Who Will Be Liberia’s Magufuli?

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Liberia is once again at a crossroads, this time, to choose a leader to succeed the current President. Political parties are emerging and presidential candidates are showing up to contest. Being one country with a high record of corruption in all forms, ordinary conscious voters have joined the debate on who will take the country from where it is to a greater and more prosperous height. Unfortunately, there are still others who care not for the country’s prosperity, but that of themselves.

Hoping that those seeking the country’s prosperity are more than the gravy seekers, we join the majority to pray for the one who will emerge as the Liberian version of John Magufuli, that no-nonsense President of Tanzania. One recent decision he has taken in the interest of the public is the sacking of 10,000 civil servants who were employed based on fake academic credentials. According to the BBC, President Magufuli took the action on grounds that those with fake credentials were robbing the government and undermining education in Tanzania.

This is not the only tangible step he has taken as Chief Executive of Tanzania. BBC’s analyses about President John Magufuli also indicate that when he first took over following elections in 2015, he began a clean-up campaign in Dar-es-Salaam, literally taking a broom and sweeping the trash. After carefully analyzing the weight of his priorities, President Magufuli cancelled his country’s Independence Day celebration in 2016, preferring that the money be used to fund public hospitals in Tanzania. In line with his goal to fight corruption, the President made an unannounced visit to the Finance Ministry where he caught workers off-guard, and he strongly warned that he would not tolerate such legendary absenteeism. Besides the Finance Ministry, he had visited several ministries and agencies, warning and firing workers with the goal of instilling discipline and accountability in the public sector. President Magufuli has gone further to order an audit, which result showed 10,000 ghost workers that receive not less than US$2 million in salaries. As a result of being action oriented in fulfilling his campaign promises to the people of Tanzania, Kenyans have been recorded as wishing for a president like John Magufuli, as we are wishing in this editorial.

Contrary to steps the Tanzanian President has taken to build public trust, instill discipline, fight corruption, and promote accountability, the minds of our leaders are set at gathering barns for themselves. Although President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf publicly pronounced in 2006 that corruption will be public enemy #1, which she received tremendous applause for, she has reverted to admit that she has failed in the fight against corruption.

In reference to the recent action by the Tanzanian President sacking 10,000 civil servants for fake academic credentials, it is glaring in Liberia today that there is a place on Gurley Street, central Monrovia, called “World Trade Center,” where nearly any kind of document can be produced as prop credentials, which enable people to enter universities and colleges in Liberia.

Reliable sources have told us that at the University of Liberia, identification numbers of deceased students are illegally reassigned to those who failed entrance examinations, enabling them to enter under the radar and evade the admissions process.

With apparently no capacity to efficiently curate student records at the nation’s oldest institution of higher learning, why wouldn’t the education system be messy, fraud-ridden and an object of government complacency?

It is fair to say that many senior government officials in this administration were educated in the United States. In that country, it is virtually impossible to produce fake academic credentials because everyone who graduated from an institution of higher learning is recorded in an online database called the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC). The NSC is that nation’s trusted source for education verification and student outcomes research. For a small fee, anyone anywhere in the world can verify the academic credentials of someone who claims to have obtained higher education in the United States.

Liberia has professionals who have the vision, knowledge and capacity to digitize the entire UL administration, especially its student records system. Yet, the similar hands that perpetuate the ghost names on the Education Ministry payroll are the ones fighting any attempt to digitize any government function in Liberia. Why? Because, in the words of Darren Wilkins, technology columnist for the Daily Observer, “a digital Liberia means a transparent Liberia.” And a transparent Liberia is something many would die trying to prevent.

A transparent Liberia requires a God-fearing, strong, brave, focused, wise and principled leader. Are there any in our midst? Who and where is, Liberia’s Magufuli? As we gear towards election, we urge that Liberians carefully listen to political candidates and understand their manifestos to vote the best person as president.

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