Many supporters of the Presidential bid of the standard bearer of the opposition Movement for Economic Empowerment (MOVEE), Dr. J. Mills Jones would be scratching their heads by now--regretting why their candidate didn't abandon every other engagement he had a few weeks ago to avail himself at the first presidential debate hosted by the Deepening Democracy Coalition (DDC) a few weeks ago.
With his experience at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (WB) where he held top executive positions; coupled with his control of the Government of Liberia's monetary policy for two terms of ten years, the former Central Bank Governor practically stood tall as the giant of the economic discussions at the second and final DDC debate held in Paynesville yesterday.
The thematic issues on the agenda were:
1. Economy (with emphasis on poverty alleviation)
2. Youth empowerment (with emphasis on education and job creation)
3. Land rights (in the context of natural resource management) and
4. Gender Empowerment.
The seven candidates who originally consented to attend were Alexander Cummings (ANC), Cllr. Charles Brumskine (Liberty Party), George Weah (CDC), Joseph Boakai (Unity Party), Benoni Urey (ALP), Dr. Mills Jones (MOVEE) and MacDella Cooper (Liberia Restoration Party).
Unfortunately, only three candidates appeared, including Dr. Jones, Mr. Cummings, and Ms. Cooper--thereby making the debates an All-Southeast Affair.
The three candidates had their platforms articulated with what they would do, and how they would do them to solve the mammoth problems for Liberians, especially which their kinsmen in Sinoe, Maryland and River Gee counties, are perpetually confronted with.
At yesterday's debate, Dr. Jones appeared relaxed and in total control of the proceedings, and at times exchanged jabs with his colleague Alexander B. Cummings, who himself is a braintrust of ideas and very well-versed about the private sector. The two men sparred over the very issue of the economy, proffering viable alternatives that seemed to be either side of the same coin. Cummings said Dr. Jones could not absolve himself of the failings of the Sirleaf administration, through which he worked in government. In response, Jones said that the Central Bank, which he served as executive governor, is an autonomous body and not part of the executive branch of government; suggesting that Cummings' remark was in error.
Dr. Jones and Cummings are two great talents of Liberia, who used their education, expertise, and talents at the highest levels of corporate America--with the former as head of Coca-Cola.
Meanwhile, Cooper anchored her arguments on the need to rebuild the economy by restructuring the education sector: strengthening primary education and training more teachers.
The three presidential candidates at the debates (l-r): MacDella Cooper, Alexander B. Cummings and Dr. J. Mills Jones
On the economic front, Dr. Jones had a field day and showed a remarkable knowledge of what his administration would do to fix it. He indicated that, as it should be the case, his government would create the enabling environment for the private sector to serve as the engine of growth and the medium through which many Liberians, especially young people, would find employment and livelihood.
He said the number of jobs that are created in a country cannot be determined by a government, but through the private sector that should depend on requisite policies put in place by the administration.
"This is the time to get Liberia on a new course and it is time for a new beginning for the country--and a MOVEE administration would be the most ideal to take the country into the new era," he said.
Jones said when he served at the CBL, he warned President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and her team that the government should not be reliant on the extractive sector, but should rather concentrate more on the agricultural and tourism sectors, because of their potential to improve the living standards of the Liberian people through job and wealth creation--but unfortunately, these were one of the many warnings that were never heeded to.
It might have been unfortunate for the many MOVEES' supporters that during the first debate, Dr. Jones had busied himself with another engagement in Grand Cape Mount County that allowed his fellow economic powerhouse Cummings, to score impressive points at that first debate which was well attended in person, on nationwide broadcast and online globally. The online reach of that first DDC hosted debate reach at least 90,000 viewers.
The former CBL Governor, as a result of his absence from that debate, didn't know that he was missing out on a glorious opportunity to answer to burning issues with suggestions of what he could do, in the event he is elected president. He would have had the chance to outweigh his opponents with what he considers the steps Liberia would need to bail itself out of the economic recession.
Undecided voters and even partisans of various political parties are relying on these debates to evaluate politicians' vision and ability to get them convinced of their competency to rule the country.
Jones took full advantage of the opportunity this time around and discussed substantive issues.
Even though many Liberians still believe that three parties, including UP, CDC, and LP stand to make impacts and at least two of them could make it to the runoff, the impressive articulation of how to revive the country's economy by Dr. Jones yesterday provided another angle to voters to reconsider their choices on October 10.
After such a critical period in the country's history under the leadership of President Sirleaf in the wake of the failure to curtail corruption and its influences and the vestiges of the Ebola scourge, it is obvious that the next president MUST understand the evolving dynamics of the global economy and how to lead Liberia from the current economic difficulties to an improved level to ease the pockets of economically pressed Liberians.
And Dr. Jones performance and his experience demonstrated, as many listeners to yesterday's debate said, seemed ready to lead as president. And Jones, interestingly, is just one of the very few candidates whose articulation on what and how to fit the economy put him above the others.
He proved to Liberians that he does have the intellectual sophistication and capacity to govern the Liberian state but the greater expectation is whether the electorate will look at substantive issues raised to make informed decision to make the country's economic and infrastructural development the major cause of concern on October 10.
The organizers of the debates, the DDC is made up of the Liberia Media Center, The Center for Media Studies and Peacebuilding, The Press Union of Liberia, The Center for Transparency and Accountability, The Angie Brooks International Center and the Liberia Women Media Action Committee.