Press Statement for Immediate Release – April 10, 2020
Martin K.N. Kollie, Founder, VEx
Death from Corona Virus or Death from Starvation – Two (2) Miserable Options under President George M. Weah
The Official Response of ‘VEx’ To The Speech of President George M. Weah On the Declaration of a State of Emergency Throughout Liberia
Fellow Liberians home and abroad, having listened to President George M. Weah a few minutes ago relative to the declaration of a “State of Emergency” throughout Liberia, we are compelled to respond without any further delay in the best interest of the Liberian people.
During these tragic and troubling times of global health emergency, we must unite with the oneness of purpose, a sense of solidarity, and fraternal love in order to fight this common global enemy (COVID-19). As COVID-19 rages worldwide, nations and governments are taking concrete steps and hopeful measures to curb this life-threatening pandemic. Liberia cannot and must not be defiant and/or insensitive in this pressing pursuit of considering a more holistic roadmap or an all-inclusive course of ‘control and response mechanism’.
Though Chapter 9 Article 86 of the 1986 Constitution of Liberia gives President George M. Weah, in consultation with Speaker Bhofal Chambers and Senate Pro Tempore Albert Chie, the right to proclaim and declare a State of Emergency, but VEx believes that such constitutional power should and must be exercised judicially, conscientiously, patriotically, and equitably.
Article 86(a) states, “The President may, in consultation with the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, proclaim and declare and the existence of a state of emergency in the Republic or any part thereof. Acting pursuant thereto, the President may suspend or affect certain rights, freedoms and guarantees contained in this Constitution and exercise such other emergency powers as may be necessary and appropriate to take care of the emergency, subject, however, to the limitations contained in this Chapter (b) A state of emergency may be declared only where there is a threat or outbreak of war or where there is civil unrest affecting the existence, security or well-being of the Republic amounting to a clear and present danger.”
VEx acknowledges that the Corona Virus Disease poses threat to our national security, survival, safety, and sovereignty. This is why we want to welcome President George Weah’s latest decision to proclaim and declare a ‘State of Emergency’. While we agree with GOL through President Weah on this front of “locking down all 15 counties for 21 days” through this emergency order, but the President fell short of going beyond this ‘executive order or public proclamation’.
The latest Speech of President Weah offers zero hope especially for poor and vulnerable Liberians residing in slum communities, shantytowns, ghettos, and rural hamlets. The ‘executive order’ of ‘a total lockdown’ did not come along with any stimulus package or incentives for livelihood. Such speech has heightened hopelessness and despair across Liberia. This course of precedent is insensitive, unpatriotic, inhumane, and vile, to say the least, especially in a country where over 85% of the people are poor and jobless.
We are compelled to ask President George M. Weah this question, “How do our people survive during this 21-day lockdown which is expected to begin on this coming Friday, April 10 at 11:59pm?” Countries where there are lockdowns, including Ghana, Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda, South Africa, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, etc., governments of those countries are distributing food aid and relief items, as well as free basic social services/utilities, to their citizens especially poor and vulnerable people.
For instance, these are considerable, reasonable, and timely livelihood emergency aid packages from other African countries:
- On Saturday, March 28, 2020, the Government of Rwanda began mass distribution of free food and basic social services to thousands of households in Kigali amidst a 14-day lockdown;
- On Sunday, April 5, 2020, the Government of Ghana began mass distribution of free food and the supply of basic social utilities to over 400,000 residents in locked down areas for 14 days;
- Distribution of food aid and relief items to millions of residents who are locked down for 14 days in Lagos and Abuja has been ongoing since April 1, 2020;
- On Saturday, April 4, 2020, the Government of Uganda began the distribution of food supplies to about 1.5 million vulnerable citizens who are in a 14-day lockdown in Kampala.
Beyond ‘food aid and the supply of social utilities’, other countries have taken further steps to guarantee better livelihood, health, safety, and welfare. This is the true demonstration of putting national interest ahead of self-interest. These instances are enough to inform President George M. Weah and other national leaders that no country has ever gone into lockdown, especially complete lockdown, without the government of that country providing a form of emergency relief stimulus or livelihood package for its citizens. How does President Weah expect our people to survive?
- No food aid for poor and vulnerable citizens;
- No incentives (tax holiday and bonuses) for health works especially those on the frontline fighting COVID-19;
- No pay for civil servants since last month up to date;
- No cut in the costs/prices of basic social utilities such as electricity, water, medicare, internet, communication, transportation, banking services, food, and non-food items, etc.;
- No stimulus packages, such as short-term loans, for businesses especially Liberian-owned businesses.
All of these were missing in the speech of this ‘pro-poor’ President. The masses have been neglected to wonder, wander, and find a way out for themselves. Does this government really espouse ‘Pro-poor’ or ‘Kill-poor’? The latter would suffice in our opinion. The Speech of President Weah has echoed two (2) miserable options: 1) Death from Corona Virus Disease (DCVD) or 2) Death from Starvation (DS).
Voices from Exile (VEx) believes that it is totally unfair for a few higher-ups and political elites to outrightly neglect the socio-economic interest and collective wellbeing of the poor majority during this difficult time of Corona Virus Disease and in the midst of increased hardship. How do they even expect minorities, including widows, persons with disabilities, albinos, children, women and underprivileged Liberians, to survive? The speech of President Weah appears more of a death warrant and an echo of hopelessness. It is grounded in rhetoric and unjust executive orders.
Besides COVID-19, the President himself has also declared another tragic war against the Liberian people. The Liberian people are now confronted with two (2) wars: 1) The Corona Virus War and 2) The Starvation War. And these 2 wars confronting Liberia are man-made. Such inhumane precedent from the CDC-led government is unjustifiable, unacceptable, unpatriotic, and unnationalistic. VEx demands an immediate shift in paradigm! The “lockdown” which is being preferred by President Weah as a “cure/remedy” could become far more disastrous than COVID-19 if immediate caution is not taken.
In his speech, President George Weah emphasized on two (2) counties, in addition to Montserrado and Margibi Counties, which have been under quarantine for like 2 weeks now. The President said, “. Also, all residents within the borders of Montserrado County, Margibi County, Nimba County, and Grand Kru are to stay at home throughout the time of the quarantine.”
Why did he single out Nimba and Grand Kru this time around? Voices from Exile (VEx) has received very credible information from inside health sources that 28 new confirmed cases have been identified in Nimba County along with a few cases also identified at a Chinese Gold Mine in Grand Kru County. Why did the President flag Nimba and Grand Kru alone this time around out of 13 counties that were never quarantined? Have you ever thought about this? This should tell you that they are not and have not been transparent with and open about information throughout this health crisis.
The Government of President George Weah has demonstrated utter ineptitude, hypocrisy, dishonesty, insensitivity, and poor leadership in the management of this health crisis from the very beginning when Mr. Weah himself willfully and defiantly chose to lead thousands of CDCians in a mass rally at the Antoinette Tubman Stadium on March 7, 2020. VEx believes that this intolerable attitude MUST stop now! It appears to us that either this President is not learning, listening, or leading, evident by the plethora of crises in almost every sector of the country, ranging from economic crisis and gas shortage to water scarcity and broken health system.
The President said in his speech, “Movement between counties is strictly prohibited; no person shall be permitted to enter or leave the borders of any county to another county except for Montserrado County and Margibi County which are quarantined as a single unit.”
However, the President failed to state a clear-cut strategy on how our people will access food from the market and marketers; how they will access medicare from medics/doctors; how they will access water from wholesalers/retailers; how they will access electricity from pre-paid booths; cash from banks; mode of transport in counties of residence; etc. How will this flow of interaction be like in the midst of ‘social distancing’? The President was overly ambiguous in this like. Going forward, VEx calls for a clear-cut strategy in dealing with this killer disease head-on.
With grave concern, the attention of VEx has also been drawn to the latest appointment of the Chief of Protocol Ms. Finda Nora Bundoo and a kinswoman of President George M. Weah, GSA Director Mary T. Broh, to coordinate the COVID-19 Response in Liberia. We believe that such appointment is not only misplaced, ill-advised and has a political undertone, but it lacks technical justification, professional consideration, and academic backing. We, therefore, call for an immediate withdrawal of these appointees who have zero knowledge in public health, health administration, and health policy. It is important to note that these political appointees are already tasked with existing responsibilities both at GSA and the Ministry of State for Presidential Affairs. Why does the President want to overburden them?
In fact, what do they know about responding to COVID-19 or coordinating response to COVID-19 Liberia? What is their profile or credential? VEx believes that such strategic post should be entrusted in the care of health experts and professional technocrats. Where are Liberia’s 339 doctors? Are Dr. Jerry Brown, Dr. Robert M. Kpoto, Dr. Dougbeh Nyan, Dr. Jefferson Sibley, Dr. Louise M. Kpoto, Dr. Gabriel Gorbee Logan, Dr. Francis N. Ketteh, Dr. Walter Gwenigale, Dr. Alvin Doe-Nah, Dr. T. Juleo Karr, Dr. Z’Sherman Adams Jr., Dr. Vuyu K. Golakai, Dr. Moses Pewu, etc still around?
While Ghana has Dr Anarfi Asamoa-Baah, former Deputy Director of the World Health Organization (WHO), in charge of coordinating COVID-19 Response, Liberia has Ms. Finda Bundo and Mme. Mary Broh. While Ivory Coast has Dr. Raymonde Goudou Coffie, a public health expert who earned a doctor of pharmacy degree from the University of Caen in France in 1984, Liberia has Finda Bundoo and Mary Broh. While Nigeria has Dr. Sani Aliyu, a specialist in infectious diseases and microbiology from the Cambridge University Hospital, Liberia has Finda Bundo and Mary Broh. While the great United States of America has Dr. Deborah Leah Birx, an American Physician who specializes in HIV/AIDS immunology, vaccine research, and global health, Liberia has Finda Bundo and Mary Broh.
In our opinion, Ms. Finda Noro Bundoo was only preferred/appointed to serve as an eye on donor’s fund for President Weah while Mme. Broh was preferred to be popularized as a “COVID-19 Hero” and subsequently a “CDC Candidate” ahead of 2020 midterm senatorial election in Montserrado County. The President has messed up and missed the point altogether. He needs to understand that these tragic times aren’t political times. Instead of picking his aides and cronies, he must honestly rely on public health experts and medical professionals for genuine and scientific solution. The government must refrain from playing politics with the lives of our people and the survival of our Country.
Having said that, Voices from Exile (VEx) hereby recommends 20 remedies/cures geared towards defeating COVID-19 and allaying the additional economic burden that has been imposed on our people by this virus:
- The mass distribution of free food and other relief aid;
- The settlement of all arrears and a 2-month paycheck in advance for civil servants;
- The provision of free internet access;
- A 10% cut in the price of petrol (fuel and gas);
- Tax holiday or tax break for health works especially those on the frontline of fighting this virus;
- At least 5% bonus for health workers who are directly on the frontline;
- A 50% cut in the price of rice and other food items;
- A 20% cut in the price of non-food items;
- A 30% cut in prepaid charges on electricity;
- A 25% cut on charges of all SMS and Calls (both local and international calls);
- A 30% cut in charges on water supply;
- Access to free medicare and mobile clinics in various communities with focus on vulnerables;
- Recruit and appoint more public health experts and medical professionals;
- Give soft loan and financial aid to small and medium-term enterprises especially Liberian-owned businesses. Reduce interest rate and negotiate with borrowers to extend loans’ repayments for creditors;
- Increase anti-COVID-19 awareness, education, and sensitization nationwide;
- Carry out mass distribution of anti-COVID-19 supplies including hand-washing buckets, sanitizers, chlorax, leaflets, etc.;
- Roll out a more concrete and robust response and control mechanism strategy;
- Work with all stakeholders, including religious community, the media, civil society, opposition political parties, the Legislature, judicial and security apparatuses, diaspora Liberians, international partners, philanthropists, businesses, NGOs, INGOs, community-based organizations, etc., in order to mobilize resources and consolidate a more forceful response against COVID-19;
- Improve the quality/accuracy of information coordination, management, and dissemination. Use the traditional media and social media to spread messages of prevention in all local dialects;
- Listen, learn, and lead with knowledge and wisdom.
As the President notifies members of the National Legislature to seek their consent in 7 days from now which is in accordance with Article 88, VEx encourages the Legislature to only approve the President’s declaration for a “State of Emergency” by taking into keen consideration the twenty (20) recommendations supra. Voices from Exile (VEx) remains committed to educating our people and working in their best interest. We call on all Liberians to observe those basic health prevention protocols and measures including social distancing, staying at home, hand-washing, etc.
May God bless Liberia and save our nation from this global pandemic (COVID-19). If we could win Ebola, we can also win Corona. This is what gives us hope. We must never lose sight of this source of optimism. We shall and must prevail together.
Done and Sealed on this 8th Day of April, A.D. 2020, in Exile.
Signed: Martin K. N. Kollie
Liberian Activist and Chief Convener / Founder
Voices from Exile (VEx)
WhatsApp: +231 776572334