Good Governance: Is Election of a County Superintendent in Liberia, a Necessity?

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By Edmund Zar-Zar Bargblor

What took place in Zwedru City, Grand Gedeh County, is a result of a system that undermined the fundamental principles of democracy.  The role of governance in the respective counties in Liberia, is one of importance.  The founding fathers required for the traditional chiefs to be elected, including the various members of the House of Legislatures. But the administrative arms in the various counties in Liberia, the Superintendents (Like a State Governor in the United States, who is elected by their citizens), are appointed by the President of the Republic of Liberia.  In each county, there are districts and each is governed by a   Commissioner.  Each appointed District Commissioner, has the power to dismiss a chief, especially when said chief is elected by his/her citizens.

Brief History about the establishment of Paramount Chief in Liberian body politics

In my previous article I explained, Paramount Chief is the English language designation for the highest-level political leader in a regional or local polity or country administered politically with a chief-based system. This term is used occasionally in anthropological and archaeological theory to refer to the rulers of multiple chiefdoms or the rulers of exceptionally powerful chiefdoms that have subordinated others.

Paramount chiefs were identified by English-speakers as existing in Native American confederacies and regional chiefdoms, such as the Powhatan Confederacy and Piscataway Native Americans encountered by English colonists in the Chesapeake Bay area of North America. (Wikipedia)

Paramount Chief formal title was created by British administrators during the 19th and 20th-century Colonial era and used in India, Africa and Asian colonies. The British used it as a substitute for the word “king” to maintain that only the British monarch held that title.

Since the title “chief” was already used in terms of district and town administrators, the addition of “paramount” was made to distinguish between the ruling monarch in England and those found in Africa. So, the African kings were to be referred to as ‘Paramount Chief’, but not King (Wikipedia).

The concept of ‘Paramount Chief’ was introduced in Liberia, by the Founding fathers, to exploit this concept to their political benefits, with complete disregard to the culture and political practices of the Liberian Africans who they met in West Africa.

To control the indigenous political establishment, the founding fathers of Liberia introduced an electoral system in which paramount chiefs were elected, in complete contradiction to the practices of our forefathers. The traditional leaders were never elected; the council of elders would select most often a warrior, or the first male child that was based on bloodline.

This unfortunate practice continues to exist today in Liberia. During the Tubman administration, with the introduction of the Unification Policy, this practice was effectively put into practice. District commissioners, were apparently appointed to undermine the Traditional Royalties in Liberia.

District Commissioners were appointed and given the power to dismiss an elected paramount chief from his position. This unfortunate contradiction continues to exist in Liberia today.  The profound contradiction continues in Liberia’s governance domain, the Superintendent within each county, is appointed by the president, instead of his/her election by citizens that he/she governed.

The Orchestrated Riot in Zwedru City, Grand Gedeh County

The resent orchestrated Riot in Zwedru City (July 30, 2020), where some citizens of Grand Gedeh, demanding for Hon. Yekeh Kolubah and Presidential Candidate, Mr. Cummings leave Grand Gedeh, is an indication where a leadership of a county doing everything possible to please its boss. Therefore, the superintendent of a county be elected by his/her citizens. This level of blind loyalty to any leadership in a democracy, is dangerous.

Now, the Superintendent is answerable to the president and not to the people he/she governed. So, what is playing here, a superintendent makes decision without seeking the approval of the citizens of his /her citizens, but directly to the President. What took place in Zwedru City is the result which I explained above. The superintendent functions at the pleasure of the president and not the people, in this case, the people of Grand Gedeh County. It is irionary, to blame the people of Grand Gedeh, especially when they have no power to elect their own superintendent in their county.  Perhaps, that’s why there are always conflicts between the members of the Legislature and the office of the superintendent. As the result, there are no meaningful developments taking place in Grand Gedeh County, irrespective of the existence of a County Budget, funds allocated to achieve meaningful developments. Even the various businesses, such as loggings, gold mining, etc., have yet to have positive impact in the lives of their citizens. In Grand Gedeh County, the hospital needs to be repaired and updated.  Sadly, this outdated hospital is the only one in the entire County. Most clinics in the districts in the county are non-functional.

Brief History of Underdevelopment in Grand Gedeh County

In some years ago, it was reported by FrontPage Africa, that Citizens from Gbarzon Statutory District in Grand Gedeh County petitioned the Auditor General of Liberia, Mr. John Morlu, II in December 2008, calling for an audit of their county development fund.

According to the report, the Citizens said, since the county development fund was allotted to the county in the last fiscal budget, their district is yet to benefit anything substantial in terms of development.

The numerous complaints of mismanagement of county development fund from Grand Gedeh and some counties have reportedly prompted President Sirleaf to declare that the Executive take charge of the county development fund.

The Analyst reported on September 9, 2009, that a delegation from the Gborho Clan in Grand Gedeh County, visited Monrovia to meet with President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf on issues affecting their areas. The delegation informed the Liberian leader of the collapse of two major bridges in their area, which is impeding the movement of goods and services. These bridges have yet to be repaired or reconstructed.

FrontPage Africa, (June18, 2010), reported that, Mr. Chris Bailey, Superintendent of Grand Gedeh County at the time, was booked in an audit conducted by the General Auditing Commission of Liberia, for misdirecting thousands of dollars for various projects in the county. The Superintendent allegedly, made numerous withdrawals from the coffers of the county, without the approval of others paying money to his private company which is, offered most of the contracts for the implementation of projects in the county.

Need for Article 56 to be amended

There is a need for the Article 56 of the constitution to be amended, that says:  ’B’ “All cabinet ministers, deputy and assistant cabinet ministers, ambassadors, … superintendents and other government officials, both military and civilian are appointed by the President. But the ‘B’ says, there shall be elections of paramount, clan and town chiefs by the registered voters… to serve for a term of six years.” It is about time that the Superintendent of each county be elected and not appointed as presently practiced.

Mr. Yarsuo Weh-Dorliae, was correct when he wrote in his book that:

“Since 1847 and throughout the history of public administration in Liberia, there has been no system of checks and balance and our presidents have wielded extraordinary power in the management of the nation’s affairs. The other two branches of government, the legislative and the judiciary, have always proved powerless in invoking the power of our constitution.  We have never been able to see our legislative branch question the executive branch nor curb the excesses of the presidency. The major excesses of the Liberian presidency remain entrenched in its power to appoint and remove any public official at will, directly or indirectly; to set national priorities and decide what is good or not good-for the country; and to determine how our nation’s financial resources should be controlled and expended. In the management of our nation’s affairs, all socio-economic and political decisions that impact local communities within the political decisions that impact local communities within the political subdivisions, continue to be controlled and directed by the president through officials based in the nation’s capital and agents sent to the interior” (Yarsuo Weh-Dorliae: Proposition 12 For Decentralized Governance in Liberia).

Need for the existence of civility of political dialogue and discourse

In Africa, it is customary and traditionally, for each one us, to be respectful to our fellow countrymen/women. Therefore, it is disrespectful and rude for any opposition politician, or any other person, to render insults to the President of the Republic of Liberia, irrespective of his or her disagreement with his/her policies.  We are in a democracy; civil discourse is important.

The same goes for the President’s supporters in Liberia and the social media, to render due respect to members of the opposition.  Unnecessary harassment and intimidation of members of the opposition, is undemocratic and undermines the spirit of Liberia’s national stability. There is a difference between debating political issues for national development, and rendering insults to a national leadership.

Conclusion

The election of a Superintendent in each of Liberia’s counties is a necessity. Such individual will be a true custodian, an individual who upholds what is best for all people of the county, even if it may not be in his/her own interest to do so.

Indeed, a true Liberian custodial role, must be approached as a temporary role, preserving something greater than the self-principles of enduring and lasting value. All Liberians should cultivate this attitude of mind that focuses on the task at hand and not on what the leader may gain from the position. It implies a caring and concerned relationship between leaders and followers; individuals motivated by their constituents’ best interests. 

The Author

Mr. Edmund Zar-Zar Bargblor is an Educator and an Author. He worked as an Educator, in Providence Schools Department, RI & Washington, D.C, School System, United States; Bong Education System, as Head of Department of Mathematics in Liberia. He is a graduate of Cuttington University, Liberia, Howard University, Washington, D.C, and Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa, Israel. He is a former Deputy Managing Director of the National Port Authority of Liberia, NPA. He can be contacted at: [email protected]

2 COMMENTS

  1. What does the criminal act of these CDC goons in Grand Gedeh have to do an election or appointment of a county superintendent?? The answer? NONE! Throwing stones and other deadly objects at the opposition or any peaceful citizen is a criminal act! So, whether superintendent was elected or appointed by the president has NOTHING to do with the crime that was committed.

  2. This a wonderful article, with reference to the historical attributes about the Paramount Chief . I was impressed when the author wrote: “Paramount Chief formal title was created by British administrators during the 19th and 20th-century Colonial era and used in India, Africa and Asian colonies. The British used it as a substitute for the word “king” to maintain that only the British monarch held that title. And since the title “chief” was already used in terms of district and town administrators, the addition of “paramount” was made to distinguish between the ruling monarch in England and those found in Africa. So, the African kings were to be referred to as ‘Paramount Chief’, but not King (Wikipedia)”.
    This is my first time to read about this, wonderful information. This implies, that the concept of “Paramount Chief”, is not Aafrican, it is foreign.

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