The famous saying ‘power to the people’, an elusive idea since the formation of the Liberian state, now appears to be on the verge of becoming a reality under the administration of the Unity Party-led government.
After several years of tireless efforts since the inception of the UP government in 2006, and with the involvement of key individuals who want to ensure that the part of the Liberian Constitution which says that “All power is inherent in the people” is fulfilled, decentralization of power is about to happen here.
Power is indeed inherent in the people, but in Liberia, this has been more rhetorical than practical. Power has been in the hands of a few people who control the state wealth and dictate the affairs of the sate from their comfort zone in Monrovia.
It is now time for inclusiveness in the political and economic dictates of the country for wholesome national development, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf declared, insisting that it is time for actions and deeds.
Decentralization, which ensures the delivery of public services, inclusiveness in the governance process, has been difficult to achieve. The Liberian state has remained backward as a result. This can no longer be the case, the Liberian leader has indicated.
She made the comments when she launched the National De-concentration Platform (NDP) on Wednesday in Gbarnga, Bong County. The NDP is a monitoring and evaluation tool that seeks to track the progress made by Ministries and agencies of government’s decentralization plans.
The NDP launch clearly indicates that the Monrovia-based ruling hegemony or authoritative central government, will soon become a thing of the past as the President has begun to share some of her exclusive executive powers with county superintendents.
President Sirleaf noted that though efforts to decentralize the delivery of public services are not new, her government’s determination is to build on these previous ideas and early initiatives to learn lessons from them, and from similar programs elsewhere in the world.
One great obstacle that hampers local decentralization that was highly stressed by the President was local capacity building. She said one of the lessons her government has learnt is that it is important to ensure that local capacity is adequate to support the public transfer of services to local jurisdictions.
“Failure to have adequate local capacities is often the basis of recentralization, though we are endeavoring to avoid this pitfall by exploring and seeking innovative ways that can respond directly to our national needs,” she said.
She alluded to the fact that the effective delivery of public services in a coordinated manner that builds synergies requires adequate public facilities, especially in government centers where offices and other facilities are located in easy proximity to each other.
This is meant to ensure that their operations and maintenance can benefit from economy of scale while making their services more accessible to the populace.
“In this respect, an important part of our decentralization program is to establish government centers in all counties as our resources will allow. This will be a major undertaking in which we will commit a lot of resources,” President Sirleaf said.
President Sirleaf directed that superintendents from now on are to confer with the authority to coordinate and manage the delivery of services in their counties.
“All ministry and agency staffs deployed to the counties shall fall under the coordination of the county superintendent.”
She called on the Ministry of Internal Affairs to collaborate with all ministries and agencies immediately to coordinate a process to harmonize the finance, procurement, human resource, audit, and monitoring and evaluation of services in the counties to avoid the multiplication of these services in each ministry and agency.
MIA is to begin the process of developing a professional local government civil service with support from the CSA. “The line ministries and agencies should delegate authority for the implementation of, if agreed, county based projects with heads of line ministries’ county based projects implementation officers, who will then operate under the counties’ coordinating mechanisms.”
The Executive has, however, entrusted superintendents with increased responsibility, so as to be the bridge to the people. “We promise you that we will make every effort to train and capacitate you,” the President vowed.
To achieve the above administrative reforms, President Sirleaf directed the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning (MFDP) to expedite the establishment of what she termed, ‘Counties’ treasuries.’
She explained: “This is to make it possible that all government employees receive their salaries in their counties. This is intended to provide support to ministries like MOE, MOH, who are de-concentrating, but their quality of services is hampered by the movement of staff to and from Monrovia in pursuit of their salaries.”
To superintendents, she said, “It is really you that will be on the spot. If we get it wrong, we will be in serious trouble because there will be recentralization. If we get it right, you and the people will take the credit.” Though these are “tall orders” she assured them that they are doable.
The launch of the NDP, which was witnessed by an array of high profile government officials, the Doyen and members of the Diplomatic Corp, heads of international organizations, traditional leaders and delegates from all 15 counties, add to the numerous reforms, such as the Civil Service Agency (CSA), Liberia Law Reform, Constitution Review Committee, which can be considered as software initiatives.
Meanwhile, several international partners, in remarks, lauded the government for the initiative and urged the administration to build capacities of local officials to ensure success.