SPECIAL NATION-WIDE ADDRESS
BY ALEXANDER B. CUMMINGS, POLITICAL LEADER
ALTERNATIVE NATIONAL CONGRESS (ANC) & CHAIRMAN COLLABORATING POLITICAL PARTIES (CPP) – August 5, 2020
MY FELLOW LIBERIANS:
173 years ago, we declared ourselves a new and independent nation. Our declaration was a statement to the world, and to ourselves. To the world, we announced that we were free, equal to all nations, and not the subject of any nation. To ourselves, we pledged that we would strive to build a vibrant society – that out of our differences and experiences, we would strive to be united, building a democratic nation dedicated to freedom, justice and equal opportunity for all.
Our Declaration of Independence offered inspiration and hope for many seeking freedom and the right to self-governance. It was not a promise to be perfect, or without failings. It was a guarantee that from each failure – from each bad experience in self-governance – we would learn to be better, and will be more committed to building a future of peace, unity and shared prosperity.
Prior to my journey home to Harper, Maryland County for the 26, I undertook the tradition of wishing our people a “HAPPY” Independence Day Celebrations. Days later, as I travelled across perennially impassable roads – roads which restrict the flow of people, goods and services, and even worse, threaten to cut our people off from the Capital of the country; as I travelled the route from Montserrado to Margibi, Grand Bassa to Rivercess, Sinoe to Grand Kru, Maryland to Rivergee, Grand Gedeh to Nimba, Bong to Margibi and Margibi back to Monsterrado, and again saw their living conditions – it struck me as a cruel jest to have wished our people HAPPY Independence.
For many Liberian families, there is nothing to celebrate, especially when many homes are still without the basic necessities of life, like food, light, or safe and clean drinking water.
173 years later, rather than being independent, we are increasingly dependent on other nations for the most basic things, including to feed ourselves, and to pay the meager, and now harmonized salaries of civil servants. How can anyone really celebrate when we have managed ourselves so poorly? Why should anyone celebrate seeing that the hope we once inspired is now fading, the lone shining star is dimmed, and the dream is becoming a nightmare?
173 years later, our country ranks amongst the poorest and most corrupt in the world. By every socio-economic and development indicator, many of the countries whose independence we helped to inspire, or which experienced conflicts like we did, have left us behind. While these countries are speeding up ahead with their developments shamelessly, our leaders are continuing to show more interests in doing the wrong things for short-term personal gains rather than doing the right things for long term national benefits.
173 years later, where we should be an example of a thriving democracy, politically stable and economically prosperous, our government is still holding out its hands begging for crumbs, celebrating mediocrity, and basking in incompetence. Where the leadership of our nation should unite, it divides. Where it should see, it is blind. Where it should take responsibility, it is irresponsible. Where its perspective should be national, it settles for the personal. And where it should care, it cares less.
173 years later, the quality of education offered to our children and the healthcare we provide to our people are unacceptably poor. Our budgetary investments in basic social services such as education and health undercut our need for human capacity development. Our children, the future of our nation, are failing and falling behind other children in the region, and the world. Pregnant women, especially in rural communities, are without easy access to the medical help they need as maternal and infant mortality are increasing unconscionably, including in urban areas.
MY FELLOW LIBERIANS:
The CPP cannot suggest that all of the problems we face today are the making of this administration. However, by their incompetence, lack of vision, extortion, and appeals to division and lawlessness – by the overwhelming evidence of their lack of leadership and duty to care – in only three years, this George Weah-led Administration has quadrupled the problems they inherited. Where it was bad, they have succeeded to make worse, and where it was good, they have effectively destroyed. They have reversed the gains our country struggled to make, and for which we were recently considered a good example of a developing post-conflict nation.
Like many before him who our people honored with the duty to lead our country, President George Weah has carelessly and selfishly abandoned Liberians, and Liberia. Wastefully bleeding the country, by his bad examples, President Weah is encouraging a few of his friends to generate and display wealth they did not have, and were not able to declare, before assuming public offices.
Rather than investing in making our young people productive and ready to lead our country into a better and brighter future, this government is investing in militarizing them, inciting them to violence, and teaching them that it is acceptable to lie, steal, cheat, be dishonest, and intolerant of others. Our young people, desperate to improve their lives, are being misled into thinking that such despicable acts are formulas for success, and a measure of successful leadership.
In the CPP, we are worried about our young people, and deeply concerned about the future of our country. Thanks to the lack of leadership of Mr. Weah, our young people, who are the future of our country, are being wrongly impressed that education is not important; that without taking personal responsibility, and making sacrifices for a greater cause, somehow their circumstances, and the conditions of our country, will miraculously improve.
We are also worried about women political participation under this government. In this age of inclusion, any government, political party or coalition which marginalizes women and does not value their participation enough to include them for consideration in the electoral process, is a joke. That party needs to re-examine their commitment to women inclusion and participation. The current all-male candidates slate of the Weah-led ruling party is an insult to Liberian women! I promise you that the CPP will not only include women in leadership as it already has, but will also support them for elected offices on CPP tickets for all elections!
MY FELLOW LIBERIANS:
The leadership of our country is rudderless and the state of our nation is WEAK. The future of our nation under Mr. Weah is anything but bright; our international image is once again soiled; and our reputation is tarnished. Rather than being respected in the region and the world, in just under three years of this administration, our country is being ridiculed and humiliated.
Our ship is sinking. Too many of our people are suffering. We are increasingly seeing a culture of moral bankruptcy being promoted with a determination to destroy the last piece of the moral fabric of our society. This is wicked. It is immoral, and it threatens our longterm peace and security.
Rather than deliver basic services, foster a unified and productive nation, and care for our people, those given the mantle of national leadership are busying themselves with dividing Liberians. They are too busy enriching themselves that they have either forgotten, do not know how, or just do not care, about the most important duties for which they were elected.
And so, while countries of the world are struggling with one pandemic, in Liberia, we are confronted with three (3): The Poverty Pandemic, The Rape Pandemic and the COVID 19 Pandemic.
According to the 2020 Report of the World Bank, under this administration, over half a million Liberians are expected to drop below the poverty line this year! The actual number is 526,000. 526,000 Liberians – friends, relatives, neighbors, people we know, and some we may not know; people we went to school with, or pass by in the streets every day will live on less than one dollar and ninety cents or less than 380 Liberian Dollar a day. This will put our poverty rate at 65% up from 54% in 2016. The Pro-Poor Agenda is now officially the Make Liberians Poorer Agenda.
Who could have imagined that only three years on, the Pro-Poor Agenda would be a code to keep our people poor rather than lift them out of poverty? As an opposition community, the CPP is troubled by this. In fact, we are deeply troubled by it. It is in response to the suffering of our people that we have come together. For me, and all of us, the suffering we see has compelled us to try to do something different to change it. We have come together because we know that we cannot continue like this.
MY FELLOW LIBERIANS:
We know that the root cause of poverty is corruption. Where corruption thrives, as it is currently, poverty will rise. This government is very corrupt. In fact, it is the most corrupt we have had. This is not only the opinion of the Liberian opposition. It is the result of a global assessment. As a result, despite being blessed with many natural resources and endowments, our people are becoming poorer and even more destitute.
Additionally, we see the government systematically breakdown and destroy the integrity institutions created to fight corruption by either underfunding them or staffing them with incompetent loyalists. Integrity institutions are receiving far less resources now than they were when this government took over. Comparing the approved budget of FY2017/18 to the draft appropriations for FY 2020/21, we see that PPCC draft budget has been reduced from US$1.4 Million to US$752,754; LEITI from US$553,356 to US$220,849; General Auditing Commission from US$5.3 Million to US$4.5 Million; LACC from US$2.3 Million to US$1.3 Million, and the Governance Commission from US$1.9 Million to US$1.1 Million.
Similarly, allocations for basic services like health and education, for example, have also seen drastic cuts. While the actual budget performance reports tell an even more alarming tale of underperformance, these cuts expectedly leading to lesser quality of services provided by government-run educational and health institutions. Under this government, not only are we not moving forward, we are actually sliding backward.
As the quality of the education and health services of the government have gotten poorer, the costs of private services have become even more expensive. This makes it difficult to access, thus leading to the overall increase in the cost of living. In the face of the increase in the cost of living, civil servants have undergone huge cuts in their salaries under the government’s so-called Harmonization Policy.
As if people are not suffering enough, the prices of goods and services are increasing daily. According to the World Food Program Monthly Market Price Index Report, from February 2017 to Sept 2019, the price of a 50kg bag of rice bought in the Redlight Market has increased from LD $3,700 to $5400; a bag of cassava has gone up from $1300 to $1650; so too is a gallon of palm oil from $413 to $685, and a gallon of gas from $345 to $600. These are not even 2020 prices!
At the same time, the exchange rate of Liberian to US dollar which was LD125 to 1USD in Jan 2018, is now LD200 in July 2020. Any serious government will recognize this and look to improve fiscal discipline, eliminate waste, and minimize corruption. This government is too irresponsible to even care.
Today, on behalf of the Collaborating Political Parties, I have come to offer a simple message to our country: We hear you. We see you. We feel your disappointment. We know our country deserves better. Our people deserve better. This is why we will make this failed Weah Administration a one-term presidency!
We know they will try to cheat, and as they have already begun, will try to use fear and intimidations to keep themselves in power. We promise you: None of this will work! We are not easily frightened. We will not be provoked into violence. We do not have to be violent because our cause is just. We stand not for ourselves but for our people who have suffered too much. Mr. Weah has failed the country. He has failed our people. He knows it, and the Liberian people know it.
The CPP desires to build up our country, and lift up our people. We are not interested in destroying our country. We will democratically defeat you because our people deserve better!
While you are trying to be violent, too many Liberians cannot afford to buy food, or pay school fees; too many cannot pay their rents, or pay their medical bills. While you are trying to be violent and display ill-gotten wealth, homes are being washed away in West Point and the Borough of New Kru Town, and in many other places, families cannot sleep when it rains. While you are trying to be violent, mortuaries are overfilling with unclaimed bodies because families cannot afford to pay to take possession of their dead loved ones. It is a shame that our country has become a dog-eat-dog zone with everyone trying to hustle on each other.
In just three years, President George Weah and his administration have shown that they lack the ability to lead us to peace, prosperity and development. All they have succeeded in doing is leading our people into abject poverty and destitution. More children are now crowding the streets and risking their lives to provide for themselves and their elderly parents. At street corners, the elderly, disabled and other vulnerable Liberians are queueing up in increasing numbers to beg for help. All across the country, our people are losing their dignity as they struggle to take care of themselves and their families.
How can anyone claim to love our country and pillage, destroy and disrespect it like this? How can a leader claim to love his people and suffer them like this? How can “Change for Hope” create no positive change, and engender such hopelessness?
MY FELLOW LIBERIANS:
Perhaps nowhere is the moral bankruptcy and hopelessness felt more than in this government’s nonchalant approach to the Rape Pandemic- the astronomical rise in cases of rape, sexual abuse and violence perpetrated against our babies, children and women. We know that due to stigma and other pressures, the cases are being grossly underreported. Even where a few bravely offer their heart-wrenching stories and experiences to the authorities for redress, they are often greeted with growing impunity and deafening silence. Under this government, RAPE has become a PANDEMIC. Unfortunately, the administration of justice appears to weigh favorably for accused persons than it does in support of victims and survivors. This imbalance is so bad that it is actually more difficult to report and investigate cases of rape and sexual abuse. As a result, many victims and survivors opt to endure in life-long silence and mental agony.
The underfunding of our judicial sector, and the flagrant efforts to politically influence and undermine justice is clearly destroying the lives of far too many of our citizens. It is also weaning public confidence in the justice system. A prime example is the case of a CDC lawmaker and executive of the ruling coalition, who continues to use his political influence, proximity to the President and affluence to imprison and try a young woman who is alleging that he had sexually harassed her. This is the height of silencing. Where officials of this government should give voices to alleged victims and survivors of these crimes, they are effectively silencing them.
Today, the statistics are grim. Not since the civil war has there been such a massive number of cases reported. It must be said that this government is credited for passing the Domestic Violence Law. But it can also be credited for shelving the law after passing it because cases of Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) continue to rise. By their own numbers, the total number of SGBV cases for 2018 was 2,145 but increased in 2019 to 2,590 cases. So far this year, about 600 cases were reported from Jan-March with only 32 cases prosecuted. This is unacceptable!
Also unacceptable is the reported statistics that of these numbers, over 90% are of men as alleged perpetrators. Shame on us, Liberian men! Recently, the stepfather who raped his 15-year-old stepchild, was apprehended and is under investigation. Similarly, a male officer of the Liberian National Police, (LNP) allegedly raped a 15-year-old girl in the King Gray Community. The young girl had gone to the Police Station to report an attempted rape! There is also the case of the young girl allegedly raped by a Pastor. The list is endless.
We cannot continue to sit idly, and fail these innocent victims many of whom are being deprived of their adolescence. We must end rape, and sexual abuse and violence. To do this, we must fix the justice system. We can do this by repairing the prevailing institutional weaknesses to include: providing psycho-social support to survivors, as well as logistical, financial and other technical support to our health and legal systems to improve their investigatory and prosecutorial capacities.
We must also end this sense of male entitlement. A woman is not to be owned, nor is a man right to feel entitled to the body of a woman. A woman is a partner who, like a man, is entitled to the protection and preservation of her body. It is therefore time to teach our young men that respecting a woman for the totality of her worth is not only a good thing but it makes for a better man.
Men, as the primary perpetrators of rape, we can stop the scourge. It is time we did. The survivors of SGBV crimes, especially rape, need justice, and the perpetrators need just punishments. Our society needs confidence that the rights of the least and the greatest will ALWAYS be equally and fiercely protected and defended in our society.
The third pandemic is the Coronavirus Pandemic. Here, again, the George Weah-led administration’s inability to lead is also obvious. Other than the scattered selfish schemes to line a few pockets, appeal to partisan sentiments, and bolster attempts to pervert the electoral system, the national health response is haphazard and politicized. From declaring a State of Emergency instead of using the Public Health Law, to illegal extensions of the SOE, to announcing a food distribution plan that many of our people are yet to see or benefit from, to not paying our front liners and government employees their already harmonized salary, to shutting down businesses for an extended period thus further crippling the economy, to politicizing the quarantine protocols – here again, the missteps are endless – this President and his government has poorly handled the COVID-19 Pandemic.
If not for the passion, gallantry and commitment of our medical personnel, working against all odds while the president and his men siphon funds intended for COVID-19 response, we would be dealing with worse.
We want to thank our doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers, for their individual and collective daily sacrifice. While the system in which they continue to work have failed them, our healthcare workers have continued to demonstrate the selflessness we need from our national leaders. We join in prayers for their continued safety, as they fight this deadly health pandemic at risks to their own lives and those of their families, and often without the implements they need, or the pay their services deserve.
It is clear that the Weah-led government is not concerned about the burning issues with which our country is faced. Instead, they are concerned with interfering to undermine the independence of the Supreme Court including the political and unconstitutional impeachment of an Associate Justice. They are concerned with further weakening the Judicial Branch of government with cuts to its budgetary allocation, as well as risking the integrity and credibility of the National Elections Commission. As a result, the rule of law, and our young democracy, are under severe stress and grave threat.
The CPP is concerned about the current conditions and the future of our nation, and our hard-won democracy. The tomorrow we see through the eyes of today’s reality does not inspire confidence that the poverty in which too many are trapped today will not extend to their children tomorrow, or that the integrity of our democracy will be preserved.
The bottom line is WE DESERVE BETTER. Our country deserves better. To get better, we must do things differently.
First, we must lead selflessly. Selfless leadership is a calling to help others – to provide opportunities so that others may climb out of poverty. It means putting your country first. It is not choosing to build political parties over the nation; employing based on partisanship rather than citizenship, or threatening and excluding others who disagree with you or criticize you;
Selfless leadership means using the authority and influence of the offices we hold to advance the lives of others with humility and accountability for the resources used in the public’s interest. It means, regardless of our differences in tribe, age, gender, political affiliation or religion, all Liberians must have equal opportunities, as well as a share in the wealth that Liberia is blessed to possess.
Selfless leadership also means ensuring that the law is blind and there is equal opportunity to justice; that justice is not only for the rich and powerful but that it is also available for all who come seeking it. Our courts must be courageous, independent and outside of the reach of the influence of a president, and the ebbs and flows of politics. It must be concerned with justice and the preservation of the integrity of the law.
SECONDLY, to be better, we must reconcile. As yet, we are a country trapped by too much anger, pain, and division. No nation can be built on foundations of unresolved anger and division. We must pull ourselves together through processes of reconciliation and healing. Difficult as it is, we cannot continue to pretend that the body politic is healed and whole when it is not. By reconciling also, we improve our chances to be united. A united people have a better chance of preserving and protecting their independence and aspirations than a people burdened by divisions.
The CPP knows we need serious leadership to reconcile our nation, and that this current leadership has failed in that responsibility. A president who calls the opposition, hate-position, who is yet to reconcile with some of his former national team members, and who ostracizes his friends who dare to criticize him, does not have the ability to reconcile us. As such, we cannot wait for him to do so. It is time to take our reconciliation matters into our own hands, and put an to end the hatred and bitterness toward each other. We, truly, are ONE PEOPLE.
All Liberians own Liberia. We rise or we fall, together. No tribe is better than another. We cannot let ourselves believe differently, or act contrarily. This is why we must reject tribalism. We must not accept religious sentiments and partisan politics intended to divide us. We are stronger and better not just together but also united under the umbrella of our Liberianism – the umbilical cord which binds all of us in mutual ownership of a country we dearly love. Only in the spirit of unity and wholeness can we truly achieve the values of our declaration of independence, and realize our destiny of nation-building.
Therefore, from blackboards in classrooms to the court dockets, to pulpits in churches to praying mats in mosques; from the villages to the cities, today I urge a renewed commitment to reconcile ourselves with each other; to inspire the next generation – our children, and their children – with the virtues of peace, justice, security, tolerance, honesty, service to country, responsibility for self and others, truth-telling, and genuine healing. We must do this so that even when we disagree, now and in the future, we can do so without resorting to the need to break ourselves down, or to destroy our country.
THIRDLY to be better, we must reclaim our destiny. Liberia will only be developed by Liberians. Therefore, we must own our development – own the problems we have created, and begin to seriously rethink the solutions. It means, as Einstein said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.”
It means we cannot continue to sacrifice and undermine Liberian businesses and entrepreneurial spirits in preferences for others. If anyone deserves to make it in Liberia, Liberians do. All Liberians do.
For too long, and throughout our history, we have restricted opportunities to one group of Liberians over the other, and in some harsher cases, we have even excluded Liberians from fully participating in their own economy. This exclusion has been true in the settlers versus indigenous divide, the Congo versus Native divide, and now it is true for the CDC versus Opposition divide. This has to end! Liberia loses every time we divide ourselves. There are no real winners in “Us versus Them” – all become losers in the end.
Every single Liberian regardless of age, gender, tribe, religion, and politics, must have access to all opportunities, rights and privileges afforded by their citizenship. We must put an end to the oppression of any Liberian and ensure that the pot of opportunities which I like to call the “Bowl of Rice” is big enough for every Liberian to benefit from provided they are willing to work hard and follow the rules like everyone else. The simple truth is that when everyone has a fair chance to make progress, the nation wins.
The progress of a nation is not measured in buildings and roads. It is always measured in human capacities and conditions. It is found in the levels of enterprising and entrepreneurial spirits that drive people to dream big dreams and to try to transform their dreams into reality. Progress is found in the prevailing sense of freedom, access to justice and attitude of hopefulness that is felt across the society. A nation’s progress is measured in how we care for our poor, the weak, the vulnerable and the disabled, and how we prepare our young to live better and more prosperous lives. This type of progress cleanses a nation’s soul, improves a sense of shared citizenship despite differences, and makes for more inclusive growth, enduring peace and sustainable development.
This, too, after all, is the real meaning of independence. And this defines the values by which a CPP leadership will measure the progress of our nation.
MY FELLOW LIBERIANS:
I know we can do this. What is holding our country back, and has held us back in many cases, is the lack of leadership – the leadership to inspire a sense of real human progress, and to inspire unity and collective responsibility for our development.
This is where you come in, Mr. President.
Your party may have elected you as standard bearer, but the Liberian people elected you to lead the country. It is time you understood the difference. Leadership of our country is not for the trappings and fanfare of sirens, Mr. President. It is not just to wear a title like a new suit, and bask in the finer things of life, while the people who elected you wither in poverty and hopelessness.
Mr. President, leadership is visioning. It is hard work. It is planning, dedication, discipline and commitment to achieve the objectives of the plan. Leadership is not asking others to sacrifice while you party away, enjoying the fruits of their sacrifices. It is not asking others to go where you are afraid to step. Leadership is not refusing to take responsibility when mistakes are made. It certainly is not hiding away in the face of a crisis and passing on your responsibility to subordinates.
Mr. President, leadership is about setting good examples so that when you say you are fighting corruption, waste and abuse, you and your associates are not suddenly swimming in unexplained and unaccountable wealth. Mr. President, Lead!
TO YOU MY FELLOW LIBERIANS:
We have had many false starts and failed promises. But the truth also is that nothing will come to us easily or for free. Our conditions will not change for the better if we are not ready to work hard enough to change it. To cure our sick, we must take them to the best hospitals. We must offer them into the care of the best doctors. It means to change the Legislature into one that will not enable a President to do the wrong thing. We must not simply vote for who we like but who has principles to stand for what is right, and to fight for not themselves but for their constituencies. We just cannot keep doing the same things, accepting false promises, and expect a different result. It is time we took our destinies into our own hands.
It is time to do things differently for the result we seek – to become the country we know we can become and to fulfill the promises we make to our children -the promise that we will make a better Liberia for them to inherit. This is why, in the CPP, we believe it is time to work honestly, determinedly and diligently for the future we seek, or our children will inherit the hopelessness and lack of independence we now have.
Finally, notwithstanding the difficulties we face today, I am optimistic. In the CPP, we are optimistic. We know that although some of our leaders, including our current President, have been wanting, Liberians have never wavered in their resilience. We have not faltered in our aspirations for a better and more united country. Through many tribal wars, and our most recent tragic implosion, we have always returned with renewed dedication to continue to forge ahead toward building a just, more united and prosperous nation.
The truth is that our nation has survived many disappointments. We have overcome many failed leaderships. We are a persevering people. And so, even in this moment of difficulty and hopelessness, I call on all of our people not to lose hope. We cannot fall into the temptation of hate and violence which are nursed by hopelessness.
Today, I stand on the foundation of our history of resilience – that which lighted the paths of our checkered 173-year journey – to boldly promise Liberians everywhere that we will also survive this current failed, corrupt and incompetent leadership. We will overcome the pandemics of poverty, rape and diseases. We will forge ahead. We will thrive. We will rebuild. We will unite. In the true character of our nation, we will overcome Mr. Weah’s broken promises, failures and disappointments.
And when we do, across our differences in tribes, gender, religions, and political associations, together, we will reset our course toward inclusive growth and sustainable development. We will reset toward meeting our aspirations to build a nation that is free, truly independent, deeply committed to democratic governance, and dedicated to unity, reconciliation, and equal opportunity, for all of our people.
Remember, the night may be long, the journey maybe hard, but I promise you, joy will come in the morning.
God bless you, and God bless Liberia!