Since the end of 2018, various groups, particularly media houses, have been giving their impressions about the performance of Liberia’s 24th President and his entire administration as far as the delivery of critical public services and democratic goodies are concerned. Even ordinary citizens have had their say on these matters. The first eminent Liberian to speak so formally and loudly on the scorecard of President George Manneh Weah and the way his administration handled the nation is Cllr. Charles Walker Brumsine, though he said he was doing so in his private capacity and not a political opposition figure. As The Analyst reports, the LP founding standard-bearer generally faulted the works of the year-old administration before making quite a number of recommendations particularly on electoral reform.
Cllr Charles Walker Brumskine, has spoken for the first time since the incumbency of President George Weah’s administration and he had much problems with how the country was managed during the administration’s first year.
Speaking on the Prime FM radio station in the capital Monrovia, Cllr Brumskine pointed to a plethora of what he called “shortcomings and missteps” that he said engulfed every aspect of national life owing to how the ruling administration governed over the last twelve months.
He bemoaned the breach or shift of the Constitutional check and balance, which characterize a democratic government, saying this has been “in an obvious state of disarray.”
“The allegations of corruption, misuse of public funds, and outright stealing are just small parts of the problems that afflict our nation today; and, the culture of impunity accentuates it all,” he said.
Adding his constitutional law flavor to his statement, Cllr Brumskine said Executive, headed by the President, is just one of the three branches of government; the Legislature and the Judiciary must also be active players in the exercise of their respective constitutional mandates, if we will ever stop the ill practices of the past, and move our country into the 21st Century.
On Allegations of Missing Money
He mentioned rather cursorily the allegations of the missing 16 billion Liberian dollars; the US$25 million, which is said to have been disbursed by the government outside of the usual banking channel; and, the unprecedented number of buildings and housing units that are said to have been erected or are being constructed by President Weah.
Though he said, “I will not dwell on those issues,’ Brumskine noted that these critical national issues are not likely to go away, without a comprehensive report from President Weah to the people of Liberia, especially given the nation’s state of abject poverty, and the depressed national economy.
He said the President has the duty to let the people know what has happened to their money, adding: “I implore the President to do so!”
“The President may consider using his Annual Message to the Nation to explain to Liberians the status of things. The 16 billion Liberian dollars—what happened to the money? The US$25 million—who were the Liberians that benefited from the disbursement of that money? How did the disbursement of the US$25 million to those individuals improve the economy? The President might also want to explain, what may be a mere coincidence, the allegations of the disappearance and/or misuse of public funds, and the construction and/or acquisition of an unprecedented quantity of properties, just as he became President of the nation.”
On Poverty Alleviation
The LP standard-bearer said after 12 months in office, it would also be good to know how has the President’s economic policy impacted the live of Liberians; how many Liberians have moved from below the poverty line to the middle class.
According him, under his leadership as President Pro Tempore of the Liberian Senate, the Liberianization law was amended, increasing the number of businesses that only Liberians are allowed to engage in from12 to 26.
“It would be good for the President to let Liberians know whether his government is enforcing the Liberianization law,” he said, quipping, “And if so, the number of non-Liberians that has been stopped from engaging in businesses that have been set aside by law for only Liberians; and, who are those Liberians who have taken over those set-aside businesses?
On Abolishing Tenured Positions
The LP leader also spoke of the Bill submitted to the Legislature by President Weah to discontinue the tenure of officials of certain agencies of government.
He said: “We understand that the Bill is now before the Senate. We, therefore, call upon the Senate to ensure that certain of those agencies retain their tenure security. Certainly, the General Auditing Commission (GAC), the National Elections Commission (NEC), the Central Bank of Liberia, the Public Procurement & Concession Commission (PPCC), the Internal Audit Commission, the Land Commission Authority, and, the Independent National Commission on Human Rights, should all enjoy the benefit of tenure security, which is intended to ensure the independence of those agencies from the Presidency.”
He said these agencies were all designed to serve as checks on usual excesses of government, and Liberia’s culture of patronage.
“Therefore,” Brumskine said, “if those officials of government will serve at the will and pleasure of the President, they would not be independent, and would consequently be unable to effectively perform their official functions.”
He further asserted that given the socio-political culture of our nation, the presidency needs to be democratized, not made more powerful.
“Therefore, I implore the President Pro Tempore and his colleagues of the Senate to ensure that those agencies of government remain independent and not be subjected to the whims and caprice of the Presidency. By so doing, you will help to strengthen Liberia’s fledgling democracy.”
On Muzzling the Press
Cllr Brumskine also used the public statement to speak to issue of press freedom, and perceptions that the Government was muzzling the press, in an attempt to restrain free speech.
He referenced the issue of Patrick Honnah’s Punch FM that he claimed was denied an Operational Licensed for no apparent reason and the incident about a group of legislators have instituted a libel action against Philibert Brown, because of his investigative report on the missing 16 Billion Liberian dollars.
Brusmkine also mentioned what he called an official of government spoke of weaponizing the fight against the media, in an attempt to weed out “the bad elements.”
He acknowledged that “as public officials and public figures, we have all experienced the venom of the Press, sometimes justifiable; at other times their reporting can be untrue,” but stressed that “A press that is free to investigate and criticize the government is absolutely essential in a nation that practices self-government and is therefore dependent on an educated and enlightened citizenry.”
He further said on press freedom: “Thomas Jefferson, emphasizing the importance of the Press in a democracy, is reported to have said that, “The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers [the press] or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”
On Opposition Collaboration
Regarding forming a formidable opposition bloc, Cllr Brumskine said: “Then there is the Press—the fourth estate; and, those of us who take pride in referring to ourselves, as “opposition politicians”—a title for which the real meaning is rather elusive. Mr. Benoni Urey has taken the initiative of speaking with former Presidential Candidates to ensure that we come together and collaborate, for which I commend him. I confirmed to Ben, and I say to all Liberians, that I am in full support of working together with others in the interest of our country.”
He however noted that in order to ensure that opposition collaboration is meaningful, “I suggest that opposition politicians work on a plan, with defined goals and objectives for moving our country forward.”
Then he added: “Our collaboration must not be about jobs for ourselves, whether now or in the future; certainly, we must collaborate because we desire to change the status quo. If not, we would be like others, who have criticized simply because they wanted to share in the spoils of government, but without an idea of what governance is all about.”
He also said comprehensive electoral reform is probably one of the first and most important issue that should be tackled by opposition politicians.
He asked rather rhetorically: “How can we engage President Weah, how can we convince members of the Legislature, how can we mobilize our supporters and the electorate at large to understand that the foundation of our democracy rests upon free, fair, and credible elections? We must understand that unless there is a comprehensive electoral reform in Liberia, all of our ambitions, public utterances, or condemnation would be exercises in futility. If we would like to have the will of the voters reflected in election results, we must insist on electoral reform before the 2023 Presidential and General Elections. “
On electoral Reforms
Commenting on the need for electoral reform, Cllr Brumskine said it would prudent for political parties to recommend to the President for appointment individuals who would serve as Commissioners at the National Elections Commission (NEC); with the Commissioners choosing from among themselves, a Chairman.”
“Electoral complaints against the NEC should be filed before a court that would be authorized by law to hear and determine such complaints, and not before the NEC,” he noted, asserting further that this does not have to entail extra-budgetary expenditure to create a new court.
He said the jurisdiction of an already existing court may be expanded to include the adjudication of such electoral matters.
He observed that during a confidence building period between the NEC and opposition politicians, Voter Registration papers/machines, and ballot papers and boxes, and other sensitive electoral materials should be kept in a sealed placed, with several locks, and the keys thereof assigned to the NEC and an agreed number of representatives of political parties, including the ruling party, respectively.
“This will ensure that NEC staff, and government officials would not have access to those materials in the absence of representatives of political parties.”