17 August 2018

Liberia: Govt, Opposition Meeting Ends in Deadlock?

Photo: Liberian Observer
Some of the participants at the Government-Political Parties Consultative Forum.

The inability of the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) to put forth a national development agenda since its ascendancy may have contributed significantly to stalled progress at a meeting meant to solicit inputs from major political actors on moving the country forward.

The meeting, held in Monrovia on Thursday, was aimed at advancing ideas that promote the spirit of national unity and political tolerance between opposition political parties and the Liberian government.

But the political leader of major opposition Liberty Party (LP), Grand Bassa County Senator Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence, said the conference, convened by President George Manneh Weah, did not yield the intended results because there was no agenda upon which deliberations were to be made. "We can only make contribution or input when there is an agenda, but the government does not have any," she told reporters minutes after emerging from the meeting that was held behind closed doors.

The Senator said that when an agenda is crafted, the opposition can scrutinized such an agenda and make some contribution. "But there was no agenda presented, so hopefully we look forward to a national development instrument that this government would come out with, in which the opposition can make input to move our country forward," she noted.

With nothing substantive available upon which deliberations could be made, Senator Karnga-Lawrence noted, means that the government is rather soliciting assistance from the opposition to do what it[government] is supposed to do in leading the country.

"With no agenda available at this meeting, what the government is doing, in other words, is asking the opposition community to help prepare an agenda that they could work with to move this country forward," she said, adding: "But this is something that political parties, especially those that are in the tripartite arrangement, have to talk about in the leadership and executive committees' meetings."

ANC, LP and UP went to the meeting as a team and, according to the LP political leader, they have to do a lot of consultations. "We have to meet with our executive committee members to see how we can respond to this call.

"I think the best way to move forward is for the government to present an agenda to the opposition then we can now move forward to scrutinize and make recommendations where necessary, but we cannot be the ones doing their jobs. This is what they said they could do and for which they were overwhelmingly elected. So they must do it. We can only make input to what they will develop as opposition," she said.

It can be recalled that Finance and Development Planning Minister Samuel D. Tweah said during his oration marking the celebration of the nation's 171st Independence Day, that the government "would, in the next several weeks, launch its national development agenda--the Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development".

At the time, he noted that all stakeholders were making their final input into the plan, which provides the roadmap for addressing Liberia's long-term economic problems. This was after the initial time frame provided by the minister at a forum in the US had elapsed.

But in a new twist, and in a very brief opening statement, President Weah said the meeting was called to listen to all political actors of this country and how they can help in the forward march of the country

"We have been in office for five months. We have been doing our best. Some may have been negative while some positive. So we have called you here to hear from you on how we all can move our country forward," the President said.

In reaction to the President's welcome statement, the head of the Unity Party delegation and vice chairman for Inter-Party Affairs, Cole Bangalu, noted that he does not see the meeting as one soliciting incorporation of the opposition into the ruling party. "The opposition community remains the opposition; we will always support the development of this country. We remain where we are. We oppose when there is a need to oppose and we have been doing that constructively," he declared.

We have been checkmating to ensure that the right thing is done so that this country can remain peaceful and move in the right direction.

There are a lot of issues that the opposition have been flagging ranging from the economy, rule of law, governance and security. "We have catalogued these things before under the collaborating parties which we put into a document that was presented to this administration.

Bangalu noted that the President has asked that that document be resubmitted to his office. "So we are going to resubmit that document to the President," he said.

ALP to Lead War Crimes Court Campaign

The night prior to the highly anticipated meeting, social media was inundated with calls for the opposition to highlight issues concerning the establishment of a war crimes court to bring perpetrators of atrocities to justice. Many posts and comments noted that the Thursday meeting would be a fiasco if it did not reach a consensus on the establishment of a war crimes court for Liberia.

The political leader of the All Liberia Party (ALP), Benoni Urey, may not have disappointed those war crimes court campaigners as he has pledged to lead a campaign to ensure that the court is established here.

Urey said he told the President that the court must be established so that those who are responsible for mayhem that took place across the country can answer for their actions.

"Though we have not been critical of this government, we spoke from our hearts on some issues that we have concerns about," he said.

"The court must be established here. And I avail myself to lead that campaign," he said.

The ALP standard bearer said former President Charles Taylor should be freed from imprisonment if the court cannot be established here. "Let them free Taylor or carry everybody to jail. "We had a war and one person did not commit all of the atrocities in this country... a lot of people did. If only one person can face justice then where are the rest"? he questioned.

Continuing, Mr. Urey said: "I hope the President took my statement positively. But this is a decision that we all Liberians, and the entire country must make. If people should go with impunity or face justice."

Asked about his impression about the meeting, Urey noted that the message from the President was about reconciliation and the need for the opposition to come on board. "This is about moving Liberia forward," he indicated.

This, he said, is a good beginning on the part of the President. "As I mentioned to him, it would have been better if it had happened earlier, but it is better late than never. This is a good start and we must encourage it."

The meeting, according to CDC stalwarts, is also considered as a reconciliatory effort by President Georg Weah. It was graced by leaders of 26 political parties including the ruling CDC.

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