The heights by great men reached and kept
Were not attained by sudden flight
While their companions slept
Were toiling upward in the night
– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
All of us who are acquainted with Dr. Jones’ life story will readily agree that it was personalities like him that Longfellow had in mind when he penned those famous lines in his immortal poem, ‘The Ladder of St Augustine.’ For since his days at St. Joseph’s Catholic School in Sinoe, Dr. Mills Jones, the outgoing Governor of our Central Bank, has continued to demonstrate qualities of brilliance, honesty and dedication to duty that are truly commendable.
Not born with a silver nor brass spoon in his mouth, Dr. Jones, by dint of hard work and serious study, went on to achieve a doctorate in econometrics in the United States, returned to Liberia and contributed his expertise to work at the Executive Mansion and at the Ministry of Planning. Later on, he was to join the International Monetary Fund, where he once again proved his brilliance in a tenure that lasted many, many years.
When Dr. Jones was appointed Governor of the Central Bank during President Sirleaf’s first term, not many Liberians knew where the Bank was located, let alone how it could positively impact our lives. Dr. Jones succeeded in changing all that. Today, we know that the new Central Bank Building on Ashmun Street in Monrovia is arguably the best building in Liberia, what young “hip” people call “the bomb.”
More than this, under Dr. Jones’ watch, an enthusiastic and motivated staff have emerged—thanks to the program of training they have received both locally and abroad; new commercial banks have been established, each fulfilling a capital requirement of 10 million US dollars, and the foreign reserves have increased to over half a billion US dollars. But this is not all.
Over and above all this is the Governor’s program to bring banking and credit facilities to the Liberian people, particularly to the vast majority of the populace which resides outside Monrovia. Under what’s termed the Loan Extension and Availability Facility (LEAF), loans have been provided to
Liberians in all the 15 counties thus enabling our market women, farmers and other small businesspeople to earn the necessary cash to pay their expenses: School fees, clinic bills, tools and equipment, etc. etc. Loans have also been extended to Liberians grouped under the Liberian Business Association and even to those bourgeois farmers under the auspices of the Liberian Rubber Planters Association.
Laudable as Governor Jones’ policies are, particularly as they relate to the empowerment of Liberians, they have been attacked by our government, which seems to have drawn a cutlass against any attempt to empower Liberians. For why would our government—the Executive and Legislative arms—oppose the only government program providing access to credit for Liberian-owned businesses? What is wrong with a policy which takes Liberia’s money and lends it to Liberians? Doesn’t our government take Liberia’s money and give it to foreign companies in the form of duty free privileges and tax holidays?
Of course, under this regime, we have seen the wholesale concessioning out of our resources to foreign companies without any thought being given to reserving any of these resources for Liberians or even getting Liberians to partner with the foreign companies. The iron ore mines, the oil blocks, the forest—all these resources have been given to foreign companies by the Executive with the active concurrence of the Legislature.
But this is the type of policy which deepens underdevelopment. This is the strategy for achieving “growth without development”—as famously detailed by the economists from Northwestern University in the US.
That is why today life for most Liberians is poverty-stricken—and short. That is why our beloved Liberia is now rated as “the second most miserable country to live in the whole world!”
If Liberia is to make progress after 168 years of “independence”, if Liberia is to avoid another civil conflagration, we need to change strategy. We need to make the wellbeing and progress of the Liberian child, woman and man the subject and object of ALL our government’s policies and actions.
That is the challenge facing our President in the dying days of her administration. And that is the challenge with which the next President will be confronted.
Finally, as Governor Jones exits the Central Bank, he continues to bear a heavy burden. The policies he pursued regarding the empowerment of Liberians have ignited the hopes and aspirations of people throughout Liberia. Many of them now refer to the Governor as “the poverty doctor.” I heard one lady say that “since the doctor has done well in the clinic he should move to the hospital.” And the clamor will continue.
As a Catholic, my “take away” in all this is to revert to the advice given by Jesus to his disciples in Matthew 20:28: “Non veniministrari sed ministrare”—I came to serve, not to be served. Dr. Jones seems to have taken this advice.
Well done, Mills, Well done.
About the author: Ambassador (Prof) Dew Tuan-Wleh Mayson is an activist and business man.