The Delegate of the European Union (EU), Ambassador Tiina Intelmann, during a live broadcast on the state radio ELBA last Thursday, gave some sound advice to the Liberian Nation and people.
Her first point was targeted at the National Elections Commission (NEC), but not NEC only, but to the Liberian government as a whole, to all political parties and independent candidates, to civil society and to the media.
Liberia, she suggested, must embark upon “a robust sensitization campaign” that will give Liberian voters full knowledge of the 2017 Presidential and Legislative elections.
The lack of education and sensitization, she warned, would lead to suspicion and lack of confidence in the electoral process. This makes a lot of sense. We all saw what happened this very week in La Cote d’Ivoire when a leading opposition candidate for President pulled out of the impending elections because, according to him, “it would not be free and fair.” He suspected rigging in the process. Whether or not this is true, it tends to undermine and raise suspicions about the process, which is most unfortunate.
Let that not happen in Liberia. One definite way to avoid this is for the Elections Commission to conduct its affairs in a credible and transparent manner that will reassure the Liberian people and the international community that the polls – both President and Legislative – will be free, fair and transparent.
We say that Ambassador Intelmann was speaking not to NEC alone, but to all of us, especially to all political parties and candidates, to civil society and to the media. All of us have an important part to play in this process. It must be said, however, that NEC must take the lead in the education and sensitization process.
NEC should make sure that the voters have all the education and information they need to prepare them for the poll. This includes how to vote, where to vote and when to vote.
Another very important aspect is WHO is eligible to vote. In one recent senatorial election in Lofa County it was alleged that one candidate brought in truck loads of people from neighboring Guinea to participate in that poll.
Until now Liberia still does not have an effective and efficient I.D. Card system. This will be a serious challenge for NEC, which must register all eligible voters in every voting precinct.
A complete list of all voter registration points must be publicized by NEC on national and community radio stations. Engagement of radio is important because of the high level of illiteracy in the country.
This list of voter registration points should also be published in credible newspapers too, that reach the people. The role of newspapers in this process is important for two reasons: first, because though not the majority, a lot of people read newspapers which are institutions of RECORD. What is missed or forgotten from radio can be found in the printed word.
Political parties and candidates should also be involved in the education and sensitization process. And so should civil society and the media.
In her broadcast, Ambassador Intelmann gave two other important pieces of advice. Liberians, she admonished, must strive to improve their own lives and restore institutional confidence. They should, secondly, engage in business and economic activities.
The EU Ambassador linked this last advice to a sad but important global statistic: Liberia is still among the world’s least developed countries.
This, unfortunately, is a point that too many or most of our government officials – or people close to power – do not get. And this is a point that this newspaper constantly makes: that Liberians must enter the serious business sector, and should be encouraged by government to do so. Too many government officials, however, are too quick to give loans and contracts to foreigners. Nor has the Liberian government from President W.R. Tolbert’s time until now, ever been serious about its policy of reserving certain businesses for Liberians.
The bottom line, though, is that we Liberians should strive to be entrepreneurial – to start, develop and sustain businesses and be determined to play a greater role in our economy. For so long as Liberians remain outside the economy dominated by foreigners, so long will Liberians remain trapped in abject poverty and so long will this oldest African Republic remain counted among the world’s least developed countries.
But it does not have to be that way. Only we however, encouraged and backed by our government, can change that.
This, we believe, is one of the cardinal attributes Liberian voters should be looking for among the Presidential and Legislature candidates in the 2017 electoral campaign. Who among them is best suited and most committed to empower Liberians in business?