LIBERIA - A Democracy or Kleptocracy?- by Groba Williams
The price of rice, our staple, is out of the reach of most Liberians. Yet paradoxically, government officials continue to receive huge allowances, which they lavish on fabulous homes and unnecessary foreign travels. An example of this extravagance is seen in the actions of many government officials, who just yesterday were poor fellows.
They say that democracy is a government by the people, for the people and with the people. Anyone who tries to reflect on what Liberia was some 21 years ago would find a major contrast. Much has changed, mainly for the worse.
Under the regime of Charles Taylor, Liberians cried and complained about the blatant human rights abuses, the forceful conscription of young children into militia gangs, and the abject poverty of the people who could only watch the exorbitant lifestyles of the president and his cronies. They lived in elegance, hosting wild parties weekly and traveling about in unbelievably large fleets of cars, among other luxuries.
Along with the poverty and its attending phenomena, the ordinary citizen lived in perpetual fear of being molested or killed for speaking out against the 'Papay' – the name given to Charles Taylor by his fighters. The victims list included, Samuel Saye Dokie, his wife and other family members, Madam Nowai Flomo, as well as Cllr. Frances Johnson Morris, the present Chair of the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission, who was harassed and molested; supposedly, on account of mistaken identity amongst thousands of others. The Police used excessive force against unarmed civilians, many of whom were merely imaginary enemies. The population was kept on edge with constant reports of rebel advances, as well as the mysterious death and disappearance of friends, love ones and neighbors.
Everyone was convinced that the real and immediate problem was Charles Taylor. So ECOWAS and the African Union (AU), with the backing of Western nations, arranged Mr. Charles Taylor's exit from Liberia . A unity government (the NTGL), born out of the Comprehensive Peace Accords (CPA) signed in Ghana would replace the Taylor regime and restore peace to Liberia, and by extension Democracy and rule of Law .
As would be expected, hopes were high with promises of a better life, zero tolerance for corruption, and an end to 'business as usual". Many believed, with the 'devil' – Charles Taylor -- gone, the country was headed for a new and better future. Representatives of the various warring faction, as well as the civil society and county representatives were given key positions in the new transitional government headed by Mr. Charles Gyude Bryant, a Liberian Business Man.
As it had been with the many successive transitional governments of the 1990s, those responsible for the murders and displacement of thousands of Liberians were again rewarded with fabulous jobs, all in the name of peace and reconciliation. The government appointed to lead Liberians from war to peace was a conglomeration of warring factions leaders, known human rights abusers, and highly incompetent individuals. With all this, Liberians still hoped for a new day. Yes, Liberians truly are a compassionate and optimistic people. But as Liberians struggle daily to survive, the new transitional government officials were given among other perks brand new US$40,000.00 Grand Cherokee Jeeps. Motivating for a democracy of a few, isn't it?
As a way of restoring hope to the people, ‘Democratic’ elections were arranged and was won by Madame Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Africa’s first woman president. No sooner had she been inaugurated and a new government formed, then there was cries of massive rampant corruption in government; in fact the former Auditor-General, John Morlu is on record for saying that Madame Sirleaf’s Government was three(3) times more corrupt then previous governments. WOW.
Wait a minute! Isn't democracy defined as, government of, for, and by the people? Aren't the laws in a democratic state made for the good of the people, because all power is inherent in the people? If Liberia is a democracy and the officials of the current government are the people's representatives, why then are the people suffering, as their servants-Government Officials- become millionaires overnight? Yet, why aren't civil servants paid decent and befitting salaries monthly? And why do the citizens lack basic services despite massive foreign donor contributions and the huge taxes government
receives daily through the Ministry of Finance?
Could it be that Liberia has ceased to be a democracy? Might we now have a Kleptocracy? Is stealing the sole purpose of the present government? There is no doubt officials of the Government are robbing the Liberian people; how else could you explain money earmarked for development projects, through County Development funds, mysteriously disappearing without a trace? And the ordinary people are paying the price. Even those who did not own a bicycle before taking a position-whether Ministerial of Legislative- in the government are now living like millionaires and enjoying all the affluence this life can offer.
There have been cries about corruption emanating from all segments of the Liberian society. Former custom commissioner in the Liberia National Transitional Government of Chairman Byrant, Charles Bennie, who was given the responsibility of collecting government revenue, stated publicly that the government was corrupt. Milton Teahjay, present Superitendent of Sinoe County is on record for saying that Madame Sirleaf government was very corrupt. And it therefore came as no surprised when the former Auditor general of Liberia said that this government was three(3) times more corrupt than its predecessor. How widespread is corruption? There is a Liberian proverb that says if Crab comes from under the river and said to you that crabfish was very ill, will you doubt it? Certainly no, because they both live in the river. Why, then would anyone believe that this government isn’t corrupt when it came from the lips of the Auditor-General who was previledge to see the records of all government transactions. Uh!!
The price of rice, our staple, is out of the reach of most Liberians. Yet paradoxically, government officials continue to receive huge allowances, which they lavish on fabulous homes and unnecessary foreign travels. Most of them behave no differently than the money doublers –those tricksters we commonly refer to as the BM boys. In an economy where more than half the population lives on less than US$1.00 a day, where is the sanctuary for the ordinary person? This must be a Kleptocracy and not a Democracy.
Could this be a government that was supposed to deliver Liberians from the evils of Charles Ghankay Taylor's regime.
Because of entrenched corruption, Liberians have lived without clean water and electricity for the past 20 years. It is hard to believe this country with a relatively small population sitting on vast mineral and natural resources has to make do without basic necessities in the 21st Century.
Is there hope in sight? This is anyone's guess. However, I'd say, considering the vast imbalance of wealth and misplaced priority regarding its distribution, it's hard to know whether the government leaders are inept, or just simply lacking integrity. Perhaps, hope lies in the people who will be elected this coming Presidential and Legislative elections. Liberians must elect God-fearing, nationalistic leaders who will be responsive to the needs of the people. This will go a long way in determining the quality of life we, and our children, enjoy in the future.
With more than 20 presidential candidates in the race and hundreds of Legislative aspirants-- many who are the same old failed, misguided, recycled politicians again seeking to buy votes – the elections process could become quite confusing. However, we must be selective in singling out the wheat from the chaff. We must vote our conscience and experience and not rice and cash.
We must beware of those candidates who will try to entice us with money and rice, seeking to purchase our votes. Remember the past. They will abandon us and renege on all their promises. In 2005, we were promised among other things, free education, schools, better roads, bridges, housing, and a computer for every student. These promises were not fulfilled; instead we were simply saw people get rich overnight.
If we want a safe, peaceful and secure nation, it is incumbent upon every Liberian to vote for men and women of integrity. The government we elect will be democratic only if we choose responsible people with an exemplary record. This time democracy must replace kleptocracy, or else again our future will remain dismal
For how can love attain true appreciation
if it has never weathered tribulation?