It is always a positive thing for people to sit and discuss problems and how to deal with them.
That is what the Governance Commission and the Ministry of Commerce are planning as they jointly organize the Romeo Horton Lecture Series, scheduled for next week in Monrovia. We are sure that the organizers will succeed in assembling some masterful speakers to TALK about how Liberians should be empowered in business. This forum should be given every encouragement, for as Winston Churchill reminded us, “Talk, talk, talk is better than “war, war, war.”
As much, however, as we at the Daily Observer are prepared to promote this “Horton Lecture Series,” we find ourselves compelled to caution our compatriots that talk has its limitations: “TALK is cheap” and without ACTION, amounts to nothing!
The article which our young reporter David Yates wrote for the Observer Business and Economy Page last Wednesday recalled some policies of past governments aimed at empowering Liberians in business. Trouble was and remains, the policies were all paper talk, amounting to little or nothing.
Take for example the US$1 million loan scheme which the Tubman administration created to help Liberian businesses. Yet Tubman’s Open Door Policy did everything to encourage foreign business people and little to encourage Liberians in business. Take, for example, what happened to the visionary and hardworking A. Romeo Horton. After graduating an eighth grader in 1937 from the Booker Washington Institute (BWI), along with A.B. Anderson, another great Liberian entrepreneur and founder of West Africa’s first modern funeral service, and Joseph Boayue, former Secretary of Public Works and Utilities, Horton later entered the Wharton School of Finance, University of Pennsylvania, where he studied Banking and Finance. He returned home shortly thereafter with a dream to open the first Liberian-owned bank. With the help of his father, Daniel R. Horton, a rubber planter and landholder, Romeo accomplished his dream in the mid-1950s by opening the Bank of Liberia, the first Liberian-owned bank. But guess what! President Tubman did not put any government money into this bank. All of the government money was deposited in Firestone’s Bank, the Bank of Monrovia. But Romeo was undeterred. He quietly expanded and developed his bank, and helped many Liberians get into business.
Mr. Horton came up with many other bright ideas including, as young Yates reported, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the ECOWAS Fund and even the African Development Bank.
But it is important to remember Romeo not just as a thinker and talker; he also was a DOER.
The Tubman government signed many concession agreements, with minimal, if any, Liberian participation.
How far did President Tolbert’s government go with its policy of 17 businesses reserved for Liberians? Because of the total lack of seriousness and commitment to this plan, it lasted not more than a few months and was soon forgotten! Tolbert even changed the rules of the Liberia Produce Marketing Corporation (LPMC), which reserved producing buying to Liberians. He let the Lebanese in on that, too.
President Tolbert also fired—on Radio ELBC— Information Minister G. Henry Andrews for speaking the truth—that the Lebanese were in total control of our economy.
The situation of anti-Liberian business policies and practices got so bad under Dictator Samuel Doe that the Lebanese used to boast that they held in their hands “the key to Doe’s bedroom.”
The government of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, too, has signed many concession agreements, with no Liberian participation. The latest example is the National Oil Company—how many Liberians own any of the oil blocks the GOL has signed off to foreigners?
We don’t have to mention again, but we will, this government’s blatant anti-Liberian move to ditch a Liberian hotelier and give a Lebanese businessman the contract to rebuild the Robertsfield Hotel.
And what of our institutions of higher learning? How far have they gone in meticulously and purposefully training Liberian entrepreneurs?
And only FEW seem to understand—or even care—that so long as our commerce continues to be controlled by foreigners, so long will Liberians remain poor and powerless in their own beloved, rich country.
The time for talk is long past. The time for ACTION is NOW!