The National Civil Society Council of Liberia (NCSSL), a conglomeration of civil society groupings in Liberia, has called upon President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to see civil society organizations (CSOs) as proactive development partners.
President Sirleaf in her 9th Annual Message delivered before the 53rd Legislature stated that some NGOs have sought to become super-national bodies, challenging national sovereignty. She called for increased accountability and transparency in the sector but failed to mention names.
CSOs told newsmen they would not immediately respond to the Liberian leader's remarks delivered on January 27, 2014, saying they preferred to speak in unison.
At a news conference Wednesday, February 12th in Monrovia, more than two weeks after the President's speech, Madam Frances Greaves, chairperson of NCSCL, described said assertion by the President as a clear reflection of “words used by previous despots as an excuse to silence the third sector of our society.”
The group indicated the President’s statement eroded the policy gains government has made in the last decade.
“Your yearly address was a missed opportunity to address the real critical socio-economic questions plaguing poor Liberians today,” Mrs. Greaves lamented.
CSOs reminded the Unity Party leader of her days of struggle against social injustice in Liberia where, according to the CSOs, civil society played a significant role in her rise to success today.
In fact, the civil society representative said, “Your ascendency to the highest office in the land can be partly ascribed to the collective voices of civil society activists, who challenged previous despotic regimes to ensure we have the open society Liberians deserve and enjoy today. This is why we are very concerned about the language and tone used in your 2014 State of the Nation Address.”
CSOs called upon the Liberian government to see them as progressive but critical partners that conform to the rule of law and would do nothing to abuse such partnership.
“Madam President, your government has positioned agriculture, mining and forestry as key sectors for economic development. As such, the failure of the forestry sector is tantamount to a failure of governance. This was most evident in the Private Use Permit (PUP) scandal, a process in which civil society was integral in uncovering. Our continued efforts to support development in that sector through the Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) with the European Union, has helped the sector meet much touted international standards. This has strengthened Liberia’s market position as a provider of ethically sourced timber,” Madame Greaves explained.
“Weak implementation of legal requirements in relation to concessions as uncovered in LEITI’s post award process audit shows that significant challenges remain in the enforcement of legal and regulatory frameworks. From that report, Liberians and the world are aware that close to 90% of concessions awarded under your authority were not fully compliant with the laws of the land. Civil society continues working to support and strengthen these processes. Let us underscore that we are a valuable partner of the government for the implementation of oversight and enforcement in these sectors to the benefit, not detriment, of pro-poor Liberian development,” Madam Greaves pointed out.
The group said it welcomes the President’s point on transparency intoned, “Transparency in governance is an essential building block in any open society and should be a cornerstone of all organisations, including the ones in Liberian civil society.”
CSOs stressed the importance of transparency in fighting corruption, adding “our organisations do report to the relevant government entities but are in full compliance of national laws, legal requirements and will continue to support any efforts that further the cause of transparency in our nation.”