8 November 2012

Liberia: Has Ellen Given Up?


When Liberia's first democratically elected female President, Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, mounted the podium on the momentous day of January 16, 2006 for the reason of delivering her inauguration address, the nation, perhaps heaven and world at large stood immobile. Thousands watched from near and far. And so, she mustered the courage and vociferously spoke to the issues as they were and therefore won the approbation of almost all. Yes, she made outstanding and touching avows too that historians and political commentators say surpassed what her predecessors ever made. Above all, she was unmistakably unambiguous on the issue of battling corruption, a serious national cancer, and indicated that she would lead by example. However, seven years after that memorable time so roasted with facts and myths, obtaining circumstances continue to reverberate depicting a rather wooly picture, for which overseers are now asking whether the celebrated female president has given up. The New Republic reflects on the President's declarations to the nation and people, most especially on the promise of "I will lead by example" and many others.

That President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is practically seen to be a bit reticent on taking the most appropriate actions that curb ongoing unwholesome practices in her government is evoking public concerns about her ability to lead, or that she has given up.

It is no question that, according to accounts in the public and media, she came to power in 2005 at head of several others including the then most popular youthful political leader George Weah on pedestals of breaking away from the past.

Most besides as others have said, her pre 2005 election activities were enough to convince Liberians of her ability to stand out against the very ills she others accused past presidents of not confronting but condoning and had to pay the price for.

Before the election of 1997 which she lost to Charles Taylor and 2005 which she won, she adopted the nickname of "iron lady" in reference to her demonstrated commitment and proven ability to challenging authorities even at the peril of her life.

She damned the Tolbert regime for being corrupt and nepotistic when she was in her political prime and moreover demonized Samuel Doe and his People's Redemption Council comradeship as being unpatriotic, corrupt and undemocratic in their undertakings far before hell broke loose in 1989.

Not stopping there, the president is on record for saying that she broke away from Mr. Taylor and the NPFL whose formation she confessedly contributed to in the tone of US$10,000 to kick-start the bush war against Doe and his regime for not upholding what was agreed upon, and for diverting the cause of the revolution turning it into a campaign of cannibalism and massacre.

For many, these were sufficient reasons that in their view qualified her above the rest of the candidates that threw their hats in the race, hoping that she would be that leader that says what she means and does what is right, prudent and appropriately legally.

The inaugural promises

In keeping with past outstanding records of challenging governments for not doing much to better the lives of the people, ensuring that they benefit from their endowed natural resources, the President proved to the nation and the world that she was up for a change and this was shown in her maiden inaugural address to the nation.

In the rather drawn-out and elaborate speech that lasted close two hours before thousands of national and international guests, she made promises that sank well in the hearts and hears of all, that she would work to transform a dying nation and give back hopes to an already hopeless people that often times sought solutions to their problems from outside or above.

Even-though all of the issues that needed urgent attention did not slip her attention, but the president was so emphatic and authoritative when she outlined her plans in dealing with corruption, an age-old nightmare which analysts say caused Liberia its current problems of underdevelopment and political coarseness.

Before divulging her plans in tackling corruption and how she would proceed with dealing with other national developments, Madam Sirleaf gave a vivid description of the huge impact it has on the nation and people.

Said the president then, "Corruption fellow Liberians, we know that if we are to achieve our economic and income distribution goals, we must take on forcibly and effectively the debilitating cancer of corruption. Corruption erodes faith in government because of the mismanagement and misapplication of public resources. It weakens accountability, transparency and justice. Corruption short changes and undermines key decision and policy making processes. It stifles private investments which create jobs and assures support from our partners. Corruption is a national cancer that creates hostility, distrust, and anger."

Thereafter, the president went on recounting what she told the electorates across the country, saying "Throughout the campaign, I assured our people that, if elected, we would wage war against corruption regardless of where it exists, or by whom it is practiced."

"Today, I renew this pledge. Corruption, under my Administration, will be the major public enemy. We will confront it. We will fight it."

That besides she challenged Liberians and put her neck on the chapping board that she would be different from others who perhaps made big boast to the people but did nothing.

"Any member of my Administration who sees this affirmation as mere posturing, or yet another attempt by yet another Liberian leader to play to the gallery on this grave issue should think twice. Anyone who desires to challenge us in this regard will do so at his or her personal disadvantage.

She crowned the commitments with this assertion "In this respect, I will lead by example. I will expect and demand that everyone serving in my Administration leads by example."

The first term of office has come and since gone, but her critics are convinced that she far less than promised, claiming that she is not different from the people who postured.

What's at stake?

There is growing and billowing public debate and argument about the direction President Sirleaf is taking the country in the wake of what others referred to as glaring signs of her inability to stand out against the very issues she vowed to deal.

Others have also indicated that the kind of leadership ability that is seen in the president now-a-day does not commensurate with what stood for and spoke against, for which it is said she was elected in 2005.

What is clear is both the president's critics and supporters are unanimous in scolding her for doing much less to tackle the malfeasance that is eating up the government and is having spillover effects on the entire country.

Apart from series of audit reports released by the General Auditing Commission (GAC) in which several government officials are accused of siphoning entrusted public funds, both the American government and others in international arena have hinted that corruption was ingrained in the government, something to which the president has also consented but always endeavored to modify.

For example, President Sirleaf recently consented to the existence of corruption in government and in the larger society, although it was not her first time corroborating allegations of the inundation on a wide and unimaginable scale of corruption in her government.

She told a gathering in London that corruption was "systemic and endemic" in Liberia, Liberian, but smartly implicated every sector of society including schools, homes, churches, mosques as not been free as well.

She also used the time to defend the integrity of herself and larger family, challenging anyone to find fault with her or her family.

In its report released about two months ago, a corruption watch group painted a grim picture of the level of corruption in government, and made specific reference to the Liberia National Police as being in the driver seat when it comes to perpetrating acts of corruption. The government and police have denied though.

In the last report released by the GAC before the takeover of Robert Kilby as Auditor General, the GAC accused two former Superintendents, one of which was siphoned to a ministerial portfolio of acting outside of the law in the administration of the County Development Fund (CDF).

The GAC ordered that former Superintendent of Grand Bassa County, Madam Julius Duncan Cassell be made to account a good amount of money of the county's social development fund.

Last week, a member of the National Legislature at the level of the House of Representative made sweeping allegations of corruption in government, particularly on the acquisition and awarding of oil contracts to foreign investors.

The promises & Liturgy

Although, there is no indication of the president's involvement in acts of corruption which speaks to her affirmed "I will lead by example" pledge, observers have however hinted that she could not extricate herself to the margins in the wake of the show of reticence of take the prudently administrative actions, not only against accused corrupt officials but other issues that have constitutional implications.

Besides affirming her attentiveness to lead by example, the president threw out strong challenge to any of her officials who may think she was up for mere posturing.

She pledged then: "Any member of my Administration who sees this affirmation as mere posturing, or yet another attempt by yet another Liberian leader to play to the gallery on this grave issue should think twice. Anyone who desires to challenge us in this regard will do so at his or her personal disadvantage."

"These are extremely great promises made the first female president for which I appreciated her. My only concern is her ability to fulfill and practicalize them to the latter. It is one thing to promise and another to implement it in the face of growing and glaring developments as it is today," remarked a political commentator.

Why many say the president has not fulfilled in total most of her avowed promises is her quick defensive posturing than looking the weight of the allegations, some of which come with evidence.

The president is on record saying that they can prosecute people in the absence of sufficient evidence, but others say the GAC audit outcomes could be used in the court of law against the accused.

In fact, some of her officials are said to be using their connection with her to indulge in acts that do not conform to what she stands for and what good governance seeks to address.

For example, the General Services Agency (GAC) is at the center of tense confusion as a result of alleged malpractices the present management headed by someone so close to her is involved in.

Employees of the GSA recently staged series of protests against some of the ills the management is said to be involved, but the president is yet to comment or ask for an investigation.

During a chat with media practitioners before her departure for London, she was told some of her shortcomings and told what to do.

"My president, you have to improve your stance on reconciliation. You are weak in that area. You have to act against some of your officials who are not performing," she was told and one of her officials mentioned was Labor Varbah Gayflor.

More besides, the president was told to visit her officials surprisingly to see first hand what and how they are running the affairs of the ministries.

It may be recalled that former President Samuel Kanyon Doe dismissed David Farhat and replaced him with John Bestman for not being at office as early as eight o'clock when he paid a visit at the ministry of finance.

Others who frowned on the president's failing to act in line with her promise told this paper that former President William R. Tolbert was fond of sacking his officials whom he did not meet at office when he visited there.

Every leader has his/her ways of confronting nation policy issues, analysts say it is the worst thing for any leader to shield officials at the detriment of the country.

Although, Madam Sirleaf is hailed to some extent for responding in earnest to some of her promises such as the improvement of governance, decentralizing governance, she is being called upon to exercise strength in the area of taking appropriate actions against corrupt and ill- performing officials of her government.

In the wake of her not being active in addressing some of the topnotch issues that continue to dampen the image of her administration and by extension, the country, there are fears she must have given up on the great promises made to the nation in 2006 and renewed in 2012.

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