The raging controversy around the emergency food relief promised by President George Weah appears to not be going away anytime soon given lingering unresolved accountability concerns about the US$30 million that remain unanswered. Additionally, there are concerns that large numbers of youths have already began scouring the city in what the say is a data collection exercise under the aegis of the Liberia Institute for Statistics Geo-Information Services (LISGIS).
These youths are, according to reports, going about their duties without pen or paper, neither a questionnaire. Instead they are using their cellphones for the task, a development which has raised questions about the reliability and integrity of the information being gathered.
There are reports that already the exercise is being compromised with some enumerators briefing respondents on how to answer the questions being asked.
Of additional concern is the fact that information about the exercise has not been made public, neither has any sensitization and awareness exercise been carried out about the purpose, scope and duration of the exercise.
Many of the enumerators appear untrained and unfit. In a number of cases, according to reports, enumerators do not even know who the head of LISGIS is. Were these individuals actually recruited by LISGIS and, if so, did they undergo any measure of rudimentary training in data collection? Moreover why are they not provided the necessary working materials and are instead having enumerators use their personal cellphones?
Again, the question is how come enumerators who have been trained to conduct the planned and impending National Population and Housing Census are not being used to carry out the COVID-19 food relief data collection exercise? From all appearances, the exercise has begun on the wrong footing and may at the end prove very problematic when the distribution exercise begins.
This is because the manner in which the data is being collected is haphazard and may prove highly unreliable since the data is being recorded on cellphones. The cellphone could get damaged, lost or even stolen and that will mean good-bye to accuracy and reliability, cardinal requirements in the interpretation of any would-be collected data.
The Daily Observer is drawing attention to this matter because, if left unchecked or unaddressed, the likelihood that a publicly perceived flawed food distribution exercise targeting what the government says are the most vulnerable, could trigger widespread public discontent cannot be ruled out.
This is because given the high dependency ratio amid drastically fallen real incomes, coupled with high levels of unemployment generally, many families whose incomes were once considered middle class income have all fallen into poverty and become vulnerable. On the other hand, are those who have lost income for the last four months as a result of the prolonged shutdown and now face an uncertain post COVID-19 future, as well as those families whose bread winners have gone unpaid for months on end.
From the look of things, individuals in such categories are likely to be excluded from the food distribution exercise. And they are more likely than not to be very unhappy about it. The old saying that “things done by halves are never done right”, aptly befits the situation here.
Such a highly politically sensitive and volatile issue like relief food distribution, as past experience has shown, has to be handled with great care and caution.
Already there is a growing public perception that this food distribution exercise is targeting only CDCians, given the publicity stunts attending the recent but similar food distribution exercise carried out in various communities around Monrovia by CDC Chairman Mulbah Morlu.
In view of this, it should behoove those handling the emergency relief intervention, to ensure that all what they do is transparent and meets the highest standards of accountability.
This is exigent because the patience of the people should not be tested in such times of imposing economic hardships. President Weah, as the one whose head actually bears the crown, should TAKE CHARGE AND LEAD FROM THE FRONT.
This is no “Play-Play” affair and should not be treated as such. Should officials not see reason to do the right thing by making the COVID-19 response more transparent and accountable, especially the promised relief food distribution exercise, they run the risk of ushering the country into a renewed spate of general instability.
In the final analysis, President Weah has to decide. He stands alone in the world of football as one from the humblest beginnings who has attracted such outrageous fortune as having landed himself the presidency of his country but never having known, perhaps, that such under the wings of fortune belies a sea of troubles. Therefore, he must learn to make the right decisions.
Three years out of a six-year tenure should be ample time to have learned from experience, good decision making. The anti-COVID-19 response effort appears to be headed for the rocks owing to corruption and poor decision making and he must take a decisive stand against errant officials now before things go awry. He should not for example wait for doctors and health workers to actualize their threat to stop work before he pays heed to their concerns.
He should also act now to address accountability concerns arising from the poor or mishandling of the proposed relief food distribution exercise and not wait for public discontent to spill into open civil unrest before he acts. Again, hard decisions will be required of him and, as United States author and public speaker John C. Maxwell says: “Inability to make decisions is one of the principal reasons executives fail”. A vous de faire votre choix, Monsieur President!
The choice is all yours, Mr. President!