“Look at what is happening in the legislature. Look at how embarrassing that is. Look at the country,” Bility told the Daily Observer in an exclusive interview recently. “And this is why I am running.”
Musa Hassan Bility is hoping that luck will play in his favor to win his representative bid on the first try.
The business mogul, who earned his wealth dealing in petroleum products, revealed that he would be on the ballot in 2023. The constituency that Bility is targeting — Nimba County electoral district #7 — is experiencing rising unemployment, a nightmare that Bility has promised to address by using his experience as a successful businessman.
And leveraging his ample resources, he has started to woo potential voters ahead of next year's election, with developmental projects as a promise of better days to come. His efforts, through his Musa Bility Development Foundation, have seen him rehabilitate the Bahn to Saclepea road in the district, which is normally deplorable during the rainy season.
“Look at what is happening in the legislature. Look at how embarrassing that is. Look at the country,” Bility told the Daily Observer in an exclusive interview recently. “And this is why I am running and will win. Wise men who refuse to participate in government will have to accept the rulership of the unwise men.”
“I have learned very harshly that if I said I will not be part of the government, those in charge when they make any decision, I will have to live by it. I am contesting to ensure the Legislature performs adequately its function of checking on the executive.”
“There is no check and balance in our system. Those before us have made it difficult. They have disappointed us but all I can say is that I will never be like those before us. They have let us down,” the chairman of the opposition Liberty Party added.
Bility, who among other things is campaigning for the privatization of state-owned enterprises (SEOs), is running in a district that is split between two tribal groups: the Dan in Zoe-Gbao and the Mano in Wee-Gbehy-Mahn. The district covers two administrative areas, including Wee-Gbei, and Zoe-Gbao. The two administrative districts have two major cities, Bahn and Saclepea. Bahn is situated in Zoe-Gbao, while Saclepea is in Wee-Gbeye.
According to the National Elections Commission, the two administrative districts have a total of 36,236 registered voters as of 2020 and this number is expected to increase significantly by 2023.
Roger Domah, of the Mano tribe, hailing from Wee Gbeye district, serves the district as its current representative and, with the businessman’s mother being of the Mano tribe, it is believed that he would earn some significant votes, leaving the Dan settlement as a battleground.
However, Bility's critics have accused him of being unfit to represent the district, citing allegations of financial impropriety against him, particularly the ten-year ban imposed by FIFA in 2019 for misappropriation of their funds, granted under the global body's “11 against Ebola” campaign and as part of its Financial Assistance Programme to Liberia when he served as president of the Liberia Football Association.
The legislature that Bility is eyeing is widely perceived to be a rubber stamp and corrupt — as such, his critics see him as a bad fit for an already spoiled place, especially with his FIFA ban for alleged corruption and his entanglement into others' alleged corruption practice.
This also includes his alleged mismanagement of funds intended for the rehabilitation of the runway at the Roberts International Airport back in 2013 when he served as chairman of the Liberia Airports Authority, which led to his indictment by the government.
But as an affable, enterprising figure, Bility’s supporters point to his ability to move adroitly between the worlds of commerce and politics — qualities that, they say, will help him develop the district while creating opportunities for youth. Still, his supporters are aware that they have a difficult opponent in Domah, as well as a slew of other candidates, some of whom may be Dan tribal members, vying for his potential stronghold, the Zoe-Gbao district which includes Bahn City, the district capital.
Almost all of Bility’s development initiatives have been in the Zoe-Gbao district, which critics have labeled as political schemes to obtain votes.
However, Bility's campaign faces the problem of persuading the district's youth that he is an acceptable choice, given that he is using his large pockets to court potential voters in the 2023 elections — which some perceive as political initiatives that cannot be sustained in the long term.
Despite this, Bility believes his campaign message, which focuses on initiating change for the good of the country, will be enough to influence the electorates in 2023, allowing him the opportunity to govern. His vision is anchored on the privatization of SOEs, many of which are beset by bribery scandals and financial transparency concerns, limiting their potential to provide significant social services that benefit everybody.
This, according to Bility, is required to address the never-ending financial demands of SOEs, as private sector investment would be welcomed. He also stated that such a change would shift SOEs to ‘more openness’, helping to chip away at their established reputation as an opaque piggy bank for succeeding administrations.
“When I get to that place, we will have to do everything differently. Number one; there are public corporations (SEOS) that are no longer assets to the government. We have to turn them into businesses.”
“You see our budget; the little money we get is going to those entities,” he said. “That is stupidity. If you put up bids for all these companies, in less than one year you will have companies that will take them with a guaranteed return for the government of Liberia.”
Bility added that privatization will not only end years of obscurity but will eventually lead to SEOs being subjected to inspection by stakeholders, rather than the existing system — reporting solely to the President — for that reputation to be shed.
Another advantage, according to the businessman, is that the government’s budgetary commitments to these public entities will be reduced, freeing up cash for other initiatives.
Also, he said that the move would lead to operational efficiency and transparency, and that reliance on government money would be abolished — as private owners would seek to enhance revenue streams, resulting in service provision for the people.
“We don’t want to know how you run it. The only thing is to make sure there is supply in the market and the government must get a certain amount of money at the end of the year.”
“The headache is not necessary. Privatization is the way out. You can control the rate, for certain services being provided through regulations,” Bility added. “This means making sure the private companies running them only increase based on certain economic indicators.”
Another element of Bility’s vision is the national budget, which he viewed as the pinnacle of corruption since it doesn't stipulate performance and utilization. He noted that ensuring that the budget is enacted based on precise aims that are clearly stated will result in it being felt by all Liberians.
“This budget we have is an epitome of corruption. It does not specify performance or usage. We will fix the budget in this country that will be visionary,” Bility said. “We are still spending 60 to 70 percent of our money on recurrent expenditure. There is no capital investment; nothing, whatsoever. We will change that.”
However, if Bility had to realize this vision, he must first overcome the obstacles of tribal politics, which has historically played a larger role in how district legislators are elected. Since the district merged in 2011, the authority has been shared between the Dan and Mano, with the Mandingos, his tribe, being excluded.
Worlea-Saywah Dunnah of the Dan tribe was the district’s previous representative, and when he opted not to compete for a third term in 2017, he and his people pledged their support to Domah, the current lawmaker who is from the Mano tribe.
“If I run for President, I will go for the second round. There is no position in this country I cannot contest for and make an impact on. I am contesting and will win.
“If in the last 20 years, what I have stood for and done for my county is not enough to make someone vote for me, then it means that that vote was not meant for me. If that’s how the majority think, then I will appreciate that. I will just move on with life.”
Dunnah and his people claimed that it was time for the Mano tribe to govern, leaving Sidikie Abraham Turay, a wealthy son of Bahn, a Dan village, to settle for a ninth-place position during the election with a vote of less than a thousand.
Turay, of the Mandingo tribe, was contesting for the third time in 2017, but his campaign struggled to gain traction owing to his ethnic origin, despite carrying out a series of developments in the district.
The political landscape in Nimba is founded along tribal lines, district #7 being no exception. It is a place of Dan and Mano dominance and, because of this, other minority tribes face difficulties in gaining political office. And if Bility wins in 2023, he would be Nimba County’s first lawmaker of Mandingo heritage in Liberia’s postwar history.
“At the end of the day, I will work for my people. I will show them the good in me,” Bility says optimistically. I will never allow what nature has bestowed on me to be seen as an impediment. I don’t describe my tribe to anybody. If everything else is right about me and only my tribe makes me lose the election, in my mind, I would have won.
“Nothing I can do about who I am. I am the son of a Mandigo man. I am my father’s son. I am a Mandigo man and there is nothing I can do about that. I don’t think that Nimba County has remained stuck in the past. I think from outside and inside the County, it shows to me that the people of Nimba have moved.”
Meanwhile, Bility has stated that if he is successful in his campaign, he will make Nimba electoral District #7 one of the greatest districts in Liberia, with cutting-edge development.
“I guarantee you that. We will have everything we need for district 7. That goes to education, health service, business, goods and services, and civilization. I will change that place. See my trail there. I am not a representative but I have carried out lots of development. I will push for districts and counties to give incentives to businesses so that the businesses can leave Monrovia and come there.”