Last night’s State of the Nation address made many claims of accomplishments, backed by countless statistics, and tremendous projections for the future.
Five major themes stood out – Security, Corruption, Agriculture, Infrastructure and Education.
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf asserted that Liberia is prepared to handle its own security come the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) drawdown. To buttress this claim, she stated that Liberia’s military personnel and police have been trained to that effect. Of course the quality of the training remains to be seen. If the status quo is anything to go by, then we have cause for concern. Case in point, the violent clash between the two security details escorting the president to a recent state funeral.
Perhaps most shocking and insulting was the President’s position on corruption in Liberia. Madam Sirleaf herself has in the past said that corruption was entrenched in Liberian society. She seems, however, to have had a change of heart! In her State of the Nation address, the President said that despite the progress being made in the fight against corruption, the “negative perceptions” of corruption continue to prevail, with “accusations made where there is no evidence”. Of course, the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL) went bankrupt after her son, Robert Sirleaf, became chairman and ran for political office. His predecessor had left US$31 million dollars in the entity’s coffers. But be that as it may, corruption is only a “negative perception” in Liberia.
We, on behalf of the Liberian people, feel slapped in the face. We deserve it, perhaps.
Several cabinet ministers were fired from their positions for corruption but were let off the hook with no reasons given for their dismissals. And who could ever forget Honorable “You Eat, I Eat”, who was caught on tape making a corrupt deal for the Montserrado County Development funds?
Perhaps that was a perception of corruption too. He is still a member of the House of Representatives.
One of the most anticipated parts of the President’s speech had to do with agriculture, with specific regard to the farmers in Lofa who cannot get their rice to the markets. While she praised the bumper harvest of rice and even cocoa in Lofa, the President made no mention of the urgent plight of the farmers, who cannot pay back their loans because they cannot sell their produce on the Liberian market. Even with regard to the future of agriculture in Liberia, she dusted off old promises, proposing increased production of cassava and other crops which, with value added, have high export potential. The implication here is that rice, even as Liberia’s staple food, is not a priority because its demand is not as high on the world market. So are we to sell everything we produce and not eat? Or do we then turn around and spend the money we make from exports to buy imported food? We were informed our President was an economist.
In terms of infrastructure, more promises of electricity by thus and such a date, while even central Monrovia, our capital city center, remains perpetually dark. Again, it was all in the numbers – how many megawatts, how many roads had been built. Of course, the boasted Ganta-Gbeni-Sanniquelli-Fishtown road is a dirt road; not a paved one. That means come the rainy season, it will become a mud basin if not the Grand Canyon.
Regarding education, the numbers abounded again – how many children are being educated in Liberia, the number of schools built and teachers trained; the number of colleges and universities, and the number of students on government scholarships. Perhaps the President forgot having described Liberia’s education system as “a mess”. Of course the President is aware that it is not about the numbers but the substance – the quality of the education our children are receiving.
Perhaps the only statement more shocking than the perception of corruption was her position that the Constitution should be amended to grant Liberian citizenship to everyone who meets certain basic criteria. Madam Sirleaf urged the Legislature to do away with what she called the “race-based, discriminatory provisions of the Constitution”. Yet another slap in the face from a President who knows full well that Liberia is nowhere near ready for that. Some development experts hold the theory of sequencing and pacing. That means what is good for the United States is not necessarily good for Liberia because the two countries are at different levels in their democracies and at vastly different stages in their development. She should be the one telling the international community that Liberia does not yet have the protections in place that will make that provision possible. The vultures are circling over this nation at a time when most Liberians can scarcely afford land in their own country. But as with agriculture, education and the Liberian economy as a whole, this President, with all due respect, is pandering to foreign interests who are just waiting for the opportunity to buy up all of the prime property across the length and breadth of this country.
Well, all we can say is that if this is the state of the Republic, then we are in trouble.
God bless us all and indeed save the State.