It is now time for governance. The World Bank defines governance as “the way power is exercised in the management of a country’s economic and social resources for development.”
Addressing the chronic problems of governance is what makes or breaks a government. The various organs of the state (national, county, and local) will require in-depth review to identify their strengths and weaknesses.
This will form the basis for transformative policies that are consistent with international best practices situated in the Liberian cultural contexts. Governance hinges on two key factors:
The institutional environment that the government constructs to enable full citizens’ participation or citizens’ interaction with one another and with public institutions or officials of government. It also involves the regulatory environment which the government creates to facilitate private sector investment.
In the inaugural speech, President George Weah noted that his government would ensure accountability for economic and financial performance and build regulatory frameworks that are private sector friendly.
But the challenge that past administrations have faced has not been the lack of a clear vision.
Instead, they have suffered from both the lack of capacity to develop and implement appropriate policies and weak political will to achieve stated views. And the quality of governance has gotten compromised in the process.
Good governance is characterized by specific distinct qualities: robust public participation and consent, accountability, transparency, and responsiveness to the needs of the broader citizenry. Besides, governance must be effective, efficient, equitable, and abide by the rule of law, enforced impartially.
Past governments have been mostly irresponsive to public opinion. Under such conditions, corruption and waste, which have bedeviled the Liberian state have grown. The CDC won the elections by majority mandate.
Hence, nothing is most important than taking the views of the more substantial citizenry, particularly the most vulnerable populations into account when making its decisions. Responsiveness may keep the CDC government in power for a longer time. Now, what will be some of the policy measures that might contribute to good governance under the new government?
Prioritization of Privatization: The Weah government should reduce the size of the state government and ensure that most, if not all State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs) are privatized.
While one is aware of the social welfare and other strategic necessities that underlie maintaining these SOEs, the practice should be ended because quite often these institutions are ineffective and even serve as types of machinery for fostering patronage and corruption.
Unless the new government demonstrates the strong commitment to privatization, the expressed vision for reducing regulatory constraints and minimizing crime will be hard to achieve. Furthermore, it will face difficulties in cutting its budget deficits, which sometimes arise from SOEs that have been known to incur considerable loses.
The Weah administration will have to make efficiency improvement the basis of its desire to transform governance. Privatization should not be done arbitrarily. Every attempt to restructure or transform government must be rooted in data and evidence, for example, examining cash flows rather than mere assets.
Also, privatization should be informed and driven by safeguards, legislation, and appropriate institutional mechanisms. Privatization should also always be focused on serving the interest of the more significant public
An awareness campaign should be launched to inform the public about the entity government wishes to privatize. Sale of a certain percentage of shares should be made available to the ordinary people. This will go a long way in creating ownership among the masses, hence, fulfilling part of the promise of pro-poor development policy. The new government should make transparency the cornerstone of the entire privatization process.
This will, in turn, strengthen the regulatory framework and ensure access to information to media and the civil society organizations. More so, immense efforts should be made to improve the efficiency of the public enterprises that will not be privatized immediately until they are finally privatized.
Concession privatization contracts should be drafted very carefully and meticulously to avoid some of the pitfalls that the government has faced on previous occasions of investment contract making.
Decentralization: If there is one policy tool that will bring about the devolution of powers, it will be the decentralization of public service delivery institutions. For the new government’s proposed pro-poor policy to work, the inequitable distribution of public services must be curbed.
The existing TVET policy should be reviewed and linked with opportunities for the youth and other vulnerable populations to engage in micro-entrepreneurial ventures. By decentralizing services, and authority to the county and local governments, the Weah administration will induce greater citizen participation amongst those Liberians who have been untouched by the presence of the state.
Noteworthy, decentralization will have to be inclusive. It must address issues facing the less dominant social and economic groups in Liberian society. If the Weah government fails to strike a healthy balance between centralization and decentralization, mainly, strengthening local governments, development will not reach the underserved and hard-to-reach populations.
Decentralization policy will only become meaningful if powers are given to local people to elect their leaders (for example, Superintendents, Mayors, County Chief Education Officers, County Health Officers, School Boards, etc.).
Only then will the Weah government reduce, even curb the over-centralization of the national government. When President Weah reduces his appointment powers, he will also be expanding the reach of our democracy, which he promised.
Regions of the country that have been socioeconomically deprived for protracted periods will gain the required authority to undertake essential development programs. It is true that the Governance Commission has done significant policy framing on decentralization, but the time has come for implementation.
Noteworthy, the national government cannot adequately transfer power if the leadership, administrative, and fiscal capacities of local governments remain sparse. For too long, the central government has shied away from delegating legitimate powers to the local governments. That should start now.
The first step must be to set up an accountability framework to ensure that resources made available to county and local governments are used for the intended purposes.
Once county and local governments are given sufficient fiscal space and equipped to make decisions and then held accountable for governance by the local people, they will begin to act by the requirements and the needs of the local people.
No doubt, the county and local governments should be accountable to the central government, but their authorities should not be usurped or interfered with by the central government.
After the appropriation of county development funds, legislators should have nothing to do with them to prevent some from being misused. These funds should be turned over to local development committees so that they can implement the local agenda.
Reinventing the Bureaucracy: Privatization and decentralization would reduce the size and span of the national government’s control. But transformation of one of the most critical tools of governance - the bureaucracy, is required, if the new government is to achieve some of its inaugural promises.
Right, under the last administration, the Civil Service Agency did some work to manage the size and ineffectiveness of the government, but admittedly, these interventions did not adequately address over-politicization and corruption, which have severely undermined Liberia’s economic, social and political development.
If one thing has contributed to inadequately providing the basic needs and delivering adequate social services to the Liberian people and thus eroded the legitimacy and stability of the state, it has been the poor performance of the bureaucracy.
One of the weaknesses of the CSA is that it is not an independent commission that promotes the welfare of the civil servants. As it is now, the CSA seemingly acts as an instrument of the central government rather than an autonomous agency which primarily serves the welfare and interests of civil servants,
Unless fundamental structural and managerial changes occur in the legal framework, institutional setup, recruitment, training and appointment procedures, as well as work environment, incentive, reward, responsibility and accountability, the bureaucracy will fail to become effective. The fundamental objective of civil service reform must be interventions that can change the attitudes and behaviors of civil servants.
The minds and moods of civil servants are critical variables in realizing efficient service delivery, operational efficiency, and customer satisfaction - tall orders, but achievable. Investments will also need to be made in restructuring the legal and regulatory frameworks relating to the recruitment, training service conditions as well as incentives, compensation, and accountability of civil servants.
An important lesson from Liberian governance history which would be of vital importance to the Weah administration is that it should not overestimate what it plans to accomplish during its tenure. There are many stubborn hurdles which will stand in the way of achieving the vision articulated in the inaugural speech. Failure to achieve promises made by leaders can lead to disenchantment.
Most importantly, President Weah and his team need to be mindful that nurturing consensus to bring about transformative domestic policies can come against deeply ingrained resistance from some in the status quo. Unless the systems and structures of governance are transformed, no leader will ever excel in permanently altering Liberia’s long lasting governance challenges.
Emmanuel Dolo, Ph. D., Contributing Writer