COMMUNITY OWNERSHIP CHANGE FOR A BETTER LIBERIA By Togba-Nah Tipoteh Founding Leader, Movement for Justice in Africa (MOJA) Chairperson, Servants of Africa Fighting Epidemics (SAFE)

In the midst of a greed-driven corrupt State management environment, as declared by the immediate past and present State regimes, the masses of the people of Liberia continue to suffer from mass poverty while praying for the greed to end and change to come that can Make Liberia Better for All. The environment is filled with comments on what is wrong in State management but is empty on records of what an entity has done and is doing to Make Lives Better for All.

In the middle of this worsening poverty situation where two-thirds of the children in Liberia who should be in school are not in school and the children who go to school are learning about solving western problems rather than Liberian problems. Nearly 90 per cent of the people of Liberia remain poor, that is they live on less than four hundred Liberian dollars a day. Most of the people looking for money work cannot find such work and the unemployment rate is now above 80 per cent, especially when Liberia continues to be faced with public heath diseases such as lassa fever, ebola and the corona virus under an inappropriate and inadequate health delivery system characterized by the irrelevant curative health approach to health care. When there is no movement in the direction of ending greed, eliminating corruption and alleviating poverty, then people who love Liberia must not expect the persons who set fire to the House called Liberia to bring water to put out the fire. The fire will be put out by the people who did not set fire to the House.

This is exactly what happened during the ebola outbreak. The ebola outbreak ended when communities in Liberia took ownership of the anti-ebola process. How did the communities take ownership of the anti-ebola process? The communities took ownership of the anti-ebola process when honest Liberians carried the anti-ebola message to the communities in ways that the people understood the messages and became convinced that ebola was life-threatening, killing people and had to be stopped immediately.

The Community Ownership Approach can be seen in the work of a Liberian organization called Human Rights Group Saving Humanity (HRGSH), based in Tahn, Porkpa Statutory District, Grand Cape Mount County. For over ten years, HRGSH has been actively involved in helping the poor, especially children, youth, elderly and the physically challenged, to help themselves in the drive for better living standards. HRGSH is headed by Mr. Gbanjah Seh of Grand Cape County.

The National Elections Commission (NEC) of Liberia is the most important public entity in Liberia because it supervises the “election” of local and national decision-makers and actors. Whenever NEC is bad, bad persons get “elected” and bad State governance prevails, as seen in the situation in Liberia where the few rich get richer and the poor masses get poorer. This worsening situation becomes the pretext for violence, including civil war, led by few persons who take over State power with nothing better to show. Therefore, it is most important for the Rule of Law to prevail in order for good persons to get elected and violence to be prevented. The record shows that NEC continues to operate under the Rule of Outlaw rather than under the Rule of Law. Witness what happened when the NEC Chairman was taken to the Supreme Court because he is a citizen of the United States of America and this in violation of the Constitution of Liberia. Which calls for a single citizenship. Liberian citizenship. The Supreme Court gave up, stating that it was not prepared to give a ruling on the case. Up to now, no ruling in the case has been made but “elections” are going on. During the immediate past General and Presidential Election, the NEC Chairman declared publicly that the voter registration roll was not needed, as only the voter registration card would suffice. The NEC Commissioner Jonathan Weedor publicly issued a two page statement disagreeing with the Chairman. Indicating that his decision was not only illegal but was done unilaterally, by the Chairman and not by NEC. The NEC Chairman has been replaced by someone who never disagreed with him. Commissioner Weedor is no longer in NEC. Then, there is the situation where the damaged/flawed voting machines donated to NEC by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) were used in the 2017 election.

Despite all of these problems in NEC, it is important to not give up trying to do the right thing and that is to raise awareness about the indispensability of operating under the Rule of Law. So, it is most important for community-based organizations like HRGSH to keep operating to Save Liberia. From the UNDP and a few international non-governmental organizations (INGOs), HRGSH received funding in the amount of USD21, 500 (twenty one thousand five hundred United States dollars) for work done in Voter Education and Election Monitoring. However, the average market value of the volunteer work done by HRGSH Personnel and Consultants amount to USD200,000 (two hundred thousand United States dollars), Only ten per cent of the financing of this work by HRGSH came from external sources. HRGSH continues to work mainly on the basis of utilizing its own human resources, bearing in mind that the principal resource for getting any good work done is human resource rather than financial resource. Other activities of HRGSH include the construction and management of a Community Radio Station, the construction and management of a Community Elementary School, and the construction and management of a Community Youth Vocational Training Center. Donor funding of the School and Center amount to USD20, 000 (twenty thousand United States dollars) and USD118, 260 (one hundred and eighteen thousand two hundred and sixty United States dollars), respectively. The average market value of the volunteer work of HRGSH Personnel and Consultants amount to nearly USD1,000,000 (one million United States dollars). Some greedy public officials have been harassing HRGSH to get access to the funds received, but HRGSH remains principled, unwilling to engage in corrupt practices. Through the mass media, these officials will be exposed and prevented from their unpatriotic activities.

The most important point being made here is that the way to solve the mass poverty problem in Liberia is to have a good or fair election system that supervises the election of local and national decision-makers and actors. The persons elected would be good because the people elected them on the basis of their publicly declared good record rather than on the basis of money and pressure from corrupt persons. As we approach the 173rd Anniversary of the Founding of Liberia on July 26, let the communities work together to set up a constitutionally correct NEC  so that persons with publicly known good records of service to the people can be elected to get policies and practices into motion for eliminating mass poverty through the Rule of Law.

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