Misplaced Value: the Crux of Liberia’s Troubles

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Doing our homework for today’s editorial, we relished the rich reporting in yesterday’s issue: UL students threatening “mayhem” over tuition hikes; a judge strengthening his ruling over the FDA case; a commentary on the forestry aspect of the resource curse; the commerce Minister’s announcement of price inspections; and the Ministry of Post & Telecommunications’ briefing on the progress of a postal system. In these stories, we picked up on a common thread that strikes at the heart of our troubles as a nation – and the opportunity before us.

What do these stories have in common, you ask? We will explain below. But first, we quote scripture – this is, after all, Africa’s most religious country.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in Heaven, where moths and rust do not destroy and thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matt.6:19-21)

While this passage seems restrictive in terms of how one should perceive and handle things of value, it promotes a shift our national paradigm away from materialism, toward investment in the intangible (unseen) treasures around us.

Now, for the stories. We were unsurprised that the UL Student Development Alliance (STUDA) would threaten “mayhem” over a per-credit price increase from L$175 to L$440 (US$5). Unruly behavior is LU students’ “usual habit”. But this particular issue is dismally absurd. If those students were to ask their counterparts across the globe for the price of their education – some averaging US$500 per credit – LU hooligans would gladly shut up, pay the US$5, and take fewer courses each semester. But here they are, threatening violence over a nickel.

The report and commentary on Forestry hit the issue from two angles. In one instance, a judge had to be strong armed into issuing a sentence befitting of the economic crimes committed by the former Forestry Development Authority boss and his colleagues. In the other, a case was made for preserving Liberia’s forests as a source of revenue, instead of allowing forestry to remain another cursed resource. From these, we gather that Liberians are only just now grasping the value of our forests beyond simply being a logging money maker. Now, countries are offering us money not to cut our trees down, and we are considering these forests as medical, nutritional and touristic assets, ripe for constructive revenue generation.

Our Commerce Minister, taking bold steps to encourage fair pricing of commodities, starting with the Greater Monrovia area, shows a turn toward consideration for the plight of ordinary Liberians who are daily being fleeced from the Lebanese, Indians, Chinese and their own dear compatriots.

Lastly, our Post Master General – after at least four years in office – laments that Liberia still needs US$7 million for an address system.

What draws these stories together is the abiding challenge Liberians have of discerning the true value of things, people, relationships, ideas, and money. To us, money is king, and seeing is believing. So, because they cannot see knowledge, our students have trouble attaching real value to it.

Because they cannot monetize the total value of a forest (we see them as just trees, not as a rich ecosystem) our public officials cannot optimally utilize it, and our judges cannot adequately penalize those who exploit it. Because they cannot quantify the value of good customer relationships and a good reputation, our entrepreneurs continue to extort customers to make a quick buck. Because we do not recognize the value of a positive legacy – the lasting impact of an address system on small business needing access to finance – we drag our feet and whine about obstacles.

We Liberians seem to be desperately adverse to the efficient investment of resources. How, you ask? Just ask the LU girls shopping for the latest fashion pieces, instead of spending time and money in the pursuit of knowledge; or the Legislators demanding salary increases instead of putting money into county development projects. We prefer to indulge in instant pleasure; rather than working and waiting, forgoing present comforts to receive future gain.

This is not sustainable. What we need is a fresh perspective on what real treasure is. What is your treasure covered with? Rust or antirust?

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