Pledge support to Pro-poor agenda
The National Traditional Council of Chiefs, at the close of its conference in Ganta, Nimba County, have signed a resolution to fully support the Weah government’s “Pro-poor Agenda.”
The 15 chiefs, led by the head of the Council, Oldman Zanzar Karwor, and witnessed by women representing the Mano River countries of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast agreed to an 11-count resolution, pledging their fullest support to the government in achieving its goals.
“The chiefs and traditional leaders accept and are willing to work with, support and promote the government’s Pro-poor Agenda for Development and Prosperity, which puts the poor people at the center of governance and improves the living conditions of poor people, especially in rural communities,” declared the statement.
The chiefs also commended the Government for the initiatives undertaken toward the sustenance of peace, security and reconciliation through the implementation of the Pro Poor Agenda.
In acknowledging the significance of land reform, decentralization, reconciliation, constitutional reform and good governance as foundations to ensure the success of the Pro-poor Agenda, the chiefs agreed to support the re – introduction of the hut tax to be paid annually for the development of their counties.
They said the hut tax will enhance their participation in the promotion of government’s agenda and development initiatives.
The chiefs said in their resolution that the government cannot be dependent forever, “relying on donor supports or begging all around the world for help, so it is good to bring back the collection of hut tax to back up the economy.”
At this point, some chiefs even suggested that a portion of the proposed hut tax collected in their counties should remain there for development, but that suggestion was not part of the resolution they submitted to the government through the Minister of Internal Affairs, Varney Sirleaf.
The chiefs also agreed to endorse the government’s initiative to introduce a road user toll system for all vehicles plying the roads.
Juli Endee and Mrs. Setta Fofana Saah, who were also at the signing ceremony, expressed their appreciation for the conference, but said the issues regarding “Hut Tax and Road Toll” require more education and time, before implementing them.
“The Road Toll system is good, but it requires all the road networks to be paved, before placing toll gates because you cannot struggle on the deplorable roads, then they ask you to pay toll fees,” said Setta Fofana Saah.
The chiefs also agreed to promote and uphold gender equity and equality by ensuring women’s participation in decision making processes, striving to reduce the gender imbalance by alleviating early marriage and forced initiation of boys and girls into traditional societies during the school year.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs in collaboration with the Carter Center “Access to Justice program with support from USAID and the Government of Sweden, sponsored the conference of chiefs in Ganta to provide them with insight into what the Pro Poor agenda means.
Minister Sirleaf thanked all the chiefs for turning out to give their support to the Pro Poor agenda of the government.
“If the government does not explain what the policy of the government is, we will be leaving our people in doubt and if they are in doubt the people will say things that will take them in a wrong way which will take a long time to change,” he said.
“It is in that light we brought all the chiefs together to talk to them for them to know what the government means, especially when it comes to the “Pro Poor” issue, he said.
It can be recalled that following the military coup of 1980, one of its first acts was the abolition of the Hut Tax. The Hut Tax was widely resented by local people because of the methods of collection associated with its collection which were often brutal and oppressive.
Under True Whig Party rule, local people were required to pay the Hut Tax but they could not vote nor be voted for because they did not own property in fee simple. According to the coup makers, such practice was tantamount to payment of tax without representation and the brutal methods employed to collect the tax were unjustifiable.
According to a political observer who witnessed the event this week, the call by the chiefs for the reintroduction of the Hut tax is informed by the acute desire of the ordinary Liberian for meaningful inclusion in the national economic and political life of the country.
This situation, he observed has tended to create a mindset wherein people feel a sense of guilt and responsibility for their underdevelopment, being caught in virtual poverty traps that appear to offer limited or no possibilities for self-actualization and upward social mobility.
As such according to him, it was not surprising that calls by some chiefs for the retention in the counties of portion of the Hut tax to be used for development purposes went virtually unheeded by officials of Government.