By Wynfred Russell
Liberia is at a crossroads. Sixteen years have gone since the war, and the nation is still developmentally stagnant. We need a leader with a bold vision and bright ideas; the country has been crippled by self-interest, greed, and division.
If I were president, I would strive to accomplish five major things. Firstly, I would stabilize the economy and tax system, and create jobs; secondly, I would spend 20 percent of the GDP on education and health; thirdly, I would ensure that everyone has equal and fair treatment under the law; fourthly, I would invest heavily in agriculture and make Liberia food sufficient; lastly, I would protect our environment, wildlife, and ecologically important forest systems.
Most every Liberian knows the problem, but we lack true leaders at the top who can solve our problems. We continuously elect bad leaders. So, what does that say about us, the people? We reflect the leaders we choose at the Executive Mansion and Capitol Hill. The elephant in the room is corruption; its mother is an injustice. All the other challenges we have are children of this couple. So, if I were the president of my country, I would…
Under an agriculture sector transformation, my administration would promote the sector through a sustained, research-oriented, technological, market-driven and private sector-led revolution. It will revitalize rural communities, create strong linkages with other sectors and emphatically reposition the sector in the national economy to focus on the production of high-value commodities and contribute to national food security.
My government will invest substantially in equipping primary health facilities all over the country. The Ministry of Health will remain the steward in the provision of quality health care to the nation, but social and economic policies will be strengthened. The overall development of Liberia will be judged by the quality of its population’s health, how equitably health services is distributed across the social spectrum, and the degree of protection provided to the disadvantaged because of poor health. My health policy will encompass all the social determinants which impact the health of the nation. The provision of health services will not be the mere curing of the sick but also promoting a healthy lifestyle to prevent diseases.
I will improve schools and tie teachers’ salaries increase to student performance. I will ensure every child is afforded the opportunity to reach his or her full potential by improving graduation rates, increasing retention, reaching rural student population and at-risk female students.
Not everyone has to go to college! My government will provide options for those who want to open a trade shop or a small business. What if we didn’t force students who know that their talents reside outside of formal academics to take three years of high school classes that they found boring and useless? What if we allowed them to train in and explore vocations, they found fascinating and in which they were gifted? What if we made these students feel valued and like they had a place in the education realm?
I would ensure that all public and civil servants declare their financial and fixed assets before taking office. We celebrate the rich without asking how they got rich. Corruption is one of our greatest problems, so anyone willing to serve in any official capacity in my administration would be compelled to declare his or her assets but also to give a statement of earnings/income which MUST be verified before he or she is nominated or appointed to any position. Furthermore, any suspicion of corruption will be thoroughly investigated, and anyone found guilty will be prosecuted; there will be a zero-tolerance for impunity.
Public Fund Wastages
I would ensure that every government official from the county-level to the national-level patronizes public schools, hospitals, and other similar institutions. Every Liberian, including the president, will fly economy class. Even if a government can afford private schools, hospitals or chartered jets, my administration will discourage them from doing so until they leave office (including myself). The alternative will be to resign. At most, I can ensure that the public school being attended by most children of the staff is highly secured with the necessary personnel and technological tools. In Liberia, today, ministers and legislators move around in fleets of cars, in many instances within siren-wielding convoys with police officers as bodyguards. That practice will not be allowed under no condition.
I would propose legislation to reduce the presidential term from six years to four years (two terms only) and decrease in the Senate term to six years and the House to four years, respectively. In other words, I would make the center less attractive than it is now so that all the various parts of the country will stop fighting to get a government position because the action will now be in their respective home counties.
I would set the counties, cities, and districts free from the national government, and meddling from legislators. Each superintendent, city mayor, and district commissioner will be elected. I would ensure that power is closer to each citizen than it is today. Resources from each county will be spent there and a fraction (say 10% tentatively) will be remitted to Monrovia to run the central government.
My administration will support legislation to eliminate the Ministry of Information, Cultural Affairs & Tourism and create a standalone Ministry of Tourism, Culture, and Wildlife. We will eliminate the Ministry of Youth and Sports, and transfer its services to the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Gender, and Ministry of Health.
Law & Order
I will ensure that all citizens answer to just one law – the law of the Republic of Liberia, enacted by the Congress and signed by me. There will be zero-tolerance for anyone who violates the law of the land, including me as your president. While I would respect past leaders, the clergy, traditional leaders, and elders, I would not hesitate to prosecute officials ensuring speedy, fair and balanced justice dispensation in all cases.
Since the withdrawal of the United Nations peacekeeping force, the security of the country has become tenuous. The armed robberies scare investors away and cause citizens to live in constant fear. This is how I would tackle the security issues: the police, which is the primary custodian of security, would be trained, equipped, and compensated better. I realize Liberian law-enforcement officers can be useful when well-equipped and recognized. I would let them know that if anyone of them dies on duty, their children would be fully sponsored up to vocational school or college completion on the government’s dime. Their lives will be insured by a reputable insurance firm and would ensure that their country would not forget them ever.
I know this will not go across well with most people, but if I were your president, I would eliminate the Armed Forces of Liberia and replace it with a highly a trained, mobile, equipped, and technologically advanced paramilitary force subsumed within the structures of the Liberian National Police (LNP).
Thorough its history, Liberia has had mainly internal conflicts; therefore, the country doesn’t need an army. The money saved will go to strengthen the LNP. Our international borders will be guarded by a robust border guard as a unit of the immigration service.
Liberia Service Corps – LiberiCorps
Each person graduating from a four-year university or technical institute would be required to serve as a youth corps volunteer for one year. The emphasis would be placed on sending volunteers to a county other than where her or his parents hail. For example, if you are ‘originally’ from Bong County, you be assigned to spend a one-year voluntary service in Grand Cape Mount. This exchange would foster integration and cultural/ethnic/tribal understanding. Each volunteer will receive a living-wage government stipend.
LiberiCorps program will do more than create inter-ethnic and religious harmony, it will move communities forward; it will create jobs and provide pathways to opportunity for young people entering the workforce. LiberiCorps will place thousands of young adults into intensive service positions where they learn valuable work skills, earn money for education, and develop an appreciation for citizenship.
There is a boatload of research that shows the importance of travel and tourism to national economies around the world – not just in terms of economic growth and job creation, but also as a means of enhancing social stability and community development, and preserving a country’s culture and heritage.
My government will aggressively promote sustainable tourism. We will provide a supportive physical, regulatory, fiscal and social environment – one which will be conducive to local business development. We will ensure adequate infrastructure, incentives for private sector investment, job creation, easy access – including good transport connectivity and entry visa facilitation – and transparent taxation, as well as the appropriate policies, to encourage growth in demand.
At 41 percent, Liberia holds the largest remaining tract of the environmentally significant Upper Guinean Rainforest systems that once covered all West Africa. At the heart of this ecosystem lies one of Liberia’s most important forest, the Wonegizi Proposed Protected Area, which encompasses Liberia’s second-highest peak and forms a massive trans-boundary forest complex with the Ziama Biosphere Reserve, across the border in Guinea. I will establish a park in each county.
As your president, my administration will work with periphery communities to co-manage protected wildlife and forests area that conserves forests for development, biodiversity, and climate objectives. We will conserve biodiversity, including forest elephants, chimpanzees, and endemic pygmy hippos. The government will devise enforceable but sensible policies to protect large areas of mature forest, safeguarding ecosystem services such as freshwater provision, flood control, pollination, cultural values and the provision of foods and medicine. We will empower communities and improve wellbeing by directly supporting local livelihoods; prevent millions of tons of carbon dioxide from reaching the atmosphere and contributing to global climate change; ensure that revenue generation and benefits to communities are dependent on performance, proving that emission reductions have been achieved through project activities.
Traffic congestion due to inadequate arterial roads and trunk highway systems leaves Monrovia to a grinding halt most everyday slowing productivity and business growth. More access roads need to be built in the city and around the country, but as your president, I will propose alternatives to mitigate the challenges faced by gridlock.
To this end, my administration will commission a Greenfield study to investigate the feasibility of a water taxi service to ferry commuters across the Mesurado River and its tributaries. This comes because of the metro’s robust population and the market of jobs located along the water.
A few years ago, I interviewed more than 400 residents and students who lived along waterlogged communities that a water taxi service could cut their commute and result in having fewer cars on the road during the morning or evening rush hour.
The water-taxi service will provide an alternative mode of transport which, if properly marketed to attract more passengers, can ease traffic congestion along the west-east route, if it were expanded to Gardnersville. Transport integration will be a signature policy of my administration.