Political and Social Reform in Liberia

Presented by Mohamedu F. Jones, Esq.
At The All Liberian National Conference
April 15 2005, Columbia, Maryland.


The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
April 18, 2005

The over-arching objective of political and social reform in a country is to foster economic, social and political advancement, reduce economic, social and political inequalities, and promote inclusive and legitimate government in order to achieve these goals, and in post-conflict nations like Liberia, avoid and prevent national conflicts going into the future.

Reform is extraordinarily difficult and is fraught with challenges. A major problem is the size and flow of the reform agenda. Often, there is little guidance about what is essential, what should come first and what should follow and what is feasible. It is important that reform take account of the pre-existing social and institutional structures in the country.

Particularly in a democracy, politics, and thus reform, involves competing interests and ideologies, power struggles, conflict and competition. Moreover, and importantly, reform is a continuing work-in-process; it would be a mistake to think that there is ever a point when one can say political and social “reform” has been achieved.
After nearly 160 years of state failure, the political and social reforms that are required in Liberia are voluminous, as well as complex and multi-dimensional. Building states that are both effective and accountable to their citizens is a centuries-long process. But small beginnings can set in motion progressively more profound consequences.
Political and social reform ought therefore to be guided by principles. Some paradigms that ought to drive reform in Liberia are:

1) The determinants and impacts of good governance and the relationship of good governance to national development;
2) Institutionalizing transparent and accountable governance;
3) Rationally improving governance capacities and performance;
4) Designing, implementing; monitoring and assessing the progress of national development programs and strategies.

Within the framework of these paradigms, several core areas for reform that one might consider in respect to Liberia are:

· Political Systems: governing institutions and the environment of governance.
· Governance: government performance, the quality of national institutions and people’s perceptions of them.
· Service Delivery: how public services are distributed and their impact on people.
· Safety Security and Access to Justice: safety from violence and intimidation, security of personal property, and equality of access to justice.
· Public Financial Management and Accountability: government capacity to raise revenues, set spending priorities, prevent corruption, allocate resources and to effectively manage the delivery of those resources.
· Land Reform: ownership, tenure, use, legal status and their relationships to economic activities and poverty reduction.
· Decentralization: giving voice to people throughout the country and ensure the efficient provision of basic services for all and allowing more direct participation at local levels.
· Institutional Development: identifying and developing core competence.
· Economic Development: sustainable economic growth and poverty reduction.

In reforming Liberian state institutions, getting the right fit requires facing the realities on the ground. Efforts to strengthen administrative and accountability systems in the country will have to fit Liberia-specific structures and ought to be directed to realizing the country’s political, social, and economic best interests.

A special word on corruption: Experts state that the roots of corruption lie in dysfunctional state institutions. There is general agreement that poor governance and corruption are major factors that undermine a country’s economic and social progress. Corruption not only stifles economic growth in society as a whole but also tends to affect the poor disproportionately by increasing the price for public services and restricting poor people’s access to essential services such as water, education, and health care.

Importantly, because of the state of Liberia’s bureaucratic and institutional capabilities, comprehensive reforms may not be the answer. It may be preferable to focus on more modest, viable initiatives, especially those for which results are observable. For example, if you can’t fix the whole government, getting local schools throughout the country to work may spearhead more reforms down the road.

Finally, I offer you my wish list of eventual desirable outcomes of reforms in Liberia:

(1) I wish for national institutions that act faster and only in the interest of the governed;
(2) I wish a highly productive society;
(3) I wish a government that is smarter and cleverer, attracting the best and brightest to public service, but always working in the interest of the people;
(4) I wish systems that expedite industry and commerce;
(5) I wish political leadership without the attitude that rulers are better than anybody else, leadership that is more trusting and sharing, because there are only a few genuine needs for government secrecy, and one that realizes that there is absolutely no need for human rights abuses;
(6) I wish a bureaucracy that is proactive and futuristic;
(7) I wish instituted standardized, but yet fair ways of dealing with citizens;
(8) I wish a robust and constantly expanding civil society;
(9) I wish equitable access to land ownership and use;
(10) I wish a nation ruled by law.
A Bibliography
1. Leftwich, A. 2002, “Debate: Democracy and development. A contradiction in the politics of economics”, in New Political Economy, Vol. 7, No. 2, 2002.
2. Carothers, T. 1997, “Democracy assistance: the question of strategy,” Democratization, vol. 4, no. 3.
3. Oxford Policy Management, July 1999, “Prioritisation and fiscal responsibility: now to involve politicians in expenditure management”, Issue Paper 2, Oxford Policy Management, Oxford.
4. Marquette, H., 2003, “The Changing Orthodoxy on Democracy and Development’, in ‘Corruption, Politics and Development: The Role of the World Bank”, Marquette, H., Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke.
5. Sudders, M. and Nahem, J., 2004, “Governance Indicators: A Users Guide”, United Nations Development Programme, Oslo Governance Centre, Oslo.
6. DFID 2000, “Justice and poverty reduction: safety, security and access to justice for all”, Department for International Development publication, 2000.
7. Schiavo-Campo, S.(ed), 1994, Institutional Change and the Public Sector in Transitional Economies, World Bank Discussion Paper 241, World Bank, Washington DC.
8. Grindle, M. 2002, Good Enough Governance: Poverty Reduction and Reform in Developing Countries, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, Cambridge.
9. Khan, M., 2002, 24-26 June, State Failure in Developing Countries and Strategies of Institutional Reform, Draft of Paper for World Bank ABCDE Conference, Oslo.
10. Hyden, G., Court, J. and Mease, K., 2003, “Making Sense of Governance: The Need for Involving Local Stakeholders”, ODI Discussion Paper.