Liberia’s President George Manneh Weah and Vice President Jewel Howard Taylor

THIS IS HOW I SEE IT: Liberia’s president George Manneh is a good man and he is perhaps destined to be one of Liberia’s greatest leaders because of his natural ability to excel in the face of hardship, glaring challenges and more so because he has a sense of perseverance.  Besides, his consistent patriotism and love of country blended with his celebrity status have endeared him to Liberians across all spectrums of the country’s social and political divide. But these advantages are insufficient to succeed in changing Liberia.  As President of Liberia, the people of Liberia look up to him to address the country’s pressing domestic needs as well as fulfill its international obligations.

While it is true that the new president has made several appointments, most of them good and some questionable, there seems to be a serious gap––a serious policy team.  By policy team we are not talking about mere academic qualifications or degrees, we mean a team with practical and accomplished experience in what real governance is and systems work. We credible individuals with critical abilities to think globally and apply such thinking locally so that Liberia can move forward.

Apart from greed and widespread corruption, this was one of the shortfalls of the former administration of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.  As president, Madam Sirleaf needed to rely on a small team headed by a distinguished and knowledgeable individual that could manage thought processes with respect to innovation, strategy and communications and how all of those could be applied to better Liberia.  That was never seen in the Sirleaf’s administration for 12 years and so even while the former president made some good marks in certain areas such as the construction of community colleges nationwide, despite glaring failures in most, that impact and awareness have not been acknowledged.

It is understandable that forming a government based on inclusion and coalition’s agreement is tough and tricky because every constituent wants a pile of the cake to share with their loyalists.  However, the interest of Liberia must supersede all else.  This does not mean that the new president should not honor his coalition’s pact.  He needs to because it will show that he is a man of his words.

That said there are several reasons why President Weah needs a sound, credible and serious-minded policy team or advisor.  First, he needs to succeed as president of Liberia, but most importantly he inherited a failed state in terms of good governance and social character. Secondly, Liberia has a national security crisis––Widespread Private Sector Unemployment.   Any government in modern history that does not prioritize job creation is not only doomed, it is a failure and a time-bomb for insecurity, this is even scarier in a region engulfed with terror groups like Boko Haram in Nigeria and al Qaeda and ISIS affiliates in Mali.

So far, the Liberian government appears to be the sole lucrative employer in the country with most of its well-paid employees who are stationed in the capital Monrovia.  Besides, most people want government jobs in Liberia because of the compensation, security, lack of accountability, and wastefulness attached thereto.  In the Liberian government, at least from the experience of the past administration, productivity, efficiency, accountability, and competence did not count.  Ours is one of the only nations where everyone wants to be a government employee without any tangible reason with respect to the need to serve.  Government jobs are about service not a domain for wealth seeking.  People enter government or should enter government to change something or be a part of a change process––it could be political, social or economic.

Another main reason why President Weah needs a public policy team or advisor is the fact that the world has become a global village. The connectivity of our world makes any country to connect to and exploit other nations in terms of the labor market.  India, Singapore, South Africa and other countries have private sector installations or companies that are based in those countries and remotely provide services to global clients.  Citizens of some countries outpaced others in the global labor market because they have put in place policies that advance their workforce.   As things stand, Liberia is unqualified to compete in the global labor markets because our workforce is just not up to pad.

In addition, the world has transitioned into what we call in labor market information, a “Knowledge-based Economy.”  Most of the wealthy corporations like Apple, Facebook, Google and more no longer dig iron ore or plant rubber trees.  The old way people transact business has also changed so too are occupations.  Robots have and continue to replace certain jobs.  Communication is made faster and the days of posting letters that took days, weeks or months are elapsing. Urbanization, technology, manufacturing and environmental concern are also shifting.  Today, we hear of “green jobs,” “advanced manufacturing” and “STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) occupations” from every corner of the world.

The new president should be able to rely on his public policy team to advance policy positions on things and more including on international developments and participation.  The recent policy statement by the president during his state of state speech was good until the question or issue of granting citizenship came up– the call to grant citizenship to non–natural born Liberians.

Citizenship has never and is not the issue or reason why Liberia is backward.  Liberia is backward because there have been no serious policymakers in addition to the lack of patriotism.   Granting of citizenship in a sub-region where other countries do not even allow Liberians living in their land to live in peace or secure a job or do business is far-fetch. In Ghana, how many Liberians own real business or serve in the Ghanian government or even hold real corporate positions, or have major contracts from the government.  So too is Nigeria, Guinea and even Senegal, Gambia etc.

Apart from Sierra Leone, citizens of Guinea, Ghana, Nigeria and many other West African nations take Liberia for granted.  They can come and without any proper process acquired Liberian nationality.  Some even obtain lucrative government contracts while indigenous Liberians lingered in poverty. The reasons these things happen is because these nationals have realized the weakness of Liberia and Liberians–lack of patriotism and love for our nation and people.   Which Liberian, for example, could obtain $18 million United States dollars in government contracts in Nigeria or Ghana? Or even Guinea or Senegal?  Praise Tony Lawal, a Nigerian national did not just get that amount, he also voted in Liberian election and has several Liberian identification documents in his possession.

In the US, there are several West African using Liberian passports to seek political asylum.  This has made the USCIS weary of reviewing the applications of Liberians with legitimate reasons.  When I served as head of the Jewish Family Services International Refugee Resettlement and Integration Program, I saw many West Africans with Liberian documents.  Recently, a Ghanian in New York contacted me thinking that I was still serving as head of the international refugee program.  He said he needed a Liberian lawyer because the USCIS has requested certain information from him.  When I asked why he couldn’t tell the USCIS he is a Ghanian, he said because he lived in Liberia prior to coming to the US and that he bought the Liberian passport and other documents to make it easy for him.

There are serious implications to these things.  There have been nationals of other countries who have been arrested with drugs but because they possess Liberian documents it appeared in the news and in international security records that Liberians are drug smugglers.  If this trend continues every Liberian will be targeted for thorough searches at airports etc.  The bigger frame of this is that having a public policy team helps the president to see how these and much more can be addressed.

Alexander Cummings’s points make sense.  Liberian citizenship should be granted to nationals of countries open and willing to reciprocate in like manners.  If the president had a sound and serious-minded public policy advisor or team, these are the kinds scenarios that would have been gauged before his speech.  Imagine leaving Liberian citizenship as an open door, our subsequent elections process will be influenced by Guineans and others who can cross over and vote at will and then return home the next day.  We don’t even an open citizenship process and yet there were electoral complaints that some Guineans were attempting to vote in our last election.

The issue of citizenship, if a real policy team was reviewing it, should be based on an individual’s birth in Liberia provided his or her native country has a reciprocal process with Liberia, legitimate and verifiable marriage to a Liberian citizen with no condition, and if one parent is a Liberian, or if the person is of a negro descent and his parents and grandparents have long migrated to Liberia.   If we have good public policies, white people will invest in Liberia no matter what.  For example, Donald Trump owes hotels and other major properties around the world without seeking citizenships in those countries.  So too are other investors.   If we have good public policies we will ensure that Liberians owe share in every investment brought in by a foreign person.  If it can happen in Ghana and other places why not Liberia?

Another issue that if the president had a policy team or advisor that could draw an urgent attention is the over-population of people, commerce, and industry in the capital Monrovia.  There is a need to reverse this trend by developing a fundamental and sound regional framework that would establish regional authorities.

For example, Liberia has 15 political subdivision or counties.  Those 15 counties need to also be divided into 4 regions with each region having its capital like Guinea and Sierra Leone where there are other large cities apart from Conakry and Freetown respectively.

Maryland, Grand Kru, Sinoe, River Gee and Grand Gedeh counties can be Region I.  Nimba, Bong and Margibi can be Region II.  Lofa, Gbarpolu, Bomi and Grand Cape Mount counties can be Region III.  Montserrado, Bassa and River Cess can be Region IV.  Each region should also have an elected governor, a local administration and a local legislature or council that will be voluntary in terms of compensation but powerful in constituent representation.   That way, we will have other large cities in addition to Monrovia.  This does not mean there wouldn’t be counties and local county administrations.  We can look at the Kenyan model in which I play a visionary part to some extent.

What this does is that the responsibility of Monrovia deciding everything and the day to day functions of government’s ministries in Monrovia will be carried out more effectively at the regional level. The national budgetary appropriation will be divided among the regions and each governor and his regional legislature will determine development priorities.  This is a recipe for competition in terms of regional development.   This will also remove the corruption and greed exhibited at the level of the national legislature where lawmakers at the national level dictate the expending of county development funds and county’s appointments.

In Guinea and Sierra Leone, this model works in terms of development.  Take, for example, Guinea is divided into seven administrative regions and subdivided into thirty-three prefectures or counties. The national capital, Conakry, ranks as a special zone. The regions are Boké, Faranah, Kankan, Kindia, Labé, Mamou, Nzérékoré, and Conakry.  For its part, Sierra Leone is divided into 5 provinces which are further divided into 16 districts, as of July 2017.  The provinces are Eastern Province, Northern Province, Southern Province and North-West Province, and Western Province.

The crux of concern is that President Weah needs to go beyond the loyalty of party members and other factors such as coalition alliance to ensure that he fulfills the mandate given to him by the Liberian.  He should not fall prey to what defeated President Sirleaf’s agenda when certain people create a “gatekeeper” system such that she avoided attracted qualified, experienced and visionary Liberians to help her.

Having a well-accomplished public policy team and not just blind followers would make the president work easy, advance Liberia’s interest and improve the living standards of Liberians.