A LOT OF MISSTEPS have been cited in the early days of the George Weah presidency.
FROM THE DIPLOMATIC SNAFUS that has seen the newly-minted Liberian President address the media in French instead of English during a visit to next-door Senegal; to his choice of wardrobe, which has include slacks and sandals to foreign gowns; to allowing Representative Munah Pelham Youngblood, a lawmaker from Montserrado County District No. 9 to throw her weight around his inner circle when she should be doing the work she was elected to do.
THE NEW PRESIDENT IS ALSO coming under fire after granting an interview to the West African Democracy Radio during which he made what many say is an unrealistic ambition to carry out road connectivity during the first ninety days of his presidency while asserting that both even he as President is affected by the lack of dual citizenship owning to his son, Timothy Weah who plies his trade with the French club Paris St. Germaine.
AS MUCH AS LIBERIANS WERE proud of Weah’s football exploits in Europe, starting with AS Monaco where he became fluent in French after a stint in Cameroun with Tonnere Clara Club, the President’s advisors must insist that he follows the protocol to the core.
FOR STARTERS, despite Liberia being a multilingual country where more than thirty languages are spoken, English remains the official language. Thus, it is unfair for the President to speak in a foreign language during a state or official visit to a foreign nation, particularly if the visit is being relayed or broadcast locally for Liberians to hear.
IT MAKES NO SENSE to broadcast a President’s visit in French to a nation that predominantly speaks English.
STATE TELEVISION BROADCAST the entire press conference in French with both President Weah and his host speaking and responding to journalists in French for a broadcast of keen interests to Liberians.
ENGLISH IS REGARDED as the universal language and leaders are expected to speak in such on the global stage.
QUITE RECENTLY, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the end of his first official visit to the White House since President of the United States of America Donald Trump took office, was hailed for for speaking in English and not his native language.
THE VICE PRESIDENT of India, M Venkaiah Naidu recently struck nerves when he urged people speaking the same language to communicate in their mother tongue instead of in English. "Why should a Tamilian speak to other Tamilian in English? Both know Tamil. They can talk to each other in their mother tongue. A Telugu can speak to another Telugu in their mother tongue," he said.
IN THE CASE OF PRESIDENT WEAH, many are questioning the decision of the state broadcasters to relay in French a visit that nearly an entire nation cannot understand.
THE VARIOUS CONTROVERSIES surrounding the President comes as many debates whether it is too early to begin criticizing the government over early missteps.
- ABRAHAM DARIUS DILLON of the opposition Liberty Party took to his popular social media platform to raise issues about the President’s reported 20-persons entourage to Dakar, Morocco and France last week.
- DILLON WROTE: “When news first broke that Pres. George Weah had traveled with an entourage of over 20 persons and that gov’t money was used to facilitate their travels, some people made issues that the size of the delegation was "too huge" and that gov’t money was being "wasted for nothing". Honestly, I had no issues with that; I argued then that those arguing as such were unfair to the President. I, too, have traveled on gov’t money many times before. Any President of Liberia has the privilege to determine who travels with him/her; and it is always a blessing that could result to opportunities when you travel with your President for whatever reason as the President may deem.”
FORMER EDUCATION MINISTER George Werner came to the defense of the President, urging Liberians to allow the President to make his case to friendly governments and partners within and without, declaring: “Let’s talk about the returns, not the 52,000 USD.”
WERNER ADDS: “I’m more concerned about the returns. What are the accrued benefits of the trips…? In my time government, I did travel to seek funding for the priorities of the MoE, especially making the promise of access to free quality education a reality for poor children in Liberia, some, including the CDC, misunderstood our efforts. While we must guard against excesses, Presidential travels are often necessary.”
DESPITE WERNER’S assertions, Mr. Dillon points out that the key issue is the fact that officials in government must be transparent and accountable in spending. “When government money is spent, simply say it was spent. That is the right and honorable thing to do. It is not honorable to deny it and when the truth comes out, then all the excuses and justifications begin fly. That's dishonesty! It questions integrity and breeds lack of trust going forward. At first, the size of the delegation was rejected and denied. Then, there was the argument that "No gov’t money was spent on the trip". Now, the justifications are flying around, some people are even doing breakdown of the amount as per how much each traveling delegate may receive, simply because the truth is out that "gov’t money" was indeed spent, no matter the amount involved. Why do you have go thru that entire headache to clarify or come around to justify simple thing when those responsible for such public information could have easily said the truth in the first place? For me, this is the issue; it is NOT about the amount spent or size of the delegation, it is simply about saying the truth to the public, no matter how bitter the truth may be or sound to some people. Say the truth always to the people and save the President and yourselves all the headache of coming back to clarify and justify for nothing!”
AS LIBERIANS WEIGH in on President Weah’s early missteps, others are still trying to draw a thin line between promises made so early and those unlikely to be kept, particularly with no actual timeline given for implementation.
CONFUSION IS ALSO in the air over how much the Weah administration inherited from his predecessor, former President, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.
FOLLOWING HIS assertions that he took over a "broken economy and a broke government in his first annual message, Sirleaf came back firing when she told the BBC she did not leave the government broke, a point the Weah-led government has been unable to counter.
EVERYONE IS HOPEFUL THAT President Weah’s reign as President is a successful one; Many others are even looking forward to seeing many of the government’s promises fulfilled. But it is also unfair for anyone, including Mr. Weah’s supporters and those in the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change to charge that it is too early to criticize.
MANY IN THE CDC went on the offensive immediately after the National Elections Commission announced Sirleaf had won the 2005 Presidential elections. The same was repeated six years later after the 2011 Presidential elections.
IS IT TOO EARLY TO criticize? We say an emphatic no. Time should never be an issue when the lives of so many are at risk in a nation where the majorities are often taken for a ride by those at the top of the economic ladder.
FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH, we owe it to President Weah and his government to speak truth to power and hold him and his government accountable.
WE ALSO OWE it to Liberia to hold the President to the words he eloquently delivered during his inaugural address in January. “Together, we owe our citizens clarity on fundamental issues such as the land beneath their feet, freedom of speech, and how national resources and responsibilities are going to shift from this capital to the counties. The people expect better cooperation and more action from their government. We can do better, together.”