By Josiah Joekai
I wish to respectfully convey my compliments hoping that this letter finds you in good health. Once again, it is a pleasing honor for me to congratulate you for receiving the mandate of the Liberian people as their President.
It is no doubt that winning majority of the votes in a given election such as the December 26, 2017 Presidential Runoff Election between you and His Excellency, Ambassador Joseph Nyuma Boakai reflects overwhelming support from the citizenry predominantly, the young people who gave you their mandate.
This is a true reflection of their willingness and readiness to work and cooperate with your leadership in meeting their hopes and aspirations in the aftermath of more than one hundred years of “squandered opportunities” in the words of former Vice President Boakai. The former Vice President’s assertion is a realistic description of the country’s long standing socio-political and economic decadence.
Absolutely, expectations are high but interestingly, the means to satisfy them are limited. Mr. President, quite frankly I did not support your presidential bid during the 2017 elections. Eventually, I did not vote for you. The reason was simple. Between the both of you (Candidates Boakai and Weah), Candidate Boakai presented his platform which encapsulated a vision that resonates with my belief for a new Liberia.
I was attracted by his vision and exemplary leadership he’s provided over the years with diligence, honesty and commitment. In essence, my support for him was on the basis of policies and the prospects for a new Liberia. Mr. President, this does not however suggest that you did not also have a sellable platform but probably, it never got sold to me and many of our fellow compatriots in the manner and form in which I could be convinced to support your vision as my choice.
In spite of my critical approach to selecting my choice of candidate which I don’t regret, you still won the election. This is the beauty of democracy as you are now our new President. Irrespective of the harsh engagements, tense confrontations, the anxieties and apprehensions; the results of the elections are binding on all Liberians.
That is exactly why I am exceptionally grateful to former Vice President Boakai for his selfless and nationalistic move to graciously accept the results of the elections and promised to support your government for the forward march of our dear country. More so, his demonstrated commitment to work with your leadership in consolidating the peace and reviving the economy to enable the people live quality life has put Liberia under the spotlight for a peaceful democratic transition.
Similarly Mr. President, your visit with the former Vice President and constant engagement with his family are all indications that our country is on the trajectory of strengthening its nascent democracy. Obviously, you need to tap into the wisdom, experience and expertise of the former Vice President.
On an interesting note Mr. President, I need to underscore here that I am not a member of any political party; not even your Party, the Congress for Democratic Change not to mention the Coalition for Democratic Change or the Unity Party. However, I have supported candidates in Presidential Elections dating as far back as 2005. In 2005, I supported Cllr. Varney G. Sherman in the first round on the basis of his platform and vision he had for the country.
In the runoff, I supported Your Excellency within the general support framework of the Coalition for the Transformation of Liberia (COTOL). COTOL at the time believed that your party, the CDC was a populist movement but did not have the capacity to lead which would have been counterproductive to establishing democratic governance in the country for the first time following the protracted civil war.
It was on this basis that COTOL took the decision to join you in providing the much needed support to help transform the party into a body that would strengthen the leadership to provide effective and efficient leadership had it won. I was glad I did support such endeavor even though I remember you lost that election. In 2011, I could not support any political party or candidate given my role by then as an employee of the Elections Management Body, the National Elections Commission (NEC).
Today Mr. President, your election brings so much pressure to bear on you and the Coalition for Democratic Change. The first layer of this pressure is the burden of dealing with the structural reality of your Coalition, the new CDC. Undoubtedly, you are faced with the dilemma of managing and rewarding its members to include the Liberia People Democratic Party (LPDP), the Sirleafs, the National Patriotic Party (NPP), Diaspora CDC, original CDC and the last cohort of supporters.
Their claims may seem to be somewhat reasonable because of the support rendered for your election but their varying interests may just be very selfish, a sharp contrast to your objective of providing good governance. This is a common routine of our peculiar political system. While it is true that you may have good intention for the country but the convoluted structure of the CDC is a complication that requires sober reflection and stern decisions to form an inclusive but committed government to the people’s cause.
As such, effectively responding to this huge internal uncertainties and managing the attending expectations is your first test to ably govern the country. Stability and coherence in the CDC will facilitate effective governance. The second layer is what you are very much aware of that the Liberian people will not take no or an excuse for an answer by any measure to meet their needs. Delivering upon their mandate is imperative and anything to the contrary amounts to the failure of your government.
This brings me to the fact that whether or not your government succeeds, we are the targets of its actions and inactions. Therefore, the stakes are even higher than anyone can imagine. As citizens, we will either enjoy the benefits of a decent and productive leadership or face the harsh realities of bad governance given your chosen priorities. Thus, setting your priorities right from the very start will be a positive indicator.
It is within this context and on the basis of my understanding of good citizenship which encompasses loyalty to personal beliefs or affiliations; I have elected to share with you few proposals to facilitate the scrupulous implementation of your government’s proposed Pro-Poor Agenda. The need for addressing the unlimited governance issues that have beset our national existence as a country since 1847 is fundamentally required by your government if it should succeed in delivering upon its mandate as promised the Liberian people.
However, the ultimate factor that will drive such highly anticipated undertaking is the courage to muster the “WILL” which has been lacking at all times. Notwithstanding the gains and in particular, attempts made by the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf led government to establish anti-graft institutions; corruption undermined the development efforts of her government to the extent that it was labeled “VAMPIRE” simply because of the lack of “WILL”.
Corruption is pervasive in our society and has eaten up every fabric. Sadly, we keep losing the battle to defeat the scourge. Mr. President, the seriousness of your government to deliver will be measured by your demonstrated WILL to defeat corruption. Prosecute every corrupt official in keeping with the laws no matter their status, creed and ethnic backgrounds.
Never try to circumvent the laws for any reasons whatsoever. In essence Mr. President, if there is any lesson your government should learn from its predecessor, that lesson would be the failure of your predecessor to muster the courage to pursue, confront and drastically reduce the incidence of corruption.
Mr. President, please don’t forget that you delivered an historic speech during your first state of the nation address affirming your government’s stance on equity in the government and the fight against corruption. I also remember how bold and emphatic you predecessor was on the fight against corruption when she received the mantle of power for the first time in 2006.
While I do not doubt your fairly impressive start, I am still apprehensive like many of my fellow compatriots about addressing this colossal challenge of defeating our “public enemy number one’ in the words of Madam Sirleaf until I see cogent and imperative actions to decisively deal with corruption instituted. I am of the opinion that if this is not done then Mr. President, your proposals as announced to the Liberian people will simply become “mere posturing by another leader” in the words of your predecessor.
Mr. President, taking oath as President of Liberia guarantees your pledge to the people that you will uphold, protect and defend the Constitution. Obviously, the oath obligates you to use the Constitution, the law of the land as your guide in the discharge of your duties. I am glad you did but also very amazed when you emphasized its importance in the governance process during your delivery of the state of the nation address.
You even read some of the key provisions therefrom, demonstrating your commitment to be guided by the laws. This is a good start. However Mr. President, no amount of public reading of the Constitution by you to the Liberian people will engender change in attitude and respect for the rule of law. The first necessary step is for you and your officials to provide leadership in the framework of the rule of law.
This is the best way to ensure that citizens abide by the laws governing the Republic and they will eventually become patriotic and supportive of your government’s development agenda. In the context of our Constitution Mr. President, citizens have roles, rights and responsibilities in the governing process. They can only exercise such roles and responsibilities and enjoy such rights if they adequately and appropriately understand them.
That is exactly why your administration in keeping with Article 10 of the 1986 Constitution of Liberia should make it a matter of priority to establish a National Civic Education Commission of Liberia (NCECL) as a way of educating citizens through sustainable mass citizens’ education programs.
The NCECL through its public education program will reproduce, disseminate and teach the principles of the Constitution to engender a true spirit of nationalism. Additionally, the NCECL will further deepen the understanding of citizens on the core values of decent leadership, our cultural heritage, principles of democracy with emphasis on electoral democracy and good citizenship.
This measure will transform the many existing negative mindsets of Liberians about their country and government which is largely the basis for our gross underdevelopment. This sense of renewal and belongingness will ultimately set the stage for nation-building. Mr. President, your government needs to make it as a matter of priority to draft and adopt in a referendum, a brand new constitution to replace the 1986 Constitution.
Currently, many of the provisions of the 1986 Constitution are either archaic or ambiguous and therefore; no longer easily applicable in the current dispensation. This measure is by all accounts paramount to your government’s success. As such, we should not amend the Constitution in parts.
Instead, the process should be comprehensive because good or improved governance as needed in the case of Liberia is only possible based on the adequacy or appropriateness of laws. Although the time may not be quite appropriate to start a debate on some of the proposals you put forth such as dual citizenship, granting of citizenship and land ownership to non-negro descents but the proposed reform provides an opportunity for them to be tested.
Once the citizenry makes a determination of your proposals as a panacea for economic growth and development, same will be instituted through the very reform process. The process will also seek to reform the aspects on political parties and elections in order to address the unlimited issues associated with managing credible elections in the country.
Furthermore, the decentralization of government in the form of the devolution of power to promote equity or inclusiveness in our governance process will also be achieved. The latter has been a difficult decision for our past leaders because it addresses the long standing issue of imperial presidency. Trust me Mr. President, if you do not make this reform process comprehensive to reduce the power of the presidency, you will also be an imperial president and the prospects for achieving good governance will be farfetched.
Well Mr. President, the proposed reform process will require the reconstitution of the Constitution Review Committee (CRC) into one that will have the mandate to widen the revision of the 1986 Constitution, conduct mass citizens’ engagement consultations both at home and in the diaspora, and draft a new constitution for adoption in a referendum.
The reconstituted committee should be comprised of seven members with a chairperson, co-chairperson, secretary and two members. They should be Liberians with good moral standing, profound understanding of the socio-political and economic reality of the country and legal drafting. As a critical national endeavor, the committee should be given all of the support needed to ensure a meticulous approach, inclusive engagement, professional drafting and timely completion.
The review, engagement and drafting process should be constructive, sustained and productive so that the draft constitution will reflect hopes and aspirations of the Liberian people. Mr. President, please move faster to repeal the Act creating the Ministry of Information Culture Affairs and Tourism (MICAT) to establish the Ministry of Information and the Liberia Culture and Tourism Authority (LCTA) as two separate agencies of government.
The role of the Information arm of government in terms of effectively communicating the policies, achievements and challenges of the government is crucial to ensuring good governance. It is obvious that when the people are adequately informed about the activities of their government in every respect, that serves as an incentive for their cooperation and participation in the conduct of the affairs of the state.
Besides, it removes obstacles or barriers thereby promoting understanding, peaceful co-existence and harmony. Therefore, it is no doubt that the information portfolio alone is a huge task which should be completely separated from MICAT and let it stand alone because it is an essential tool for enhancing effectiveness and efficiency in the government.
Currently Mr. President, the other piece of MICAT which is “Cultural Affairs and Tourism” is practically nominal or nonexistent. It is being overshadowed by the Information component. Unfortunately, it is an important part of government that is supposed to be viable in determining who actually we are in terms our cultural heritage.
Interestingly, that is not the case. For too long that department within MICAT has been conspicuously silent. As such, the question of who we are in terms of our way of life thus unraveling our identity remains a myth. Our approach to addressing this national issue cannot be subtle. Mr. President, redefining our cultural heritage has to be done as a major stand-alone initiative or through an independent agency.
For example, we can establish the Liberia Culture and Tourism Authority (LCTA) as an agency of government with a stronger mandate to ensure that all of our historical sites are culturally redesigned or reorganized to reflect our way of life and the very meaning of their existence. This is a modern approach to development as well and Liberia is best suited for this endeavor.
This process must involve thorough research that will gather facts, artifacts, documentation of various sorts, construction of appropriate infrastructure, and the training and deployment of professional narrators. These national shrines or sites should be transformed and given befitting beautifications representative of our traditions, customs and ethics.
Like Ghana, The Gambia, South Africa, Rwanda and many other African Countries, Liberia will rediscover its identity; significantly generate revenues through its attractive tourism program and realize an enviable infrastructural development. Mr. President as I underscored earlier in this letter, fighting corruption cannot be cosmetic in any way. Your government will have to take concrete actions in a timely manner to address this scourge.
The first action to take in this regard is to strengthen the mandate of the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) by giving it prosecutorial powers. If it is through the establishment of a fast track court, it must be within the ambit of the LACC so that we can have deterrence to deter corruption. Additional, the current asset declaration architecture is for mere formality.
The process has to be rigid so that serious tracking takes place to prevent public officials from abusing public resources. In an effort to achieve this milestone Mr. President, an asset declaration and verification process should be instituted by the LACC. I disagree with your Minister of Justice Designate who has called for the abolition of the LACC and to have it situated within the Ministry of Justice.
The Minister Designate also averred that the Governance Commission (GC) and Law Reform Commission (LRC) should cease to exist. Once the Ministry of Justice absorbs the LACC, you undermine its objective because it will no longer be independent and the fight against corruption will be further compromised. Therefore, such department or division at the Ministry of Justice will only function at the will of the Ministry.
Conversely Mr. President, I would rather suggest that the GC absorb the LRC since the LRC is a reform institution and the GC is the overall governance reform agency. This will not only reduce the government’s wage bill and save costs but will also promote coherence in the governance reform process. Thus, the LRC can be abolished and situated within the GC as a major department.
This also promotes effectiveness and efficiency in your government’s ability to govern. Mr. President, this letter represents my honest opinion on the way forward for our country. As mentioned earlier, I am a Liberian and my thoughts and opinions regarding the way you should govern our country do matter in these critical times.
So, I do not have to be in government, your friend or member of your party before my views impact the decisions that are made by your government to affect the lives of the people of this nation. Therefore, it is my ardent hope that the proposals contained herein will be appropriately considered by your government to enhance its development agenda for the good of the country. May God bless us and save the State.
Josiah Flomo Joekai, Jr.
BA, MA Author and Development Practitioner
+231-776-258265 & 555-258265