By Elizabeth Enoanyi Hoff
The long-awaited 2017 election process is over and expectations are high that the newly elected government is going to bring about the much-needed change that Liberia needs. But from where I sit and watch, I believe that a lot of people are going to be disappointed in the first few months, if not years, of the new government’s administration because there is a widespread perception that the new government has come to solve all of the people’s problems, especially those who voted them into office.
I have listened to numerous conversations in taxi cabs and on the streets and have come to realize that the way most Liberians perceive Government is worrisome, to say the least. That perception, I believe, is one of the major reasons for the low productivity that often characterizes the government’s development efforts and the new administration needs to be aware of this.
I dare say that many people (or the ones I have listened to and interacted with since elections) see Government as a mutual looting club; as a place where riches are stored up, and all one has to do is to become a part of the club, and the riches are there for the taking.
The recent seizure of government assets by the General Services Agency (GSA) from people who are in “limbo” is a typical case in point. Most people in this category damage and misuse government/public properties without feeling even the slightest tinge of guilt. They damage and misuse public vehicles and equipment as if those things were bought with stones and not with hard-earned taxes.
How sad! But then, come to think of it, how many of them know that the vehicles they ride, or that the equipment they misuse or damage are bought with their taxes? I doubt whether we will see more patriotic and more selfless people in the new administration who are willing to be educated to this reality.
For the other school of Liberians, they see the government as a welfare organization that gives jobs to people who do not know how to perform or who are not up to the task. They are the so-called “die-hard partisans”. The new administration must be mindful of them. Such people know little or nothing at all; and because of that they grudgingly serve the public. They are civil servants and public officials but they do not see it as a public service.
For them, the government belongs to them and working for the government is all about “getting, grabbing and going.” They feel that they should be given more in return for whatever task, whether big or small, that they are performing because they have the mentality that “we voted for them.”
When that does not happen, they pay themselves off by grabbing and going with whatever comes their way – whether in cash or in kind. The old administration (and I worked in that administration) had many of these characters, and look at where we are today – the GSA seizing public assets before they disappear into thin air. What a shame.
Let me drive home the point by going down the rung of the public service ladder: Take the secretary in a government office; she is paid as a civil servant and, in some instances, receives a small allowance to supplement her monthly salary, yet she uses every opportunity to commercialize the computer or the photo copier assigned to her office.
The money generated from this bad practice goes into her handbag. I could cite several other examples because every government ministry or agency has its share of such people and the new administration is definitely going to have its own share (if it doesn’t have already). So, like we say in Liberia, “what to do?”
My suggestion: reform the civil service to attract more professional people into government who will be paid according to their performance, and set up a Body that will be responsible to ensure that administrative malpractices in the public sector are monitored and promptly addressed.
I can say without a doubt that if the civil service remains as it is, the “predators” who continue to stalk government institutions and lie in wait for the opportunity to strike (grab and go) are growing in their numbers.
About the Author:
Elizabeth Enoanyi Hoff is a free-lance journalist and former President of the Press Union of Liberia. She also served as Former Deputy Minister for Technical Services and Former Deputy Minister for Culture and Tourism at the Ministry of Information, Cultural Affairs and Tourism.