Growing Expectations Vs. Pro-Poor Agenda – The Analyst’s 2019 Resolution Toward Nation Building

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Liberia is now firmly locked up in its own decision—decision made first in October and then finally in December of 2017. One year on, there are no victors and no victims. There is no retreat. There is no surrender. The country—the government and the people—are faced with one option: to fight hard and ‘die small’ for a terribly backward country, the only country they have got, to meet up with other countries far advanced in transformation and development. The current year, 2019, is yet another opportunity begging for resilience, fortitude, patriotism and continued stability. There are a horde of prevailing issues as well as their resolution mechanisms that can be explored and utilized. The Analyst has identified a couple of them, and this is how the news organ presents them.

Liberia is a nation fighting tooth and nail to lift itself, by its own fusty bootstraps, from the depths of poverty and degradation it had sunk due to more than a century of mismanagement compounded by 14 years of senseless civil war. In its struggle for recovery – thanks to the watch and hand landing of the international community which just departed the country – Liberia has recorded modest gains in security, politics, the economy, and foreign relations over the last 15 years. However, as the young government is all-too-ready to admit, the Liberian people have still much to desire. For every step forward, there seems a half step backwards – for every gain in socio-economic and political development, there is a loss to corruption and mismanagement; there is a loss to political or communal acrimony of a sort. The way out of this, pundits agree, is for the nation to set a roadmap, a resolution of a sort, for 2019 that sets the trajectories for sturdy recovery, peace, and stability.

Yes, it must resolve that it shall never again tread those muddy grounds and quicksand of political bickering, undue skepticism, incrimination, and what many consider the beginning of witch hunting and obsession with official expediency. As the nation embarks yet on another epoch of national integration and peace and development this year, there loom spiraled expectations amongst the citizens, putting pressure on the ruling elites to work firmly for the good the nation. All this requires sobriety, determination and focus if tangible achievements are to be bagged at the end of the year. 

For the economy

The current picture: Though the Liberian economy of the nation graduated from “serious depression (or recession?)” to a starter phase in the first batch of years following the end of the civil conflict, things got disheveled in the aftermath of the outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus. Before the Coalition for Democratic Change government took over state power, the gains made got upside-down. Why the evolving situation may not be making of the current government, the economists will have to decide the proper rescue path to take.

Economic recovery and reconstruction are still a matter of hunt and peck, largely reliant on foreign assistance. The reason is the nation has just gained control over the tapping and trading of its offshore revenue generators, timber, and diamond. It is beginning to negotiate with new investors and renegotiate with old investors, having set new legal standards. Meanwhile the government continues to rely exclusively on taxes from domestic trade and Maritime operations. The international community, mainly the United States and its economic allies, is warming up to the needs of the country through increased aid and lending. There is agreement in both Monrovia and Washington that economic assistance must follow austere fiscal and economic management and sustainable peace in Liberia.

Obviously, there is no lack of consensus, neither is there any lack of trying to erect these safety posts, as the government’s financial management team fights tooth and nail to resuscitate a economy in shocks if not in coma.  But widespread fears about corruption continue to haunt the George Weah administration and this is certainly impacting direct foreign investment which stands out as the most viable alternative for survival from the cliff the country currently hangs.

In the face of competing interests, and even though the government has put reins on extra-budgetary expenditure and reduced the public servants’ salaries, it has barely been able to streamline expenditure in line with acceptable international standards and donor expectation. Attempts to de-tenuralize integrity institutions have been ringing bells in the ears of international partners and watchdog institutions.

There is a positive note to all this though: the government’s control of the money market and steps taken on extra-budgetary spending put into place is doubtlessly reaping dividends in revenue generation with corresponding budgetary expansion.

Citizens’ Expectation: Notwithstanding this current phase of the Liberia economy, the citizens expect increased job opportunities, improved wages, the jumpstarting of the private sector, and drastic reduction in the prices of consumer commodities specifically rice, building materials, and transportation fares determined by reduction in the prices of gasoline and fuel oil. They want also improvement in social services such as improved delivery of safe drinking water, electricity, refurbished and equipped public schools, and refurbished and equipped health faculties across the country. For them, post-war peace and reconciliation is inextricably bound to the provision of these facilities and opportunities. Even those who sympathize with government’s efforts have joined critics to press for robust government programs to alleviate the biting pervasive hardship.

 The resolution: The Weah administration, in one accord with the people, must muster all of the nation’s human and material resources to resolve that this nation needs sober programs for 2019, The administration must redouble its efforts in making itself the darling of the international community so that direct foreign investment will flow and international confidence restored, as it makes progress on domestic popularity owing to emphasis on road construction.

The Government’s foreign affairs or diplomacy must be stepped up because Liberia is not an island. The robust domestic program started in 2018 must be maintained or possibly increased but there leakages in foreign affairs must be tackled as to attract the favor of international community which will lead to improved investment opportunities and Liberia’s place in the international realm.  Much must be done to eradicate or minimize corruption through the efficient streamlining of fiscal spending, revenue collection and saving, and the establishment of priority spending regime; and that, the donor community is made to build confidence in the ability of the Administration to run the economy without hitches. In this regards, domestic and international fiscal and resource monitors, including the Liberia Extractive Industries (LEITI) must be left to do their jobs without interferences; they should not continue to be window dressing and armchair monitors but must become the true technical guards of transparency and accountability they were intended to be.

For Politics

The current picture: Following the ascendency of the soccer icon turned politician, George Manneh Weah and his Coalition for Democratic Change, the political playing field has been quite charged with aggression, bitterness and hate. While the opposition is by no means doing what is expected of it, they are too often concerning themselves with frivolous issues than the serious substantive political discourses expected by the population. On the other hand, the ruling CDC and its government have been too sensitive and allergic to criticisms to the extent of branding every critical mind as enemy of the state. The acrimonies with the media speaks unfavorable of its political temperament. Some opposition political leaders are still counting their losses, knocking on woods, and hinging their lucks on the 2023 presidential elections. With fear that they will live in want and squalor while out of government, some opposition figures have made themselves lukewarm and ambivalent. Independent minds are uncertain what will happen; whether the opposition community will break apart or they can put up a formidable force in the year to keep the government’s feet to the hearth.

Citizens’ Expectation: Political harmony, constant dialogue between the opposition on one side, and the ruling party and the Weah Administration on the other hand, to avoid the instance of divisive political bickering that has the potential to prompt donor drawbacks. Besides, they expect strategic cooperation between the opposition and the administration whereby inclusion will be based on individual merit rather than on politically derived job placement of the mediocre in government. They want prosecution of those violating the laws and the repeal of obsolete statutes that are hindering the anti-corruption fight and the safe delivery of justice in the courts of the land. They expect a law-driven opposition and not one relying on sentimentalism to push sectoral agendas at the expense of the rule of law. They want the prosecution of corrupt officials; and above all, they want a national peace and reconciliation agenda the implementation of which will not lead to more strife as some fear will be the case with the calls for War Crimes and Economic Crimes tribunals.

The resolution: The George Manneh Weah Administration has no choice but to draw up a political agenda that will introduce sobriety into the political field. Accomplishing this will require the administration to organize a series of disinterested political meetings aimed at drawing up what will be called the National Dialogue Conference where all Liberians will voice their positions on the path to transformation. Such a Dialogue will, amongst other things, exact consensus amongst politicians to critically monitor the government and exert reasonable pressure that will compel the government to deliver on its promises within the ring of wherewithal availability. It will also eschew radicalism for its own sake since radicalism finds its strength in violence and fear mongering, and violence and fear mongering measure their successes in the level of security breach, which Liberians do not need.  It will be unreasonable, for instance, to require the government to supply electricity to pre-war status when it is clear that the Mount Coffee Hydro-Plant requires more than it is doing. The Liberia Electricity Corporation needs to increase its output and penetration to cover many more homes, as electricity is the fulcrum of development and transformation that comes with employment and decent living. However, it will be unreasonable to expect the government to provide employment for all those unemployed and at the same time pave all major highways in the country within a year. The citizens will expect the opposition to play its role as the monitor of public policy and not to degenerate into the abyss of violence advocacy.

For Security

The current picture: Liberia’s internal security remains officially, essentially fragile. The departure of the international stabilization force, UNMIL, puts much strain for the security of a country that had depended on the international community for national security. Elections-related violence recently during representative bi-elections in District #13 in Montserrrado, however isolated raised eyebrows about the state of national security particularly during contentious national activities. Paralleling this is massive unemployment, which is taking its toll has implication on security. Excruciatingly low wages for security personnel and the massive peddling of narcotics are all red flags that hovers on the horizon to contend with in the coming months. Armed robberies are on the rise as electricity is still a luxury in the country.

Citizens’ Expectation: Following years of war and fear, Liberians cannot afford insecurity and violent crimes. Thus, they expect nothing less radical reduction in violent crime through joint security vigilance and preemptive operations. Also expected is the acceleration of the police re-forming process, the full rearming of the police, and the systematic prosecution of the criminals to serve as deterrence to would-be criminals. They expect the recycling of criminals – wherein the security forces simply arrest violent or career criminals, detain them without charge for unspecified period under so-called special security operations, and release by the force of the rule of law – to end.  Expected also is the complete rehabilitation and reintegration of ex-combatants Granted, the government and the international community officially ended the DDRR program sometime four years ago, but the citizens will expect a remedial program to address residual issues.

 The resolution: The Weah Administration must order a special commission to independently review conditions and situations being faced by various security apparatuses in the view of improving the quality of their service to the population. Such a commission, for instance, will review remunerations for security personnel, the quality of the places of their residence, the uniforms the wear and their exposure to training opportunities. The backgrounds of security personnel must be checked and those involved with excessive drinking and narcotics weeded out. Day and night patrols must be enhanced in communities and highways to help the free movement of goods and services. The Administration must insist that reintegration of ex-combatants is placed at the top of security priorities, remaining convinced that unless the issue of ex-combatants is solved, the security question will remain elusive and will continue to be an obstacle. The violence in Monrovia, mainly the so-called 2011 student riot for pay, paints a graphic picture of the powder keg of youth unemployment in Liberia.

For Social Services

The current picture: The Administration priority for paved roads in Montserrado and other counties is noteworthy.  Many communities are beneficiaries or potential beneficiaries of paved roads. This will reduce transportation fares, reduce traffic jams and enhance trade and commerce. It will promote agricultural production and other development initiatives. There are concerns in the area of water and sanitation. The public corporations that supply water and electricity are still largely operating at the mercy of humanitarian organizations and the development partners of Liberia. The government’s contribution has been marginal and will continue to be due to the volume of service competition amongst the various sectors of government. College education is made free in public universities and colleges. That’s also commendable. The Liberia Water and Sewer Corporation (LWSC) is operating minimally while the Liberia Electricity Corporation (LEC) is yet to revamp most of its prewar facilities. Both rely on the Mount Coffee Hydro-Plant, which requires more than a billion dollars to rehabilitate and put into full operation, to resume full capacity operation. Amidst this, domestic travel and the movement of goods and services are being made difficult by substandard roads that become impassable for six months every year. Unless these roads, mainly the key highways, are asphalted the government’s efforts underway, any other efforts including laterite building, remain a window-dressing attempt a crucial development incentive. Added to the difficulties posed by bad road conditions, the short supply of commercial vehicles is stepping up commuters’ inability to pay the fares being charged arbitrarily. The situation, though, is warming up to the steps government took two years ago to lift tariff on certain commercial vehicles, to boost the autonomous Monrovia transport agency, and to set minimum standards for metropolitan commuters. As the exchange rate between the Liberian dollar and other major currencies spiral out of the average citizen’s control, unemployment remains high and the hardship created as the result has pushed many young people into prostitution, armed robbery, human trafficking, and violent postures against the state. Meanwhile, bribery for grades has increased in schools, leaving academic standards questionable when viewed from the context of public examinations. Basic consumer prices remain high with a 100-lb bag of the nation’s staple food, rice, costing slightly below the take-home pay of the average civil servant. The citizens have only to stare speechlessly and hopelessly as the government claims one GDP growth after another and one successful fiscal implementation and performance after another.

Citizens’ Expectation: The public expect the full restoration of electricity and water at least to the capital. They expect also the reduction of the prices of basic consumer products or the stepping up of minimum wages to honorable levels. Current national budget estimates for minimal national wage is US $75.00. Whether or not the government has been able to activate this minimum wage is a question to ask. They will expect government to concentrate seriously on constructing at least one all-weather highway for the ease of travel and to spur commercial activities from which government draws much of its revenue. Furthermore, with the giant steps taken towards public education, installation of digital registration at the University of Liberia and free tuition for public colleges, the government must step up its support to these public tertiary schools and improve conditions in secondary schools which are feeders of the colleges.

The resolution: The Weah administration must use the outcome of its austerity program to raise money and obtain external support in order to jumpstart the restoration of basic social services at least to Monrovia and its environs. The recent reconditioning of access and back roads in the capital is commendable; but it is a drop in the ocean of the demands for access roads throughout the country. Besides, it must review the so-called Monrovia electrification program so that efforts can be concentrated on the restoration of the facilities of LEC at least in Monrovia by the second quarter of 2019. We commend the President’s recent pressure on the LEC, threatening to open up the energy sector for competition. That power for Monrovia is an emergency needs no elaboration, requires that the government collaborates and cooperates with the EU in designing plans for the revitalization of the water and sewage facilities of the water company – the Liberia Water and Sewage Corporation. Perhaps a quasi-privatization scheme will help settle the question of political manipulation that many say has marred the performance of the corporation since the early 1980s. The administration must resolve to prioritize education by stepping up the budgetary allotment for education to take into consideration the role of education in the DDRR programme of UN. It must remove bottlenecks to fair business practices such as unnecessary freight and surcharges that never reached government coffers, in order to reduce the costs of petroleum products, rice, and transportation. It must remove the high risk factor associated with the use of the Freeport of Monrovia by holding talks with UN, EU, the U.S. government, UNMIL, and Maritime officials to declare Liberian ports free of security risks. The government may want to strengthen security at the port to reduce pillaging and arbitrary sub-charges that are now discouraging many from shipping goods to the Freeport of Monrovia. The Budget for education is still down the required acceptable threshold. The National Budget must consider between 15% to 25% for education consistent with international protocols and national laws.

For Reconciliation

While there remains no question in the minds of the Liberian government and its partners that reconciliation remains the centerpiece to Liberia’s stability, growth, and development, the long silence of the guns seems to be producing lethargy in the peace work. The humanitarian community and its UN partners continue to pay lip service to reintegration and rehabilitation, two crucial factors to peace, harmony, and reconciliation. For instance, they are yet to come to the understanding that reconciling the Liberian people is not a political issue – that it is a tangible problem that reflects real social and security improvement benchmarks. More than eight years ago, the TRC released its final consolidated report aimed at resolving the peace and reconciliation problems. Ironically, the report is steeped more in extracting a pound of flesh from the so-called most liable war perpetrators and their “supporters” than in guaranteeing peace and reconciliation. The Weah government has not made public its position on the TRC report let alone its national reconciliation agenda. The Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development says little about reconciliation; copies are in fact scanty and not too many Liberians know where the country is heading regarding reconciliation. Through the immediate past president set up her own commission on peace and reconciliation, alternating the headship of the commission from one prominent Liberian to another, including President Weah then Senator of Montserrado, there is little or nothing being done by the current leader what national reconciliation amid mixed outcries and suggestions on the matter.

Meanwhile, the elements and vices that divided the Liberian society into splinter political and tension groups continue to exist, waiting to take advantage of whatever direction the TRC report takes in implementation – a quaggy dilemma. Liberians remain divided on land issues, tribal and class hegemonies, struggle for political power, corruption, and the centralization of opportunities by a privileged few. 

Citizens’ Expectation:  Improvement in the reintegration drive and collaborative efforts in finding legal and acceptable-to-all middle ground for the implementation of the TRC recommendations. The citizens want this feat achieved at the earliest possible time so that the chapter of war atrocity can be thrown behind them in order to begin the chapter of healing. Some citizens think the Weah administration must host a National Dialogue that will bring all stakeholders together to figure out a common approach acceptable to all.

 The resolution: The Weah administration must realize that the success of its programs and activities is inextricably tied to the success of TRC’s reconciliation program. It must therefore continue to find fast track, but legally binding solutions to the implementation of the TRC recommendations and continue to tie continued goodwill towards Liberia to the issue of security seen through the prism of the reunification of the Liberian people. It must also seek the removal of conflict caches and open serial national dialogues amongst the various dissenting groups for the purpose of forming national consensus outside the TRC report. A working alternative to the TRC recommendations will be a big relief.

While these resolutions are by no means exhaustive, analysts agree that they constitute a significant part of what can and must be done to improve the performance record of the Sirleaf Administration and thereby alleviate the suffering of the Liberian people in the next 12 months.

Meanwhile, the Management of The Analyst wishes the government and people of Liberia a Happy and Prosperous New Year as it bid them adapt these resolutions firmly and sincerely.

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