opinionBy Alphonso Richardson
Many Liberians will no doubt remember the year, 2012, in diverse ways and for different reasons. But, thousands if not millions more will never forget the historic event which took place in the central Liberian city of Gbarnga, Bong County, from December 10-12, when the Government of Liberia, led by Her Excellency, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, launched its ambitious Vision 2030 document.
'Soft issues to consider...'
The vision 2030 document is a national analysis based on regional consultations with the view to help Liberians choose and work towards a possible future, which is bright and prosperous. The vision 2030 conference was organized by a 21-member National Conference Committee with sponsorship from the Ministry of Planning & Economic Affairs and the Governance Commission.
During those three days, 500 delegates from the 15 counties, including Liberians from the Diaspora and some international observers, under the aegis of Her Excellency, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, assembled in the city's Administrative Building. The nation's colors, red, white and blue, beautifully adorned the conference ground and inside the hall. Delegates patiently listened to fine speeches and intelligent discussions, diagnosing and analysing Liberia's social, economic, political, environmental, cultural and technological malaise.
Optimists say the vision is designed to give Liberia a future as a middle income country by 2030. That future envisages that Liberians, eighteen years from now, will be equipped with the requisite knowledge, skills and training in order to make us marketable and competitive enough to rub shoulders with any of our counterparts in West Africa and elsewhere in the world.
On the final day when Liberia's young and energetic Finance Minister, Hon. Amara Konneh, took the stage to explain the vision, analysts say, he did an excellent and superb job. He brilliantly laid out a sensible vision which should cut through the hearts of all well-meaning Liberians who want to see our country, move forward. As part of the Vision 2030, Minister Konneh announced a five-year transformation agenda, to be implemented between 2013-2017. It is intended to radically deal with the critical challenges facing our country.
He talked about the urgent need to provide cheap power to boost the country's economic activities, so as to make electricity generation less expensive to do business, compared to what is pertaining now with the use of diesel generators. Minister Konneh, amongst other things, touched a raw nerve in our national life when he said that the Government of Liberia is the highest spender in the country, but the sad fact remains that most of the money it spends go into the hands of non-Liberians. In short, analysts suggest, he was implying that Liberians do not own their country. They say even though Liberians whole heartedly welcome the presence of foreigners in our midst, it is easy to prove the point that Liberians lack ownership of their country simply by looking at the people who live in most of the high-rise buildings in central Monrovia, and those who own and run many of the vital commercial stores, big-time hotels and supermarkets in Liberia. Observers say Liberia is the only country in Africa, and perhaps the world, where so many aliens ride the best of cars and live a better life than the citizens, because we lack the patriotism to rigorously enforce our labor standards.
As such, the five-year transformation agenda will seek to help empower 'honest' Liberians to become entrepreneurs and business tycoons. Minister Konneh talked about building our human resource capacity, by investing more in education, training more doctors for our hospitals, more engineers to build our social infrastructure, roads, schools, etc. Everything he said sounded so nice and sweet on paper, and if implemented with commitment and sincerity, observers say, Liberians have good reasons to be hopeful.
Nonetheless, some skeptics say, 'paper talk is one thing, but actions and deeds are another.' These skeptics contend that Liberia has seen several governments which have come 'talking the talk' but have failed to 'walk the walk', so they wonder if this administration will be any different when it comes to Vision 2030. Critics say that the Ellen-led government has so much international goodwill, and has received huge financial assistance. However, political economists argue that the social and economic impact on the lives of ordinary Liberians, especially the youthful population, continue to be negligible because the vast majority of them still remain unskilled, illiterate, underemployed, impoverished and destitute, pushing 'wheelbarrows', riding motorbikes, selling dog chains, one or two pieces of lady's bra or men's T-shirt, in order to survive.
Some analysts wonder if these are the people who will occupy the middle of the vision 2030 income? They say this group of the population in the Redlight, Duala, ELWA Junction and elsewhere in the country, constitutes a critical mass of our people who were denied basic education and skills training for 14 years during the civil conflict. Now, many of them have nothing but empty skulls, saturated with trauma, anger and violence which can be easily manipulated. The Legislature should therefore enact laws and coordinate with the Executive to allocate resources to design a program specifically intended to recruit and train the multitudes of our youth who are aimlessly roaming the streets, living from hand to mouth and sleeping rough, when they should be in school, acquiring skills to be able to adequately fit in the middle of the envisaged vision 2030 income.
Supporters of the government, however, counter by arguing that the Ellen-led administration has a credible track record for social, political, economic and infrastructural development, as evidenced by the many physical changes which have taken place across the country since she was inaugurated on January 16, 2006. Her supporters say when she came to power in 2006, Liberia was a failed state, with a tattered economy, a wretched and rag-tag social fabric which was nothing to write home about. Civil servants' minimal salary was a token US$15 and it was paid only twice a year, free speech was virtually non-existent, the country's educational system was in a quicksand, with low morale among teachers and University Professors. Today, they argue, under the hardworking leadership of Madam Sirleaf, there has been tremendous improvement in these situations, and Liberia's physical landscape is being rapidly transformed, so there is no empirical reason to doubt her government's commitment to vision 2030.
LEGISLATE VISION 2030: Soon after the vision was launched, some Liberians began to call for the vision 2030 to be enacted into law by the Legislature, so as to make it binding on any government which comes after 2017 when President Sirleaf tenure expires. Their argument is that, as vision 2030 stands now, it is primarily viewed as President Sirleaf's vision which could die a natural death when she leaves office, because it is not a legal instrument to commit future governments to continue with it.
Moreover, some critics contend that the vision 2030 document cannot pass the scrutiny test to even be considered broad based, participatory and consensus in scope. They further argue that in order for the vision 2030 to succeed, all Liberians must fully understand and be committed to the agenda of change; and that there should be widespread participation by citizens in the formulation and implementation process. Thus, some critics note, the handful of 500 delegates from the 15 counties do not reflect a proportional representation of the estimated 3 million, five hundred thousand citizens of Liberia. It means that less than 34 persons represented each county and if you did the ratio, breakdown into districts, towns and clans, you will see that the consultations cannot be considered as being truly far-reaching, nationwide. It is for these reasons that some citizens are calling for the vision 2030 to be legislated. Some even suggest that since the vision seeks to deal with the social, economic, cultural, political and environmental issues, it should also address the recommendations in the TRC REPORT.
'THE VISION DON'T BLONG ME': In fact, when President Sirleaf took the podium to address the delegates, she reiterated that vision 2030 belongs to the Liberian people. Speaking in Liberian colloquial, she said, 'The vision don't blong to me', meaning 'This vision does not belong to me'. She said the vision 2030 document was crafted based on nation-wide consultations, and as such what is now contained in the vision is to a large extent, a consensus of the vast majority of Liberians. For this reason, every Liberian has a role to play in making the vision 2030 document a reality.
Accordingly, political analysts say, in a sense, the President is right when she says that the vision does not belong to her, alone. If by this saying, she means that no matter how brilliant the vision 2030 agenda is, it will not succeed if all Liberians do not support it, then she is right.
How can every Liberian support vision 2030 to succeed? Optimists say we can do so by developing a patriotic mindset for Mama Liberia; and begin to brighten our individual corners by not continuing with business as usual. We can support the vision by not throwing dirt into the streets, by not cutting electric wire from the poles and not showing a careless attitude towards state-owned property. We can do so by not sitting supinely, complaining and murmuring that the country is hard....we should do something constructive, creative, innovative and nationalistic. If you are a national security, military or police officer, serve with honesty, integrity and professionalism, if you are a taxi driver, obey the traffic laws of the state, and don't overcharge passengers, if you are a civil servant, go to work on time and put in your full working hours. If you are a public official entrusted with government resources, manage it judiciously in the best interest of the country, if you are a student, study hard and apply yourself to be the best that you can be in your area of studies, don't settle for mediocrity....these are some of the soft issues which we must imbibe into our national psyche to make the vision succeed....patriotism, honesty, integrity and respect for the rule of law are vital hallmarks to consider.
For example, there is the much talk about societal, endemic and systemic problem of corruption in our country...but who is doing the stealing? Most of us are guilty, from the Minister to the messenger...where is our sense of love for country? Yes, the President is head of the government and should take responsibility for corruption, but let's be realistic...the President has only two eyes and she cannot be everywhere at the same time. When a police or immigration officer on the highway or at the border decides to collect bribery from the driver of a truck loaded with contraband (drugs) and allows that truck to enter Liberia without subjecting it to thorough inspection, do you blame the President for corruption? When the tax collector swindles government's taxes into his/her private account, do you blame the President for that? When the greedy Procurement Officer or Contract Engineer connives with some unscrupulous Asian or Middle-eastern businessman to inflate the invoice in order to defraud the government so that they can get a 'cut', should we blame the President? I don't think so. Where is our own individual spirit of patriotism, honesty and integrity, to guide our consciences? Every Liberian, irrespective of our status must choose to think and act in a patriotic manner. This is the only way that we, together, will be able to achieve the desirable goal of vision 2030. In this respect, the President is right to say that 'the vision does not belong to her, alone.'
ON THE OTHER HAND, analysts say, if by saying that 'The vision don't blong me,' the President is implying that she can simply stand aloof, and watch the nation bleed, and that she will not be held directly responsible should vision 2030 fail to materialize during her administration, then she is wrong. Critics say the President is the captain of the ship of state, containing crew and cargo. This ship has set sail on a long journey into the deep, distant and rough waters of vision 2030. There may be turbulent tidal waves along the way, the ship may even appear at some difficult point, to be approaching an iceberg as in the case of the famous Titanic.
As captain, and Commander-in-Chief, she must be able to skillfully navigate these turbulent scenarios by taking firm control of the direction in which the ship is being steered, and she must constantly monitor and evaluate the performance of her technical crew to ensure that they are doing the correct routine maintenance to keep the ship sea worthy. Whenever she notices that some of her crew have become incompetent and lazy, but are using sycophancy, sweet-talk and eye-service to place the ship in a situation which endangers the journey, as captain, she must have the courage and the intestinal fortitude to swiftly correct the situation by replacing them with more committed, competent and capable crew. Such an action will send a clear signal to all, that indeed, she is serious about the vision and is determined to see it succeed.
May the God of heaven continue to bless and prosper Mama Liberia, in Jesus' Name!