On the 205th birth anniversary of Joseph Jenkins Roberts, first president of the Republic of Liberia, we, the members of the Association For Civic Education do hereby applaud President Joseph Jenkins Roberts for his foresight and commitment to serve humanity and the people of Liberia. The actions of President Roberts were exemplary and include:
“…cultivation of coffee, corn, potatoes, cassava, and rice, with various fruit trees in Liberia, and who bestowing over $10,000 US Dollars Bond and the 102 acres of land bearing his Coffee Farm on the Republic, to educate the Liberian Children, after his death in 1876, as a “Perpetual Foundation”.
Many Liberian leaders have ascended to power after President Roberts but it remains to be seen which leader would fully emulate the selfless examples of President Roberts which include putting the interest of Liberia ahead of personal and family interests and donating their estate to provide education for all Liberian children.
Although President Roberts is dead, he continues to inspire and equip Liberians through his estate and his selfless devotion to the advancement of all Liberians. Unfortunately, the full impact of President’s legacy may never be realized because for over a century, majority of the beneficiaries of President Roberts’ estate, the children of the Republic of Liberia have been kept in the dark about the benefits of the estate. It is unconscionable that such vital information about an estate has been kept top secret from the beneficiaries. Without awareness the trust remains breached.
Even within the Methodist Church, parishioners in the interior, including some members of the Methodist clergy seem to be out of the loop. In a recent survey conducted at the 2014 United Methodist Church Annual Conference in Gbanga, Bong County, 90% of those interviewed testified they have never seen the text of President Roberts’ Will. While keeping the valuable history lesson of President Roberts Philanthropy away from Liberian children and their parents, the story of Maltida Newport’s mass murder of indigenous Liberians became history lesson taught in all schools across Liberia.
As a consequence of keeping most Liberian children and parents in the dark, "Liberia’s education system is a mess," according to an assessment of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Greed and corruption seems to be the order of the day, with President Sirleaf calling corruption public enemy #1. Public service in Liberia has become the primary path to acquiring personal wealth for Liberia’s elite. The gap between the rich and poor continues to widen, evidenced by the outrageously high salaries politicians have assigned to themselves and their family members. The number of substandard schools and universities across Liberia is alarming according to the Chief education officer. Liberia is a country on the wrong track and heading in the wrong direction. The Liberian economy, largest churches, security sector, banks are all controlled by foreigners. Access to leadership has been rigged against ordinary Liberians without access to foreign education. Unnecessary government bureaucracies continue to be created as avenues for the elite to siphon wealth for themselves and their families, many of whom reside overseas. Laws have been enacted not for the common good of ordinary but for the benefit of multi-national corporations and the ruling elite. Although the constitution claims that “All power is inherent in the people” ordinary Liberians are powerless in the face of powerful corporations and the ruling elite. The constitution also calls for citizens to petition the legislature. However, petitioning the legislature and voting in elections have not changed the plight of ordinary Liberians.
The Sirleaf administration, from the beginning of her terms in office, struck a blow at the very core of the republican form of democracy by excluding citizens from electing local government officials who control many basic aspects of their lives. The president argued and won the authority to appoint mayors and city councilors, adding to her already vast powers which include appointment of all ministers and heads of public corporation. This act has rendered the republic impotent by usurping the powers of citizens to vote for local government posts like mayors.
Democracy in the republic seems to be at serious risk, thus jeopardizing security, justices and access to equal opportunities. For example, in obtaining the power to appoint government officials in nearly all aspects of government, Pres. Sirleaf is working to establish power in the hands of the elite few from the Diaspora. If we consider the amount of members from the Diaspora represented in high-salaried positions within the Sirleaf Administration, one can conclude that the administration has done more to enrich members of the Diaspora than it has done to improve the quality of life for ordinary Liberians. The administration set its own standards for who can work in government (including educational requirements that would be unavailable to ordinary Liberians) as well corresponding salaries and benefits that far exceed those paid to public servants across America. For a country with an annual budget of $583 million, Liberian representatives 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. In Massachusetts, where the annual budget is $36 billion dollars, lawmakers earn $62,000 yearly. In New Hampshire with a budget of $11 billion dollars, senators and representatives earn $100 yearly. In both cases, lawmakers receive no cars, gas slips, body guards, or other tangible benefits. The Sirleaf administration's standards are unrealistic, given the revenues generated by Liberia. The salaries and benefits will, in practice, only benefit Liberians of the Diaspora and these policies are helping to create an elite ruling class.
In honoring President Roberts, Liberia must move beyond mere words and embrace deeds that President Roberts valued and treasured.
As citizens of the republic of Liberia, we wish to follow the leadership of President Roberts by asserting our inalienable rights, first as human beings and as citizens of the republic. Inalienable rights are God given rights-not given by any man and rights which no man can take away. Consistent with Article 1 of the constitution of Liberia and Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which recognizes:
· (1) Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.
· (2) Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country.
· (3) The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government
And Article 1 of the Constitution of the Republic of Liberia which recognizes the people are in fact the source and origin of power and as such haveauthority to ensure that government exists primarily for the benefit of the citizens and the citizens “have the right to alter and reform the same when their safety and happiness so require”
We do hereby advance the following national solutions to the Boss, the people of the Republic of Liberia and also to the servants elected to serve the people:
1. Commission of inquiry into the administration of the estate of Joseph Jenkins Roberts since its inception for the benefit of Liberians
2. Recommend the institution of citizens initiative in Liberia. Citizens Initiative is a measure that allows citizens in a republic to exercise their inalienable rights in proposing legislation without the permission or approval of the president or the legislature who are public servants of the people. This recommendation is consistent with Article 1 of the Liberian Constitution which recognizes that all power is inherent in the people. We also recommend amending the inconsistent Article 29 of the Liberian Constitution which takes power away from citizens.
3. In keeping with the tradition of President Roberts, we recommend that all presidents, and heads of all branches of government are mandated to put their estates in trust to benefit the children of Liberia. Government should never be the avenue for acquiring personal wealth. With Roberts’ rule in place, Liberia will be a prosperous nation that guarantees justice, security and equal opportunity for all citizens and a level playing field for foreign investors to compete in a free market place.