Our Presidential Correspondent William Harmon covered the Cabinet Retreat hosted by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf last Friday in Bomi. Harmon said the most impressive presentation there was made by Finance and Economic Development Planning Minister Amara Konneh.
The Minister devoted a considerable time to cataloguing and assessing the performances of state-owned enterprises (SOEs), which he praised for their impressive records in mobilization, service delivery and profitability. These, he said, had earned many of the SOEs the confidence and respect of the people.
And yet, Minister Conneh said though he detected in these SOEs a commendable degree of growth, there was not much development—which means he did not see how all the good they were doing percolating (filtering down to) the ordinary people. This is NOT a joke.
We recall a prominent and highly successful Liberian doctor who in 1969 joked about this. He said the resources from LAMCO and other Liberian concessions had not “perlocated to the Liberian masses”—and he chuckled (giggled, laughed quietly) about it. Alas, when the coup d’etat occurred in 1980, this highly accomplished Liberian, could not understand why he was among those who suffered the indignity of sitting naked on the Post Stockade floor on the morning of April 12, 1980. Like many other prominent Liberians who underwent that traumatic experience, some of whom died on the spot, this middle aged man never recovered, and later died. The moral here: be careful what you laugh about. Have a conscience and have concern and compassion for the people below you, the suffering masses. Was this not the theme of our editorial yesterday—about these Liberian lawmakers who, as soon as they’re elected, begin to think about themselves only and totally forget about their suffering people.
Minister Konneh said he was not convinced that these successful Liberian SOEs were doing enough to ensure that their successes “percolated” to ordinary Liberians.
Konneh most probably vividly recalls the book by Northwestern University’s George Dalton and others who, after analyzing Liberia’s highly impressive growth rate, published the book, Growth Without Development (1966). The book made President angry and he banned it! But truth crushed to the ground will rise again. It did in 1980 and subsequently.
That is why Mr. Konneh seems determined to ensure that it does not happen again. In his Cabinet Retreat presentation, he spoke of the great profits of some SOEs, and the steep rise in their salaries, allowances and travel expenses. He was also impressed by their contribution to the national coffers. But what about the ordinary people? he wondered.
The SOEs must now endeavor to understand what Minister Konneh spoke about. They could ask him to come up with some ideas as to how they should implement his suggestions.
We think the National Social Security and Welfare Corporation (NASCORP) has made a good start in this direction. They have acquired land and begun erecting buildings—one in Buchanan, Grand Bassa County, another at the ELWA Junction in Paynesville and another complex in Voinjama, Lofa County . Construction creates jobs. We have discussed such a project with the leader of the Liberia Petroleum Refining Corporation (LPRC), who told us their present priority is to expand their fuel storage capacity. After that, they will consider their multistoried headquarters.
The National Port Authority has some land in Mamba Point, where Commander Trimble and other Americans who helped build the Free Port of Monrovia, lived. We hope that Matilda Parker is considering putting up some high rises there, too.
Other SOEs that have resources they could invest not just in Monrovia or Montserrado but up country, too, to help our people understand what is possible and at the same time reach out to them and do something to help improve their livelihood and provide jobs. Can the National Oil Company (NOCAL), for example, take a couple of million dollars and do something touristic around Lake Piso in Grand Cape Mount County or in Patawee, Bong County? NOCAL could also give Liberia its first sky scraper.
True, they are concerned about oil, but we are talking about reaching out and empowering the people with visionary initiatives that would make a difference in people’s lives. Can some SOE come forward and rehabilitate the E.J. Roye or the National Housing Building?