Over the past few weeks Liberian commercial banks have published in the local newspapers massive lists of defaulters in a desperate bid to “name and shame” them, and get them to pay their debts. The vast majority of these, most unfortunately, are Liberians.
The very next point we wish to make in this Editorial is to pose this very, very serious question to ALL our presidential candidates. Yes, you want to be President of Liberia, but do you really know whom you want to lead? Do you really know your people?
The people petitioning you, who crowd your campaign rallies, the people demanding that you should run—do you know them?
Do you know what is in your people’s heart? Well, that is admittedly a tough one, for only God knows what is in people’s hearts. But surely, every presidential candidate should be reading the newspapers, listening to the news and talk shows on radio and TV. Most of your supporters are riding the buses and taxies and are hearing, or even participating in, what people are saying about Liberia, its government and about themselves.
So each presidential candidate should have a good idea of WHO the Liberian people really are.
What, for example, is each presidential candidate’s take on the tens of millions of dollars—Liberian and United States dollars—which the people, mostly Liberian, owe the banks and refuse to pay?
Does this tell the presidential candidates whom they are dealing with? Does this give the presidential candidates an idea of who their people really are? Are those who want you to lead them a serious people? Do they have integrity? Do they have a sense of discipline? A sense of justice and fair play? A sense of patriotism? Or are they just a bunch of happy go lucky people—gravy seekers without commitment, without direction, purpose or seriousness about anything, including themselves?
Are these the people you really want to lead? Most presidential candidates tell us they want to change Liberia for the better. Do you who are running for president know that you can, can never do this without the full involvement and full participation of the people? So, are they ready to join you in seriously executing your vision for Liberia?
If they are, why are they not paying their legitimate debts to the banks? We are not only talking about the high and mighty – we know of two presidential aspirants, a number of senior cabinet officials and a handful of legislators – among many others who are named. We are also talking about ordinary people who have shown up at the banks and pleaded for loans; and as soon as the banks take them seriously, have compassion on them and give them the loans, they straightaway start defaulting, using the money on women, men, travel and anything else instead of focusing on their businesses or investments.
At last count, our people, yes, our own Liberian people, with very few Lebanese and other foreign exceptions, owed the banks hundreds of millions of Liberian dollars and a staggering US$70 million.
And yet these same Liberians blame the government for everything wrong in the country. True, the GOL holds the leadership in its hands. But the best leader must have good followers, too. Without good followers, how far can good leaders carry us? Not far!
These unscrupulous bank defaulters make us at the Daily Observer newspaper look foolish, stupid and bad. For here we are, day after day quarreling, pleading with the government to give Liberians a better opportunity in business, toward empowering them to take a higher stake in the economy, and here are the same Liberian people we are advocating for, the same Liberian people this newspaper has constantly put its neck on the chopping block for, borrowing money from the banks and REFUSING to pay it back!
The Lebanese business tycoon, Ezzat Eid, in an exclusive interview with the Daily Observer last week, was asked, “Why do you not have Liberian partners?”
“I want Liberian partners and I am prepared to offer them 25 percent, 50 percent, 51 percent or even 60 percent of my businesses—the Royal Grand Hotel, the Aluminum and Paint factories, and City Builders. But I am looking for serious Liberians.”
Mr. Eid added, “The problem I see with Liberians, my brother, is that they always want quick money. They do not look at the long term.”
We ask our presidential candidates, suppose when any of you rise to the presidency, you start demanding that foreign businesspeople share their businesses substantially with Liberians, in order to afford them a higher stake in the economy, and these same Liberians start fronting, or start behaving with indiscipline, showing up late for work, misusing the funds of the business and failing to meet their financial obligations to their foreign partners? What will you, the President, do?
This is why we are asking ALL our presidential candidates, do you know your people? How can you help cure their innate (in born characteristic) weaknesses? Because unless you do that, you can stay in the Mansion as long as Tubman, and Liberia will never change.
Your first responsibility, therefore, as you seek this highest office in the land, is to think very hard about HOW TO CURE Liberians of their innate weaknesses. This, we submit, is the sine qua non (the absolute indispensability) to your success as President of Liberia.