Open Letter to President-Elect George Manneh Weah
By Rufus S. Berry II, MBA
Dear Mr. President-Elect:
Please accept my warmest congratulations on your victory and my best wishes for your success as you prepare to take up the responsibilities and challenges of your high office.
There were many candidates running for the 2017 Liberian presidency; however, you were the most persuasive and beloved among them. When you begin your historic term as the People’s President, I hope your presidential agenda will reflect solutions for Liberia’s most urgent needs. At the top of the list there are three areas most in need of a strategic plan. They are your ACE in the hole:
- Accountability: develop additional accountability within your administration;
- Corruption: drastically reduce corruption as it is the archenemy of development;
- Education: educate our people so that they have the opportunity to make a better life for themselves.
As you accurately articulated, your presidency has to build on the success of your successor. President Ellen Johnson Sileaf’s presidency was focused on repair, rehabilitation, establishing transparency mechanism and maintaining the peace throughout the nation. Mr. President-elect, your people are hopeful that you will begin your historic presidency with a transformational mindset, that would effectively lay the ground work for your legacy. Twenty-five years from now, ordinary Liberians should be able to acknowledge and appreciate how you have transformed their lives in a positive manner. Liberia needs public servants that have surplus intelligence and integrity.
As you embark upon your new responsibilities, we need to remind ourselves that your resounding victory isn’t only a victory for the young people of our beloved republic, but also a victory for the young people of Africa. Mr. President-elect, we hope your government will take a stand in favor of accountability, anti-corruption, and education. The Liberian government needs massive reforming to minimize indiscretion and to create checks and balances.
In order to transform Liberia and establish your legacy, I believe focus should be placed on the following action plan.
- Accountability. Every cabinet minister, their deputies, heads of government agencies, their deputies, and every civil servant making US $50,000, or more annually must declare their net worth upon appointment. This declaration should be made annually, including a final declaration upon leaving office. Each person’s spouse should do the same. The declaration shall be made under oath, at the risk of perjury, if one is dishonest. These requirements must also apply to the Executive Mansion and all its senior staff, and their spouses. Any changes in net worth above $15K must be reported. If a family’s net worth increases by more than $15K annually, they are required to fill out additional forms to explain the increase. These are some of the measures that have to be carried out taking into account our past transgressions and predilection toward corruption. If any member of your administration intentionally failed to declare his/her assets truthfully, any discovered assets should be confiscated by the government.
- Mr. President-Elect, you have the full support of the Liberian people when you said, “Those looking to cheat the Liberian people through corruption will have no place.” Mr. President-elect, corruption has to be drastically reduced. Currently, the current administration has created some mechanisms that have prevented government officials from stealing directly from government coffers. But because Liberia is a small nation and functions like a small town, everyone in government knows everybody. In fact, many people are related to each other. There is an, “I’ll stroke your back, if you stroke mine” mentality. A primary example of this type of corruption includes officials colluding with private companies to make public purchases at inflated prices; public benefits handed out to people who are not entitled; fabricated companies being paid for contracts that they never executed, and companies paying massive amounts of money in bribes to obtain government contracts and then completing substandard work to the Liberian people.
- Education. Transform Liberia’s education and massively invest in human capital with determination so that the majority of the population would benefit in a positive way. It’s well established and sadly so that there are still many villages, where the children (the future of the republic) have limited or no access to good education. Liberia currently has several universities with few excellent high schools. Where are the feeder schools to supply the universities? It is not in the nation’s interest to have so few decent high schools to feed those universities with qualified students. The country needs to invest in vocation-based, skill development education in the mode of the Booker T. Washington Institution (BWI). The success of the United States, and post war Germany, Ghana and Nigeria were due to massive investment in technical, vocational education and training. Mr. President-elect, tens of thousands of unskilled young people who love and voted for you are depending on you to uplift their lives in a positive way. One of the best ways to do so would be to massively invest in vocational education such as carpentry, electronics, masonry, and construction. The new Liberia needs people with practical, workforce-ready skills that will be transformative for the prosperity of the country. Skill training in the new Liberia is critical for sustainable industrialization and poverty reduction in terms of creating a critical mass of technically and entrepreneurially qualified people.
Mr. President-Elect, the world and the Liberian people want you to have a successful presidency, and they also want every member of your administration to feel accountable to the Liberian people. We know that it’s part of human nature that we reward those that have been loyal to us. At the same token, the Liberian people are counting on you to appoint individuals with dynamic leadership; those honest and qualified patriots who are selfless and ready to roll up their sleeves and work with and for the Liberian people. The new Liberia should have officials that will effectively support your agenda; those individuals who don’t merely talk the talk; but walk the walk with integrity. The new Liberia should have government officials whose actions will sincerely reflect effective, accountable and inspirational leadership. Individuals who work hard, dedicated to transformational leadership and truly committed to the public good and not concerned about their personal enrichment.
Mr. President-Elect, the people of Liberia know that corruption is not unique to Liberia alone. It prevails globally in one form or another in practically every country and region. However, it has become acceptable and endemic in Liberia. Despite recent progress in establishing democracy, ensuring freedom of press and protection of human rights, corruption remains one of the biggest challenges throughout the nation. Government officials continue to enrich themselves at the public’s expense with absolute impunity. Regrettably, it was reflected in numerous Transparency International Global Corruption barometers, in which Liberia was ranked among the most corrupt countries in the world. Civil servants feel that it is okay to ask for bribes in exchange for simply performing their required job duties. I pray that we will see a reduction in rampant corruption during your historic term – the People’s Administration.
Effectively combating a Liberian culture of impunity requires sweeping action, and prosecution. Prosecution and sentencing of high-ranking officials will set the tone for reformed behavior. Your government, with the work of the General Auditing Commission and Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission must be able to detect corruption when it occurs. This requires strong auditing and detection mechanisms. There is no better deterrent to corruption than regular professional audits. In order to make these officials accountable to the nation, the results of these audits have to be shared with the Liberian public.
Mr. President-Elect, we are thankful for the peaceful state of our nation during your historic election. The country has made progress; but the people are looking for transformational leadership in your administration. In the past twelve years, many overseas investments have been made in our country but we have yet to see those investments trickle down to ordinary people. The nation’s citizens expect an extensive road network, enforcement of zoning laws, access to clean drinking water and sanitation. All of these can be accomplished with revenue generated by your administration, but only if you and your administration stand for the fight against corruption and in favor of accountability.
God bless you Mr. President-Elect and we wish you well. The nation is with you.