By Bai M. Gbala, Sr.
At a recent gathering of Liberian dignitaries – the big names, including the US Ambassador accredited to Liberia, USAID Executives, line Ministers and others – at a local hotel, with the Honorable, Dr. Fredrick Norkeh, Minister of Posts & Telecommunications, R. L.., the host in collaboration with the United States Agency for International Development, USAID, the funding partner. They launched what is called the E-Government and Digital Liberia Project, or the Information and Communication Technology (ICT).
In a major statement as Head and most senior management executive of the Information and Communication Technology sector in Liberia, Dr. Norkeh “called on policy makers to join (him) his Ministry (of Posts & Telecommunications)” and the funding partners (USAID) “in championing technological transfer in the country” (Analyst Liberia, March 23, 2017).
ICT, DIGITAL LIBERIA & E-GOVERNMENT
According to Dr. Norkeh, application of the Information & Communication Technology reduces time and cost, while it enhances and improves efficiency in government salaries and bills payments (taxes, LEC and related bills), financial management and reporting, tuitions and online-education, research and study such as medicine, disease control, security, public administration & service delivery, etc.
Digital Liberia, in general, enables citizens to link their business institutions, homes and other personal activities through digital communication connectivity to the worldwide web by the internet. Information and communication drives business which, in turn, drives the economy which, in turn, drives the nation.
Realization of the Benefits
Realization and enjoyment of the benefits of ICT, Digital Liberia and E-Government begin, first, with planning, development and implementation of relevant, national public policy, designed for effective/efficient and reliable supply of electricity. But reflection on the facts of history of Liberia’s past, recent past and the present-prevailing conditions, the development and application of the required technology is arguable a best and none-existent at worse, because:
1. It was the ruling Honorables for the past, almost, twelve years that looted and destroyed Liberia’s only Hydro-electric power plant, while the Liberia Electricity Corporation (LEC) has been unable to return the plant into operation due to public dishonesty and roaring corruption.
2. Liberia has been around for more than a century since political and economic independence in 1847; had been, was privileged to have and maintained special, favored nation historic ties, friendship and solidarity with the greatest, most successful, economic- and technologically-developed nation on earth, the United States of America; enjoyed/enjoys socio-economic and political benefits, throughout these years, up to the present, during which the United States provided Liberia with socio-cultural, economic, political, humanitarian and military support, numbering in the hundreds of thousands of billions of US dollars.
3. This included/includes Liberia’s traditional “Partners-in-Progress”, also, the United Sates and USAID; United Kingdom (UK) and its associated agencies; the European Union (EU) and individual countries with their aid agencies; the United Nation’s UNDP, aid agency. Most of these countries have been with Liberia through thick and thin throughout the years, with commitments to continue their contribution to Liberia’s development.
The Partners now include developing nations, such as India, the People’s Republic of China, the Empire of Japan, etc. with socio-economic, political, military, humanitarian aid increased, considerably, after Liberia’s 14-year, civil tragedy. It is reasonable to believe and hope that aid to Liberia will continue at a greater rate and volume than in the past.
But that aid, in billions of US dollars, evaporates in the pockets of government officials – crooks and thieves – and out of Liberia!!
Minister Norkeh called upon “policy makers”, his colleagues in government, but that call, in the light of prevailing conditions, falls on deaf, dishonest and corrupt ears. Perhaps, the Honorable Minister will do well to look closely into “mail theft” in his own Ministry of Posts & Telecommunications and the absence of national mail delivery. One can mail a letter to any destination worldwide, but only from central Monrovia, because there are no regional post offices in the towns and villages in rural Liberia, let alone urban areas, including the capital city of Monrovia and its enclaves.
Regarding the most issue of Launching - ICT, Digital Liberia and E-Government, this technology and service are tightly-controlled by corrupt, foreign-owned firms – Lone Star (with a Liberian face), Cellcom (recently acquired by an Ivorian firm) and Novaphone (whose status of operation is yet unknown) in collaborations with, also, corrupt regulatory officials of government - Liberia Telecommunication Authority (LTA) and Liberia Telecommunication Corporation (LIBTELCO). The companies’ cell phone and internet service is a colossal disaster, but nowhere to turn. We have written several Open Letters without, even, a response.
For example, the Monrovia Grapevine is drowning in gossip and rumor that the cell phone companies - Lone Star, Cellcom and Novaphone – bought, through corrupt practices, the Fiber Optic Cable installation plan into none-existence, because it threatened their inefficient-service business, but highly profitable.
Some Partners-in-Progress & Donors
This brings us to the crucial, critical issues of Economic and Political Policies. All of the nations and governments declared Anti-Corruption and Pro-Democracy Policies. But our information shows that some countries instruct their Country Aid Agents/Advisors to “cooperate fully with the governments on the ground”, apparently, “irrespective of moral and political deficiencies”. The agents/advisors found/find this instruction to be a goldmine in Liberia by collaboration with the corrupt public officials, because these agents/advisors live in five-star hotels, drive top-of-the-line, expensive, late model automobiles.
They rub shoulders with the President, Finance Minister and leading policy-making officials; thus, it is not in their best economic interest to question or seek to influence corrupt or dictatorial policies.
Some agents/advisors hold doctorates, but know very little or nothing about Liberian/African culture and tradition; they hardly visit the towns and villages in which the overwhelming majority of the population lives.