11 June 2018

Liberia: Chief Kawor, Stop Seeking Favor At the Expense of Liberian Elders

Chief Zanzan Kawor, head of Liberian Council of Chiefs and Elders whom other local chiefs have accused of overstaying in power, has been heard in the news in recent days delving into complex political and economic issues he has no idea of.

Firstly, he and a few elders recommended the reintroduction and imposition of the hut tax on rural Liberians, most of who are very poor and living below US$1.00 a day. At the same gathering, where he and his cohorts recommended the reintroduction of the Hut tax, they also expressed support for the purchase of a Presidential jet.

Their declared support for the purchase of a Presidential jet came in the wake of huge public controversy about a jet plane rumored to have been purchased by President Weah at a cost of some 30 million United States dollars. According to our Nimba County Correspondent, Ishmael Menkor, who covered the elders' meeting with Internal Affairs Minister, Varney Sirleaf, Chief Kawor and his henchmen (followers) also expressed their support for the US$536 million loan agreement between Liberia and the Elton Finance Limited.

There should be no true Liberian opposed to any good plan that will move forward the development agenda of this country. Sourcing loans from external partners or institutions to meet our development goal is just one of the means through which Liberia's dream for development can come to reality.

But what remains of abiding and overriding public concern is the source of the $536 million agreement that both houses of parliament have ratified. This money will not be paid by the individual lawmakers who affixed their signatures to the document at a speed much "faster than forty gods would skin a flea".

The money will be paid by Liberian taxpayers. As such, public demands for disclosure of the lending institution's background prior to the ratification of the loan does not in any way negate President Weah's plan to connect the south-eastern counties and other areas by good roads. Under Liberian law, the President is obliged to make full disclosure of gifts especially those of high monetary value in order to avoid suspicion of bribery or unethical behavior.

This is why Liberians are also eager to know the full background of the story surrounding the so-called presidential jet offered President Weah in recent days. On what basis was it offered and what could be the interest of the person who offered it? In their resolution, Karwor and his people said, "The President supposed to get his own jet plane so it can make his movement easy because chartering plane on every trip will be too expensive for the government."

But Chief Kawor has apparently not taken into account maintenance costs of the plane, salaries and benefits for pilot and crew but is instead naively concluding the purchase of a presidential jet is a better option than flying on regular commercial or special chartered flights. There are some things we believe Chief Kawor and his people should be engaged in rather than dabbling in complex issues of which they have little or no knowledge.

The Council of Chiefs and Elders, we believe, should be an independent body that should weigh in on issues of national concern with the view to resolving conflicts, promoting national harmony and serving as a bridge between the government and the people.

For instance, when the credibility of the chairperson of the National Elections Commission (NEC), Jerome Korkoya and his mishandling of the electoral process was called into question, the public generally expected that Chief Kawor and the Council of Chiefs and Elders would have prevailed on former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to stay above the fray as had been advised by ECOWAS leaders and the AU Chairman.

Instead, they sat and believed everything Madam Sirleaf did or said in her singular determination to stamp her imprimatur on the shape, conduct and outcome of the electoral process. From our understanding of things, the Council of Chiefs appears to be a much dis-empowered body co-opted mainly to serve the interests of the ruling elite.

In retrospect, the civil war virtually undermined the authority and respect that Chiefs once commanded. Chiefs, during the civil conflict, were often the target of abuse by armed fighters who sought to replace their authority by subjecting them to humiliating and degrading treatment, thereby making them appear powerless and helpless.

Today, chiefs are mere shadows of a glorious past when they could speak with authority and be listened to. Thanks to the impunity which has accompanied the actions of warlords and their bands of fighters, chiefs no longer command the moral authority and respect which they once did. Chiefs were once a proud breed of leaders, economically independent, possessed of strong moral character and responsive to the concerns of their people.

Sadly, this is no longer the case nowadays. We recall for instance how in 2013, Chief Zanzan Kawor and a number of chiefs hailed former Central Bank Governor, Dr. Joseph Mills Jones, as he toured rural Liberia, aptly dubbing him the "Poverty Doctor". They pledged their support and that of their following to Mr. Jones' 2017 presidential quest.

Dr. Jones, in response to their entreaties (an earnest or humble request), responded "We know what you all want to see in the future, and we will get there." He spent all he could to put delicious food on their tables, but in the end, Dr. Jones featured nowhere among the top ten rankings. What this showed was that Chief Zanzan Karwor and his chiefs represent basically only themselves and not the people.

However, should Chief Kawor and his aristocratic body of chiefs and elders truly desire genuine representation, inclusiveness and the restoration of the authority and respect of the chieftaincy, they should prevail on the national leadership to act decisively to end the culture of impunity in our land.

They can do so by supporting calls to action for transparency and accountability in national governance as well as accountability for economic criminals and perpetrators of gross human rights abuse. This is, in our opinion, the surest path to restoring the authority and respect of chiefs.

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