The confirmation hearing in the Senate in recent days has brought to public hearing what people in the Liberian society really want to see happening. Critiquing the credentials and deportment of the nominees, the Senate took everything into consideration — academic, experience, vision for the domain to be occupied and conduct in the public space.
And while it appeared to be a rather smooth-sailing process for Janine Cooper, Liberia’s new Agriculture Minister who convinced the Senate that she has the knowledge, experience and comportment for the post, the Senate appears not so convinced about Tarplah Davis, who was nominated for the position of Deputy Defense Minister for Operations. Davis’ rants on social media that he would kill any protester who would destroy his properties now appears to be dampening his prospects for confirmation to the position.
The public is also keen to know what the Senate will do in Davis’ case, as many previous confirmations brought unqualified characters into positions of public trust. Any outcome that will favor Davis, as far as views are concerned, may have an adverse effect, especially on those Senators who are going to election in October this year.
Concerns raised by the public now about doing the right thing and voters threatening lawmakers with dismissal during election seem to be diverting the traditional motive for electing public officials in Liberia. Electorates are keener now to get the right person in the right position who will do the right things, instead of through frivolous sentiments, be they tribal, emotional or otherwise, which have wrought some painful lessons.
Liberians for years have always made public decisions in an election on the basis of kinship or kind (money or bags of rice), party or individual loyalty, and other motivations without taking into account what the person can do to impact the general welfare of all.
Perhaps the most notable issues-based election Liberians had ever was the 1985 presidential election. At that time, voters overwhelmingly voted the political leader of the Liberia Action Party (LAP), Jackson F. Doe, against the leader of the ruling military junta, Samuel K. Doe, whom voters accused of being tyrannical and brutal in his leadership. That election was rigged in favor of Samuel K. Doe and, five years later, the nation was plunged into a war that cost a quarter of a million lives.
After the 14-year war, Liberians began exercising their civic rights in earnest again, without the threat of regressing to war. The elections to 2005 up to the last election of 2017, along with other by-elections, brought people on board not because of competence, but because of tribalism, individual loyalty, party loyalty and in most instances giving handouts for votes.
For instance, since 2005 people in Nimba County have voted Prince Johnson for the presidency on the basis of kinship and the senatorial position on tribal sentiment and war participation. Members of the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) have always voted on the basis party loyalty and love for George Weah, now President of Liberia, and this is why a lot of lawmakers in the House of Representatives are members of the CDC. Fallen Liberian lawyer and political leader of the Liberty Party (LP), Cllr. Charles Walker Brumskine first began drawing supporters to him through his identity as a Christian candidate and later via Bassa kinship. He is on record for having said that “Bassa people must produce a President and they will beat dumboy in the Executive Mansion.”
Having lived with this traditional political nuisance for years, the trend appears to now be changing. Liberians, regardless of political affiliation, kinship, or party want to see sincere, honest and principled people who will work in the country’s interest and depress self-aggrandizement, and this is where they are watching the Senate and the House now with eagle eyes.
Amid desire for honest, sincere and transparent people, one lawmaker that has landed on the fertile ground of public trust is Abraham Darius Dillon, Senator of Montserrado County. While campaigning last year, Dillon promised to bring transparency and sanity to the Senate, and since he got elected in July 2018, he has convinced the public that he meant his words. He promised to disclose his salary and other benefits to the public and not taking home more than US$5,000 monthly. After a month or two, he came out to disclose what his salary and benefits were, and he promised to commit the remaining money into Montserrado County’s account after taking his $5,000 monthly salary.
Not only has Dillon met up with his promise of salary reduction, his decision to disclose his salary and cut it down has caused other lawmakers who have been very confidential about their salaries and benefits, to do the same.
It is he in recent days who suggested that there should be no secret discussion on confirmation in the Senate.
The current political views in the media and public places now suggest that Liberians are getting out of party loyalty, kinship and tribalism that have strangulated the country’s progress for years and moving towards electing people conscious of justice, transparency, accountability, and rule of law. In fact, a lot of views have said, “If we can have 15 of Dillon in the Senate things will be okay.”
The truth, therefore, is that Liberians were lost in the consciousness of doing what is right, but now experience has taught them to know; they were blind to honesty, sincerity, and transparency, but now they have realized that such virtues are the driving force to a better society and they are after them.
The growing demand for good people leaves no doubt that a lot of our Senators who have been in the public eyes for their deeds might have a slim to no chance of return after the October 2020 special senatorial election.
Yet, some remain skeptical, especially those who maintain that Dillon’s election to the Senate was merely a protest vote against the ruling establishment. Perhaps that may be true, but Dillon is up for re-election in October and how he fares might be a perfect litmus test of whether the election would be issues-based or a replay of the 1985 episode.