The Challenge for Capacitating Liberian-owned Businesses (Part II )

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In Monday's editorial on this subject, we wrote about the role of government officials and their failure to put their people and country first in the development of business and industry in Liberia.  We touched briefly also on the role of the Central Bank of Liberia and the Liberian Business Association (LIBA) in their attempt to lift Liberians in business.

Today we return to our government, and to our educational institutions and their failure to seize the opportunity to make a difference by rescuing their people from second class citizenship and from a persistent and domineering foreign presence in Liberia's commerce and industry.

We have often in our editorials alluded to certain key government Ministries and Agencies which are chiefly responsible for ensuring that Liberian business   participation is encouraged.  These Ministries are Finance, which has a serious influence because it pays the bills; Justice, including its Immigration arm that dishes out the Resident Permits; Commerce, which issues the Business Licenses without asking a single question about Liberian participation; and all the other GOL institutions that consistently dish out the contracts to foreign businesses again.

We are dealing with a  government and its  officials–our own people–who could care less about their fellow Liberians in business, yet those who run Liberian businesses are their   mamas and papas, sisters and brothers and cousins and friends–yea even their children. Yet these government officials only see the short term–what they can get today from foreign businesspeople–rather than the long term—what it means for peace and stability, for the economic empowerment and wellbeing of Liberians.

But what about the macroeconomic role of government in ensuring that Liberians enjoy a fair share in the national economy?  It is as though absolutely NO ONE is thinking about this.  We recall in the mid-1960s a speech by Treasury Secretary Charles D. Sherman, Liberia's first economist, addressing foreign businessmen at the Ducor Intercontinental Hotel.  He appealed to them to consider "the little man on the street."

Here was a very powerful GOL official and his government, surrendering their   macroeconomic responsibility to put in  place policies to ensure that Liberians participate meaningfully in their economy. The thinking young people who listened to that speech considered it a sad day for Liberia–that a powerful figure like Mr. Sherman seemed to have surrendered his responsibility to use his power and influence to stand up  and make a difference on behalf of his beleaguered (broken, oppressed,  subjugated) people.

It seems we still have such officials in power today in Liberia–officials who just don't care about their own people and are quite content to see them remain in the same old state–cheated, deprived, disengaged, dejected and poor.

Doesn't the government know what to do?  How can the government just sit there and see foreigners control EVERYTHING in the country while GOL's own people struggle so desperately and so pitifully for survival?  Does the government not know that this – the disconnect of Liberians from commerce and the economy is what brought the war?  Have they already forgotten Varney Sherman's Independence Oration last year, that blamed the war primarily on abject poverty?

The handing over of the Robertsfield Hotel to a Lebanese businessman and the sidelining of a Liberian hotelier who won the first but cancelled bid is a clear indication that this government doesn't care. But that was two years ago.

Now that the President has spoken about this glaring disconnect of her people in business, we hope that she has something up her sleeves to address it.

When University of Liberia president, Dr. Emmet Dennis, took over several years ago, he pledged to   introduce a program to boost Liberian entrepreneurship.  What has happened to that program?  Is the UL Business College still not teaching Marketing?  Have the other universities followed suit?

What are schools, colleges and universities for, if not to teach the courses the people need most to deliver themselves from poverty and powerlessness?

The fundamental question we always ask is, how SERIOUS are we as a people?  The answer, in the current premises, is obvious: We are not a serious people.  We–all of us–better start getting serious; or otherwise sow the seeds that will take us again to the abyss, from which we may never return.

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