The first day of the presidential debates began yesterday in Ganta, Nimba County with presidential candidates promising to improve education, carry out land reforms, find a solution to the country’s dual currencies and encourage patriotism among the citizenry, among other reforms. The “Ducor Debates” is being held under the authority of the Liberia Media Development Initiative (LMDI) and the Public Trust Media Group (PTMG), and is focused on several crucial national issues, including the expected National Referendum on dual citizenship, the land reform acts, dual currency, constitution demarcation on post-2017 election for a possible return of a constitutional threshold and the issue of moving the capital from Monrovia to Zekepa. Others include the uphill task of fighting corruption, an effective method for reconciling Liberians, transitional justice, and the implementation of recommendations in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) report.
Five of the presidential candidates, including Dr. H. Boima Fahnbulleh, Jr. (Liberia People’s Party), Mr. MacDonald Wento (United People’s Party), Mr. Simeon Freeman (Movement for Progressive Change), Ms. MacDella Cooper (Liberia Restoration Party) and Rev. William Kpadeh (Independent), made strong cases with impressive arguments about what they would do if elected. In their arguments, Wento, Cooper and Fahnbulleh promised to support dual citizenship as well as dual currency, with Freeman and Kpadeh arguing that dual citizenship brews corruption and a high level of unpatriotic behavior, because such individuals do not have love for the country due to their double allegiance. Wento said: “Liberia will have to be able to export goods to other countries to be able to have a single currency and if that is not done and we still decide to have a single currency, the inflation rate will be high.” On dual citizenship, he said it will stabilize the country economically, allowing those living in the Diaspora to come back home and contribute to the building of the nation. He also outlined peace building, reconciliation, infrastructure, education, agriculture (food production) and healthcare, with an emphasis on safe drinking water, adding, “Our focus point will be the youth, women, and children when we take office.”
Dr. Fahnbulleh in his argument said “You do not have to reside here (in Liberia) [in order to be] patriotic. A person can come from abroad and become patriotic and also become a criminal, like those that are living here.” He vowed to reform the legislature, where every sector will have equal rights, pointing out that civil society will have 37 seats in parliament and the government will reduce the number of senators from each county to one, with the position occupied by traditional leaders. “Liberians are not totally represented in the House, my government will allow teachers and rubber tappers to have their own representatives to talk on their behalf,” he said.
Another supporter of dual citizenship and dual currency, Ms. MacDella Cooper, outlined education, healthcare, electricity, decentralization of the government and land reforms, saying that she will put more emphasis on education. Rev. William Kpadeh said Liberians have moved away from God and therefore the country needs spiritual healing. He outlined reconciliation, security for all Liberians, where every citizen will have a social security number, and build up science and technology to give students access to the global world. Mr. Freeman spoke against dual currency and dual citizenship and vowed to create 55,000 jobs every year, cut down government spending by reducing the size of ministries, reduce the salary of senators, cut down the number of embassies to five, and privatize all government hospitals to ensure better healthcare services to Liberians.
A new schedule for the debate is yet to be announced by the organizers, but the turnout yesterday was very good, participants said. This is the first time for a presidential debate to be held outside Monrovia and many people in Ganta described the hosting of the debate here as a milestone.
Meanwhile, among those candidates who failed to show up for the debate were VP Joseph Boakai, George Weah and Charles Walker Brumskine, Prince Y. Johnson, Alexander Cummings and Benoni Urey.
Although there was a lot of interest in the debate, which was well-attended, many were unhappy because their candidates of choice did not show up, and did so without notice. A lady identified as Jestina Moore said she was disappointed that many of the presidential candidates did not show up for the debate, but praised those who did. James M. Kollie, who attended the debate from Gbarnga, Bong County, said, “I came purposely to see what the UP, LP and the CDC will say, but to my utmost surprise, their standard bearers did not show up. We were hoping to hear them defend their big promises they made on radio, and I wanted to ask them how they were going to get the money to do what they have promised to do for the people if elected,” he said.