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Liberia: Suggestions for a common sense Weah administration

19 January 2018 at 20:49 | 6549 views


By Dagbayonoh Kiah Nyanfore II, Monrovia, Liberia

The inauguration of Senator George Weah will be the first transfer of power in Liberia from one democratically elected president to another democratically elected president of an opposition party.

As said before, it would be the first in Liberia’s politics. While this reality will be historical, it will come with tremendous challenges. The Weah government must implement changes expected by the masses that elected him; and he must meet campaign promises. His administration must make painful and hard choices.

I have stated some possible suggestions which could be considered and utilized to help achieve a poor people oriented administration operating on the principle of common sense. My goal here is not to seek anything but to share my suggestions as a Liberian for a better administration. The common sense philosophy takes practical solutions for practical reality. Common sense tells you for instance that you should not depend on and consume heavily what you do not produce, you should not live above your means, you should not spend more when you have limited income, and you should use your soil to grow your own food. The great King Solomon used common sense in his judgments. Common sense complements academic education, as pointed out by Emmanuel Savice of the Liberian Trust Communications.

Transition team
The transition team of the Weah administration should have set the stage for preparing a common sense administration. Usually, a transition team, organized and controlled by the incoming administration, prepares and conducts several things, including an inventory of the economy, prioritizing the administration and appointment of competent individuals to administer the government. An inventory is the initial activity for development planning, answering questions such as: “Where are we now”? “Where are we going”? And “how do we get there”?

Weah would have used this period to visit specific foreign leaders and businesses to cement relationships and encourage foreign investment. But this could not be done because of the shortness of time due to delay of the runoff election. The Weah team has less than a month to operate a transition team. Secondly, a proper transition setup is new to Liberia. The government has for over a century been run by the True Whip Party; and multi-party democracy is relatively new in Liberia.

In the absence of an inventory, it is known that the present government is broke. It has been reported that over $400M has been taken from the government coffers into private accounts. That amount is about 85% of the national budget. Thus the new government would start with inadequate funds. The Weah government must honestly inform the people of the economic reality of the country and advocate for belt tightening of the nation.

The government can institute 30% reduction of salary of government officials from the president to ministers, heads of government agencies and members of the legislature. Government should stop the purchase of new cars for government officials. The government could consider buying comfortable buses to transport officials to and from work. This would be difficult, but necessary for a poor people oriented government. It would show that government is not a stepping stone for private comfort and wealth. It would be a necessary austerity measure, a sacrifice for the objective reality. The money save could be used for needed programs. But officials who wish to use private vehicles can do so. They must use their personal resources for such purpose.

Government must take a strong stance on corruption by setting up a special court to judge corruption cases and jail those found guilty. President Weah must personally take a firm stance on corruption and on the public misbehaviors of government officials, those who abuse power.

Government should consider the organization of committees consisting of teams for infrastructure and agriculture. The infrastructure team would study the possibility of setting up beltway road networks to be connected by county exist points which would join to farm-market roads.

The agriculture team would focus on the operation of mechanized agriculture making Liberia a food producing nation. Counties would specialize in producing different food. Success of the agricultural effort would not only enhance the economy, but also would help stop the urban push (rural-urban migration). Rural people would stay in their respective counties, run and control their farm economy. This exercise along would define the poor people oriented administration and would set the administration at part from previous regimes. Liberia would not depend on foreign countries for food. It would economically put in motion the doctrine of “Power to the People”. The new government must provide the agriculture sector with assistance through the reinstitution of the agriculture bank to give farmers loans for agriculture development as operated under the Tolbert and Doe administrations.

Under the Doe government for example, while Professor Wilson Tarpeh was president of the Agricultural and Cooperative Development Bank, the administration wanted to implement an agricultural development project. But the government did not have the funds to do so. Therefore in order to borrow the money from an international entity, it must first pay a previous loan from another international agency. Doe was able to pay the first loan and took the second loan to finance the project. Although a professional guided the idea, the clever common sense approach was Doe’s. Nationally however, Doe’s detractors and enemies initially viewed him as uneducated and that he would fail as a leader. What the public did not know was that Doe duxed his senior class at the University of Liberia and was one of the smartest presidents of Liberia. Sometimes our personal prejudices can blind us from the possibility and the truth.

Appointment of administrators
The selection of individuals to man the new administration would be one of the challenging activities of the Weah government. The CDC has called itself agents of change. Putting good people in the administration will be a test to the party. There can be two forms of appointment; specific and general. The former is the positioning of individuals into ministerial positions, heads of agencies and ambassadorial posts. The latter deals with placing people in lower posts, including directors, supervisors, superintends and mayors.

The president usually makes appointments of the first group with advice from close associates or aides. The appointment is political. The president gets to reward his key supporters and those who joined or endorsed the coalition. Ambassadorial appointment is largely for key campaign financiers. The ambassador does not need to have experience in Foreign Service or knowledge of the field. With a career foreign servant practitioner on board and a good organization of the country team, the appointed ambassador can do well representing the president and the country in the host nation. With the changing world, however, the position and the duty of an ambassador are also changing. Ambassadors are now seasoned and qualified politicians.

President Weah should not be moved by sentiments, in that those ministers of the former ruling party would maneuver to retain their positions. President Weah should withstand such maneuver and put his people in positions. It is wise to have an inclusive government, but it is suicidal to have a power sharing government. CDC won the election square and fair. Beside obligation to parties of the coalition and to key individual members of defeated parties who indorsed the coalition in the runoff, CDC does not need to offer positions or ministries to the defeated parties. Politics is about interest. Other opposition parties had the choice to join the coalition or to form a coalition but they did not find it in their interest to do that. CDC would appear weak and Weah would look weaker if the party gives positions or ministries to defeated parties.
President Sirleaf/Unity Party cleverly utilized the power of a victor when the party won the 2005 election over CDC. After the election, CDC complained of electoral frauds. South African President Thabo Mbeke advised then President-elect Sirleaf to include CDC officials in her government for peace’s sake. Sirleaf agreed but later refused to take CDC’s list of individual members for positions. Instead, she and her party contacted directly individual CDCians for employment. Doing it that way, Sirleaf gained loyalty of the individuals instead of them pledging loyalty to CDC for the employment. Many CDCians employed in key positions of the UP led government eventually became UP members by 2011. They included Eugene Nagbe and James Kollie, pioneering members of CDC. Here the governing party used political power to keep opposition at bay and to draw some rivalry members to its camp. Hence, CDC should not reach out to defeated parties but to individuals of the parties. Most of the positions should go to CDCians. The Liberian people want change and Weah must institute change. Meanwhile, civil servants should be protected. They are career public workers and are not political appointees.

Part of the transition team should compile a listing from CVs and recommendations received or names of individuals known for possible placement. Team would also collaborate or cooperate with the outgoing government for updates on government functions, including national security, central bank and finance. When there is adequate time, for effective government, the transition structure can conduct a study of previous administrations looking at areas of successes and failures and adopting the pluses for the new administration. The government can do the study in the first month of the administration. Study helps us prepare for an endeavor.

Youth employment
Youth employment should be a focus. Unlike the Sirleaf administration, the Weah government should not make promises of the number of jobs for the youth unemployed population. Consideration should be given for vocational training of youth wanting to gain skills in industrial fields such as plumbing, electricity, carpentry, etc. Youth completed such training upon gaining experience should be encouraged to form companies and contract opportunities should be available so they can become employers. Youth who want to further their education for college degrees should be given scholarship opportunities. The government should also look into the establishment of youth employment program to place youth in positions.

In the Lyndon Johnson administration in the US in the 60s, the youth employment initiative aimed to “put jobless, aimless, hopeless youngsters to work”. I was a beneficiary of this program as a teenager in America. The Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA) program under President Richard Nixon helped the training and employment of college graduates and other unemployed people in the US. Again, these were government efforts to address youth unemployment. I got my first employment with the DC government under CETA after college.

The Weah government must be serious in its youth employment goal. The administration must be cognizant of the fact that is the youth that put it into power. Setting up a phony youth employment program only to put friends and relatives into positions would eventually backfire and could cause a loss at the ballot box six years from now. Government should work with organizations such as the motorcycle group in developing a workable national youth employment program.

The implementation of an infrastructure development program would certainly increase employment. The New Deal programs of the 1930s under Franklin D. Roosevelt opened up America, but also provided employment to the American people through public works consisting of road construction and other infrastructures. It made FDR one of the great presidents of America. Weah government should study the New Deal programs regarding public works.

The approach used for vocational training can also be utilized to train youth in agriculture. Youth can get training in agriculture, receiving certificate in food production. Students can come from the 15 subdivisions of the country. Upon completion of training, they can farm their own crops, producing food stuffs such as cassava, peppers, greens, eddoes and potatoes for selling as entrepreneurs. They will structure in the various counties. They can form cooperatives or act as private farmers receiving assistance from the government to enhance their farm businesses. In other words, there will be the adult farmers discussed previously and the youth farmers to form Liberia’s food production operation nationwide. This effort would help increase employment and also decrease youth unemployment.

But making youth to engage in agriculture will be challenging. Most unemployed youngsters are urban interested in industrial and office employment. The CDC led government must encourage and give them incentive to involve in agriculture.

Possible problems with the appointment of administrators
While there is enthusiasm for work in the new government, putting people into positions can create problems which could hurt the government in meeting its development goal. There could be those who would feel that the new government is theirs and other qualified Liberians should not have the opportunity to serve. This could be a factor of jealousy and insecurity. The new government should discourage this kind of thinking. CDCians and those in the party hierarchy should know that Liberia cannot be developed only by party members but by all qualified Liberians who seriously want to assist for the general good of the country. Of course there could be those outsiders intentionally wish to undermine the government agenda, concerned Liberians with skills should be encouraged to serve. Opportunities should be given to those Liberians who want to start their own businesses to help employment. Small business is the backbone for creating a middle class for national development. The model used in Ghana and other African countries to empower indigenous business development and power should be utilized.

I benefitted by similar business development program in America. After completion of my graduate education and gaining practical experience, I stated a small business supported by the government small and minority business development program. I received contracts which benefitted my business but also provided employment opportunities to Americans and Liberians. Factually, the foreigners will not develop Liberia but Liberians. The foreigners help their own. Liberians and the government must do the same.

Although there is the belief that Liberians are kind and peaceful, my experience is that many Liberians are not. Some Liberians intentionally suppress other Liberians for selfish reason. For instance, in 1980 after the military coup, many Liberians in the Diasporas enthusiastically returned to Liberia to work in the new government. The military junta occupied the legislative wind of the People Redemption Council (PRC) while the administrative component was under the civilians, mostly the progressives, who were divided into two groups; those who were at home and those from abroad. The home progressives were divided into two; MOJA, Moment for Justice in Africa, and PAL, Progressive Alliance of Liberians headed by Dr. Togba-Nah Tipoteh and the late Honorable Gabriel Baccus Matthews respectively. MOJA was intellectual in addressing the Liberian issue while PAL was aggressive in dealing with the Tolbert regime through active advocacy and street demonstration.

While the PRC had their own problem after the coup, antagonism developed between the progressives at home and those from abroad due primarily to personal ego, selfishness and insecurity. It stopped some qualified Liberians to come home to work in the new government and thus depriving the government additional skills needed. In “US Presidential Elections and Liberian Affairs”, an article from my memoir, I discussed the problem thus:

“There was an animosity between the progressive group at home and those from abroad. The former took positions in the new regime as ministers, while the latter, most of them, got jobs as advisors to the PRC legislature and special assistants to the head of state. The group at home saw their comrades from abroad as “Johnnies Just Come." Some of my friends at home feared and thought that my meeting with Doe was to seek a job. I tried to go above the fray and did not entertain their fear or insecurity”.

Several years later, the late General Thomas Quiwonkpa came to Washington, DC and offered me the position of minister of planning to replace Dr. Byron Tarr. I had taken a position as a contractor with the US Department of Housing and Urban Development in its Office of Economic Affairs at that time. Interestingly, the general made the offer after knowing my background shortly and encouraged me to return home. On the other hand, I did not receive such encouragement from my own friends at home who knew me well. I did not respond immediately to the offer, though it was serious. My action to hesitate and not jump on the offer right away was one of the best decisions I ever made. After few months, Quiwonkpa and President Doe fell out. The rest is history.

My experience in 1980 and after, taught me a lesson as a Liberian. Whenever we get in a position of power, some of us tend to block others, not realizing that political appointment is not permanent. You do not know the next day. I also learn that when we are in power, we sometime forget those who were with us and embrace new friends; most befriended us for our power and influence. My advice to possible appointees is to do your best for Liberia. Do not suppress and forget others. Help others and be honest and exhibit integrity in your behavior. Certainly your honesty and integrity will be the only positive tangibles you have and will be with you when you leave the government.

The incoming government is of the youth, a generational change. The youth must lead the way, and the older generation can advise and direct for a better Liberia. Those with knowledge must impart it and help build good leadership.

When the Sirleaf government came to power it aggressively persuaded Liberians in the Diasporas to return home to work in the government. Many did, receiving key positions and higher salaries compared to those received by Liberians at home. The discrepancy resulted in a negative view of the Diasporas by their home counterparts. Moreover, though the government was considered to be corrupt, some Liberians point to the Diasporas as most corrupt.

The Weah incoming government is not of course a military administration and like President Sirleaf, Weah has called on Liberians abroad to return home to help develop Liberia. It is hope that no division would occur between Liberians at home and those Diaspora Liberians. It is the hope also that both groups will work for the interest of the Liberian people and country. Nevertheless, a rift could occur from CDIcians who have been with the party long for feeling threatening by crossovers from other parties. The old would see the new taken positions considered to belong to real CDCians.
The new government comes with high spirit and the expectation is huge. Many Liberians, including Israel Akinsanya have talked about managing expectation. The new government, as stated earlier, must be candid with the people of the reality and must act accordingly. In other words, you cannot say one thing and do the other, you cannot say that the government is broke and yet you are buying and driving expensive cars. You cannot say that there is no money in the government coffer, but thousands of US dollars are leaving the treasure to America monthly to support government officials’ families living in the US. You cannot cry broke to the international partners for money and yet paying government officials fat salaries more than those earned by US officials.

A common sense government that is geared to helping poor people would not promote such above contradiction. As the UP government has experienced, the behavior of sending large sum of US dollars abroad, helped create more demand of the US dollar and therefore increasing the rate of the US dollar in the Liberian market. The Liberian consumers at the end suffer. Those Liberians considering of coming home for work in the new government and the new administration should consider this situation and find way to address it in the meantime.

However, capital flight is just a small reason for the increase of the rate of the US dollar. Liberia produces less in the world market while it imports and consumes more foreign goods creating an uneven balance of trade. Meanwhile, traders in Liberia need and use the US dollar to buy goods worldwide, increasing more demand for the dollar. Although Liberia has no control of the market forces, the country did not in the past plan its economy well, focusing on enclave commodities like iron ores and did not give attention to agriculture. Thus as the world market price of iron ores and oil fall, the country has no other viable economy to fall back on, resulting in the unevenness. Sadly, even though the country has a futile soil for agriculture, it never developed this sector since independence 170 years ago.

Internationally concerning investment, I would suggest that in the first 60 days, President Weah should travel to specific countries to meet with their leaders and business people to glue relation and encourage investments to Liberia. Weah’s presence abroad as a president would be beneficial. President Sirleaf smartly did this before her first inauguration.

The new government should engage in a vigorous advertisement campaign, showcasing the pristine Liberian beaches, lakes, rivers and other national and investment opportunities to attract investors and tourists to Liberia. Tourism along can bring development dollars to Liberian economy. Liberia has a lot to show and shine.
Weah should consider having a small special advisory group, a kind of kitchen cabinet, made up of few personal friends who knew him when he was a boy or a young adult. I am suggesting two or three individuals of good character. They would anchor him when he is going astray, when he is not following his mission. They are good friends who care about him and will not look for self benefit or a job. They will not be afraid to look him in the eyes and tell him the truth, tell it like it is. Many things come before you when you are a leader. Some can be bad, attempting to change you. Good friends can guide you.

Weah is young, only 51 years old. He should have boyhood friends who are alive. Many leaders have such friends around them. President Bill Clinton had few friends who advised him on personal and national issues. It is sometimes lonely at the top. You need good caring friends around you.

As I witnessed the overwhelming election of Weah and his determination over disappointments to finally win the presidency, I am of the opinion that he will do well. The trust of the Liberian masses and the doubt by his distracters and critics would compel him to succeed. With the right and honest people on his side advising him, he will win again. He will win the hearts and souls of the Liberian people for improved condition.

Congratulations Ambassador Weah, wishing you a good and prosperous administration.