The Need for an Agency or Ministry of Science, Technology & Industry

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Despite the implementation of various macro-economic and development strategies, there has been an infinitesimal impact on the economic and industrial performance in Liberia. With a free market and liberalized economy, and emphasis on private sector participation in the economy, we have seen beneficial results in some sectors of economy and very little results in other sectors, such as the manufacturing industry, which faces stiff competition from imported goods and services. A major contributing factor to the poor performance of the industry has been the lack of application of science and technology, which has resulted in only few industries with declining productivity.

This article is a result of a comment that I had posted in the social media (FACEBOOK) on Sunday, October 6, 2013. The post sparked a serious discourse which led me to surmise that there are many Liberians whose voices have not been heard and who would like to make a contribution to national development but find themselves disadvantaged position. Here, I ask the reader to assimilate this discourse in a positive way as it does impact our national economic recovery initiatives.

In my original post, I had mentioned that a few days ago, while listening to the radio, I heard someone from the GOVERNANCE COMMISSION explain the Ministries of Finance and Planning merger; the “detachment” of Social Welfare from the Ministry of Health (to be added to the Ministry of Gender); the formation of the Liberia Revenue Authority (IRS of Liberia); and the “detachment of Tourism and Cultural Affairs from the Ministry of Information. All of those “moves” I argued, were good for Liberia’s economic recovery.

Then, I went on to express my concern about what I felt was missing. I wondered why now that we are in the 21st century, which is characterized by the use of technology, NOTHING, absolutely NOTHING, has been said about an institution that champions SCIENCE and TECHNOLOGY in Liberia. I then suggested that perhaps it’s time policy makers took a serious look at the impact of SCIENCE and TECHNOLOGY on societies and make genuine efforts to incorporate them in any and all initiatives geared toward economic development. I suggested that such an institution could help nurture young Liberians to become PRODUCERS rather than the CONSUMERS that we’ve been for quite some time. I ended that post by suggesting that the decisions we make today must reflect the demands of changing times!

The responses from individuals in the social media varied. Some insinuated that few individuals in government are cognizant of technology’s potential to create a paper trail that can expose corruption. Hence, they make absolutely no effort to encourage the integration and incorporation of technology in their work environments. This is the opinion of one person of course.

Others claim questioned that many of those working in government got their education from Western countries where technology is used in every spectrum of those societies. Yet, when they return to Liberia, they fail to design strategies and tactics that emulate the work environment and paradigms of western countries.

Another person suggested that because individuals studied abroad does not mean that they know how to incorporate modern technologies in their societies. This individual argued that, many individuals who studied abroad were simply users of Western systems, and therefore, do not have the ability or understanding of technology integration in society. This, according to them, is why we remain with the status quo.  

But there was one post that interested me the most. That post suggested the creation of a Ministry of Science, Technology, and Industry. The post also suggested the detachment of the Industry component from the Ministry of Commerce and create a Ministry of Science, Technology, and Industry that provide patents, allowing young Liberians who are potential inventors the opportunity to own patent for their invention. This new ministry will also champion scientific research, ICT integration in Liberia, and encourage manufacturing and other functions.

Take a look around you: In Ghana, there’s a Ministry of Communication and Technology and a Ministry of Environment and Science; in Nigeria, there’s a Ministry of Science and Technology. In Niger there’s a Ministry of Secondary and Higher Education, and Technology and Research; in the Cote d’Ivoire there is Ministry of New Technologies, Information, & Communication. And in China, there’s a Ministry of Science and Technology.  Many countries today have some sort of agency or ministry that champions the integration, utilization and incorporation of Science and Technology in their societies. In Liberia, the closest we’ve come to that is the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications, which in my opinion, does not suffice for a country that needs to move or leapfrog into the 21st century.

The ministry for which we are proposing, will champion and enhance the development and promotion of a science and technology culture at all levels of society, as well as the promotion of public demand for science and technology   products and services; The Ministry should be able to generate and apply innovative technologies which efficiently and effectively exploit Science and Technology (S&T) for socio-economic development in the critical areas of education, agriculture, industry, health and environment and improve scientific culture of the civil society. Technologies developed can be commercialized for private sector development in Liberia and abroad.

The new ministry or agency of Science, Technology and Industry will promote and exploit science and technology as an instrument for developing an environmentally friendly indigenous technological capacity in sustainable socio-economic development in order to improve the quality of life for Liberia. This institution will enhance linkages between technology research institutes, the private as well as the public sector in order to encourage demand-driven research and development. It will also develop and sustain a national scientific and technological capacity and provide highly skilled human resource for increased productivity in the economy. It will then foster national and international linkages for enhanced technology transfer; and facilitate the acquisition, adaptation and utilization of foreign technology.

This new ministry will enable us to be producers and not mere consumers; a position we’ve been in for many years. Successful implementation of the Science and Technology institution depends on the availability of adequate financial resources, not just policy papers and participation at multiple conferences.  

Finally, major donors including the World Bank, USAID, United Nations, European Union and others, suggest that Information and Communications Technology (ICT) is an enabler of economic development. Yet, our focus has not been in that area. I wonder why! If we are to achieve sustainable socio-economic development we need a strong well-coordinated and monitored Science and Technology System.

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