A Speech delivered by Amb. Rufus D. Neufville
Deputy Minister for Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) at the Official Closing Program of the Liberia Institute of Public Administration Third Training Cycle, 2016
Management of the Liberia Institute of Public Administration
Graduates and Families
Members of the Press
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen:
It gives me great pleasure and honor to represent the Minister of Youth and Sports. He would have loved to be here but due to official duties abroad he asked me to stand for him. Youth issues are multi dimensional and we have one Minister of Youth and Sports. The Minister acted appropriately by designating the Deputy Minister for Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET). My selection was based on the fact that many believe I am a reservoir of knowledge when it comes to issues bordering on capacity building and sustainable development.
Each time I have the opportunity to speak at graduation programs I do not verbalize about academic activities. I do not talk about the nuances of academic sojourns. This is not the occasion to talk about grade point average or the hours you spent in school. It is simply because I truly believe your instructors spent many hours talking about those basics. I am sure that where you sit you can pass any public examination with little stress. I hold this to be true because you have strong support from your families and friends. I also hold this to be true because I am no stranger to the diligence and undisputed achievements of the Liberia Institute of Public Administration. LIPA has no tolerance for tardiness. I must therefore use this opportunity to extend special appreciation to LIPA for this landmark achievement. I recognize the commitment you have. This recognition is evident by the fact that you continue to build the capacity of both public and private sector institutions for better service delivery. Providing guidance for four hundred fifty three (453) participants is an immense duty and only a team of professionals can do that.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is needless to accentuate how the prolonged civil war shattered our country. It destroyed our already feeble human resource and vanquished our infrastructure. I need not emphasize on how many professionals died and how many fled the country. Even the phrase “brain drain” may not adequately describe the mass exodus of professionals. Admittedly, though this government is applying a lot of time and resources to solve this problem, it persists. It is at this crucial point that institutions like LIPA are indispensable to national recovery. Today our attention is drawn to the fruit of your labour. You have trained a lot of good people in the areas of Human Resource Management, Procurement, Project Planning Management, Internal Audit & Control, Monitoring & Evaluation, Public Financial Management, Public Policy Analysis, Banking and Finance and Public Sector Management. Indeed, LIPA is a good example of how the canon of good governance can be implanted in society.
This class looks good. It must be a good class because of the demand for improvement in the disciplines offered during the cycle. You look strong and courageous but I want you to prepare for war. I want you to go out and look for the enemy. When you see the enemy, shoot. That enemy is not a human being; it has no flesh and blood. Waylay the enemy at all levels and bring it down. That enemy is so powerful that it may destroy you if you did not study well during the LIPA program. That enemy is corruption. When you fight that enemy, you fight many visible and invincible people. Frederic Bastiat was a strong advocate of classical liberalism and the economics of Adam Smith. Here is what Bastiat said about corruption: “When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men in society, over the course of time they create for themselves a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it”. The essence of this training is to fight that menace that is deeply rooted in the fabric of society. LIPA has trained you so you can help government and civil society to promote integrity and destroy that enemy.
Fellow professionals, the significance of capacity building to sustainable development can well be stationed on a system that is functional and not one that merely survives. Professionals in most parts of the world work towards the sustainability of a system. In Africa, especially Sub-Saharan Africa, we build systems and try to sustain them at the same time. There is always a new formula because the old once failed repeatedly. Notwithstanding these complexities, sustainable development can be attained if we do two things: First, we must have the will to build strong institutions and not strong individuals. We need a strong legislature and not a strong and powerful speaker; we need a strong accounting system and not a strong Minister of Finance; we need a strong prosecutorial system and not a strong Minister of Justice; Liberia does not need a strong Health Minister, what we need is a strong health delivery system; I do not want to know the name of the Public Works minister, I want good road maintenance policy and good buildings; it is better to know the decent work bill or law than to know the name of the Labor Minister; if you have a problem you must call an active 911 and not the personal cell phone number of the Police Director. If we grow more food we will be happy even if the Ministry of Agriculture is located in Lofa and the Minister lives on his farm; if the kids do well in WAEC Exams and output improves we will appreciate the Minister of Education even if he is never seen in public. This strong man syndrome has beclouded the development of Liberia since independence. Men grew while systems perished. So each time these men died we started the system all over. When President Tubman went to heaven, all his Public Relations Officers (PROs) were dropped from the government’s payroll. They served Tubman, not the government. When Presidents Tolbert and Doe followed Tubman similar thing happened. Since President Taylor was taken to the UK, nothing is heard about his vision 2024. This culture of “strong men” must end if we need sustainable development.
The second thing is to put square pegs in square holes and round pegs in round holes. The President can only appoint few people in government. Most technicians are not directly employed by her. She has tried to get qualified people at the very top but those people can only succeed with the support of the middle level technicians. If the right people are not around the minister, he will do the work alone. And because he is not invincible the institution will fail. Putting the right people in the wrong position is just as dangerous as putting the wrong people in positions. There is an adage that behind every successful man is a woman. Similarly, behind every successful administrator is a team of high-quality technicians. When I served as Chief of Protocol of the Republic of Liberia, we tried to give national honors to some unsung heroes. I remembered we awarded the Star of Africa to one very old man. He was the chief plumber during the construction of the Capitol Building, the Executive Mansion and the Temple of Justice. All I knew was that President Tubman built those buildings. Who ever thought that there was one Liberian plumber who led the team to do such a great job?
We all believe that the best way to sustain development is by building the capacity of the citizens. The Ministry of Youth and Sports runs several TVET programs including the Monrovia Vocational Training Center (MVTC), KAVTC, Julijuah, TUMUTU and BDOTC. Our TVET institutions have graduated a total of 3,328 students. Due to this success, we are experiencing an upsurge in enrollment as our current enrollment stands at 4,971, with MVTC alone accounting for 3,865 students for this cycle. The unceasing determination of the President to promote vocational education is consistent with the National Policy on Technical Vocational Education and Training launched by this administration few years ago. Young people today are better than young people few years ago. Our commitment has not changed.
Ladies and gentlemen, the road ahead is not that easy. The job market is tight and there are more vices than virtues. People will let you down. Many more will think you have wasted your time because of the initial difficulties that may confront you. Graduation is not an end but a means to an end. The road will be rocky because of the narrow fiscal space. Some bosses may deliberately decide to put you down. Don’t be surprised if you are round and the square pegs take your round position. See it as the system LIPA trained you to fix. The factors responsible are obvious. All I can say is LIPA has trained you to improve the system. You have the herculean task to transform a nation whose history is replete with booty and loot—a nation with a sad history of very strong men and weak systems. Yes! I am talking about a nation where people praise the “strong men” who tear down the system for personal gains. I insist that you may join a workforce where more people vilify, scorn and denigrate the people who try to build institutions.
In spite of this, I have good news for you. Those who persevere are those who succeed. Those who don’t give up are those who develop nations. Calvin Coolidge, the 30th President of the United States of America led the nation through most of the twenties, a decade of social consciousness and cultural change. He said, “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful talented men. Genius will not: unrewarded geniuses are almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” You have to try and try again and you will realize your dreams.
Finally, it must be noted that we are in critical times. The election year is here. Many people will attempt to proffer policy prescriptions for sustainable development. It will be your first time hearing about some of them. Some will tell you the streets of Liberia will be paved with gold when you make them President or legislators. Some will even say they will build a palace for you. You need to ask them the real questions (or you need to ask us the real questions): What are your plans for capacity development? What new do you have to offer in the fight against corruption? How can you improve the Justice system? Is there anything new about health and education and agriculture and infrastructure and jobs? How do we maintain the peace and stability? Remember to ask them on how they intend to provide more support to LIPA. Do not allow them to raise too many battle cries. All those “Muyan, Muyan and Zaykwae, Zaykwae” are intended to baffle the real issues. I tell you my friends; loving Liberia is not enough for national leadership and sustainable development. You must have the capacity to lead a country in addition to loving the country. Patriotism is inadequate without capacity. We cannot give you a plane to pilot only because you love airplanes. Society will also not allow you to perform surgery on your mother without the necessary medical skills only because you love her. Simply put, capacity building is the precondition to sustainable development in all sectors including national leadership. This is the capacity development LIPA is demonstrating here today. I want to use this occasion to ask some national leaders to bury their pride and take advantage of the next training cycle. The loosely apparent alternative to capacity development is to wait for the far remote probability of finding a diamond on Broad Street. Or, you could try to win lotto in New York City. But even if you do, capacity to manage will still become an issue.
Good people, allow me to land by once again extending special thanks and appreciation to the Liberia Institute of Public Administration for helping to save the future. We also appreciate the graduates for your hard work. Together we can build our country. We can make our neighbors run here for peace. We can receive economic refugees from West African countries and give them hope. We must start by building institutions. We can sustain development if we build capacity to uphold the system and stop the culture of individualism.
God bless Liberia!