Empowering the Locals – A Panacea of Liberia’s Socioeconomic Stagnation

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It is disheartening to note that the bulk of the Liberian people still live in abject poverty more than 10 years after the Sirleaf administration assumed the mantle of leadership.

Though this government has achieved some successes in the areas of health, education, road construction, and also guaranteed free speech for the Liberian people, it has failed to back its pledge for “zero tolerance on corruption as declared in President Sirleaf’s inaugural address of January 16, 2006.

Undeniably, development is at a snail’s pace, or confronted with stagnation because corruption continues to serve as a deterrent to their development and economic growth of the nation. It is increasing the gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’, and broadening the inequality in access to basic social services at an alarming rate than imaginable.

The urgency of the need to empower the locals must be emphasized, as there is an inherent danger to Liberia’s hard earned peace in having the vast majority of the citizenry without sufficient food, health, education and shelter while a privileged few especially in government circles enjoy unprecedented luxury.

The late visionary Liberian President William R. Tolbert, in a speech delivered at Bethlehem Steel Corporation in Pennsylvania, U.S.A. on June 11, 1973, asserted amongst others that: “A man cannot develop those skills. A man cannot think about his fellowman. A man can not begin to develop a sense of community at all – when each of his days is nothing more than a personal battle to survive”.

The need for grassroots Liberians to be emancipated from economic bondage cannot be overemphasized. This is precisely why the government must be forceful in instituting policies within its own circles and those of the private sector geared towards increasing the economic wellbeing of the locals. This does not imply dishing out ‘handouts’ to the poor, but rather the empowerment of the locals to enable them take their destiny into their own hands.

More importantly, the process of marginalization of the Liberian people has to be reversed through the formulation and implementation of people-oriented policies that respect local views and priorities in order to forge a more equitable income distribution. Imagine how decent life would be for ordinary Liberians if the revenues generated by government were utilized for the great benefit of the Liberian people.

Sadly, the huge disparity between the salaries of civil servants and those of the bureaucrats is alarming. This is unfair and clearly reflects poor economic management. In the private sector, such as private security guard services and construction companies, it is disparaging to find employers paying their workers ‘peanuts’ for wages because these entities are more interested in profit making than fostering the wellbeing of their workers. This gross injustice is enhanced with impunity owing to the bonds between these entities and the bureaucrats.

To improve the quality of life in Liberia, the idea of building a society based on joint, voluntary action by well-meaning Liberians must become a reality. Established business people and professionals will have to share their financial resources and/or knowledge with less fortunate Liberians through job creation, financial assistance and instituting skills training. There must be a strong commitment particularly on the part of government to reduce poverty and accelerate development through the empowerment of the locals.

On the other hand, the locals must not sit supinely and expect development to be delivered on “silver platter”. They must put their ‘foot down’ and say a big “No” to being marginalized by a few visionless Liberians in the government circles.

Let me close with this excerpt from the inaugural address delivered by U.S. President Ronald Reagan on January 20, 1981:

“Those who do work are denied a fair return for their labor by a tax system which penalizes successful achievement and keeps us from maintaining full productivity.

“But great as our tax burden is, it has not kept pace with public spending. For decades we have piled deficit upon deficit, mortgaging our future and our children’s future for the temporary convenience of the present. To continue this long trend is to guarantee tremendous social, cultural, political and economic upheavals…

“In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem… Our government has no power except that granted it by the people. It is time to check and reverse the growth of government, which show signs of having grown beyond the consent of the governed.

“It is my intention to curb the size and influence of the federal establishment… The federal government did not create the states; the states created the federal government.

“Now so there will be no misunderstanding, it is not my intention to do away with government. It is rather to make it work with us, not over us; to stand by our side, not ride on our back…

“So, with all the creative energy at our command, let us begin an era of national renewal. Let us renew our determination, our courage, and our strength. And let us renew our faith and our hope.”

Jahbulleh Dempster is Chairman of Concerned Residents/Liberia – a humanitarian NGO founded to help forge the growth and development of Mama – Liberia. His articles often published in Daily Observer reflect his ardent desire for social reforms in the Liberian society.

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