a message to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf alone? 2. Why not send a message to our lawmakers who are equally looting the country’s resources with impunity? Did the voters who find themselves in abject poverty cast their ballots based on principles and benefits or just hate for Ellen Johnson Sirleaf‘s corrupt administration and only Robert Sirleaf became the punching bag? Did he get what he deserved? My answer is yes based on family connection but, if the voters did make a wise choice remain to be seen.
In my opinion the Press Union could have done justice for the people of Montserrado County by organizing a debate among the Montserrado County contenders since it is the seat of the national government with the highest unemployment rate; high schools and colleges without libraries and qualified teachers; mass failure at the University of Liberia in Montserrado; poor transportation system in the city; lack of good hospitals; teachers trading grades for sex; government officials have become sex predators with impunity, leaving young girls pregnant without support; lack of decent public toilets in the city; mentally ill individuals walking the streets in the city and the city with no adequate light and water; unskilled young men and women are prostituting to make ends meet; no zoning for entertainment centers around Monrovia; drug use is on the rise among young people with no drug rehab center; homeless young men and women sleeping in the cemetery in central Monrovia.
A well-organized debate would have given each candidate the opportunity to address these fundamental issues affecting the people of Montserrado County. Who are the real losers in this election? My answer is simple. The people of Montserrado County are the losers and not President Ellen Johnson Srleaf as being reported. When 14 lawmakers came out of House of Representatives and endorsed a candidate and many went along to elect their candidate of choice, what kind of message did we send to them? It is no secret that most of these so-called representatives have squandered or stolen their county development money that could have gone toward providing vital health and education services.
If Liberia should make progress, the vision for transformation depends on the collective decisions we make across ethnicity, likeness for an individual, being a war hero, or do or die party affiliation. It is indisputable that many right-thinking Liberians would love to see their place of birth, Liberia, develop and grow as a flourished nation and because of that, some of us choose to speak persistently against corruption in government not because of personal envy, out of malice or hatred. We too are Liberians and love our country, but people who lack patriotism, insight, foresight, hindsight, and balanced judgment and leadership skills are being elected by our poor people who are surviving on US $1.00 a day.
Most of these recycled government officials are consumed by greed. As soon as they become comfortable in their positions they pretend to be literally deaf, dumb and blind to the plight of the suffering people. They squarely represent a threat to nation building and not opportunity for those who wait for hours in line to cast a ballot paper in their favor. Should Liberians continue to elect people with tinted and questionable characters, we are denying ourselves the opportunity to be an agent for positive change to effect transparency and accountability for good governance in the Republic of Liberia.
Let us not forget the one time political icon and student activist, Commany B. Wesseh, a newly elected Senator, who challenged the tyrannical and corrupt government of President Samuel K. Doe, but has become a passive passenger comfortably riding in the Unity Party’s vehicle of corruption with Ellen Johnson Sirleaf sitting in the driver seat disregarding all rules of law. What is troubling, Mrs. Wesseh is also a devoted member of Ellen’s much talk about kitchen cabinet where corruption and ill-advised decisions have been masquerading for the last nine years. The question again, why was not there a strong message to Mr. Wesseh who found sanctuary in Ellen’s Temple of Corruption?
I firmly believe, like most Liberians, that we were duped by the many progressive fellows who spoke against injustice and corruption perpetrated by past governments. They are now mute, dinning and wining with the most corrupt government in the history of Liberia. However, let me congratulate Mr. Wessseh for his undeserved victory, but the people have spoken to give him another opportunity to redeem his tarnished political character. Mr. Wesseh should keep in mind that undeserved victory can be redemptive.
The war against corruption cannot be won if eligible voters cannot act as crusaders of anti-corruption in Liberia and while they continue to organize support groups as means for handouts to elect men who have been indicted for misappropriations of government money. I recalled Madam President commissioned four government officials of integrity institutions challenging them to fight corruption without fear or favor and to expose the perpetrators and prosecute them.
Notwithstanding, the president’s well-publicized anti-corruption campaign is a massive scam. It is a cynicism that is well managed by those in power. The Liberian Anti- Corruption Commission (LACC) has indicted senior political figures on corruption charges, including the Speaker of the House, Alex Tyler, who violated Government of Liberia policy on contracts. His name has being shamelessly surfacing in many unethical behaviors yet serving as the third senior government official in the country. He masterminded the fixing of his and other “honorable" members’ salaries, allowances, and other corrupt benefits at the detriment of the suffering people. Nonetheless, with the ongoing fight by some lawmakers for the Speaker to recuse himself from the leadership of the house should be considered as the appropriate thing to do in the interest of integrity. However, Speaker Tyler refusal is to show how powerful he is among his colleagues as the sitting speaker. Our selfish leaders who are stubborn and arrogant must pay the price on Election Day and those who are fanning the fan of support for that which we know is morally and politically wrong must not be voted out of office. Let them understand that this nonsense will no longer be tolerated by those who elected them.
What is so embarrassing is that the so-called Ethics Committee members in the House of Representatives have been consumed by corruption and are unable to investigate alleged violations of the code of conduct governing the performance of official duties or the discharge of official responsibilities. The widespread looting of public funds by government officials with impunity has become business as usual. Representatives, senators, ministers and other presidential appointees flaunt their wealth with recklessly. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has shown no interest in prosecuting those who steal government money because of her tolerance for corruption generally. In fact, it appears, there are no men of good character in the political leadership of this EJS’ administration.
What is repugnant nowadays are the defensive mechanisms employed by some corrupt officials to hoodwink the electorates and the so-called Iron lady is now inept to be the voice of the people. Her greatness is being fundamentally undermined by massive failure of governance locked into a culture of cover-up. It is therefore, incumbent upon all well-meaning Liberians, nonpartisan, advocacy groups to lunch voters’ empowerment campaign in every, city, town and village as a critical tool to teach our people the importance of electing a candidate running for public office in a democratic society. Let our people be taught that elected officials are not more powerful than them and are accountable to them. Moreover, let us make our people aware that they are invested with constitutional power to change a government that fails to meet the basic needs of its citizens. The constitution has things to teach our people that not only have value, but authority to act in their own interest. Unless we the people forge a united front to fight against continued escalation of corruption and failed leadership in Liberia, the lives of the downtrodden will remain unchanged. It is a challenge for all of us as we look forward to the 2017 election.