In many respects, the just ended National Economic Dialogue bears a strong parallel to former President Charles Taylor's Sovereign National Conference, which was called to deliberate on similar issues of national concern. One theme which resonated throughout and permeated the discussions was security and the major concerns were disrespect for the rule of law, especially unlawful and illegal behavior by state security forces and the impunity attending their unlawful actions.
While the just ended National Economic Dialogue may not have been a Sovereign National Conference in the truest sense wherein recommendations are expected to have some binding effect, the lack of political will could yet serve to undermine the legitimacy of those recommendations. Similarly, the recommendations that have emanated from this Dialogue could likely be undermined by the lack of sufficient political will, particularly those recommendations concerning the establishment of a war and economic crimes court for Liberia.
Stakeholders at the workshop proposed that in order to ensure implementation, officials in the category of Ministers, Deputy and Assistant Ministers, be made to sign performance contracts, along with clear and precise marching orders. President Weah has reiterated his commitment to implementing those recommendations however in a time-sequenced fashion. In his own words he declared the following:
"I want to assure you that my government will take these proposals into urgent and careful consideration. Our focus will be on implementation, although the timing will be a matter for synchronization and harmonization with existing programs and policies". But the consensus document prepared by stakeholders has apparently enhanced the President's time-sequenced approach to implementation by drawing up a phased implementation blue print which could serve to inform the President's suggested time-sequenced approach.
According to the final document, the proposed establishment of a war and economic crimes court for Liberia is included in those objectives that fall within the medium term. Since the final document calls for a three-year implementation plan, the establishment of the war and economic crimes court could very well be within a year and a half from now, well before President Weah's term of office expires in 2023.
The establishment of such a court, in the opinion of this newspaper, would have a beneficial impact on the standing of this government in the eyes of the people. And this is because Liberians longing for an end to impunity and the elimination of the scourge of corruption, see the establishment of a war and economic crimes court as a giant step forward to defeating corruption.
Aside from proposals to establish a war and economic crimes court, there are a number of other issues which were flagged by Dialogue participants. Two of such proposals, which have claimed the attention of this newspaper, are those calling for the recapitalization of the Central Bank of Liberia and addressing, with a sense of urgency, the critical problem of mass youth unemployment.
Perhaps discussions leading to the recommendations may have been informed by the fact that Liberia at one point in time had become a net exporter of refugees and armed fighters in the West African sub-region. Admittedly, mass youth unemployment is common problem in the West African subregion, particularly in the countries of the Mano River Basin, which include Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone and La Cote d'Ivoire where, according to statistics, 4.5 million youths age 15-29 are out of work.
According to a 2007 United Nations Development Organization (UNIDO), African Union (AU) Youth Employment Network (YEN) and the United Nations Organization for West Africa(UNOWA) Issues Paper entitled, "Productive and Decent Work for Youth in the Mano River Union: Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and in Côte d'Ivoire", youth unemployment and sub-regional security have become intimately linked as 50 percent of the youth population in these countries do not have proper work.
Because of this, some youths are easily lured into drugs and violent activities such as armed robbery or engage in conflict or seek to illegally migrate, all because of economic gain. As the Liberian experience shows, the resultant economic instability tends to create a vicious cycle of violence. The emergence of roaming gangs of deprived and drug consumed youths commonly called Zogos attests to the severity of the problem and the potential danger it poses to social cohesion and national stability.
On the recapitalization of the Central Bank, this is an issue which, without question, brings to the fore unsettled questions concerning the "missing billions" and the US$25 million infusion and mop-up exercise which was marred by fraud. It can be recalled that during the Kroll and PITT investigations, CBL authorities stoutly resisted attempts by both teams to inspect the Bank's vaults in order to ascertain the actual and factual count of local and foreign currency bills in its vault. A call for recapitalization, in the opinion of this newspaper, is tantamount to a call for an independent audit.
The looming question now is whether President Weah will actually muster the political will to see the recommendations through full implementation, a promise that remains to be seen. However, going by his concluding remarks, the significance of the recommendations appeared not lost on him as discerned from his remarks, part of which is quoted below:
"We are all aware of the problems, most of which have existed for a very long time, and we have all suffered because of them. But this is not the time to point fingers or to apportion blame, for this will not solve anything. In fact, it is our very awareness of the extent of the problems and the hardships that they have caused, that moved us to seek leadership in order to try to resolve them. I now have that responsibility, as well as the opportunity, to find a new way forward".
The Choice is Yours Mr. President; but remember don't blame the photographer for the way your face appears on the picture. "Dey way you make your face na so it go appear".