Implications of Taylor's Decentralization
By Wollor Topor
February 2, 2001
Our discussion here is not to fuss over how Taylor's "Night Legislature" passed the Act for the Local Government Code enabling the formation of Regional Grouping of counties and the creation of additional counties. Neither do we have problem with the criteria for a group to petition the Liberian National Legislature for a status. The1986 Constitution provides relatively less information on the Local Government System of Liberia.
However, one thing that comes to mind is that Taylor's attempt at decentralization of Liberia is an eye-opener to Liberia's local government system. Therefore, our concern is "how" can ordinary Liberians participate in the decentralization of the Local Government System?
Additionally, what could President Charles Taylor's vision of decentralization of Liberia's local government mean? There are two schools of thought: firstly, it is possible that Taylor decided to pursue the decentralization of the country local government units to use his acquired economic wealth from the blood of Liberians and looting of the natural resources to speed up social amenities like infrastructure, modern methods of farming, adequate transportation, and communication facilities etc. geared towards improving the quality of life of Liberians. Why not? By now, he should have a well-defined means in terms of resources-financial, but doubtfully if the manpower is available in Liberia. President Charles Taylor has all rights to begin his development process from the rural areas; this is where he looted the natural resources. If Taylor's vision is real, the focus should be on agriculture and rural infrastructures with a "human face" not guns, knowing fully well that over 60 per cent of the population live in the rural setting and that their livelihood depends on subsistence agriculture.
The second school of thought is that Taylor wants to solidify power as he did in 1997, to make his presence felt in the entire country for the coming elections. I say this, because in the decentralization process where local officials are appointed by the president, power is not only transferred, but also local bureaucracies. Those local officials are Taylor's stooges and campaign masters; he is planting them in those counties to help propagate his stewardship and fortify them for the coming elections. This is Taylor's strategy to place his "posters" on the walls for the coming elections; Liberian politicians should take note by organizing social programs to meet the basic needs of the people. The needs of the people, and not the political rhetoric, will drive them to transform. After all, a village in need of safe drinking water will never refuse to part-take in a project because it is not from the government, neither will any sick individual refuse to take much needed medical help because it is not from the NPP Headquarters, the children will always appreciate a school building no matter who donates it.
By the way, Taylor's decentralization process is inadequate and more need to be done. Perhaps he's not aware that decentralization is a development path that integrates local resources and people to achieve the desired impact within a period of time. Experience throughout the world indicates that a responsible government at the end of every war tries to mobilize the people for a sustainable reconstruction process. Therefore, the following have to be put in place:
1. The repatriation of Liberians from refugee camps and internally displaced centers, which will at least afford them the opportunity to participate in the decentralization process. This requires genuine reconciliation and a change of heart to win the people's confidence that will allow Liberians to open their minds, hearts and trust in returning for the rebuilding of their nation. This vow to go after his so-called "enemies" even in their "mothers' wombs" does not auger well as the Chief Executive of the State.
2. Provide educational facilities or replace even the roofs that were looted from school buildings to enable the children of Liberia to learn and make intelligent choice based on their interest. Manpower is a vital component in every development activity.
3. The government should create a genuine business atmosphere that will attract investors, such attraction should not be at the expense of the country's growth and development by lowering or evading taxes. Investment should aim at efficiency. The efficiency herein attempts to answer the question: what is the benefit to the entire nation? And the nation must get that benefit.
4. Decentralization requires fiscal prudence to enable the local authorities carry out its necessary functions; this requires a stabilized economy with a structure and control over taxes and expenditures on budgetary bases.
Decentralization is not only a moral and political issue; it is also an important development principle that requires the real engagement of local people in governing and running their own affairs. Its primary objective is geared towards the central government forming a partnership with Local Government Units to effectively and fully participate in national development efforts. The organizational structures allow the Local Government officials to have direct administrative supervision and control over personnel, equipment, and facilities; thereby "weaning" the Local Government Units from the national government somehow.
Furthermore, this participation requires capacity building, competency, skills and abilities as well as financial means/resources to handle the decentralization process for the desirable changes. Liberia with a population of 2.7 million people of which the illiteracy rate is over 70 per cent with such a tumbling economy can decentralization process work in Liberia!
Decentralization is not mere rhetoric or appeasing Taylor's cohorts/comrades with empty position or authorizing them to further distress peaceful ordinary Liberians. The establishment of additional counties is not what Taylor promised Liberians; the creation of political sub-divisions without any means of fostering the necessary development is only a hoax to the Liberian people. Taylor's ascendancy to the State number or office was not a mistake neither were Liberian fools. Think about the song "You killed my pa, you killed my ma, I will vote for you." Liberians calculations were based on:
1. Exhaustion with senseless killings and the continuous looting of the nation's resources; one will believe that ECOWAS and the international community may have shared similar view.
2. Electing Taylor in the hope that this would have brought an end to the war, unify the people and rebuild the country. Instead, the country is being further divided by the process of decentralization that only has a selfish political motive of furthering Taylor's perpetual rule.
While Taylor has turned Liberia against the world, the world has not turned against Liberia.