A Presidential proclamation has been released, calling on members of the National Legislature to return to session to discuss some urgent national issues.
The call is in consonance with Article 32 (b) of the Liberian Constitution which states: “The President, on his own initiative or upon receipt of a certificate signed by at least one-fourth of the total membership of each House, and by proclamation, extend a regular session of the Legislature beyond the date for adjournment or call a special or extraordinary session of that body to discuss or act upon matters of national emergency or urgent concern.
When the extension or call is at the request of the Legislature, the proclamation shall be issued not later than forty-eight hours after receipt of the certificate by the President. As mentioned above, such a call or request is justified when there are matters of national emergency or matters of critical concern.
Topping the list of issues of national concern now is the controversial L$15.5 or L$16 billion about which missing whereabouts government officials have spewed conflicting accounts in recent time. This issue does not only affect the country economically, but also draws into question the government’s credibility, integrity and capability to manage the affairs of the Liberian state.
Also expected to feature high on the legislative agenda is the newly launched “Pro Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development” an action plan intended to lift people from endemic poverty. The World Food Programme (WFP) estimates that 64 percent of Liberians are forced to live under the poverty line with 1.3 million living in extreme poverty. Such poverty can, in part, be attributed to limited infrastructure which is the direct result of collateral damage from the 14-year civil war.
Lifting Liberians out of poverty is indeed a tall order which challenges long held notions of development especially the “trickle down” theory of development which successive governments have slavishly embraced. According to Investopedia, Trickle-down economics, or “trickle-down theory,” states that tax breaks and benefits for corporations and the wealthy will trickle down to everyone else. It argues for income and capital gains tax breaks or other financial benefits to large businesses, investors and entrepreneurs to stimulate economic growth.
That Liberia remains mired in poverty and underdevelopment even after fully embracing and pursuing national development initiatives along this paradigm speaks volumes about its failure which is, however, not the subject of this editorial.
As former President Sirleaf once said, Liberia is not a poor country, but it has been poorly managed, a truism which is undebatable. Corruption is perceived by most Liberians as the major cancer eating away the national fabric. This newspaper recalls that the 1980 military coup leaders declared rampant corruption as the major driver that led to the coup. And for this, 13 former officials were summarily tried before a kangaroo court, sentenced to death and publicly executed.
Former President Sirleaf, at her inaugural ceremonies in January 2006 pledged a fight against corruption, declaring it as public enemy number One. And to prove this, she put former Transitional Chairman Gyude Bryant on trial. President Weah, for his part also pledged a fight against corruption during his inaugural address and to prove that he constituted a special committee to probe into bribery allegations against former officials involved in negotiating the ExxonMobil oil deal.
But since the Committee submitted its report recommending restitution, the report has since been consigned to the doldrums. But even more troubling is the fact that President Weah has not since made public his assets declaration which was submitted at the eleventh hour but which Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission(LACC) officials are keeping under wraps in contravention of the law and in breach of best practices in public policy.
The public has expressed concern and, to some extent, alarm over what they see as the overnight construction of scores of apartment buildings, allegedly by President Weah and the buying of luxurious homes in Liberia and abroad by some of his officials.
And then, the still unresolved issue of the missing billions, which has played out extensively both in the local and foreign media, and about which several conflicting and contradictory accounts have been given by government officials.
It is against such backdrop that President Weah has officially launched his national development initiative, styled “Pro Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development”, which critics say is more or less a rehash of former President Sirleaf’s “Poverty Reduction Strategy” (PRS).
Whatever the case, this newspaper would remind President Weah that for this program to achieve success, the Liberian people who are the ultimate beneficiaries, should buy into it. Trust, therefore, is the watchword and the President should bear on mind that he is the embodiment of that trust and he should as such conduct the affairs of the nation in a manner that stands above reproach. He must engender and build that trust which, in other words is a compact between him and the people.
This means that he should and must make public his assets declaration as required by law as a first step towards the forging of that trust. He should also order his officials to do likewise. Secondly, he should ensure that the issue of the missing billions is not only fully resolved in a transparent manner but those found complicit should be brought to justice without deference to “sacred cows”, as was the case during the reign of his predecessor.
In doing so, President Weah should also bear on that if he is counting on donor support to advance his development agenda, then he should ensure compliance with integrity requirements such as public asset declaration and financial and performance audits of all public institutions including the Legislature and Judiciary.
Failure to do otherwise will likely mean, primarily, the loss of the people’s trust and the dissipation of donor confidence, both of which are required to ensure the success of the Pro Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development.