MONROVIA: The ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) and its main opposition archrival, the former ruling Unity Party (UP), are considered the two most likely political parties to square off in a possible runoff after the October 10, 2023 presidential and general elections, especially given the historical trend of the last three presidential elections dating from 2005 to 2017. With both sides now hedging their bets on a one round victory at the October polls this year, their official campaign spokespersons have been busy making a strong case for their respective candidates and political institutions to be the preferred choice of the little over 2 million registered voters.
Cllr. Kanio Bai Gbala is the official campaign spokesperson of the ruling CDC. He and his Unity Party rival Mo Ali were intensely engaged in an issues-based debate on Wednesday, August 16, 2023 on OK FM 99.5 OK Conversation on why the Liberian people should consider their sides to run this country for the next six years.
Debunking the “wicked lies”
Firing the first salvo, the CDC official campaign spokesman, in justifying why Liberians should consider his political party to run the country again for the next six years, said President George Weah has a sterling leadership record that speaks for itself, despite the “wicked lies” from the opposition camp that were orchestrated to tarnish his record.
“Our record speaks for itself. President Weah will win on his record because his record is unsurpassable; his record is unmatchable; his record has never been outclassed by any political actor in the field today. And that is left to be proven by the facts as we will adduce them. Before I go into the presentation why I believe President Weah is the most aptly suited person to lead this country, there are a number of things we need to clarify; and I refer to them as the wicked lies from the opposition.
I think it’s important to dispatch these lies because in the early part of the administration, this is what they actually feathered their nests by; this is how they incensed the Liberian people; this is how they got people to turn against the government, in spite of all the tremendous work that President Weah has been doing. I refer to these as wicked lies. It is important to start with the number 1 wicked lie, this lie that LD16 billion got missing in this country. Bold-faced wicked lie. These people got together, concocted a plan, put people in the streets, almost 5,000 persons all in the streets, paralyzed movements across this country under the premise that money had gotten missing and the government had stolen LD16 billion. The president went out of his way, got a foreign firm to come to this country, used Liberian taxpayers’ dollars, just to disprove that people stole LD16 billion. Today, the records are out there, and the report is out there, Kroll has come in; no LD16 billion got missing. It’s a wicked lie. They must eat this lie. And I encourage my brother Mo Ali to comment on this today. Let him reference the Kroll report. Let him today admit that no LD16 billion got missing in this country. Let us start these campaigns on the right note. No LD16 billion was missing. We must dispatch the wicked lies.
“Number 2 wicked lie. Harmonization is bad. They ran on this whole premise. They tried to turn the civil service against the president. But there is serious work being done to ensure equal work for equal pay; that generator man who had access to Ministers should not be making $2000 while technical focal points are making $500. So, this government mustered the political will to come here and equalize pay across sectors. But what did Mo Ali and the Unity Party do? They went out there and convinced the civil service and other people that we were reducing pay against people. Mind you, these are the same people who came with downsizing; these are the same people who came out with right-sizing. These are the people who sacked people in this country, over 12 years, claiming that they were not capable of working in government. When we came instead, we said that there was a need to equalize pay across the sector. What have they done? They’ve gone out there and made it out of propaganda again.
“Number 3 wicked lie. They say that people are dying because the government is killing people; the government is killing auditors, the government has something to hide. President Weah has nothing to hide. President Weah is a humanitarian, and that is why I am so excited. When you read the U.S. State Department Report 2022 for Human Rights, and the whole idea of extrajudicial killing, that people are being killed by the government, you find no solace in that report. They say yes, people have died, but like anywhere in the world, people will die. What are the causes of death? The Ministry of Justice investigated all of these deaths. The reports are there today, but Mo Ali and his fans will not muster the courage to take these reports, and they will continue to lie that people are dying because the government is killing people. That’s the third wicked lie.
“Fourth wicked lie. They brought here five different demonstrations during the course of this government. The one that was even the most laughable was “We Tired Suffering”. I know Mo Ali was not part of the “We Tired Suffering”, but his comrades in the opposition were part of the “We Tired Suffering”. They took US$75,000, the driver stole that US$75,000, ran away and said, how can you pay people to protest suffering with US dollars filled in the trunk of a car and people are passing around with that. Wicked lie, “We Tired Suffering”. We have dispatched that lie also. Now, what is important at this point is what we have done as a government. Tell the opposition, let them stop lying. We are not stealing, we have not stolen, we are a responsible government, and we must deal on the basis of facts,” spokesman Gbala charged.
Selling the UP’s platform
Countering the statement from his colleague, the Unity Party official campaign spokesperson vehemently debunked Kanio’s “wicked lies” assertion by stating unequivocally that the so-called lies were indeed hardcore truths. Mo Ali then provided the basis for which Liberians should vote for the Unity Party.
“I certainly enjoy the fact that Kanio is trying to fight himself and his government way out of realities that are staring the Liberian people in the face. The wicked thing is the harmonization. The wicked thing is for people to be killed maliciously, and the president goes on the radio and says they were doing boyfriend and girlfriend business. No proper investigation.
“The wicked thing is for 16 billion to get missing, and even the Kroll’s report that you mentioned has indicated that money was missing, there was no accountability. The wicked thing is for you to take US$25 million of our money and say you were going to do mop up exercise, and Samuel Tweah takes it around and goes to divide it with money exchangers.
“The wicked thing is for you to take US$30 million for stimulus exercises and it cannot be accounted for. There are a whole lot of wicked things; so, I am not going to go into those wicked things that you have been doing. Your records are there, but I will start up on accountability on the account of the Unity Party’s stewardship for the first six years.
“When the UP inherited practically a non-existent country, we inherited a country that had zero electricity, water supply was non-existent, salary for civil servants was at US$15 and US$20, we inherited a budget of US$80 million. Even in Monrovia, the roads were not easily passable. We inherited a country that was indebted to the tune of almost US$5 billion; we inherited a country that had a shattered economy; we inherited a country that was considered a failed state, a pariah state. We lifted this country from all of those. We increased civil servants’ salaries to at least US$150, and the CDC came and plunged them back into poverty, and they are now making US$45.
“We inherited a country with no electricity; we left electricity. We initiated the transborder electricity. We left water. Roads, massive road construction even in Monrovia, from Cotton Tree to Buchanan, from Monrovia to RIA, from Red Light to Ganta border. Civil servants were proud. They were owing the government every month, because they took their salaries by the 22nd of each month. That’s the kind of country that we left, and they have reversed.
“Now, we are selling ourselves to the Liberian people on the premise of a platform that has six pillars. Pillar One of the platforms of the Unity Party is based on Macroeconomic Stability and Infrastructure Development. Pillar Two is Health, WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene, the environment and climate change). Pillar Three is Human Capacity Development. Pillar Four is Governance and Rule of Law. Pillar Five is Gender, Youth, Children and Social Protection; and Pillar Six, one of the most important is the Fight Against Corruption.
“What we did as an entity is to abridge these six pillars of platform into what we now term as AREST. We added one more ‘R’ there to represent the rule of law. The A represents Agriculture, R for Roads, the next R for Rule of Law and Governance, E for Education, S for Sanitation and Health, and T for Tourism.
“When you look under Pillar One of our Platform, the subheadings are there, and they are in detail, and the strategies we will use to implement them. We want a government that will ensure efficient economic management of this country because what we have now is a reverse of the economic system in this country. We want to engage in prudent fiscal management, so that we cannot have US$30 million missing, US$25 million missing, LD16 billion missing. We want to restore confidence in our monetary and financial sectors so that the international community will have that credibility in us again to invest into Liberia,” Mo Ali asserted.
Regarding what he would consider as his government’s star achievements, Kanio said it is comical that after 12 years of running this country, the Unity Party people are struggling to tell the Liberian people what they did during their stewardship of the country.
“And after wasting 12 years, they come back here with a beggar’s bowl in hand and say we should give them the country. At least, he agrees with me that these are wicked lies, and the records are there. No LD16 billion got missing, we will continue to say that. No US$25 million got missing, the records are there. Harmonization was good for this country, because people were benefiting their cronies and their personal assistants at the expense of the Liberian people. Because of harmonization, we were able to recruit 8,000 additional workers; 3,000 from the education sector, 4,000 from the teachers’ sector. That’s what harmonization has done.
“Mo Ali wants to talk about inheritance. Let’s talk about inheritance. To whom much is given, much is expected. When they came to this country in 2005, Liberia was the NGO capital of the world. Every single NGO or international organization was in this country providing budgetary support, financial support, in-kind support to this government. Despite that, what did we inherit from them after 12 years? A broken economy. Do you know why they were able to pay salaries that he wants to boast about? Because they recklessly borrowed from the Central Bank and left our reserve in tatters, we had to institute a new program at the Central Bank now that has built our reserves.
“Do you know why this country has struggled under COVID? Because they claimed that debt was waived, but that debt was reaccumulated through irresponsible borrowing for 12 years under the Unity Party. So, when we took over, debt was unsustainable. When we took over, this country was going into an economic recession, 3.5% sliding down. We have raised 4.5 percent and are growing. The records are there. We are not just using flippant words.
“What have we done? Mo wants to talk about power. What about power? When we took over, you had 88 megawatts of power primarily from the Mount Hydro Coffee. We are at 126 megawatts. When LEC celebrated its last 50th anniversary, we had 126 megawatts; CLSG is producing another 23 megawatts under this government. Groundbreaking achievement.
“He wants to talk about roads. We have built in excess of 500 kilometers of road under President Weah, 100 kilometers on average per year, more than any president has built since 1847 in this country.
“They talk about healthcare. Common treating kidney patient dialysis center, first time in the history of this country, we built at JFK. We’re talking about medical oxygen plants, two of those. They’re talking about transformative development. So, what do they have to bequeath? In terms of the economy, looking at microeconomic stability, we have looked at the civil service and we have gone through dramatic reforms in the civil service. First payroll audit ever conducted in this country was done under this government.
“Foreign direct investment in agriculture under this government, the highest ever since this nation was founded. This year, we will produce 30,000 metric tons of rice, commercially produced rice in Liberia, under a George Weah agriculture ministry. That equates to 100,000 bags of rice for the first time in this country. Twelve years they couldn’t even produce 5,000 metric tons of rice. We are supporting agriculture in all of the counties, leading in Nimba, leading in Bong, leading in Lofa County where they talk about the bread basket which they had.
“We have built the road in Nimba from Sanniquellie to Loguatuo. They were there for 12 years; they signed the agreement with ArcelorMittal. ArcelorMittal has been taking our resources, and there are no roads in Nimba. We built those roads. We built the roads there to Loguatuo; they did not build those roads. We built the roads also in Bahn,” Clllr. Gbala charged.
Responding, Mr. Ali challenged the CDC record of achievement in road development, stating that the numbers did not add up. Moreover, he said CDC inherited a country that had been taken from the depths of pariahdom to economic and infrastructural recovery.
“I knew that my brother Kanio was going to fall in my trap. The last time we were on ELBC and he made this same wild claim, that they built 500 kilometers of road. I have sent you the records from the Public Works. They’ve just published what roads they have built, and we disputed some.
“The CDC is premised on lies so even when their spokesman comes on the radio, he stares us in the face and lies to us. What Public Works projected to build was 519.4 kilometers of primary roads. What they have achieved is 241.9 kilometers of primary roads. And when you go down to secondary roads in the communities, they have built 105.6 kilometers. When you put everything together, they have built 347.5 kilometers. We have disputed 70 kilometers of it because the construction of the road between Harper to Fish Town to Karloken is around 135 kilometers. From Pleebo to Karloken, and from Karloken to Fish Town is 80 kilometers. We constructed 70 kilometers of that road. So, minus 70 kilometers from that 347.5, it will tell you what they constructed in their first term. And given the fact that they have inherited so many roads that he named, where funding was sourced, feasibility done, the money was there to just build it, and they just built 200 plus kilometers, that’s a massive failure. We inherited nothing, and built more than 350 kilometers.
“And then he talks about electricity. We inherited zero. We left 88 megawatts operating. We initiated the trans-border electricity. They were being constructed; the substations were being constructed in Buchanan, in Nimba it was completed and Margibi; substations in Bomi and in Cape Mount. You haven’t brought a single megawatt of electricity. Even the transmission and distribution that we asked you to do, you have not been able to do it effectively.
“Let’s come back to our second Pillar: health WASH, environment and climate. Today, when you go to our hospitals, clinics, health centers, they are so deplorable. Our people are not being paid. The nurses are complaining. The other day I carried somebody to the clinic and we had to buy surgical gloves at a government-run clinic, and Kanio will sit here and boast. We want to strengthen our health sector; we want to strengthen our healthcare delivery sector; we want to restore confidence in our health sector.
Plans for the country for which Liberians should consider CDC or UP for next 6 years
Quizzed on their plans for the country for which the voters should consider their political parties for the next six years, Cllr. Kanio Gbala for his part started off by again debunking what he considered wicked lies from the opposition.
“It is important to dispatch these wicked lies from the opposition as we begin to entrench responsible and credible communication within the discourse of national development. We maintain that no 16 billion got missing, the Kroll report is there. I am calling on Mo Ali to find that report, and go there and show to me where they said 16 billion got missing. That is a challenge. I maintain that we have built in excess of 500 kilometers of road in five years, and it is proven. Mo Ali used to be good at math when he was in SDA. I want him to go back and do the calculation on what we inherited from them – 745 kilometers, and what exists now, and do the subtraction and tell me what is left. Who built those roads? This government built those roads. They don’t want to acknowledge what we have done.
“He talks about how they inherited nothing. Are you telling me when they came to power, there was nothing in this country? There was no electricity in Liberia? We had no roads in Liberia? When they came here, there were roads. They might not have been extensive. There was electricity. So where is the account for them to claim that nothing existed. We know what we inherited and we are responsible enough to credit them for the little they did with the vast amount of time and resources that they had, and what we have done over no time.
“Under George Weah in the next term, we are going to entrench serious policies that will transform this country into a middle-income state. We have already transformed education. We have made tertiary education to be free in public universities across this country; in Nimba County at the Nimba College, in Grand Gedeh County, in Maryland County at the Tubman University – all across this country, we’ve made public education to be tertiary free. Now, it is a presidential mandate in our next term, it will be legalized, and poor people can expect to go to school under that scheme in Liberia. That’s what we’re going to do.
“In the healthcare system, we institutionalized the building of serious facilities all across this country. We started with Margibi with the 14 Military Hospital; then we went to Gbarpolu with the Emirates Hospital, and then we revamped JFK and put the dialysis center; and then we went to LU in education and established programs in fisheries, amongst others. It will become legalized how we develop those sectors. Like we said before, we have brought teachers and nurses onto the payroll; people who were considered supplemental when the Unity Party ran this country. They couldn’t put them on proper payroll. We brought them on payroll, we increased their salaries. Some of them were making LD4,000, we increased it to LD40,000 because we are responsible.
“We have kept the wage bill at a manageable level. In the second term, we will institutionalize all of these things within the legal framework of the country.
As for Mo Ali, he said a Unity Party government, upon winning state power, will hit the ground running to offset the damage that the Weah government has done to the country.
“Kanio, when we took over, you were here. There was zero electricity. In fact, the Hydro was in ruins. You talk about tertiary free education. The UL lies in ruins. At Tubman University, there are frequent strikes there. There is a difference between a hospital and a building. You built a structure with no equipment. It’s not even operating. Don’t call it a hospital.
“We are going to hit the ground running on a few things. We want to tackle corruption, and by doing that, the first thing we want to do is to commission an audit into this corrupt government. Second, for everyone that will be appointed, there will be a credential check, so that we don’t have people who are not sincere going into government. We will also want to do a review of the civil servants’ payroll so that civil servants will take their salaries on time. We want to review our health sector so that we can invest into it to make health workers go home with the kind of dignity that they deserve.
“We want to decentralize the agriculture sector. We want to bring back the cooperative system where people will work, cultivate and have markets to sell their products. We want to introduce the tourism sector into this country because tourism is nonexistent.
“Kanio talked about when we took over, Liberia was an NGO place, there was foreign direct investment. I like his assertion. The reason why people invest into a country is when you have a responsible governance system. When your governance system is not responsible, nobody is coming to invest a nickel or dime. That is the reason why the George Weah government is not able to attract one investment into this country,” Mo Ali charged.