By Phillip Saa Tali, Jr.
Few months ago I was fortunate to have been in the company of some guys that work with the WORLD BANK office in Monrovia. Among the issues or concerns raised was the lack of transparency and ineptitude in government. The concerns focus on all aspects of government, that is, the legislature, executive and judiciary. But the most concern was the executive which is the administrative arm of government.
In every country, whether in a democracy, authoritarian, military government, aristocracy or communism, the president is seen, perceived and believed to be the focus person, leader, inspiration and direct image of a nation. The president, head of state, Monarch, dictator, the prime minister is the vision, leader, and the director of a country’s foreign and domestic policies. In order word, the president is a leader of great influence in social, political and economic sectors of a country.
The late Mao Zedong of the People Republic of China, who is considered the most successful leader of his country, influenced the political and social lives of the people. His foreign and domestic policies have led to China being the world second largest economic and scientific/technological giant. His stance on corruption and moral virtue on public officials led to the minimization of corruption and regulations on public funding. Abraham Lincoln’s, of the United States, policies on one America and the eradication of slavery have led to his country uniqueness in democratic practices. Today the United States has a black president. Mahatma Gandhi of India actions and policies on colonization and white rule led to the freedom of India.
The people of Liberia through their constitution practice the presidential system of government borrowed from the United States of America (the United States was the first country to have invented such a democratic system). In this form of government, the president practices multiples of roles; head of state, head of government and commander in chief of the armed forces.
As Head of government, he/she is head of the executive or the administrative branch of government. Apart from the responsibility of appointments and dismissals of officials, judges and security officers in government, the president is there to ensure that laws made by the legislative branch are obeyed. The president approves bills that s/he agrees with, but can refuse to sign them if he/she is in opposition to the laws with genuine reasons. The president is helped in his/her executive role by the vice president, the cabinet and agencies, all of which are under his/her full authority. As head of government, all appointed officials ultimately report to him/her.
As head of state, the president has diplomatic duties. The president can negotiate and sign treaties with leaders of other countries and international organizations. However, these treaties must go through the legislature for approval.
And as Commander -in- Chief of the armed forces of Liberia, the president has the power to send troops out to fight, but must get the approval of legislature. Apart from the above obligations, it is also mandated by the constitution of Liberia (Article 58) that the president at the beginning of the year deliver to the people through the legislature, detailing past programs and projects implemented by the government and treaties signed and approved. Also in that state of the nation address, the president must setup programs he/she intends to implement in the coming year. With such vast responsibilities, obligations and opportunities given the president there is no reasons why a president of Liberia should fail in implementing his or her own agenda s/he has crafted.
Like it is said the first state of the republic address by the president must be watched and observed very thoroughly. And most often, the end of the first year can determine if the government will succeed or not. President Sirleaf is fortunate to have found herself among a very simplest, inexperience, unprofessional, unpatriotic, money obsessed legislators that do not understand the working of the legislature, not to mention the government. A legislature over the last eight years has never really scrutinized budgets from the executive, nor studied treaties, contracts and negotiations generated from the administrative arm of government. So it becomes very easier for the president to cleverly and successfully achieve her goals and leave lasting legacy. But unfortunately the Madam is still hallucinating.
In her first inaugural address in 2006 to the people of Liberia entitled, “PAPA NA COME”, the president declared war on corruption, reducing the government into a small considerable level; reducing poverty to its minimum level; providing social services (like electricity, drinking water, good roads) to the people in the very shortest period; upgrading the educational system; improving the health care system and creating jobs. After ten solid years in power, President ELLEN JOHNSON SIRLEAF is yet to show to Liberians and the world what she has done to improve the lives of Liberians. This has made political pundits to summarize that the President’s speeches are far from reality.
To make matter worse, Jerolinmek Piah, Press Secretary to the President, was bold enough to tell the nation and the world on one of the radio station talk shows (Truth F.M.) that all what the international community does for Liberia was/is due to their support to the Madam Ellen Sirleaf. This statement from a government official surprises every contemporary political commentator. How a creature can become greater than its creator?
If this is true, then the argument made by some Liberians that the international community manipulated the 2005 elections in favor of Madam Sirleaf is equally true. But if we should buy the Press Secretary argument, then why the international community has refused to exterminate all the nation’s debt (Liberia still owe about one two Billion Dollars)? If this is so, why did the WORLD BANK gave the government of Burma TWO BILLION DOLLARS (Two hundred million dollars is expected to be spent on Burma’s energy sector) but yet to give its darling girl a direct sum of FIVE HUNDRED MILLION DOLLARS to meet up with some of her major needs? If this is so, why the United States government did not assist Liberia in her quest for power generation, when according to Press Secretary Piah, former President Bill Clinton three years told the President to only ask and it will be done?
In 2008 when President Barack Obama was contesting for the presidency of the United States of America, his policies on health care for all Americans and to bring American soldiers back home led to his election. Today those policies have been implemented regardless of some problems. Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany promised her nation a strong economy and an influential Germany in Europe and the world. Today the bailout policy of some European countries testifies and demonstrates her campaign promises. The late Mohamed Gaddafi of Libya assured his nation of the eradication of poverty and the removal of Western influence over his country natural resources. By the time of his death Libya poverty had reduced to 10% and Western influence had disappeared.
Unfortunately, things have turned out the opposite in Liberia. In the first place, before the ascendency of President Sirleaf to the presidency, there were high political respect, integrity, principle minded and fear for EJS. In fact due to her stance on bad governance, she was nick-named, “IRON LADY.” The first blundered she made was to pay very exorbitantly salary of government officials. Can anyone in his rightful mind tell me how a country like Liberia just from war pay her officials FIVE, TEN, FIFTEEN AND TWENTY THOUSANDS UNITED STATES DOLLARS A MONTH? Prior to the last election in Ghana, Parliamentarians crafted a bill increasing the salaries for both the President and themselves to more than FIVE THOUSANDS DOLLARS. This became a serious issue that immediately made the then Presidential Candidate John Dahama to halt such bill. If Ghana that is far above Liberia economically and developmentally cannot afford to pay her legislature the amount of Five or Ten Thousand dollars, then why should Liberia do such? The bribing of the Legislature for the passage of budgets and contracts demonstrate the EVIL IN PRESIDENT SIRLEAF AND HER FAKE DEMOCRATIC CREDENTIALS SHE PORTRAYED TO US DURING THE ELECTION, BUT BENEATH WAS HER REAL LIFE.
All the president’s promises, programs and projects are yet to be visible. And if there is any development, it is either a country from somewhere has decided to assist the people of Liberia, (e.g. Japanese initiative to build the Somalia Drive). But government owned initiatives become difficult to implement and complete successfully (e.g. the much talk about Belle Yalla Road Project; pavement of all the road connecting capital cities; cities streets; the reconciliation project fund that was converted for another project or misuse; the project for the assessment of the new city; building a new airport, etc.).
I was shocked sometimes ago when the Managing Director of the Liberia Water Sewage Corporation told the nation that the government is incapable of providing drinking water to the Monrovia alone. After ten years in power in a country that has vast rivers, creeks, lagoons, sea, lakes and swamps, yet the government cannot supply water to a city of about 1 million people. This is ludicrous. Also in a speech to the nation through the legislature, the president boasted of Equatorial Guinea Housing Project to Liberia. Can one imagine a poverty striking country like Equatorial Guinea building an estate for Liberia when her own citizens cannot afford lodging? This is another clever attempt by a government official (s) from Equatorial Guinea to solidify, validate, legalize and legitimize his or her looted wealth.
This year, again, the Madam has come boldly promising the nation heaven will come down projects. It is important to note that the president’s speech was written by the president, some of her able ministers, and well qualified advisors. Though most of what was mentioned (e.g. Executive Car Wash) did not worth been spoken about, yet we will give her the benefits of the doubt to prove herself wrong again. In her speech, she once again promised power generation when this was promised many years ago to be fulfilled in 2014. It has now been shifted to another date. Also, when the government should be implementing educational and agricultural projects, the president is still setting up committees to look into these sectors after ten years in power. Does this, in any sagacity, tell you if this government is serious? In fact, her speech simply shows that either the Madam is not in the know of her speech writings or she has lost touch with governmental activities.
Today the government is in Sinoe County for the celebration of the 168th independence of the country. Millions of United State dollars is expected to be used, in fact the road to Greenville was contracted some two years ago but has yet to be completed. Every government official attending this program is expected to import with him drinking water, alcoholic drinks and their concubines, while at the same time, the people in Sinoe and Grand Kru are drinking water from the creeks and rivers. Electricity for the first time will be visible to the people during the celebration, but right after the program, no more lights will be seen by these counties. While the president will be wasting millions of dollars on the independence celebration, no good health facilities and education are in these two counties.
In every civilized society, a wise and good leader is mandated to listen to his/her people but this is not the case in our country. What is the logic of spending millions of tax payers’ money on projects that won’t last, when those same monies could be diverted to sustainable projects like schools and healthcare centers? Since the President ascended to power we have had eight celebrations and yet all of those projects have become elephant’s projects with no completion or substandard projects that failed right after the celebration.
To conclude, we advise the president to restructure her policies (even though her tenure is nearing completion and it seems like nothing she can do) by focusing on projects that will have direct impact on the lives of citizens in the rural communities; wear her iron jacket of projects monitoring and also monitor her officials; make the various anti-corruption agencies very effective by reviewing audit reports and prosecuting those that warrant prosecution. The people of Liberia and the world have had enough of the president’s governance oratory. What we need now is ACTION.
Author: Phillip Saa Tali, Jr. is the Executive Director of Center for Governance and Regional Security, a concern Liberian scholar and political commentator. He has a Master degree in International Relations and Diplomacy and has written extensively on contemporary Liberian government and politics. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org