Hundreds of Liberians, led by President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and members of her cabinet converged on the provisional city of Gbarnga, Bong County, last week to convene the much celebrated 'Vision 2030' National Conference. The conference, spearheaded by a special steering committee structured by the government, drew a roadmap of how Liberia would proceed and what it is to achieve from now to the year 2030.
It is however important to highlight key elements which, if not addressed, would pose a stumbling block to the Vision 2030 exercise. Though it is not clear what impact this will have on the common citizen who doesn't know a thing about the visioning exercise, it is however evident by implication that every Liberian, irrespective of tribe, religion, sex, political affiliation or age should be educated about its importance.
The resources, which were lavished in Gbarnga in the name of a Visioning 2030 strategy conference, should have been allotted to institutions responsible to take our brothers and sisters who are posing as 'car loaders' from the streets to get some orientation aimed at reshaping their lives and future. This, for me should be the focus of the state rather than strategizing for another vision whereby previous visions are crying in the dustbin of political isolation and neglect.
It is a normal practice for a government not to continue with programs and policies of its predecessors. This is a dangerous attitude on the part of political leaders. It serves no one any benefit except to waste state resources.
Security, justice, reconciliation and corruption are four factors that if not addressed could impede any visioning exercise that could present it as a charade of yet another Liberian leader.
President William Richard Tolbert, upon assuming office following the death of President Tubman in 1971 abandoned the old order of the True Whig party (TWP) and embarked on a new arrangement that brought about dissent in the TWP. Even though the 'Open Door policy' initiated by Tubman was impacting the country, President Tolbert didn't make that his priority (for the sake of continuity) but also introduced an initiative known as "from mat-to-mattress."
President Tolbert's intent was different from majority of the TWP big Whigs in many ways. His was to uplift the young people, whom he called "precious jewel" though he became a sacrificial lamb for the misdeeds of the TWP oligarchy as he was killed by indigenous Liberians orchestrated by some big hands that disliked his trend of leadership for the country.
So was Samuel Doe. He introduced the 'Green Revolution' campaign to encourage Liberians to return to the soil so as to help make the country self-sufficient in food production. In his drive to achieve this goal, the National Democratic Party (NDPL) government compelled all officials of government to own a farm and grow rice.
President Doe's choice of a national campaign may have appeared strange, but that clearly manifested his origin, as the son of a farmer who himself made farm before joining the Army and subsequently toppling the Tolbert-led government in 1980. His feat was about to be felt nationally when a deadly and destructive war, supported by Americo-Liberians and led by Charles Taylor, killed him and destroyed the entire fabric of the country.
Charles Taylor, after ascending to the presidency in 1997 following a marathon of civil uprising, introduced his 'Vision 2024' which was also, according to him, intended to draw out a plan for the country after he and his drugged criminal army initiated its collapse.
Almost one year into her second term, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has introduced a '2030 Visioning strategy.' A roadmap strategy of what Liberia should be in 18 years. President Sirleaf leaves office in 2017 therefore, what is consistent about that is that her vision 2030 may not be on the books beyond the period she leaves the Presidency. This is real because it represents the Liberian political mentality. And it needs to change if we are to stop showcasing how divided we are as a people.
Instead of wasting state resources on a "visioning exercise" which will not benefit the country in any way, the UP-led government should address pertinent national issues which are affecting the citizens. Some of those significant aspects of governance that needs attention from the government rather than any vision are indicated below.
The security situation is so unbalanced that Liberians are living a vulnerable life. Criminals roam the city of Monrovia inflicting havoc on citizens and other residents in our communities. People live in a state of emergency imposed by criminals and cannot be expected to 'renew' their lives in the midst of such situation whereby anyone can harm another person with impunity. Criminals are having a field day in Liberia because police authorities remain ambivalent in their approach towards the fight against crimes.
Our Justice system is a worse case of the governance process of Liberia. People are arrested, sometimes indicted on frivolous charges and kept in jail beyond the statutory period. The courts system is a constant violator of the basic human rights of persons, because it remands those indicted to the Monrovia Central prisons without trial for over two to three terms of court. Worse of all, people who are kept in prison for a protracted period of time are released either by being acquitted or for lack of evidence without any form of compensation. A case in point is that of four Liberians being held at the Monrovia Central prison for over three years because they are accused of burning to death one Police inspector, Amos Tutu of the Police Support Unit (PSU). Nicholas 'small Wleh, Kweme Akakpo and others are being suspected of the death of the PSU officer, who also shot and killed Preston Davies on the Capitol Bye Pass three years ago. The accused are both family men with children, their continuous stay in jail without trial is not only a violation of their rights but also that of their wives and children.
Three terms of court have elapsed yet their case has not been assigned for hearing. Montserrado County Attorney, Darku Mulbah recently frowned on the prolonged detention of individuals without trial. He vowed that those detainees whose cases have exceeded over three terms of court would be set free.
This is sheer insensitivity to the wellbeing of fellow human beings. To incarcerate people who have families for years without determining whether they are guilty or not is a violation of their basic human rights and the government must act swiftly to address this situation.
Recently the interim Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Liberia announced that several measures were being taken to check judges who fall short of performing to expectation.
Counselor Francis Korkpor noted that overcrowded cases on the dockets was hampering the speedy dispensation of equitable justice in the country. This he indicated is contributing to the failure of some judges to conform to the rule of court relative to time.
Cllr. Korkpor disclosed judges report to work late and leave as they wish. "Sometimes, they do not even report to work at all without any excuse, as a result, they accomplished very little in terms of time. He attributed the action of the judges to over crowdedness of the court dockets.
This tendency, according to the Chief Justice frustrates party litigants whose cases remain undermined for 'unusually' long period of time. This behavior, Cllr. Korkpor maintains creates bad impression not only for a particular court, but the entire judiciary.
Addressing the Vision 2030 conference in Gbarnga recently, Zanzan Kawah of the Traditional Council of Liberia called on the government to prosecute those indicted for corruption.
The UP led government stand accused of playing lips service to the fight against corruption. Even though some political analysts credit the government for the open discussion and exposure of corrupt practices, the government still lacks the political will to prosecute the perpetrators of the menace.
Despite the President's vow to tackle corruption as a common enemy of her government, corruption remains the greatest challenge facing the Unity Party government.
The Chairman of the Liberian Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) has warned that the UP led government would have its legitimacy undermined if a different approach is not adopted in the fight against corruption. In an exclusive interview with the New Democrat recently, Counselor Frances Johnson-Allison stressed that the government needs to do more in fighting corruption.
Cllr. Allison further explained that people who managed the financial system of the country are themselves corrupt. " And if you are corrupt, I don't care how much reforms you bring in the country, people will still find ways through which they can beat the system".
She indicated that in order to succeed in eradicating corruption, there must be a change of altitude from people who managed revenue, stating, 'there is corruption everywhere, and everybody knows about it.
Any attempt that seeks to address any national renewal or consolidate our democracy should not be orientated in a way that leaves key opinion leaders of the country in isolation. The crafters of the 2030 national visional strategy would do better if the mode of strategy is revisited to accommodate all key political stakeholders of our country including opposition politicians who were left out of the Gbarnga conference.
By including these political figures in the discussion about a 'renewed' Liberia would certainly set a platform for reconciliation. Because it has been proven that in the absence of genuine reconciliation, there cannot be any concerted effort in enhancing any national renewal.
Reconciliation, as one of four cardinal pillars to sustaining peace and unity among our divided people must form an integral part of the 2030 National Visioning exercise.
Years after the civil war which tore Liberia apart, Liberians are still divided along political, ethnic, religious and material lines. Even some people still owe allegiance to their former war time leaders and such people still carry malice and grudge in their hearts for those who opposed them during their hey days as members of warring factions. Therefore, it behooves the government to erase these with the kind of initiatives being put in place in the visioning strategy.
Interestingly, the two previous regimes of Samuel Doe and Charles Taylor failed in their declared visions because these factors were not properly addressed. The four points noted are pillars for the enhancement of any system of governance. In the absence of any of these, the vision 2030 could remain an elusive attempt just like the Vision 2024 of Mr. Taylor and the Green Revolution of Mr. Doe.
Already, there are reports that certain opposition figures were excluded from the conference. Montserrado County Representative Acarious Moses Gray (CDC) District Number 8 refused to attend the conference on grounds that he was not officially invited. Furthermore,Gabriel Smith of the Liberty Party complained that there was no role for their party's delegation at the Gbanga gathering. That meant that they were reduced to mere observers. The National Patriotic Party executive, Cyril Allen criticized the conference and predicted it will not succeed because its accreditation was not broad based.
In a statement released last Thursday, the National Democratic Coalition (NDC) accused the government of conspiracy being employed to ostracize the party from the 2030 national visioning strategy. The NDC warned that any process that is characterize by scheming, exclusivity and discriminatory politics cannot adequately reflect the aspirations of broad mass of the people of Liberia.
The NDC: "We are seeking clarifications from the government of Liberia because since the formal launch of the National Visioning Program the national leadership of the NDC has never been invited to participate in any and all programs and proceedings of the Visioning National Agenda."
The Gbarnga conference itself was characterized by accusations of being hijacked by older folks while the younger ones were being marginalized. Young people who attended the National Visioning Strategy in Gbarnga expressed disenchantment over the dominance of the conference by older folks while young people, most of who will be around during the 2030 were marginalized. The protest from the young people led to the indefinite suspension of the youth wing chairman of the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) Mr. Jefferson Korjee.
While the Steering Committee of the 2030 National Visioning program are yet to address the concerns of the NDC, it is imperative for the Committee to address all of the acrimonies from Gbarnga if the Vision 2030 is to actually set the roadmap for the development of the country.