The Role of the Ministry of Internal Affairs
in a Decentralized Liberia
By Patrick Nimley-Sie Tuon
PAA Staff Writer
July 12, 2012
News coming out of Monrovia, Liberia revealed that the Good Governance Commission, headed by former interim president of Liberia, Dr. Amos C. Sawyer, has approved a proposal seeking the decentralization of powers in the Republic of Liberia. While we welcome the efforts by the Good Governance Commission, and urge all Liberians to rally around this effort, we would like to express our reservations regarding certain features in the proposal. “The Role of the Ministry of Internal Affairs in a Decentralized Liberia” is our first article in pointing out the flaws in the decentralized plan.
As we read through the proposed act there seems to be some level of hesitancy and reluctance on the part of Monrovia to relinquish enough powers to counties to justify the reasons stated in the preamble of the act. According to the preamble of the proposed act, “governance and public administration have remained centralized in Monrovia…” In addition, the “highly centralized system of governance has impeded popular participation and local initiative, especially in the provision of goods and services.” These and many other justifications set the basis, according to the Good Governance Commission, for the decentralization of the powers in the Liberia.
However, after reading through these well-written justifications, and then begin to dwell on the procedures put in place to implement the decentralized process; you begin feel that some of the old strings that have held captive the Liberian people are still intact, perpetuating Monrovia’s control under the decentralized system. For example, all county superintendents, report to the Minister of Internal Affairs, but based on the decentralized proposal, superintendents will be elected. We find this troubling! Why superintendents that are elected by their constituent would continue to report to a Minister of Internal Affairs who is an appointed official? To have an elected official reporting to an appointed official shows that the shackles of the out-dated centralized governing system remains intact. The system that links the Ministry of Internal Affairs and county governments has been known to be one of the most corrupt systems in the history of Liberia. It has been described in the past as the single most vivid symbol draconian control Monrovia has over the counties.
A superintendent that is elected is obligated to the people that elected him/her, and as such, must meet only with the president of the nation in presenting his/her plans approved by their people; not to an appointed Minister of Internal Affairs. For an elected superintendent to present plans for his/her county’s development to a none elected official in the national government may undermine the decentralization process because it gives the minister of internal affairs some leverage or power over the decisions made by the people in the counties and the possibility for the minister of internal affairs to influence or change the decision of the people in that county.
A minister by virtue of his/her position is obliged to the president, and to do what the president wants; therefore, to have the counties reports to an individual who is obligated to the president may undermined what these counties want. Since he/she works at pleasure of the president, in a situation where the president wants the counties to implement central government’s policy, and the counties are opposed to it, the minister of internal affairs will work on behalf of the president and not the counties. In such case, there could be confusion within the counties if the superintendent who was elected by the people is not operating the county government according to the wished of the people.
History tells us that the rampant corruptions that have plagued the central government in Monrovia, are somewhat fueled by the strong level of influence the Ministry of Internal Affairs has over the superintendents, and to maintain such influence in any shape or form weakens the decentralization plan. It was not until the citizens of the counties were presented the approved decentralized plan, and realized the pivotal role of the minister of internal affairs that the Good Governance Commission tried to minimize the impact of the minister’s role.
In the proposed act, Section 3.4(paragraph 34.1) states “this reporting process shall not be construed as bestowing upon the Minister of Internal Affairs powers of control over the affairs of counties.” This is not enough to quell any anxiety regarding the role of the minister of internal affairs since this is not a new role. This is the current role of the minister of internal affairs, and it has breed nothing but corruption, patronage, cronyism, etc. Most importantly it will not address the impediment aspect which is mentioned in the second paragraph of the preamble of the proposed act that states; “this highly centralized system of governance has impeded popular participation and local initiative, especially in the provision of goods and services.” Right now many Liberian superintendents spent up to six months in Monrovia waiting for some funding from the Ministry of Internal Affairs and other ministries for the approval of some reports or proposals from the counties. In some cases, superintendents may bribe service provided in order to speed up response from these ministries in Monrovia. These bureaucratic delays and red tapes are those impeding popular participation and local initiative, especially in the provision of goods and services that the decentralization process is trying to eliminate.
All changes come with adjustments. The decentralization process is full of changes, especially important changes that will overhaul the entire Liberian political, economic and social system, and to effect these changes and make way for the new system of government adjustments within the old governing system must be made, especially within the Ministry of Internal Affairs; a ministry that is an instrument for abuse of power, that has executed acts of corruption, embezzlement and many un-couth acts in the counties in the name of working for the president. To erase this link between the minister of internal affairs and the county superintendents, a special office on local government should be created within the office of the president with direct link to the counties. In such office, there should be a county desk officer or liaison person whose responsibility is to received various reports from the counties for the president. Each of these county desk officers must have link to the county at whose desk he or she sits. The Ministry of Internal Affairs can be turned into an institution to do research on national policies. The Liberian decentralization process will be incomplete or not real if all vestiges of the old system, especially those with abusive history, remain intact. A move, if insisted upon could weaken the trust over the entire decentralization process.
Finally, it is unfair to have written such an important document without the participation of the Liberian Diaspora. This once again, exposed the ongoing contradiction that we hear in the speeches of Liberian government officials about how importances Liberians in the Diaspora are. The Good Governance Commission has failed to use popular participation to draft a proposal that seeks to promote such. The idea of decentralization is not a government idea, and no government should try to own it. It has always been the idea of the people, as such, it should draw it strengths from the people, not based on compromises among bureaucrats. On the other hand, Liberians in the Diaspora, in the U.S. in particular, seem to be stuck in their so-called Internet listserv comfort zone of which they have refused to graduate to take a realistic look at unfolding events in Liberia. All we do is to repeatedly distribute all ready published news articles favorable or not favorable to the Liberian government to each other and turned around to insults each other as our way of advocating for the Liberian people. The idea of two ULAAs, despite being rejected amass by US-based Liberians, there seems to be no hurry to arrest the situation. Without a serious national united organization that is credible enough to demand and facility meetings between Liberians and the Liberian government, Diaspora Liberia dubbed the 16th county of Liberia will continues to remain out of the loop when it comes to influencing events in Liberia.