By Ansu Opa Dualu
Statehood never truly materializes, unless the fundamentals of nation-building are intentionally designed and developed from the onset. Liberia’s original intent was not statehood, but rather a temporary outpost that had no solidifying ambition! How can a nation be built on such foundation? The continued attempt to build something permanent on provisional footings wastes vital resources and causes a form of torpidity we may never get from under. Nation-building must have a purposeful intent; it must seek to be generational with a level of inclusivity that guarantees national success. Liberia failed to start with a targeted purpose. The objective to build institutions, inclusive society, and a national structure that takes into account the aspirations of future generations must be constitutionally guaranteed, enforced and grounded in policies that are calculated and account for the continued economic and political stability of the whole nation. Hence, the guiding principles that promote that national framework must be forward-looking, and enshrined in them concepts that foster the total elevation of the nation and the happiness of all!
This new foundation must have a kind of collective reinforced steel spine – something that was lacking in the beginning – that equally supports every faction that has a stake; ensuring equal access to national wealth, a judicial system the views justice as the glue that makes statehood possible; adequate representation of all its peoples, coupled with a unifying national agenda the seeks to elevate our collective national aspirations. Re-foundationalizing also involves awakening the understanding of our Liberian Identity – never allowing outsiders to control or define who we are and changing on our own terms when it benefits us. We must always stay true to our reestablished original ideals: justice, brotherhood, equitability and the maintenance of Liberia’s Cultures and Traditions – the Liberian Way! Our new foundation must start here.
Moreover, the true personification of lunacy is the continuation of an attempt to build a generational system upon a “slave mentality” foundation when it was not designed to support a country-wide, inclusive developmental initiative. Couple this with varying degrees of kleptoparasites who greedily fatten themselves on national resources and entirely neglect the population, made almost no attempt to develop the country in any meaningful way, yet continue to govern in the same neglectful faction! How can we build a viable nation on these footings? Change this by immediately reorienting our national compass, ensuring equitable redistribution of the national resources to begin building this all-supportive, national foundation.
Thus, the focus in this piece will be how can we systematically dismantle an arrangement that was never meant to be, and institutionalize a national developmental design geared towards laying the framework for a country-wide, prosperous future? This “re-foundationalization” will cover 4 pillars, with each serving as a crucial bridge towards genuine nation-building:
- Revisit the Constitution with Purposeful Intent
- Limit Country to Five Regions
- Law Enforcement Heavily Detached from Executive
- Cultural and Traditional Adherence
Revisit the Constitution with Purposeful Intent
The only way to change the outcome of a failed state is to purposefully change the blueprint that created that state in the first place. Understand that the constitution is a living breathing document that shapes the affairs of the state. Whatever is written in it, guides the direction of the outcome. There are many statutory mandates in our constitution that weaken the state when this document should serve to strengthen it. Take for examples certain presidential appointment powers, tenure of legislators, archaic fines and fee requirements that are not adjusted to reflect current conditions, discretionary budget allocations that does not take into account people demands, etc.
As it stands, the Liberian Constitution does not serve the people! In fact, in the long run, it even disadvantages gullible officials who naively believe they are defrauding the system – they usually find out when they leave government that the game has been those very greedy leaders all along.
To begin restructuring the constitution to plant a more solid footing, first limit presidential powers and transfer some of this power to the legislative body and elections. Remove the Central Bank Governor’s appointment powers, Attorney General, National Chief of Police, Election Commissioners and the Minister of Finance from under the executive and give these appointment responsibilities to the legislature – the legislature will still maintain their oversight responsibilities, but it will also have the sole powers to nationally appoint in the above listed positions.
These selections, vetting and appointments can be done through committee, provided said individuals are approved with at least fifty percent of elected senators. This same body will have the powers to monitor their performance throughout their tenures and recall them when the legislature deems it necessary with a fifty plus one majority. Equally important is that mayoral, superintendents, district commissioners and any such appointments be abolished; these positions must be seated only by elections. Local people must have a direct say in who leads them and not some partisan bureaucrat who is beholden to an executive far removed from local conditions. The intent of removing these appointments from the president is to first: halt the progression of an all–powerful executive, have the people truly control their own monies and destiny, corner corruption by making expenditure more visible through committee oversight and make the president truly answerable to the people – this restructuring of the constitutions will make sure the people are always consulted before their monies expended. The seat of power should be with the legislature, not the presidency – too many things can go wrong as we have seen throughout our history. Remember, whoever controls the money has the biggest say.
Moreover, limit the tenure of legislators: four years for senators, four years for the president and 2 years for representatives. Reduce the total number of senators to 15 (fifteen), and the maximum number of representative to 25 (twenty five); representation will still be based on population, however with certain regional considerations as explained below. Persons seeking to run for representative must be a college graduate at least five years prior, have total five-year, average asset valuation that is minimally two times (2x) the average annual compensation package of the members of the house (vacant lands will be evaluated with special standards or considered at a maximum percentage level); the same standards will apply to the senate except s/he must be 10 years removed from college graduation. Those who are not college educated can qualify to run after they reach the age of 45, but must be able to read and write! In so doing, have a constitutionally mandatory joint committee (3 representatives and 3 Senators – committee members can be rotated) who publically meets on a quarterly basis to hear from ordinary citizens to “take a pause” of the people. Selection from the people (4 males and 4 females) shall be done through a lottery system; eight different persons shall be selected every quarter. Each selected person must have at least 30 minutes to speak – they can ask their elected officials any direct questions or speak on any topic, except national security. Any area not directly spoken to in the constitution will remain as is, or tweaked in the final formulation of the new document.
The reasoning behind this reduction and high requirement standards is to a), weed out individuals who only take up public office for the sole purpose of stealing and to get rich b), get people who have proven themselves and have amassed some acceptable amount of wealth and prominence before matriculating to public service c), shorten tenure to get elected officials accountable and constantly closer to the electorates. Furthermore, people who have amassed some wealth are less likely to be controlled, coerced or sellout so easily – they have their own money. Therefore, they are secured in themselves and have proven that they can eke out a living outside of government.
Constitutionally mandate that no public employee makes more than five times, and only in special cases (when this is approved by a legislative body) can anyone make up to ten times the average income of a civil servant. No public compensation package is to exceed more than ten times the average package of a civil servant. Civil servants’ income will become the new measuring rod for all thing equal in society. So if you want to increase big shots’ compensation package, you must first increase civil servants’. Remember, people go into public service to serve not to get rich.
Make it law that no more than 35% of the national budget should be used to run the government – the lion’s share of the national budget must go directly to education, infrastructure and people development, not the other way around. Lawfully end any kind of perks that paid employees can purchase for themselves to in include vehicles, gas slips, housing, phone cards, travel per diems (with limited exceptions), etc. Constitutionally end all concessions of national resources or lands and require a minimum (50/50) partnership/profit sharing in all such deals. We cannot own the resources and have multi-nationals take all the benefits. Liberians must be the principal beneficiary of Liberia’s wealth.
Remove the language of the “Negro Clause” but maintain the original intent until the following happens: Liberia’s literacy rate reaches at least 85%; per capita income hits $25,000 per annum; and the average life expectancy is 65! Grant dual citizenship with full rights – without limitations – to persons of Liberian heritage be it one or both parents irrespective of where s/he is born. Additionally, make it assiduously impossible for setting officials to bring frivolous lawsuits against the press – this body must be truly free and jealously protected if we are to attain the kind of developmental results we so desperately seek.
Eliminate by-elections and have the regional governor appoint and the regional council confirm a replacement for the remainder time of that vacancy. These appointments can be rotated sub-regionally to ensure each sub-group has a fair chance at representation. Write the rules in a way that guarantees a dominating tribe is not always the one to represent a given region. So for example, if a member of one tribal group takes a seat previously occupied but is now vacant, other regions should occupy that seat to finish up the vacancy – you can even rotate among council members. This will hold true until our people learn to vote the best candidates, irrespective of tribal affiliation. Start this by pushing a unified cultural identity and one language nationally.
Limit Country to Five Regions
Break the country down into five administrative zones with each being run by an elected official called a chief or governor. Along with the chief administrator, a council of 7 elected officials (there should be no more than four persons of the same sex on the council – impose gender representation requirements) should be instituted to administer this regional body – the governor and council members must permanently reside with their families in these regions, experiencing the day-to-day happenings that affect local people. There shall be no education or age requirements for local council members. Elected local officials can get a much needed experience in these local bodies before going to the national legislature. The regions should be broken down in this manner; different configurations can be made and named, but limit the regions to five: South Eastern Region – River Gee, Maryland, and Grand Kru; North Eastern Region – Sinoe, Grand Gedeh, Nimba; Capital Region – Bomi, Montserrado, Margibi; South Central Region – Bong, Grand Bassa, Rivercess; and North Western Region – Lofa, Cape Mount, Gbarpolu.
Each sub-region should be guaranteed one senator and one representative in the national legislature; however each region should have a minimum of three representatives but no more than five representatives. These regions should be semi-autonomous, levying their own local taxes, write local laws, providing comparable services found in the capital and administering their own affairs under national guidelines. The majority of decisions that affect a region should be made in the region; limit national government interference, intervening only when local laws are not in conformity with national constitution. Furthermore, by reducing the regions to five instead of 15 counties, you are doing several things: 1) limiting the number of allocations made in the national budget while at the same time easily monitoring these allocations 2), providing direct administrative oversight while still maintaining control from the capital 3), getting honest feedback from local governors because they are directly dealing with local problems 4), the seat of power will be in the people’s backyard and not some faraway place that appears to have zero impact on their lives.
For a country our size and population, it makes no sense to have over a hundred legislators who take up a huge portion of the national budget yet do almost nothing to improve the country. Heavily limit their numbers and shift the additional resources to national development. The intent of regionalizing the country is to shift the everyday affair to the regional bodies, create regional and national cohesion, leaving national legislature to truly focus on governance and policies issues that affect the entire country. National legislators can be in consultation with their various regions to guide policy decisions, but their central focus should be on the national agenda.
Law Enforcement Heavily Detached from Executive
The single greatest problem that has kept Liberia in its current backward state is the refusal to enforce the law and adhere to the mandates of the constitution! This is mainly due to the way law enforcement officials are appointed and controlled, and the “who-knows you” patronage system that denies justice in every form. Deconstruct this organized, judicial crime syndicate by a), truly making the law enforcement arm of government independent and having the legislature appoint officials to include the attorney general, solicitor general, national police chief; b), all anti-graft institutions’ officials and must have total autonomy to include their own court with prosecutorial powers; c), “everyday court” judges and police chiefs in the regions must be elected and supervised by the regional superior courts whose judges are appointed by the president and confirmed by the national legislature. Shifting law enforcement powers from one person – the president, and giving this responsibility to a body, lessens the likelihood of presidential abuse of powers and the everyday big man illegalities that are normally perpetrated by the executive. Furthermore, this option gives our law enforcement arm the broad range to freely do their duties for the people and not worrying about offending an all-powerful executive who has come to believe s/he personally owns the state. However, the executive can still control the army under present constitutional arrangements.
Conversely, regional prisons should be organized to serve the region, not just with confinements but a prison-work system that develops inmates’ skills, capitalizing on their labor to build vital regional infrastructure, etc. This is not a forced labor system, but rather an optional arrangement where both parties benefit. Prisoners can be compensated in a number of ways to include reduction in prison sentences, capacity building, a standardized sum for their labor, etc. When freed, former inmates should be given an opportunity to work on these government projects or farms to continue their rehabilitation and an opportunity for gainful employment.
Cultural and Traditional Adherence
As the family stands as the basic unit of the society and government, culture and traditions act as the compass that guides the direction of the family and by extension, the overall society. You cannot sideline the very cultural norms that have guided our lands for ages and expect society to adequately functions absent these values. Laws are not sufficient, even if properly enforced! We must remember that culture and traditions play an intricate role and form the genesis of the very nuances and the way of life of a given society. These customs define our beliefs, expressions, symbols, materials, traditions, behaviors, morals, values, etc. It is on this foundation that any civilization that intents on raising itself from backwardness, must build upon to achieve the innovation, growth, modernization, industry, science, and revolution it needs to develop. A culture of meritocracy should be introduced; abolish this “who knows you” patronage approach to employment and opportunity and make serious efforts to bring on board Liberia’s best and brightest if we are serious about making this turnaround. In essence, we must go back to our roots in order to grow and truly self-actualize as a people. Liberia must reinstitute the “village order”, where those who apply themselves are given preference, position, honor and respect; not the other way around. We must go back to the lessons of our forebears or remain in this wilderness of despair! There is no other way!
The bastardization (or zogo-rization) of our society can be heavily linked to the lack of indoctrination of our young people to our cultural norms. We must revert back to the teachings of the elders – they have wisdom and know better! To continuously blame the civil war when government and parents are not held responsible and refused to play their part, is an argument Liberians can no longer continue to make. Furthermore, we who have not been corrupted or severely short-changed morally or educationally by our brutal civil war owe Liberia a great responsibility to reshape her back into form. If we fail to do this, we will have no grounds to criticize what’s happening in Liberia. Notwithstanding, our society should begin to train up the new generation in the customs and traditions of our people or prepare to have an ungovernable society constantly on the brink of total collapse. Such society can never develop.
Consequently, abolish the imposition upon ourselves foreign cultures we do not understand, but rather fully embrace who we are, making changes when archaic traditions do not fit into modern life. Adapting cultures that are not ours creates the kind of societal confusion and disorganization that is pervasive in Liberia today. However, the changes we seek must only be made by us without pressure or influence from foreign forces; Liberia must position itself to be sovereign enough, self-sufficient enough, independent enough and strong enough if we truly want to control and define our own destiny.
About the Author:
Mr. Ansu Opa Dualu is a Liberian who strongly believes in the collective power of Liberia. He also holds the belief that for Liberia to stand up and confront its developmental challenges, it must raise a professional middle-class! Mr. Dualu is the author of several articles including “Leveraging Liberia’s Resources to Lift the Pro-Poor Agenda”, “The Modernization Guide for Liberia”, etc. He is a financial professional out of Boston, Massachusetts. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.