Hundreds of youths dressed in reflective jackets can be seen daily roaming the streets of Monrovia and its environs going from house to house to elicit information apparently in preparation for delivery of the long-promised food relief assistance package. As the Daily Observer has noted in a previous editorial, the exercise currently being conducted appears haphazard and there are strong concerns about the integrity of the exercise, especially the reliability of the information being generated.
This, in the opinion of the Daily Observer, is a recipe for trouble which can simply be avoided by taking the necessary corrective measures to foster and strengthen transparency and accountability in order to galvanize public support for the food relief assistance package promised by President Weah.
Already there is information suggesting that enumerators are making deals with household heads to inflate the size of household as a way of getting extras for their personal benefit. This practice was prevalent during past years when relief food assistance was distributed on the basis of size of household to families in Monrovia. And much too often, confusion did break out over issues of fairness and transparency in the delivery of the food assistance package.
What is even more troubling is the fact the enumeration exercise appears not to be characterized by professional diligence. These youths are going about their information gathering duties without note pads or clip-boards on which to record information elicited from respondents.
Although these youths claim to have been trained and deployed by the Liberian Institute for Geo-statistical Information Services(LISGIS), the fact that they do not carry a prepared questionnaire along with writing materials speaks volumes about the entire exercise. It appears as though there is a political twist to this exercise in view of public complaints that the youths deployed on the streets are all partisans or supporters of the CDC.
Whatever the case, officials of this government need to be aware of the politically sensitive nature of the COVID-19 food relief assistance package. For four long months, the economy has been in a virtual state of hibernation amid excruciating economic hardships.
The extension of the lockdown period by another 30 days will have an even more crippling effect on the economy in the face of real fears that some business may never recover from the state of COVID-19 induced hibernation.
Even more unsettling is the predatory conduct of public officials for who nothing is done for public reasons or in the interest of the public neither, do they recognize that public purposes exists.
Their rapacious attitude dulls their sense of propriety, of what is right and wrong. Thus, they have no moral compunctions about anything. They do not follow any rules. In their world view, according to Galbraith, rules are not designed to guide behavior but laid down to define the limits of unpunished conduct. Criminal behavior is not only fostered but rewarded.
Little wonder, therefore, that the COVID-19 response effort is riddled with corruption and seemingly, there appears to be little or no attempt to set things right. For example, with the exception of a few — those assigned at the 14 Military Hospital — health workers have not been paid hazardous duty benefits although there are strong indications that donors have provided funds to pay incentives to front-liners(health workers).
Officials of the Ministry of Health have since remained tight-lipped on the issue despite the publicly expressed concerns of medical doctors, nurses and allied health workers. Such a situation can be attributed to nothing else but inordinate greed on the part of officials of this government.
And it appears, given the signs, that the doctors, nurses and allied health workers will end up short-changed, except of course by some miracle or divine intervention that will speak directly to the heart of President Weah to have him issue explicit instructions to pay health workers their just due and avoid looming strike action.
Other public sector employees, especially security officers, have also complained of being short-changed, denied their benefits for their service to the nation during the period of the COVID-19 outbreak. According to some security officers (names withheld), they were initially promised to receive US$15 per day, then later it was reduced to 5USD per day and that still has not been forthcoming. This situation has without doubt created a wellspring of ill-will amongst the security, which does not augur well for national stability.
Against this backdrop, distribution of the promised food relief package, if not handled with great sensitivity, could instead produce unforeseen and unwanted consequences which can easily be avoided by doing the right thing. And doing the right thing in this case is to let the professionals take charge of generating the requisite data.
This means that LISGIS should take charge of collecting collating and interpreting the data. And it goes without saying that the data collection process should be professionally handled by those with the training in data collection rather than entrusting it to groups of untrained and unequipped youths roaming the city in what they say is an enumeration exercise.
While it remains unclear what items the food basket will include, it is widely assumed that rice, the national staple will form part of the food basket. Liberians in general hold nothing dearer to their hearts than rice. In 1979, the mass public protest demonstration which was bloodily crushed nearly brought down the Tolbert Government and left it hanging by a thread, subsequently crashing to the ground just one year later.
Public officials must be guided by this experience and must be ever mindful that it was on charges of rampant corruption that 13 former officials were publicly executed after a mock trial. The instability which followed there after continues to haunt us till today. It is the dread of instability and the adverse consequences they portend that impels this newspaper to keep tolling the bells. And, as Hemmingway wrote, “ask not for whom the bells toll because they toll for thee”.