The Analyst (Monrovia)

2 January 2013

Liberia: Resolution Liberia 2013 - Economic, Social, Political, Security, Reconciliation - National Agenda Vis-à-vis Citizens' Expectation

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Liberia is a nation fighting tooth and nail to lift itself, by its own fusty bootstraps, from the depths of poverty and degradation it had sunk due to more than a century of mismanagement compounded by 14 years of senseless civil war. In its struggle for recovery – thanks to the watch and hand landing of the international community – Liberia has recorded modest gains in security, politics, the economy, and foreign relations over the last nine years. However, as the government is all-too-ready to admit, the Liberian people have still much to desire. For every step forward, there seems a half step backwards – for every gain in socio-economic and political development, there is a loss to corruption and mismanagement; there is a loss to political or communal acrimony of a sort. The way out of this, pundits agree, is for the nation to set a roadmap, a resolution of a sort, for 2013 that sets the trajectories for sturdy recovery, peace, and stability. Yes, it must resolve that it shall never again tread those muddy grounds and quicksand of political bickering, undue skepticism, incrimination, and what many consider the beginning of witch hunting and obsession with official expediency. As the nation embarks yet on another epoch of national integration and peace, The Analyst Staff Writer looks at what those resolutions must be, above all else, for the economy, for politics, for security, peace and reconciliation, and for social services.

For the economy

The current picture: The economy of the nation has graduated from "serious depression (or recession?)" to a starter phase – the economists will have to decide the proper word to use. But, the fact remains that it will be a misnomer to call this phase growth and development. Emerging will suffice. Economic recovery and reconstruction are still a matter of hunt and peck, largely reliant on foreign assistance. The reason is the nation has just gained control over the tapping and trading of its offshore revenue generators, timber, and diamond. It is beginning to negotiate with new investors and renegotiate with old investors, having set new legal standards. Meanwhile the government continues to rely exclusively on taxes from domestic trade and Maritime operations. The international community, mainly the United States and its economic allies, is warming up to the needs of the country through increased aid and lending. There is agreement in both Monrovia and Washington that economic assistance must follow austere fiscal and economic management and sustainable peace in Liberia. There is no lack of consensus, neither is there any lack of trying to erect these safety posts; but corruption continues to haunt the Sirleaf Administration to the nation's dislike and to the skepticism of economic partners. In the face of competing interests, and even though the government has put reins on extra-budgetary expenditure and has been doing everything to curb official corruption through the practice of transparency and accountability, it has barely been able to streamline expenditure in line with acceptable international standards and donor expectation. Evidence of this is the throwing into the air of the hands of the nation's corruption watchdog – the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) – in despair regarding the spiraling incidence corruption in government. There is a positive note to all this though: the government's control of extra-budgetary spending put into place over the last year is reaping dividends in revenue generation with corresponding budgetary expansion. This gives government the advantage of attacking corruption and putting to test the rule of law by reviewing budgetary performances and probing misapplications.

Citizens' Expectation: Notwithstanding this current phase of the Liberia economy, the citizens expect increased job opportunities, improved wages, the jumpstarting of the private sector, and drastic reduction in the prices of consumer commodities specifically rice, building materials, and transportation fares determined by reduction in the prices of gasoline and fuel oil. They want also improvement in social services such as improved delivery of safe drinking water, electricity, refurbished and equipped public schools, and refurbished and equipped health faculties across the country. For them, post-war peace and reconciliation is inextricably bound to the provision of these facilities and opportunities. Even those who sympathize with government's efforts have joined critics to press for robust government programs to alleviate hardship.

The resolution: The Sirleaf Administration, in one accord with the people, must muster all of the nation's human and material resources to resolve that this nation needs sober programs for 2013, now that the debt burden is lightened and the government had attracted significant direct foreign investment to stimulate private sector efforts. The administration must redouble its efforts in making itself the darling of the people, having made itself one for the donor community. In the next 12 months and beyond, it must resolve to ensure that efforts are doubled to sustain the Kimberley process by controlling border smuggling from neighboring Cote d'Ivoire, Sierra Leone, and Guinea time; that a robust domestic program is put into place to tackle problems that are in the way of the full provision of basic social services for the population 85% of which, though unemployed, must meet the daily headaches of living in a post-war society; that it works with the opposition and the international community to eradicate or minimize corruption through the efficient streamlining of fiscal spending, revenue collection and saving, and the establishment of priority spending regime; and that, the donor community is made to build confidence in the ability of the Sirleaf Administration to run the economy without hitches. In this regards, domestic and international fiscal and resource monitors, including the Liberia Extractive Industries (LEITI), must cease to be window dressing and armchair monitors and must become the true technical guards of transparency and accountability they were intended to be.

For Politics

The current picture: More than a year after the nation's second presidential and parliamentary elections, the nation is slowly shedding the cloak of electoral violence and discontent. Opposition political leaders are counting their losses, knocking on woods, and hinging their lucks on the 2017 presidential election, in which there will be no incumbent contender. Some, including the main opposition leader, George Weah, are taking up positions in government as the government tries to keep its head above the political quicksand. Meanwhile, those expected to cooperate and collaborate with the government, especially peace laureate Leymah Gbowee and some of the president's legislative alter egos are becoming lukewarm, expressing discontent against one thing or the other – mainly about peace and reconciliation and oil block assignments. The legislature too, has been on collision courses with the Executive Mansion over budgetary appropriations and lately, over expenditure. The government has meanwhile launched efforts to reform the judiciary, the criminal justice system, and the elections laws, and to amend anti-peace and anti-democracy provisions of the Constitution of Liberia.

Citizens' Expectation: Political harmony, constant dialogue between the opposition on one side, and the ruling party and the Sirleaf Administration on the other hand, to avoid the instance of divisive political bickering that has the potential to prompt donor drawbacks. Besides, they expect strategic cooperation between the opposition and the administration whereby inclusion will be based on individual merit rather than on politically derived job placement of the mediocre in government. They want prosecution of those violating the laws and the repeal of obsolete statutes that are hindering the anti-corruption fight and the safe delivery of justice in the courts of the land. They expect a law-driven opposition and not one relying on sentimentalism to push sectoral agendas at the expense of the rule of law. They want the prosecution of corrupt officials; and above all, they want a national peace and reconciliation agenda the implementation of which will not lead to more strife as some fear will be the case with the happy-go-lucky implementation of the TRC recommendations.

The resolution: The Sirleaf Administration has no choice but to draw up a political agenda that will introduce sobriety into the political field. Accomplishing this will require the administration to organize a series of disinterested political meetings aimed at drawing up what will be called the Liberian Political Agenda 2013. The Political Agenda will, amongst other things, exact consensus amongst politicians to critically monitor the government and exert reasonable pressure that will compel the government to deliver on its promises within the ring of wherewithal availability. The Political Agenda will eschew radicalism for its own sake since radicalism finds its strength in violence and fear mongering, and violence and fear mongering measure their successes in the level of security breach, which Liberians do not need.  It will be unreasonable, for instance, to require the government to supply electricity to pre-war status when it is clear that the Mount Coffee Hydro-Plant requires more than a billion dollars to revitalize, and when it is clear that the donor community will want to evaluate the administration before it begins lending for reconstruction and economic revitalization purposes. Likewise, it will be unreasonable to expect the government to provide employment for all those unemployed and at the same time pave all major highways in the country within a year. The citizens will expect the opposition to play its role as the monitor of public policy and not to degenerate into the abyss of violence advocacy.

For Security

The current picture: Liberia's internal security remains officially, essentially fragile. The violence that arouse from the 2011 presidential and legislative elections are ambling into the past – with occasional bursts. Paralleling this, is massive unemployment, which is taking its toll on the peace process. Added to this, violent crimes run around the country unabated even though security officials and UNMIL have recorded a lull by year's end, having launched a nationwide security safety net with citywide and inland patrols to trap contrabands and quarantine violent criminals. But so far, the operations have been minimally successful as many communities remain vulnerable with desperate criminals still having the upper hand. Even though UNMIL is part of efforts to ward off criminals, without much success, the UN continues to expect the Liberian government to restore security to the country. Ironically, the world body is maintaining the arms embargo it imposed on the country over the years. Meanwhile, UNMIL is due to begin significant drawdown of troops. UN and UNMIL officials in Monrovia say the drawdown will not leave the nation vulnerable; but with the fluid security situation along Liberia's porous, wooded, and long border with Cote d'Ivoire crawling with mercenaries, the popular remains largely nervous.

Citizens' Expectation: Radical reduction in violent crime through UNMIL-backed police vigilance and preemptive operations. Also expected is the acceleration of the police re-forming process, the full rearming of the police, and the systematic prosecution of the criminals to serve as deterrence to would-be criminals. They expect the recycling of criminals – wherein the security forces simply arrest violent or career criminals, detain them without charge for unspecified period under so-called special security operations, and release by the force of the rule of law – to end.  Expected also is the complete rehabilitation and reintegration of ex-combatants Granted, the government and the international community officially ended the DDRR program sometime four years ago, but the citizens will expect a remedial program to address residual issues.

The resolution: The Sirleaf Administration has no "independent security forces" to address these problems; but there is much it can do as the government of Liberia in the wake of the recent security challenges. It must therefore meet with the high command of UNMIL and representatives of UN, ECOWAS, AU, ICGL, JIU, UNMIL, and other relevant agencies to review the security situation in the country from the level of community protection to the restoration of services relevant to the raising of the security standards of the Liberian people. It must      reach an understanding with UNMIL and UNCIVPOL on how patrols of the communities and highways can be improved to help the free movement of goods and services and. It must insist that reintegration of ex-combatants is placed at the top of security priorities, remaining convinced that unless the issue of ex-combatants is solved, the security question will remain elusive and will continue to be an obstacle. The violence in Monrovia, mainly the so-called 2011 student riot for pay, paints a graphic picture of the powder keg of youth unemployment in Liberia.

For Social Services

The current picture: The public corporations that supply water and electricity are still largely operating at the mercy of humanitarian organizations and the development partners of Liberia. The government's contribution has been marginal and will continue to be due to the volume of service competition amongst the various sectors of government. The Liberia Water and Sewer Corporation (LWSC) is operating minimally while the Liberia Electricity Corporation (LEC) is yet to revamp most of its prewar facilities. Both rely on the Mount Coffee Hydro-Plant, which requires more than a billion dollars to rehabilitate and put into full operation, to resume full capacity operation. The government is yet to confirm rumors that the US and Chinese governments are planning a joint-venture project to rehabilitate the plant. Notwithstanding this uncertain situation, the Sirleaf Administration has managed to maintain power-sharing arrangements in most communities in the capital. Reports say there is now funding to continue the expansion of the Monrovia electrification project. Amidst this, domestic travel and the movement of goods and services are being made difficult by substandard roads that become impassable for six months every year. Recent facelifts given these roads is a plus to the government of Liberia. However, experience dictates that unless these roads, mainly the key highways, are asphalted the government's efforts remain a window-dressing attempt a crucial development incentive. Added to the difficulties posed by bad road conditions, the short supply of commercial vehicles is stepping up commuters' inability to pay the fares being charged arbitrarily. The situation, though, is warming up to the steps government took two years ago to lift tariff on certain commercial vehicles, to boost the autonomous Monrovia transport agency, and to set minimum standards for metropolitan commuters. As the exchange rate between the Liberian dollar and other major currencies spiral out of the average citizen's control, unemployment remains high and the hardship created as the result has pushed many young people into prostitution, armed robbery, human trafficking, and violent postures against the state. Meanwhile, bribery for grades has increased in schools, leaving academic standards questionable when viewed from the context of public examinations. Basic consumer prices remain high with a 100-lb bag of the nation's staple food, rice, costing slightly below the take-home pay of the average civil servant. The citizens have only to stare speechlessly and hopelessly as the government claims one GDP growth after another and one successful fiscal implementation and performance after another.

Citizens' Expectation: The public expect the full restoration of electricity and water at least to the capital. They expect also the reduction of the prices of basic consumer products or the stepping up of minimum wages to make "papa to come home" honorably. Current national budget estimates for minimal national wage is US $75.00. Whether or not the government has been able to activate this minimum wage is a question to ask. They will expect government to concentrate seriously on constructing at least one all-weather highway for the ease of travel and to spur commercial activities from which government draws much of its revenue. The year-end commencement of the pavement of Voinjama streets and the earmarking of other key highways for asphalting, they say, is a commendable beginning.

The resolution: The Sirleaf Administration must use the outcome of its austerity program to raise money and obtain external support in order to jumpstart the restoration of basic social services at least to Monrovia and its environs. The recent reconditioning of access and back roads in the capital is commendable; but it is a drop in the ocean of the demands for access roads throughout the country. Besides, it must review the so-called Monrovia electrification program so that efforts can be concentrated on the restoration of the facilities of LEC at least in Monrovia by the second quarter of 2013. That power for Monrovia is an emergency needs no elaboration, requires that the government collaborates and cooperates with the EU in designing plans for the revitalization of the water and sewage facilities of the water company – the Liberia Water and Sewage Corporation. Perhaps a quasi privatization scheme will help settle the question of political manipulation that many say has marred the performance of the corporation since the early 1980s. The administration must resolve to prioritize education by stepping up the budgetary allotment for education to take into consideration the role of education in the DDRR programme of UN. It must remove bottlenecks to fair business practices such as unnecessary freight and surcharges that never reached government coffers, in order to reduce the costs of petroleum products, rice, and transportation. It must remove the high risk factor associated with the use of the Freeport of Monrovia by holding talks with UN, EU, the U.S. government, UNMIL, and Maritime officials to declare Liberian ports free of security risks. The government may want to strengthen security at the port to reduce pillaging and arbitrary sub-charges that are now discouraging many from shipping goods to the Freeport of Monrovia.

For Reconciliation

While there remains no question in the minds of the Liberian government and its humanitarian, development, and business partners that reconciliation remains the centerpiece to Liberia's stability, growth, and development, the long silence of the guns seems to be producing lethargy in the peace work. The humanitarian community and its UN partners continue to pay lip service to reintegration and rehabilitation, two crucial factors to peace, harmony, and reconciliation. For instance, they are yet to come to the understanding that reconciling the Liberian people is not a political issue – that it is a tangible problem that reflects real social and security improvement benchmarks. More than three years ago, the TRC released its final consolidated report aimed at resolving the peace and reconciliation problems. Ironically, the report is steeped more in extracting a pound of flesh from the so-called most liable war perpetrators and their "supporters" than in guaranteeing peace and reconciliation. The government therefore seeks to sidestep the report by setting up its own reconciliation mechanism beginning with the appointment of President Sirleaf's 2011 co-peace laureate, Leymah Gbowee to head the Peace and Reconciliation Commission. It was not long before Gbowee threw in the towel and chickened out over unrelated issues. Surprising to political observers and to the consternation of his followers, key opposition leader George Weah accepted President Sirleaf's nomination for the post. Some say this not only lift the nation's reconciliation profile, but that also it sets a new trajectory for forward march to peace, given CDC's violent posture over the last several months and Weah's obsession with political inclusion in government as a reconciling tool. Meanwhile, the elements and vices that divided the Liberian society into splinter political and tension groups continue to exist, waiting to take advantage of whatever direction the TRC report takes in implementation – a quaggy dilemma. Liberians remain divided on land issues, tribal and class hegemonies, struggle for political power, corruption, and the centralization of opportunities by a privileged few.

Citizens' Expectation:  Improvement in the reintegration drive and collaborative efforts in finding legal and acceptable-to-all middle ground for the implementation of the TRC recommendations. The citizens want this feat achieved at the earliest possible time so that the chapter of war atrocity can be thrown behind them in order to begin the chapter of healing.

The resolution: The Sirleaf Administration must realize that the success of its programs and activities is inextricably tied to the success of TRC's reconciliation program. It must therefore continue to find fast track, but legally binding solutions to the implementation of the TRC    recommendations and continue to tie continued goodwill towards Liberia to the issue of security seen through the prism of the reunification of the Liberian people. It must also seek the removal of conflict caches and open serial national dialogues amongst the various dissenting groups for the purpose of forming national consensus outside the TRC report. A working alternative to the TRC recommendations will be a big relief.

While these resolutions are by no means exhaustive, analysts agree that they constitute a significant part of what can and must be done to improve the performance record of the Sirleaf Administration and thereby alleviate the suffering of the Liberian people in the next 12 months.

Meanwhile, the Management of The Analyst wishes the government and people of Liberia a Happy and Prosperous New Year as it bid them adapt these resolutions firmly and sincerely.

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