The government of Liberia has made a clarion call for all Liberians to get on board and join the fight against the deadly Coronavirus. At a critical time like this when Liberians and the world at large need to kept abreast of developments through the media both formal and informal, it appears the government of Liberia through the Ministry of Information is doing everything possible to stifle media coverage of the 14-day lockdown imposed by President Weah.
Liberians are left wondering just what government is trying to hide. Since the launch of the campaign against the Coronavirus it appears to have taken on a twist analogous to and indistinguishable a campaign designed to gain political mileage. In the first instance you have thousands of hand wash buckets with faucets adorned with the photo of President Weah and emblazoned on them is the inscription “Weah Project”.
And the buckets are being distributed in communities around Monrovia by CDC partisans. Similarly placed is Vice President Jewel Howard Taylor who also has her photo emblazoned on hand-wash buckets. Additionally hundreds if not thousands of youths have been roaming the city doing what they call awareness about the Coronavirus which many citizens are complaining is increasing the risk of spreading the infection even more widely.
Strangely, the media is being sidelined for purposes difficult to explain. Even stranger is the fact that the Ministry of Health (MoH) and the National Public Health Institute of Liberia (NPHIL), both of which should be at the forefront of the fight against the Coronavirus have been declared non essential and the fight instead is being led by a motley crew amongst whom Mary Broh stands out as the most credible; however she is hamstrung because everything that has to do with resources, both donor and GoL funding as well as logistics, are to be handled by President Weah’s confidante and Senior Protocol officer, Ms. Finda Bundoo .
This in itself raises questions bordering on the credibility and integrity of the Executive Committee against the Coronavirus. It remains to be seen whether donor agencies rather than channeling resources through official and legitimate state institutions would do so through a quasi-official and ad hoc body whose accountability mechanism remains shrouded or, at best, undisclosed.
Additionally, the public has expressed fears about the officially announced deployment of AFL units on the streets of Monrovia who are charged, along with other state security units, to enforce lock-down measures. The AFL since its restructuring has been described as a force for good, however its record of interaction with the public has been less than desirable with reports of harassments including rape, torture and extra-judicial killing.
Is it the fear of such possible abuses coming to public light through the media is what government officials fear? Many in the public fear that President Weah is being ill advised and goaded into taking steps that militate against the public interest and this will certainly not augur well for him. Neither will the appointment of “Yes men and women” to fill positions on the National Elections Commission guarantee victory at the polls in the pending 2020 Senatorial elections as well as the 2023 general and presidential elections.
In all this, it appears the health and safety of the Liberian people plays second fiddle to image building stunts of a few highly placed individuals. And if this is actually the case, then I would strongly urge President Weah to have a rethink.
Rather than being preoccupied with grandiose visions of a second term, he should instead focus on the remaining years of his tenure of which he still has plenty and deliver the goods to the Liberian people.
As regards the media, Minister Eugene Nagbe should be aware that his policy of exclusion of journalists and media institutions that do not “follow the script” will eventually prove to be his and that of this government’s undoing. Why? It is because the exclusion of independent and credible journalists and media institutions will simply help send the rumor mill into overdrive, make nonsense of this policy of exclusion and enhance public approval of news reportage on social media, much of which could possibly be fake news.
Minister Nagbe should therefore consider well and have a rethink of his policy of exclusion because, from all appearances, the public believes it is intended to hide or keep under wraps the actual use and expenditure funds allocated to fight the Coronavirus. This includes donor funds as well as funds generated from domestic revenue sources.
Lest it be forgotten, during the 2014 Ebola epidemic, millions of dollars were contributed to Liberia to assist in the fight against Ebola. Sadly millions of dollars, it is now being revealed, went into private pockets without accountability.
The mere fact that Liberia was initially left out of donor funding for the fight against this most recent pandemic strongly suggests that there are many unresolved accountability issues hanging over this government.
And so in light of the above, he question remains: is this is a fight for political mileage or a fight against the Coronavirus? The Liberian people want to know what their government is doing for them and not what public officials acting in their private capacities are doing for them and that includes the President and Vice President whose photos are now emblazoned on hand-wash buckets.
As a Christian, the Vice President needs to be reminded of the Biblical parable (Luke 18.9-14) of the Pharisee and the Publican (tax collector) who both went to the temple to pray. The long and short of that Parable is we reveal our true selves in what we say and that self-righteous pride is unacceptable, an abomination to God.
The Vice President’s justification for emblazoning her photo on hand-wash buckets are therefore tantamount to nothing more than a display of self-righteous pride. It is unacceptable to the Liberian people and it is completely unacceptable to God.