The Executive Governor of the Central Bank of Liberia, Dr. J. Mills Jones, has said that any attempt to create second-class citizens because of the fear of competition in the political arena will not stand the scrutiny of the Liberian people.
Speaking at the 16th Commencement Convocation exercises of the 328 graduates at the Antoinette Tubman Stadium last Friday, he said Liberians have the right to celebrate anyone they consider to be working in their interest.
He said those who celebrate owe no one an apology; those who are celebrated owe no one an apology.
“And it will be a serious mistake for any group to try to hide behind the constitution while trying to subvert that very constitution with half-baked, cockeyed laws,” he said. “All Liberians have equal rights under the constitution.
Therefore, trying to create second-class citizens of some because of fear of competition in the political arena will not stand.”
Dr. Jones said leadership is not about malicious manipulation, contrary to certain attempts to narrow the political space.
“I speak here as a citizen of the Republic of Liberia, with equal concerns for the future of my country as any other citizen, and with equal protection under the constitution. Being Governor of the Central Bank of Liberia is a temporary job, but being a citizen of Liberia is a permanent job. And I am prepared to give up the former any day; but never will I give up the latter.
“I was not born Governor of the Central Bank of Liberia, but I was born a citizen of Liberia. You graduates, as well as other Liberians, may have to face a similar choice one day. Choose the job of citizen of Liberia,” he said.
He therefore suggested that Liberians should take inspiration from the life of the late African icon, Nelson Mandela. Mandela, he said, did not get to the head of the line by being vindictive, “I would think that it was because of standing up for principles.
“And one thing we need to practice in Liberia as a means of nurturing our democracy is to respect people for their principles, even if we disagree with those principles. Mandela did not move from the prison house to the state house because he tailored laws to exclude his opponents. I would think that it was because he was prepared to give his life for his country, because he was opposed to ‘exclusion-ism.’”
Dr. Jones therefore called on Liberians to stand up and practice democratic principles and not be vindictive to each other, “to ensure the effective nurturing of the country’s infant democracy.
“The world went to Mandela’s funeral not because he was good at forcing his views down people’s throat. I would think that it was because he embraced his jailers in the name of creating peace and stability for his country because for him, it was country first, country last,” Dr. Jones said.
“So we must take courage from the life of Mandela to say with clarity that disenfranchisement clothed in any form in this land of ours…in this day and age, will never be accepted. Dictatorship in any form and from whatever source will not be accepted. Let us be mindful that dictatorship and the abuse of power stand when the people stand by and say it is not about me. But history shows that tomorrow, it will be about you.”
Dr. Jones pointed out that before it is too late, Liberians must say what needs to be said. “When duty calls, we must have the courage to stand up. And where there is fear, let fear be the source of our courage. Freedom does not come on a silver platter,” he added.
He said Liberians must believe in freedom “if we are to be masters of our destiny. It is our belief in freedom that will give us courage to advance our national interests.”
“Now, it is true that we are in a new democratic dispensation, which is remarkable. However, the culture of democracy does not arrive without effort. Democracy must be nurtured to become embedded in the culture of a people, with that nurturing drawing strength from the people being able to see and feel the dividends of democracy.
“The fact remains that we do not support democracy because we want to democratize poverty. Equal access to poverty, or a highly skewed distribution of income in favor of the haves, is not helpful to the growth of the ideals of democracy. Democracy draws support from equal opportunity to a better standard of living and equal opportunity to justice.
“And the people will know this by the services that the government provides—quality education, a good healthcare system, good, affordable housing, expanding opportunities for employment and social advancement, and assured access to fair adjudication of disputes, among others. This is what government of, for and by the people means in practical terms. This is the vision of the future that we hope for, the road to socioeconomic transformation. This will not be bestowed on us; we must earn it,” Dr. Jones indicated.
“The view that we cannot speak because we are poor will lead us to be poor because we cannot speak – a circularity of dire consequences. Here I would bring to bear my experience as Governor of the Central Bank. Some seek refuge in certain orthodoxies preached by certain external institutions, even when some of those orthodox philosophies do not fit in with the local circumstances. One does not have to be antagonistic, but we must be courageous to state our national case based on our own experiences.”
He said some external experts have said that it is the responsibility of commercial banks to develop policies to ensure access to financing. “Well and good. But we know that there are places called River Gee, Rivercess, Gbarpolu, Grand Kru that have not seen a bank since the founding of the republic, and should draw the experts’ attention to this critical fact.
“We should also make the point that the poor rural people do not have the requisite collateral to satisfy traditional practices of commercial banks. So we must find solutions to fit our circumstances. Some experts have questioned the decision to complete the new CBL headquarters. We should be prepared to say that a 1950s building that was the headquarters of a local commercial bank, where staff of the CBL had to sit in the hallways counting money manually, was inappropriate, especially in this day and age.
“There is nothing strange about spending money to obtain an asset. We should also be able to say that the building that was completed had been standing there since 1989, and we are not prepared to wait for the next twenty five years to do the completion.”
Directing his attention to the graduates, Dr. Jones said Liberians are hoping for a new day.
“And even if we don’t reap the benefit as individuals, our children and their children will know that there came a time in the history of Liberia when the people came to a conclusion that enough is enough, that it was possible to reclaim the future of Liberia. This is the big picture that must consume our thoughts. And so to you, dear graduates, your ambitions and personal loyalties must be subsumed within a larger purpose: the hope of putting our nation on a new course; to go from shouting the freedom of a race benighted, something appropriate to the circumstances of the nineteenth century when we declared our independence, to producing a nation that is prosperous, self-assured and stable; a nation in which we boast, not so much of our age, but of our accomplishments as a people.”