-I’m entering Liberian politics with clean hands, without political scores to settle, free from any corruption charges or allegations
Alternative National Congress (ANC) standard bearer Alexander Cummings has clarified reports that he has been out of the country for most of his adult life and noted that despite his travels abroad and working for international companies, “I’ve always returned to Liberia, where I managed a series of philanthropic efforts.”
In a FORBES Magazine interview, asking if Cummings can save Liberia, Mr. Cummings said he had always planned on living full time in Liberia after his retirement from Coca-Cola and his decision to run for president came a few years ago when he was discussing with his family and friends the best way he could contribute to Liberia.
“We discussed the challenges facing Liberia, primarily the high level of youth unemployment and underemployment, which I have said is a national security risk. However, with proper investments in things like vocational and technical training, the youth can be transformed into a national asset,” he said.
“Liberia has come a long way in the last 12 years. It has been safe and peaceful over that period of time. Indeed, Liberia has never been as free as it has been over the last decade. On the economic front, however, Liberia still faces many challenges that will only get worse if we continue down the same path.”
He said the upcoming elections are vital and will be the first peaceful transition of power from one democratically elected government to another in nearly 75 years. “It is an opportunity for Liberia to cement its democratic progress. We hope a transition from the Unity Party to the Alternative National Congress will also establish Liberia’s ability to transition from one party to another, peacefully, as we’ve seen in Ghana, Nigeria and elsewhere.”
Cummings said what sets him apart from the other 19 candidates is that “They are all legacy politicians, current and former senators, and government officials. The Vice President has been in his office for 12 years and was in government for many years before that, with few (if any) accomplishments to which he can point. Senator Weah has been in office since 2014 and hasn’t proposed or sponsored any legislation.
“As a presidential candidate in 2005 and vice-presidential candidate in 2011, Mr. Weah hasn’t so much as set up a football academy in Liberia. The other candidates have all been involved in Liberian politics for many years and have had an opportunity to change Liberia. Unfortunately, they have failed. I’m entering Liberian politics with clean hands, without political scores to settle, free from any corruption charges or allegations, and having largely funded my campaign out-of-pocket, free from campaign debts and the patronage system. I have the business experience and know how to jumpstart the Liberian economy. I know how to create jobs and I have managed budgets many times the size of Liberia’s national budget. My sole purpose in running is to bring my experience to transform Liberia.”
He said the Alternative National Congress has a clear agenda for Liberia. “In relation to what the government of President Sirleaf has done, we can do more to jumpstart and grow the economy, to create jobs for our young people, combat corruption, cut down on government waste and address the dire infrastructure deficit in the areas of roads, water, and power and internet connectivity.
“The Sirleaf administration has done a great deal for Liberia in keeping the peace for the past 12 years, establishing strong democratic institutions, freedom of speech, etc. We will reduce the salaries and allowances of senior government officials, use those savings to increase the pay of our civil servants, strengthen the capacity and independence of our anti-corruption institutions, privatize infrastructure development, simplify the tax code and expand the tax base, with the goal of increasing the government budget from around US$600M today to around US$2B at the end of my first term.”
Cummings said the Liberian economy has faced significant challenges in recent years, including the Ebola outbreak and the drop in commodity prices, but if elected, his administration will immediately tackle waste and corruption in government and redeploy those resources into more productive areas.
“We need to approach job creation from a short term and long term perspective. The needs are immediate, so right away we begin putting young Liberians to work in their communities by providing credit to small businesses where private capital isn’t available, and making strategic investments in agriculture and infrastructure to unlock the full potential of the Liberian agriculture sector, which is our largest employer. We can also begin making investments in teacher training, vocational and adult education that will pay dividends in the long term and empower our unemployed, underemployed or unemployable citizens to take advantage of (or create their own) economic opportunities down the road.”
Cummings said some of the wages and allowances for senior government officials and legislators have gotten completely out of control and the allowances for ministers vary by position, but some ministers get US$15,000 a month in salary and allowances. “My administration would cut that salary and allowance in half, and double the pay of a teacher making it US$100 a month. We need to reduce our spending at the top and increase the salaries of teachers, nurses, police officers, and other civil servants. Also, all 69 ANC legislative aspirants have signed a pledge to reduce their salary and wages by 50 percent, as that decision would obviously require legislative action.”
He said his administration will reduce the size of “our bureaucracy and automate some of our government systems, including payroll, so we can operate more efficiently and transparently. We need to strengthen the capacity and independence of our integrity institutions, including the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC), the General Auditing Commission (GAC), Public Procurement and Concessions Commission (PPCC), and the Internal Auditing Agency (IAA). President Sirleaf has also proposed to establish a special court to fast track corruption cases, which is an idea I support.”
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