George Weah has been installed as Liberia’s 24th President with all the ceremonies, pomp and pageantry befitting such an occasion. For most young Liberians, especially those at the margins of society, it is a dream come true-that one of their own is now at the helm of power.
Filled with hopes and high expectations, thousands of youths turned out at the stadium with many of them walking miles to do so. Unfortunately, the joyous occasion was marred by reports of injuries and deaths of several persons ensuing from a stampede in an overcrowded stadium.
But this is not the first time that injury and death have been reported due to overcrowding at the Samuel Kanyon Doe Sports Complex. Poor planning and poor crowd control measures are attributed as chief reasons for this latest tragedy just as on previous occasions. In cases like these blame is always attributed to the Police whose crowd control measures never seem to live up to the hype of “air tight security”.
The question now, as like before, is how come authorities have consistently proved incapable of controlling the flow of persons into a stadium whose capacity is put at 35,000 and at most 40,000? Prior to yesterday’s occasion, the Police had served public service notice that entry into the stadium would be strictly controlled with admission granted only to those in possession of entrance tickets which more or less constituted a form of official invitation.
So just how many tickets were printed and who were those in charge of distributing the tickets are questions begging answers. Further, why were authorities not keeping check on the number of people entering the stadium in order to guard against overcrowding as thousands of people were expected to turn out including those without admission tickets?
It is indeed unacceptable that people would have to lose their lives each time in such situations with nothing being done to check it?
This brings us to the point underscored in President Weah’s inaugural address when he declared his was an overwhelming mandate to end corruption in public service. He further declared that the most effective way to achieve the narrowing of the ever widening gap between rich and poor is to ensure that public resources do not end up in the pockets of government or public service officials.
Corruption has plagued and continues to plague the nation. When President Sirleaf for example first assumed office in 2005, she proclaimed a solemn pledge to treat corruption as public enemy number one. Twelve years later, corruption has grown even more entrenched than ever and the robust pledge to combat corruption and treat it as public enemy number one never did come to pass.
Due to corruption, the pledge to protect Liberian owned businesses has over the past 12 years amounted to little more than a pledge. While Liberian businesses suffer to compete with foreign owned business and totter beneath the burdens of rising costs and repressive tax regimes, foreign owned businesses are given huge tax breaks some as long as a quarter of a century.
The more than 60 bogus Concession agreements signed and passed into law during the reign of President Sirleaf was accomplished through corruption-outright bribery of legislators or else how can such be explained.
In one case, to recall, a member of the 52nd Legislature (name withheld) wrote President Sirleaf a letter imploring her not to sign the ELENITO agreement granting a scrap company mineral rights to exploit the entire Western Cluster until sufficient due diligence had been done.
The Legislator also wrote his colleagues imploring them not to ratify the agreement if the President sent it for ratification without doing the necessary due diligence. Both President Sirleaf as well as his Legislative colleagues ignored his premonitions and the agreement was signed into law. Only later it was discovered that ELENITO did not have the requisite financial capacity for such an undertaking but it was too late for reversal.
Quite clearly, bribes had been received for the passage into law of such an agreement. Another instance involving bribes, as we are now being told by former officials, was the issuance by President Sirleaf, of Executive Order 84 which effectively reduced the Exclusive zone from 12 nautical miles to 6 miles thus according foreign fishing vessels to fish within just a few miles of shore bringing them into direct competition with small scale fishermen.
The effect on the ordinary Liberian including fishermen and those in the local fishing industry has been disastrous to say the least. But President Weah has now pledged that all that would be a thing of the past. We would naturally expect that his first order of business would be to rescind Executive Order 84 which has so much bearing on the hardships that ordinary Liberians are experiencing daily.
Going forward, Liberians would be able to gauge the sincerity and depth of President Weah’s commitment to end corruption when injury and death resulting from overcrowding at the SKD Sports Complex will be a thing of the past. The Daily Observer is aware that there are going to be future occasions, football games included, when thousands of people will converge at the SKD Sports complex so it will take some time to gauge.
But more importantly and perhaps first and foremost will be President Weah’s decision to rescind Executive Order 84 which will have an immediate effect easing the burden of high fish prices thus making a valuable protein resource more easily available at affordable cost to the ordinary consuming public.
Then Liberians will know for sure and rest assured in the belief that President Weah means what he said in his inaugural address….. “As officials of Government, It is time to put the interest of our people above our own selfish interests. It is time to be honest with our people. Though corruption is a habit among our people, we must end it. We must pay civil servants a living wage, so that corruption is not an excuse for taking what is not theirs. Those who do not refrain from enriching themselves at the expense of the people – the law will take its course. I say today that you will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”
Indeed this will be President Weah’s greatest test, as simple and trifling as it may appear.