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The Transitional Rush Hour: NTGL - A Democracy or Kleptocracy

By: Groba Leo Williams- (June 08th 2005)  

"...The price of rice, our staple, is out of the reach of most Liberians.  Yet paradoxically, government officials continue to receive huge allowances, which they lavish on fabulous homes and unnecessary foreign travels. An example of this extravagance is seen in the actions of a certain Deputy Managing Director of a public corporation who is on record for throwing cash at individuals who sing his praises...."

Anyone who tries to reflect on what Liberia was some 16 years ago would find a major contrast. Much has changed, mainly for the worse.

Under the regime of Charles Taylor, Liberians cried and complained about the blatant human rights abuses, the forceful conscription of young children into militia gangs, and the abject poverty of the people who could only watch the exorbitant lifestyles of the president and his cronies.  They lived in elegance, hosting wild parties weekly and traveling about in unbelievably large fleets of cars, among other luxuries.  

Along with the poverty and its attending phenomena, the ordinary citizen lived in perpetual fear of being molested or killed for speaking out against the 'Papay' – the name given to Charles Taylor by his fighters.  The victims list included, Samuel Dokie, his wife and other family members, Madam Nowai Flomo, as well as Cllr. Frances Johnson Morris who was harassed and molested; supposedly, on account of mistaken identity. The Police used excessive force against unarmed civilians, many of whom were merely imaginary enemies. The population was kept on edge with constant reports of rebel advances, as well as the mysterious death and disappearance of our friends and neighbors.

Everyone was convinced that the real and immediate problem was Charles Taylor. So ECOWAS and the AU, with the backing of Western nations, arranged Mr. Charles Taylor's exit from Liberia .  A unity government (the NTGL), born out of the Comprehensive Peace Accords (CPA) signed in Ghana would replace the Taylor regime and restore peace to Liberia .
As would be expected, hopes were high with promises of a better life, zero tolerance for corruption, and an end to 'business as usual". Many believed, with the 'devil' – Charles Taylor -- gone, the country was headed for a new and better future. Representatives of the various warring faction, as well as the civil society and county representatives were given key positions in the new transitional government now headed by Mr. Charles Gyude Bryant.  
As it had been with the many transitional governments of the 1990s, those responsible for the murders and displacement of thousands of Liberians were again rewarded with fabulous jobs, all in the name of peace and reconciliation. The government appointed to lead Liberians from war to peace is a conglomeration of warring factions leaders, known human rights abusers, and highly incompetent individuals. With all this, Liberians still hoped for a new day. We truly are a compassionate and optimistic people.  But as Liberians struggle daily to survive, the new transitional government officials were given among other perks brand new US$40,000.00 Grand Cherokee Jeeps. Motivating for a democracy of a few, isn't it?  

Wait a minute! Isn't democracy defined as, government of, for, and by the people? Aren't the laws in a democracy made for the good of the people, because all power is inherent in the people?  If Liberia is a democracy and the officials of the current transitional government the people's representatives, why then are the people suffering, as their servants become millionaires overnight? Yet, why aren't civil servants paid their meager salaries monthly? And why do the citizens lack basic services despite massive donor contributions and the huge taxes government
receives daily?
Could it be Liberia has ceased to be a democracy? Might we now have a Kleptocracy? Is stealing the sole purpose of the present government?  There is no doubt officials of the NTGL are robbing the Liberian people; how else could you explain money earmarked for development mysteriously disappearing without a trace? And the ordinary people are paying the price. Even those who did not own a bicycle before taking a position in the transitional government are now living
like millionaires.
There have been cries about corruption emanating from all segments of the Liberian society. Former custom commissioner, Charles Bennie, who was given the responsibility of collecting government revenue, has stated publicly that the government is corrupt. And recently, the NTLA jettisoned its leaders because of corruption.  How widespread is corruption?  Even the economic advisor to the chairman of the NTGL has admitted that corruption is rampant and the government lacked the will to act.  

The price of rice, our staple, is out of the reach of most Liberians.  Yet paradoxically, government officials continue to receive huge allowances, which they lavish on fabulous homes and unnecessary foreign travels. An example of this extravagance is seen in the actions of a certain Deputy Managing Director of a public corporation who is on record for throwing cash at individuals who sing his praises.  He behaves no differently than the money doublers –those tricksters we commonly refer to as the BM boys. In an economy where more than half the population lives on less than US$1.00 a day, where is the sanctuary for the ordinary person? What will be left after this transitional government leaves, considering it has committed the nation to long-term contracts that were not approved by the people?  This must be the transitional rush hour.

A fortnight ago, Mrs. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf made a shocking statement.  She said that government officials were stealing as if Liberia would no longer exist after the term of the current transitional government expires.  Her statement points to the level of corruption permeating the Charles Gyude Bryant's government that was supposed to deliver Liberians from the evils of Charles Ghankay Taylor's regime.  

Because of entrenched corruption, Liberians have lived without clean water and electricity for the past 15 years.  It is hard to believe this country with a relatively small population sitting on vast mineral and natural resources has to make do without basic necessities in the 21st Century.  

Is there hope in sight? This is anyone's guess. However, I'd say, considering the vast imbalance of wealth and misplaced priority regarding its distribution, it's hard to know whether the transitional leaders are inept, or just simply lacking integrity.  Perhaps, hope lies in the people who will be elected this October. Liberians must elect God-fearing, nationalistic leaders who will be responsive to our needs.  This will go a long way in determining the quality of life we, and our children, enjoy in the future.

With more than 40 presidential candidates in the race-- many who are the same old failed, misguided, recycled politicians again seeking to buy votes – the elections process could become quite confusing. However, we must be selective in singling out the wheat from the chaff.  We must vote our conscience and experience.    

Beware of those candidates will try to entice you with money and rice, seeking to purchase your votes. Remember the past.  They will abandon you and renege on all their promises.  In 1997, we were promised among other things, free education, schools, better roads, bridges, housing, and a computer for every student.  These promises were not fulfilled; instead we were beaten, abused and killed.  Let us not forget the lies and disappointments of the past.

If we want a safe, peaceful and secure nation, it is incumbent upon every Liberian to vote for men and women of integrity.  The government we elect will be democratic only if we choose responsible people with an exemplary record, a clean background, and hands that are not bloodstained.  This time democracy must replace kleptocracy, or else again our future will
remain dismal.  


About the Author

Mr. Groba William is a member of Citizens for TQ and Democracy (CTQD). He's a student of the University of Liberia and the A.M.E.U. in Monrovia . Groba can be contacted in Liberia at 06-513518 or 077-513518.  

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