Politicians and by extension Government are notoriously skillful in feeding the emotions of the citizenry with what they like to hear, so much that some tell their citizens they will to build bridges even where there is no water. In the past in Liberia, such promises, particularly those coming from Government, had been haphazard and topsy-turvy preventing or making difficult independent monitoring and evaluation. The case is now different since the advent of the administration of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf which has adopted the unusual tendency of cataloguing and hybridizing political promises into reportable and evaluable matrixes. This pioneering effort began in 2006 with what came to be known as 150-Day Action Plan though without any serious external appraisal and followed by the IPRS and MDGs-based PRS. It seems the second term development plan of the administration is not passing the civil society with its hands folded, as a member of the society has issued a midterm view of President Sirleaf's second term 150 Days in office. The Analyst reviewed the report which holds the Ministry of Public Works in high esteem over a number of compliant actions.
The second 150-Day Action Plan of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has met the critical section of the population awake unlike the 2006 Plan that virtually came to pass without methodical evaluation and critique. One group that is exceptionally awake is the Liberia Media Center, a media watchdog group fostering local development through the utilization of communication and information sources.
Tracing the intentions
By the 150 Day Action Plan, the Sirleaf administration has sought to improve the socioeconomic and political life of the people cover such as lead sectors as reconciliation, youth empowerment, national visioning, job, education and better services, amongst others.
Thus, the Liberia Media Center, with support from the Journalists for Human Rights and IREX on April 19, 2012 launched the "150 Days Tracking Barometer" developed in response to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf's adoption of the 150 Action Plan on February 28, 2012.
Its report recently last week portrayed how functionaries of Government are generally faring with regards to implementation of the 150 Days Action Plan deliverables, as well as their overall reactions to information requests about the process, provides some interesting findings that could impact the successful implementation of Government's short to long term development agenda goals.
According to the Center, the findings from this study report point to an enduring culture of secrecy within state agencies and their failure to respect the public's right to know. Most agencies of government in Liberia are appallingly disorganized and lacking systems and procedures for going about their functions.
"We found many agencies expected to deliver on the President's Action Plan, had no clear strategy, plan or any framework to go about it," the Center reported, stating further that in some cases, agencies submitted completely different version of their work-flow than what was published by the government.
The LMC said although government pronouncements continue to underscore high marks in terms of meeting the delivery objectives of the 150 Days Action Plan, it has been observed to the contrary that during our monitoring exercise, 51.1% of the promises had not yet even commenced, while only a mere 2.4% constitutes completed promises.
"On the other hand, promises commenced constitute 17.9% while those in progress account for 28.6%," the media watchdog group noted. "The implication of this scenario is that if the Government continues to work at this pace, chances are it would not accomplish much within this framework. However, as the report only covers the initial 100 days steady progress has been recorded in the last 100 days."
The low progress showing could also be attributed to the reluctance of most government agencies to provide information upon request regarding deliverables that fall within their scope of operation, the Center conjectured, saying its report went to press when some progress was recorded on the online tracking system.
When disaggregated across pillar levels, the LMC further reports, the results show that the "Infrastructure and Economic Development" Pillar led with 6.42%, followed by Pillar Five (Security), at 3.73%. Pillars Two (Jobs and Better Services) and One (Reconciliation and Youth Empowerment) are third and fourth at 2.86% and 2.80% respectively.
The group found out that Pillar Four (Governance and Transparency) lies at the bottom with 2.14%.
Public Work Shines
The high scoring of the Infrastructure and Economic Development pillar can be attributed to the proactive stance of the Ministry of Public Works, Government's lead agency for this deliverable, regarding issues of disclosure about the 150 Days Action Plan.
Besides being the first Government agency to provide LMC with documentation immediately upon request, the Ministry has regularly appeared at MICAT's 150 Days Action Plan press briefings.
While urging Government to ensure that efforts should be made to have the sector agencies engaged with various mass media channels through the regular insertion of information on what they are working on and the progress of the respective assignments, the LMC reported that the Ministry of Public Works seems to be making good progress in this direction and other agencies could emulate its example.
"While this report is not an indictment of government," the media watchdog group noted, "it is important to highlight some of the problems that the assigned journalists and our team of FOI desk officers encountered in obtaining information on the 150 Days Action Plan.
Once again, of the 20 Government and public institutions monitored, most of the entities, with the exception of a few sterling examples (Public Works, Justice, Information, Youth and Sports), exhibited poor clients relations with regards to information requests and follow through on documentations received, according to the LMC.
The Center says it is interesting to note that Public Works, Justice, Information and Youth and Sports Ministries were the only government entities that received outstanding scores (5 out of 10) from our team of reviewers and analysts.
On the overall, the LMC said out of 27 requests for information made, 25 were well past the statutory period3, while two fell within the statutory period but are yet to be responded to. Response rate to the various communications sent to the sector agencies was generally low.
The Public Work Ministry's total score earned from the implementation of its share of the 100th of the 150 Day Action Plan, according to the LMC, is 34 points or an average score of 48.5%. The score is accumulated from its disclosure practices (5), record management practice (6), customer relations and handling (4), accessibility of duty bearers (4), responsiveness to information request (5), policy oriented approaches (5), and internal communication (5).
Said the LMC: "The Ministry of Public Works was the most outstanding agency, although it only succeeded in acquiring 48.6% of the available score for the eight indicators. The Ministry was the first agency to respond to the LMC's Information Request and the first agency to release detailed information on the progress it is making across several deliverables. We were surprised by the timely manner in which the Ministry handled those requests given its workload. However, much is still required to promote maximum disclosure and ensure that contract; procurement and service documentations are provided on time."
"Only five of the 27 agencies replied, with two making partial delivery. An additional eight agencies made partial disclosure but well outside the statutory period," said the LMC. "Where disclosure was made, most of the information was inconsistent with the request for information. No agency made full disclosure consistent with FOI request. A lot needs to done to improve Government's outlook on open governance."
The Center further reported that while some of the government institutions deserve commendation for being proactive in the process, the overarching culture of secrecy which permeates most levels of government bureaucracies could seriously hamper successful implementation of Government's 150 Days Action Plan.
Look at the Bottom
While the LMC says, the National Reconciliation is the least achieved Pillar in the 100th day, it also points to the Ministry of Lands, Mines and Agency and the Ministry of Education as the least performing agencies. They earned 8 and 9 points respectively.
The promise to "Officially launch the nationwide PalavaHut Program" (Promise 1) is reported 'commenced' while "Make budgetary allocations to begin implementing practical recommendations from the TRC" (Promise 2) is running against the June 30th deadline.
Regarding Lands and Mines, the LMC reported that its experience shows something interesting. "This is an agency where there is strong political will from the top leadership (Minister proper) to engage with the process but the failings of a weak internal system of communication and coordination meant much was not experienced up to the time this report was produced," the LMC said. "It must be noted though, that the leadership of the agency proactively responded and communicated with the LMC once it was clear information required for the process was not forthcoming. However, a lot is required in structuring and organizing the agency."
As for the Ministry of Education, the Center reported: "The Ministry of Education, an FOI pilot agency, was disappointing. The results show clearly how this agency is being run. The Minister sits six miles apart from the Ministry in the comfort of the Campaign Office of the Unity Party on 19th Street, while the agency and its staff reside in the run down Broad Street office. With this distance apart, we lost two communications related to our request for details regarding its deliverables. The lack of internal coordination aside, even agencies like LOIC that are clearly mentioned within the plan have no clue as to what they are supposed to be doing in tandem with the MOE, within the implementation framework of the 150 Days Action Plan."