Armed Forces Day Letter to Liberia: Time for Systemic Change by Citizens, Not Politicians

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Yesterday was the celebration of Armed Forces Day. We love the men and women of the military and wish them well in their career. On Armed Forces Day, it’s fair to say that the army and police protect the politicians. Politicians have body guards, drivers and cooks. Most of the politicians in Liberia claim to be trained in the United States. However, all across the United States most public servants, including senators and representatives, do not have personal body guards. So while the Liberian National Army is protecting the politicians, who protect the citizens? Service to the country must begin with those at the top. If they cannot serve, they cannot lead. If those who cannot serve are the ones who lead, then the system in which they lead cannot benefit the people. If the system is not benefiting the people, the system must be changed.

The current political system in Liberia, like those in most post-colonial African countries is lacking in its legitimacy because the government is not representative of majority of the citizens it governs. From the very inception of the republic of Liberia in 1847 the system of governance deliberately excluded a vast majority of citizens from voting and any input in decision making.  Centuries later, in the just concluded ‘2014 Special Senatorial Elections’ the question of legitimacy has worsened with a whopping 74.8% of registered voters seeing no reasons for which to vote. They refused to legitimize a political ‘merry-go-round’, which, by design, can never benefit majority of the citizens. Contrary to the Constitution, it is politicians – not citizens – who have supreme powers in Liberia. Even if the current cohort of senators did win 100% of the 25.2% of registered voters who bothered to vote in the 2014 Special Elections, those in power today lack the mandate to rule because the system into which they are being baptized is intrinsically corrupt and out of touch with the majority of the electorate.

In a democratic system, public servants are paid to serve. In Liberia, politicians are not servants so exactly what are they paid to do? With the 2015 annual budget of $660 million, Liberian representatives each earn at least $84,000 per year while cabinet ministers and heads of public corporations can take home up to $180,000 excluding benefits such as gas slips, medical benefits, and housing privileges. Compare the salaries in poverty stricken Liberia to Massachusetts, USA, where the 2015 annual budget is $36 billion dollars and where lawmakers earn $62,000 salary yearly. In New Hampshire with a budget of $11 billion dollars, senators and representatives earn a meager $200 USD per two year term. In both cases, these American lawmakers receive no cars, no drivers, no gas slips, no body guards, or other tangible benefits.

The Liberian presidency now wields more power than President Barack Obama, the Pope and the Queen of England combined. Unlike Obama, the Liberian president appoints all governors of all 15 political subdivisions, all mayors of all cities across Liberia, all cabinet members, all heads of public corporations and the judges at Supreme Court. With such greater powers, things have gone from bad to worse. Thousands of students in colleges and universities will never get a job upon graduation and everyone is sending their children to school. Liberia is in trouble and the politicians are not going to talk about it because the flawed system benefits them.

In order to provide civic education to Liberians and prepare citizens to lead, four Liberians have been selected to attend the Citizens’ Initiatives annual conference and training at Citizens University, Seattle, Washington will convene on March 20, 2015. Scholarships are awarded to deserving participates based on their accomplishments and organizing skills for social change.

Universal Human Rights International (UHRI) is inviting 10 individuals from Africa to join me, including 4 Liberians. The goal is to give Liberians the necessary skills to peacefully change the corrupt system in Liberia by incorporating citizens Initiatives into the laws of Liberia. Citizens Initiatives gives supreme powers to citizens, not politicians, allowing citizens to propose laws and repeal laws without the permission or approval of the legislature or president. In 2014, there were over 150 ballot measures across the USA, including one in Washington State to increase minimum wage to $15 an hour and another in Arizona to limit the salaries of politicians.  

Liberia needs systemic change. Change, consistent with Article one of the Constitution which clearly states that the citizens, not the politicians, have supreme powers in the republic. Liberia is neither a real republic nor a true democracy because supreme power in Liberia rests in the hands of politicians, not citizens. Everyone knows this. And no one can clean up a pool of muddy water by jumping into it. Contrary to what the President says, ‘dual citizenship’ is not the answer. Election is not democracy. Liberians have been voting since 1847 but citizens will never benefit from their citizenship until the politicians become public servants and citizens become the masters of the republic. Therefore no matter who runs for office, nothing will change until the corrupt system is changed peacefully by the people, consistent with Article one of the Constitution, which says the people have a right to change the system if it ceases to serve them.

Liberia works but it works only for the elites. As long as politicians have supreme powers, anyone running for office does so to enrich themselves and their families but not to serve the common good.

The names of Liberians attending Citizens Initiatives training in the United States are Joe Luamba Jr. graduating senior, University of Liberia and country Director for UHRI Liberia; Kelvin Demey, Journalist; Elvina Kolleh, Nurse; and Activist, Samuel David. They will be joining thousands of people from around the world to learn new skills on how citizens can bring about systemic change to their countries. The training will be in Seattle Washington State beginning on March 20, 2015.

Citizens’ Initiative is a process of a participatory democracy that empowers the people to propose legislation and to enact or reject the laws at the polls independent of the lawmaking power of the legislature or the president. The purpose of such an initiative is to permit the electorate to resolve issues where their elected representatives fail to do so or refuse to proceed with a change that the public desires. Citizens’ Initiative exists in Switzerland, The European Union and United States. No country in Africa has currently has citizens initiatives.

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