We have never heard President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf address County Superintendents in a more candid fashion.
Inducting Chairman Etweeda Cooper, Grand Bassa Superintendent, and other leaders of the Superintendents Council into office in Gbarnga last week, President Sirleaf, commended them on their ascendancy to leadership among their colleagues, but emphatically told them that their induction by her did “not guarantee that they could not be changed if the need arises.”
The warning coincided with the launching of the National De-centralization Platform (NDP).
In her induction statement, President Sirleaf told the Superintendents that maintaining their positions “will depend on your ability to carry out well your jobs, to maintain the policies and procedures and ensure that the government achieves its development objectives.
“As government begins the full decentralization process,” the President declared, “Superintendents’ responsibilities will increase considerably and they must be up to the task with a high level of integrity.”
She demanded integrity in managing public resources that would be allocated for specific purposes. “We require all Superintendents to manage these resources with efficiency, honesty and a deep sense of responsibility,” the President stated.
She urged them to exercise commitment to government’s development agenda and loyalty to country in everything they do; and appealed to them to build strong relationships with the various traditional leaders, development partners and other stakeholders in the communities and share knowledge of activities in their counties.
“We expect that they will work with traditional leaders and with all of those in the society that share in the responsibility of maintaining peace and development; that they will show respect for and work with authorities in the Legislature and the Executive, from [whom they will take guidance] in carrying out their functions effectively,” she admonished.
We find the President’s remarks most appropriate and cogent (well argued), for they came just as these Superintendents, for the first time in history, have been given very serious responsibilities. For years the Governance Commission has been laboring to design a system that will ensure the much heralded “devolution of power,” which means a lot of the power which the Constitution has hitherto reserved for the Liberian President, will now be transferred to the local level, under the leadership of Superintendents in all 15 counties.
In her address at the NDP launching last week, President Sirleaf said “an important part of the decentralization program is to establish government centers in all the counties as our resources allow. This will be a major undertaking in which we will commit a lot of resources.”
The President’s specific directive is that Superintendents from henceforth “are to confer with the authorities to coordinate and manage delivery of services to their counties.”
She added, “All Ministry and Agency staffs deployed to the counties shall fall under the County Superintendent.”
The President called on the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning (MFPD) to expedite what she called “County Treasuries.” This, she said, will make it possible for all GOL employees, especially those of the Ministries of Education and Health—the teachers and health workers—to receive their salaries in their respective counties.
“It is really you who will be on the spot, Ellen told the Superintendents. If we get it wrong, we will be in serious trouble because there will be recentralization. If we get it right, you and your people will take the credit.”
And so will the government of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf! She and her government will definitely take the credit.
This means that a lot of money will be flowing directly to the counties. But WAIT: We all know what has been happening to the County Development Funds in MOST of the counties: chop, chop chop, so that the development activities that should have been undertaken in all 15 counties have failed because of dishonesty and downright thievery—not only on the part of many local officials, but also the Legislators who demanded that they be allowed to interfere with these funds.
The President has to be a lot tougher than she has been so far, and insist that these Superintendents exercise their new power and responsibilities with transparency, accountability, commitment and dedication to duty.
With rigid insistence upon implementation, the devolution of power is bound to succeed.