The political leader of the All Liberian Party (ALP), Benoni Urey, says Liberia can become a prosperous and developed nation only when political leaders change their ‘master mentality’ and become servants of the people.
In his New Year message to the nation delivered over the weekend in Monrovia, Urey said Liberians’ precarious situations are such that the leaders want to accrue everything to themselves, thereby leaving the masses, whom they have been called to serve, in abject poverty and illiteracy.
“A healthy and prosperous life continues to elude most of our citizens, not because they are not working hard, but because they toil in a country that has reserved the best for people who misrule them because officials of government make decisions that affect the lives of all citizens,” Urey said.
He said, “Government officials ask us to make sacrifices by paying more taxes, take less money home, go to unlicensed health centers with untrained workers, and send our children to inferior schools and colleges.”
While Liberians are making sacrifices, he said government officials have not taken pay cuts in salaries and benefits, instead they take more money home to support their luxurious lifestyles, seeking medical attention abroad and sending their children and political allies to the best schools in the world at the expense of the Liberian people.
Austerity measures cannot only be directed at ordinary citizens while officials of government continue to live extravagant lifestyles, Urey said.
“Other countries are prospering because they put the interests of their citizens first, but in our country it is the other way around,” he said, adding that governments everywhere are servants and not masters of the people.
He said current Liberian leaders have forgotten from whence they came, adding: “Few years ago, many of those who run our government today were ordinary citizens living in wretched conditions.
“We elected and supported their appointments with the hope that they would make our lives better, instead they only care for themselves, but not much for the ordinary Liberians.
“Over the 11 years of this administration, while very little progress was made in the lives of Liberians, despite our hard work and yearning for peace and despite the abuses meted out to us by the system that continues to deny us the basic necessities of life, we Liberians have shown our resilience.”
The government, Urey noted, is not creating an enabling environment for economic expansion because the tax base is not growing, and instead the government squeezes more taxes out of the shrinking base.
He noted that in 2016, the Liberian Government increased taxes on goods and services from 7 to 10 percent, while it sought to impose excessive taxes by increasing the cost of clearing a container by Liberian importers at the Freeport of Monrovia by nearly 300 percent.
Bad economic and fiscal governance continue to obstruct progress in the country under the UP administration, Urey said. “It is bad economics to increase taxes when our economic growth rate is declining while the government makes only half-hearted attempts to reduce expenditure.
“In times of economic hardship, it is incumbent upon our leaders to also make sacrifices including drastically reducing spending. But instead, legislative perks, unbudgeted and off budget spending are not being controlled. In the midst of the hardship, prices are increasing due to the depreciation of the
Liberian dollar and the additional taxes imposed,” he added.
The increment of the least commodity on the Liberian market, a sachet of mineral water that has gone from L$5 to L$10, is a clear consequence of this situation. “We cannot afford to impose such hardship upon the poorest people in our midst, especially when the government itself cannot provide potable water for them,” he said.
An optimistic Urey noted that though 2017 is a critical year for national decision making through the ballot box, it can be a better year.
“This will be a lot better than the challenges and tribulations we endured in 2016 and years before. On an optimistic note, 2017 can be a year of change. We can change our present circumstances and improve our future by making the right choices this year during the elections,” he said.
Liberians, Urey indicated, can change the direction of their country, and this change can only come through free, fair and transparent elections.
He said that it is therefore incumbent upon the national leadership to ensure free, fair and transparent elections and subsequently a smooth transition, the first in 73 years since 1944.
“We have the opportunity to proceed on an irreversible path of democratic governance, which will ensure inclusive economic growth and development.
“We can rise up to be a great nation, as we are blessed with all the potentials, including a vast arable land mass, abundant water and natural resources, and best of all our greatest asset, human resources,” he said.
He refuted the logic of those who say Liberia is doomed. “Liberia is not doomed. We have the potential to be a healthy, prosperous and creative nation,” he said.
“Let us make 2017 the beginning of the big push that will lead us to sustained development where our hopes, dreams and vision of a new Liberia will be achieved.”