By Jones Nhinson Williams
COMMON SENSE LAND – Sister Melissa, a caring Catholic nun and Christian Doctrine teacher at my Catholic high school (St. Dominic’s in Bomi Hills) once said to me and a group of misbehaved students “When you do the right thing it is not just the angels in Heaven that will rejoice, even the Devil in hell will be weak to criticize you.” Liberia’s President George Manneh Weah recent nomination of Ms. Jeanine Cooper as Minister of Agriculture is applauded across all sections of the Liberian political and ideological divide such that even many of the President’s staunch critics and political rivals are disarmed and weak in mounting any reasonable, common sense criticisms.
Agriculture minister-designate Cooper is not just an educated and well-disciplined professional, she is innovative, experienced, visionary and brings tremendous credibility, both professionally and in character. Besides, she is fundamentally tested and has a proven track record of real and genuine accomplishments. I don’t know her that well in person, but she and I have a mutual social friend, a former U.S. ambassador to the African continent.
After news of her appointment broke out, few well-regarded foreign nationals and friends called me for a usual chat on Africa, and almost every one of them told me they thought President Weah is preparing to head for the right direction in governance. I strongly share their perspectives that His Excellency George Manneh Weah could become one of Liberia’s great presidents if he changes gear and presses the restart button-through tangible, realistic policies, programs, and actions.
Mr. President, Liberia has what it takes to move forward without reliance on donor support and development assistance. And being president of a nation does not require having a degree in neuro-surgery or astrophysics. Apart from the normal constitutional requirements, being president requires more or less one crucial thing: Common Sense. In public philosophy, we called that “Wisdom.” Like me, many, if not all, Liberians believe you are a man with common sense — all we want to see is how and when will you put that to maximum use. The appointment of Jeanine Cooper is one clear demonstration to us all. Our desire is you should continue that and even go beyond what you have just done.
Mr. President, now that you have been commended for making a good appointment, below are a few of my layman suggestions to move your government forward and restore international confidence and Liberians’ trust in you:
- Overhaul your government. It does not mean throwing your loyalists under the bus or kicking them far away from you. Keep them close but bring in Liberians that will help you take the country forward in terms of the policy, program development and implementation, monitoring and evaluation, and strategic governance in general.
- Remove all former officials from your government who once served in the Unity Party-led government of Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Let them go into the private sector for now and invest what they have acquired while serving in the previous administration. This is what happens in the United States, Europe, and Canada. You have to provide a space for new ideas, fresh thinking, and new vision.
- Remove your wife, our wonderful First Lady from the National Budget. It will inspire confidence in the Liberian people about you and about your love for the country. The First Lady is a compassionate, professional, dedicated, industrial, and decent woman who deserves to be respected by all Liberians both on social media, in the public square, and in the national discourse. She does not deserve any dishonor from any category of the Liberian society. Besides, she is a foreign national. Our respect for her as people will demonstrate the character of us all as Liberians and as a nation. Moreover, as First Lady, she capable of getting international and related support for her humanitarian work, which she does helping vulnerable Liberians. Liberians must all love and respect this good woman who has left her homeland to make Liberia home.
- Please offer an academic scholarship to Mayor Jefferson Koigee and Assistant Minister Alvin C. Wesseh and other young men and women who supported you for the past 12 years while in the opposition. These young people, especially Koigee and Wesseh, are smart, loyal, and passionate about political and social developments in Liberia. Offering them an academic scholarship, with associated benefits, to attend some of the best universities in Europe, Canada, or the United States would be the best opportunity you can ever provide for them. After four to six years of studies and relevant exposure, they will undoubtedly serve Liberia well.
- Establish the first Saturday of every month as a National Cleanup Day throughout Liberia, and everyone should participate. You can kick this off ASAP, and you must be seen actively involved. We need a clean Monrovia City and an environmentally friendly Liberia where all Liberians will get involved in planting trees and flowers. Also, impress on the National Legislature to enact a bill that would declare loitering in the streets or in public places or in communities throughout the country a Class 1 misdemeanors, which should involve confinement in jail for not more than one month and a fine of not more than LD$5,000, either or both.
- Work with the National Legislature to dissolve the defective Ministry of Post and Telecommunications and the Ministry of Information. They have no relevance in this day and age, especially in the case of Liberia. After that, establish a National Directorate of Innovation and Information Technology as an autonomous agency to promote innovation and information technology services in the country. This is important because our world is changing, and information technology is the sector that is driving global development, social advancement, and the global labor market. This will make Liberia competitive and young Liberians innovative and competitive in the global labor market.
- Elevate the current Bureau of Culture and Tourism at the Ministry of Information at a ministerial level and nominate one of these three Liberians to lead such an agency: MacDella Cooper of the MacDella Cooper Foundation, Joe Gene Mulbah, CEO of Musons Group, and Helene Cooper, the Liberian-born U.S.-based journalist who is a Pentagon correspondent for The New York Times and a former White House correspondent in Washington, D.C. for the same paper.
- Make the current government postal services a public-private autonomous agency, partly owned by the government and private interest with a board of directors. This will create efficiency and effectiveness and make the institution innovative, transparent, and non-government reliant.
- Speak to the nation on national radio and TV about national issues and your vision for the country, at least once every month. In the process solicit ideas from all Liberians, including even members of the opposition, on the best way forward. Also, hold a monthly breakfast meeting with leaders of the Liberian media – both print and electronics. Get to know them and tell them about your vision and expectation, seek their input, and urge them to do their part in moving Liberia forward. This will obligate them to help you and your government with a positive image and also promote cordiality and harmony between the Liberian media and the government.
- Establish the position of National Policy Advisor/Inspector General in the Office of the President. This position should report directly to you and also lead a small team of people to design/recommend, review, monitor and evaluate government policies and regulations as well as hold all government agencies and local political subdivisions accountable in terms of weekly, monthly and quarterly progress reports. This way, you, as president, will know about areas where the government is making progress, where the government is facing challenges, and areas where the government needs to pay more attention or invest more.
- Establish an independent National Economic and Social Council [in the Office of the President] that should be charged with the direction and coordination of the economic, social, humanitarian, and political engagement activities carried out by the Liberian government. Ideally, I would recommend the following Liberians as members: Dr. Togba Nah Tipoteh, Dr. John Gorlorwulu of USAID/Liberia, Dr. Thomas Jaye, Alexander Cummings, Benoni Urey, Winston Tubman, Jonathan Geegbee, and former Vice President Joseph Boakai. You don’t have to like anyone of them, and they don’t have to like you. It is about Liberia and your legacy.
- Overhaul Liberia’s foreign policy approach and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Ideally, urge Dr. Antoinette Sayeh to return home and help your administration at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. She has international credentials, knows Washington, DC, Europe, and the thinking of other global powers.
- Enforce the law and defend the interests of Liberia according to the law; to ensure public safety; to provide national leadership in preventing and controlling crime; to seek just punishment for those guilty of unlawful behavior, and to ensure fair and impartial administration of justice for all Liberians. This would require giving the Ministry of Justice a credible and fresh leadership. The following Liberians could serve Liberia and your administration well in that area: Cllr. Nagbalee Warner, Cllr. Samuel Kofi Woods, and Cllr. Christiana Tah could be an outstanding choice.
- Redirect Liberia’s health policy and direction, especially with regards to public health. This is important because Strategies and Plans play an essential role in defining a country’s vision, policy directions, and strategies for ensuring the health of its population. We don’t need medical doctors as health ministers. We need them as surgeon generals and in the hospitals to treat patients, especially for a nation that is short on doctors. In this direction, please appoint people with advanced degrees in public health to run various segments of that government agency.
- Work with the National Legislature in regionalizing Liberia, with each region comprising of certain counties and regional administrations. For example, the Northern-Western Region should include Lofa, Grand Cape Mount, Gbarpolu, and Bomi counties. Central Region should include Bong, Nimba and Margibi counties, Western Region should include Montserrado, Grand Bassa, Margibi and Rivercess counties, and the South-Eastern Region should include Maryland, River Gee, Sinoe, Grand Kru and Grand Gedeh counties. While each county will still have its local administration and county capital, the regions should have governors, regional capital cities, regional councils (unpaid legislatures), and regional administrations that will administer social, economic, and community services at regional levels. This will stop national lawmakers in Monrovia from dictating budgetary and development activities in their respective counties. It will also promote economic development and competition at regional levels. It will motivate citizens to pay more attention and contribute to the development of their regions while reducing over-crowdedness in the present capital Monrovia. Each region will also have its own workforce development board to promote job training and workforce development.
- Issue a moratorium banning all officials of government from using social media, especially Facebook, in their official capacity. No country has its officials doing that. No minister or director or their deputies in places in any African nations, including our neighbors like Sierra Leone that has their officials on Facebook daily talking loosely about government’s politics, policies, and programs. This is critical because whatever officials say or do on social media reflects on the administration somehow, and foreign investors and tourists now use social media as a reference point to make informed decisions about countries. If any official wants to be on social media, he or she should do it in their private capacity.
- Work with the National Legislature in relocating national leadership to new political capital. Ideally, somewhere between River Cess and Grand Bassa Counties. This does not require millions. Once you move your office as President of Liberia, the embassies and others will follow. Monrovia can be commercial capital.
- Please designate a provisional commission or team headed by non-government officials and others to pursue Liberia’s asset recovery.
- Revisit your declaration making the University of Liberia tuition-free. It is a non-durable policy. Instead, put in place a National Student Loan Program without any financial burden to the Liberian government or budget. I can help your government pro bono in this direction.
- Establish an Unemployment Insurance Program for all Liberia. This will help Liberians on a short term basis as a safety net whenever they lose their jobs.
Last but not least, Mr. President, please work with all Liberians, including those who criticized you in the past and after you became president of Liberia. As president, you are the leader of all Liberians. You should have no enemies. Reach out to the opposition because by doing so, you weaken them while elevating your status and advancing your goals for Liberia’s prosperity by which you will leave a transformative legacy behind. Mind you; no leader is adored and respected for the wealth and assets they left behind; leaders who are adored and admired are those who energize their people with vision, collective action, and collective prosperity. These include but not limited to Thomas Sankara, Nelson Mandela, Julius Nyerere, amongst others. You can do it! No one should deceive you that certain Liberians hate you. All Liberians love you because you are their president and want you to succeed because when you succeed, Liberia will do better, and all Liberians will benefit. But their love for you is no authorization for you to do anything contrary to good governance.
The choice and appointment of Jeanine Cooper as an agriculture minister is a clear demonstration that you can still inspire international confidence and Liberians to trust and believe in you. What is left is for you to do more by listening and taking concrete actions that benefit the country and all Liberians.
About the Author
J.N. Williams is a Catholic educated public philosopher and a U. S. trained public policy and institutional governance professional with strong expertise in job creation policy, workforce development analysis, strategic management, and socio-economic growth and development. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.