By Jones Nhinson Williams
It is difficult to figure out what is the matter with Liberia and Liberians since everything about the country and the thinking of most Liberians is backward. Instead of moving forward, Liberia is constantly and systematically trending backward socially, economically and politically.
There is a vacuum in every space: the judiciary is compromised and ethically dispensable; the legislature is corrupt, inept and full of disputed fellows, and the executive branch is never short on offering unending surprises to Liberians and the world. Majority of Liberians, many of whom make up the poor and working class don’t even get it! They glorify their victimhood by valuing and praising those who use them, abuse them, steal from them and even marginalize them. As a result, Liberia is not only collapsing but moving backward while the rest of the world is moving forward. This is the result of backward thinking, organized and systemic orruption and the culture of impunity. Backward thinking is also the enforcer of corruption, bad governance and all of Liberia’s challenges to its nation-building efforts.
Liberia faces five main nation-building challenges: (1) the challenge from our history as a country; (2) the challenge of our socio-economic inequalities; (3) the challenges of real and appropriate constitutional settlement; (4) the challenges of building independent, transparent and accountable institutions for our democracy and development; and (5) the challenge of visionary and upright leadership.
Bad leadership and bad governance are not new to Liberia and Liberians. Successive Liberian administrations including the governments of “retired” former president Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, ex-presidents Charles Taylor, Samuel K. Doe, William R. Tolbert, Jr. and others have manifested these symptoms in many ways and with varying degrees. Hence, Liberia’s problems today transcend its current President George Manneh Weah. As long as Liberia has a weak and no-use-legislature as well as a compromised and relegated judiciary, Liberians should have no reason to cast any blame on incumbent President George Manneh Weah for the country’s decline and failed state status. In fact, one would consider President Weah the victim of Liberia’s inherited problems compounded by the malicious legislature Liberians elected and the clueless judiciary they embraced and support. These institutional failures and weaknesses are precisely why Liberia has bad governance – expressed in the country’s legislature and its judiciary.
Bad Governance is defined as the inability of a public institution to manage public affairs and public resources. It also means the failure of a government to meet the needs of society while making the best use of all resources at their disposal. (MidjkAn: 2014).
As in the rest of the world where there are failed governments and leadership, Liberia has very serious indicators for bad governance. In Liberia, the indicators include the failure of macroeconomic management, fiscal policy, debt policy, trade policies, financial sector policies, the business regulatory environment, property rights, rules-based governance, quality of budgetary and financial management, and the efficiency of revenue mobilization. These are also engineered by backward thinking.
Multiple dictionaries defined “backward thinking” as a phrase with many definitions but generally it refers to the type of thinking that is more attached to the past than the future. Imagine, most citizens and even officials in successive Liberian administrations believing and thinking that because something was done some time ago and by past administrations or Liberians in authority means those same things can be done today. The fact that one administration failed or one group of Liberians did something that was not right in no way imply that those same things need to be done today or by other Liberians. Unfortunately, this is the narrative and attitude in Liberia. This is the behavior of most Liberians including some in the political space and the activists’ circles.
Like Oprah Winfrey, the most famous African-American, ‘Liberian-American’ and black woman alive with direct Liberian heritage, said in the June 6th Edition of The “O” Magazine: “Let every step you take move you forward,” Liberians need to change the state of their mindset so that every step they take as a nation and people can move Liberia forward rather than backward. And this can only be achieved if Liberians resist backward thinking, corruption, the culture of impunity, and backward ways of doing things. This will help us if we are to build a strong nation.
A strong nation in a general sense consists of many diverse factors. It is more than having a powerful military at your hand or even having a strong leader who would like to be adored and/or is praised by sycophants for no good reason. Besides, nation-building requires structuring and constructing a national identity using the power of the state. This is why it would be a good thing if every Liberian stood up as a nation builder — those members of our country who will support and take the initiative to develop the national Liberian community through public-private economic partnerships as well as government programs, including military conscription and national content mass schooling.
Becoming nation-builders means resisting and exposing misrule, the abuse of power, impunity and corruption as well as advocating for the punishing of those who would engage in acts of corruption because corruption in all its forms and shape is not good for any society. In any society where there are greed and public theft of public resources, everyone is impacted. This is why corruption affects us all. It also threatens sustainable economic development, ethical values, and justice; it destabilizes our society and endangers the rule of law. It undermines the institutions and values of our democracy as a struggling and recovering nation. Corruption is insane and more detrimental especially when such corruption is grand and socially embraced by its victims.
According to Webster’s dictionary, grand corruption is the abuse of high-level power that benefits the few at the expense of the many and causes serious and widespread harm to individuals and society. Grand corruption, as experts would say, often goes unpunished notably in a nation like Liberia where politicians, activists, opinion leaders and their support base subscribe to deceit, self-centeredness and personal aggrandizement rather than the collective good. Domestic authorities are often unable or unwilling to bring the grand corrupt individuals and others to justice. The sad truth is, where there is grand corruption there is also political underdevelopment which is an outcome of uneven (economic) development.
Although forms of corruption vary, mainstream corruption includes bribery, extortion, cronyism, nepotism, parochialism, patronage, influence peddling, graft, and embezzlement. Corruption may facilitate criminal enterprise such as drug trafficking, money laundering, and human trafficking, though it is not only restricted to these activities alone.
According to several internationally accepted surveys and research analysis, the following factors have been attributed as causes of corruption: The greed of money, power, luxury or any other materialistic desires. Higher levels of market and political monopolization. Low levels of democracy, weak civil participation, and low political transparency. All of these are common and widespread in Liberia, especially in present-day Liberia of the past decade. Consequently, every Liberian citizen and the Liberian government should stand up to fight corruption, misrule and the culture of impunity. That said, here are five ways that every citizen and the Liberian government can make progress in the fight against corruption and the abuse of power:
1. End impunity and establish mechanism for accountability;
2. Reform public administration and finance management;
3. Promote transparency and access to information;
4. Empower citizens; and
5. Close international loopholes for money laundering and capital flight.
The fight against corruption, the abuse of power and the culture of impunity in Liberia and the effort to change the backward thinking of the majority of Liberians must also include every Liberian and mainly the Liberian government creating economic opportunities that would end abject poverty, boost economic security and expand our nation’s middle class. Here, therefore, are 10 concrete steps the Liberian government can take to cut poverty, boost economic security, and expand the middle class.
1. Create jobs;
2. Reduce the size of government and support public-private partnerships in key industry sectors such as healthcare, infrastructure, education, and information technology;
3. Raise the minimum wage;
4. Reduce tariff and support small business ownership, innovation and entrepreneurship,
5. Support pay equity and establish a professional occupational classification system;
6. Provide paid leave and paid sick days;
7. Establish work schedules that work for public sector employees;
8. Invest in science, technology, engineering, and math as well as manufacturing and agricultural-food production activities through private sector initiatives; and
9. Recruit, hire and appoint essential public servants and bureaucrats based on qualifications, experience, talents and the ability to get things done rather than on partisanship and social ties.
Currently, Liberia as a nation and people is lacking in many of these areas and instead of every step we take moving us forward, we are trending backward. The good news is all of our problems can be addressed and new ones prevented if we Liberians can first, appreciate our problems and find ways to end the culture of impunity, the abuse of power and minimize grand corruption while also championing the rule of law and the doctrine of transparency, accountability, peace and national security. A better appreciation of the nature of these processes could lead to a more appropriate policy framework for good and effective governance in our country in ways that benefit all Liberians, prevent protests, anarchy and national insecurity.
Finally, all of this hangs on improving our educational system and ensuring that our public and private institutions are transparent, accountable, independent and innovative. The reason is simple: education not only makes a nation strong, but it also helps in raising good and visionary leaders as well as betters the lives of the governed. If these steps suggested above cannot be pursued or fulfilled, Liberia might undoubtedly be considered as the safe place for backward thinking, corruption and impunity. And if this remains the case, Liberia might be cursed and ridiculed for a long time. And we cannot have our African-American brothers and sisters and others investing in our land.
About the Author:
Jones Nhinson Williams is an international public policy and labor market analysis professional and institutional development expert of Liberian origin. He lives both in the United States and Africa and is engaged in international development work in the areas of job creation, workforce and institutional development, industry and occupational innovation, labor market information, and public diplomacy. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.