Monrovia - Former Minister of Labor and Human Rights Advocate, Atty. Kofi Woods, has called on President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to stop interfering in the 2017 elections.
Atty Woods said the international community must tell the President to stay out and stop interfering in the elections.
"They must dialogue with political parties to stabilize our elections. We cannot continue to be a problem child. We must grow up and become responsible adults taking care of each other and building our nation.”
The former Labor Minister spoke at the induction ceremony for officers of the Liberia Federation of Labor Unions over the weekend.
He stated that Liberia’s democracy is still vulnerable and constantly threatened by leadership deficits, which have plagued the nation. In spite of criticisms of this view, Woods addd: “I held that to be true in the past and do so now.”
“I was clear in my vision and thought and today there’s ample evidence to prove that there are no elders in our land. Liberians tend to give the impression that it is a liability or crime to work in government and no one can leave government without the scar of corruption and theft.”
“After years of elusive peace, tenuous transitional justice (the Truth and Reconciliation process) and cosmetic national reconciliation, our attempt to consolidate our democratic credentials is under threat because we failed to properly reform our institutions.”
“Educated people and intellectuals did not fail Liberia. It is greedy and selfish individuals who did. Educated or not, if you have no values, no integrity and no love for country, it will make no difference,” Woods declared.
“The value we place on materialism and wealth corrupts us and denies our nation of what it deserves,” he further pointed out apparently making the case against ascribing blame along tribal and other divisions in the Liberian society.
He warned that Liberia cannot continue to be a problem child in the ECOWAS region and on the African continent. “We must grow up and become responsible adults taking care of each other and building our nation,” he counseled.
“No leader, however, patriotic will save our country individually. It will be our collective will to reform, love for one another and love for country,” Woods admonished.
He observed that Liberians undermine their institutions and use them for personal rather than collective ends. “We must serve our government because in service to government we perform the highest moral responsibility. However, this must be done with the highest degree of commitment and integrity. Government is often seen as the center for exploitation and ill-gotten wealth.”
“People’s desperation is not to serve but to acquire wealth at the sufferings and agony of our people. This is also true for our various organizations. Our reference to leadership deficit is not limited to the Presidency but at all levels of society: our family, religious institutions, professional bodies, etc,” Woods stated.
The rights lawyer indicated that the complexities Liberia faces will not require cosmetic solutions, but radical and deliberate attempts to fulfill the ideals of nationhood.
He said his fellow Liberians have failed to build strong and viable institutions because Liberians continue to glorify personalities. He added: “Our political, social and economic institutions have become small cartels of motley individuals whose sole purpose is to exploit our people and abuse their innocence.”
The former Labor Minister said there is also a view that when one served in government one must never comment on any issue affecting one's people.
He stressed: “I have a different view. We must serve our government because in service to government we perform the highest moral responsibility. However, this must be done with the highest degree of commitment and integrity.”
“Government is often seen as the center for exploitation and ill-gotten wealth. Hence, people’s desperation is not to serve but to acquire wealth at the sufferings and agony of our people. This is also true for our various organizations. Our reference to leadership deficit is not limited to the Presidency but all levels of society: our family, religious institutions, professional bodies, etc.”
Liberia’s problem, he said, is being compounded by new elements of tribal and group affiliations rather than the quality and value of the character.
“Honest men and women have become enemies of the state. Here lies the Liberian problem and here lies the problem of organized labor in Liberia.
Atty. Woods told the workers union that they are the engines of production, economy and society.
“Workers produce the goods, provide the services, deliver the goods to the market place and even manage the market place."
"No country will survive without a workforce. Workers, thus, have a potential reach and impact that is greater and far-reaching to improve the social and economic conditions of our nations.”
Atty Woods indicated that in Liberia, workers remain one of the most downtrodden and abused.
“Workers are paid less, made to work under slave-like conditions, are not given health care or insurance benefits and often do not have a voice in the decisions that affect them.
“On the economic front, people depend on work to fulfill their need for income to better their lives and the lives of their families, to escape poverty, ignorance and disease, enjoy recreation and achieve status. Work also involves the production or creation of things that make life better and more fulfilling.”
“This is why we insisted on the need to review our labor laws and provide decency in the work place.
"This is why social dialogue among workers, government and employers remain a viable vehicle for progress.”
Atty. Woods said workers in Liberia continue to suffer the wrath of poverty and treated with a large measure of disdain because we have failed to organize, because the workforce has refused to come together into strong labor movements, rather into small, briefcase labor organizations.
“We cannot have the force and effect necessary to transform the sector and make workers proud if we do not unite and organize”
“No government, however, responsive, no minister, however, patriotic can offer you the dignity you deserve. It is by organizing and building institutions larger than yourself and your ego that will provide you the freedom and dignity you deserve,
“Until you organize ourselves, until you focus on building strong union federations and strong solidarities, your real potentials cannot be realized. It is only when we organize that we are able to build power and to change our conditions,” he said.
Civil Society role
Atty. Woods stated that Labor Union is a civil society and can play a very important role in attacking the inequalities, crime and corruption that have sadly taken over our country today.
“Unfortunately, labor unions themselves have fallen prey to this pervasive menace. Labor unions should challenge, organize and vote against corrupt politicians, they can insist on the equitable distribution of the national wealth, they can promote education and healthcare for all and they can insist on justice, accountability and the rule of law; essentially they can create a social justice movement and become a force for change,” He says.
“Democracy simply means rule or governance by the people. But when citizens choose to live their lives as separate, discrete individuals, going their separate ways, acting exclusively as self-contained, self-interested individual persons, then the idea of democracy as “rule by the people” will not become a reality.”
“People may vote in elections – although even for that, many people will ask themselves “why bother since my vote isn’t going to make a difference?” but beyond voting they will do little to create a “will of the people”, let alone help to actually translate that “will” into real power,”
He said history teaches Liberians that whenever people organize, they are stronger and have been able to accomplish their goals.
“The contrast to that is, when people refuse to organize or to stand together, they often perish. Democratic societies bestow upon citizens some basic civil liberties such as freedom of association and speech which must be fully upheld and practiced without hindrance.”
The labor unions play a pivotal role in upholding and protecting these rights and serve as incubators of democracy by building solidarities that promote democratic engagement.
“In this politically charged election period in our country, the role of organizing labor movement in politics could not be more relevant.”
“The relationship between union, economic and political interests is undeniable and this is the motivating factor for union engagement in politics. Labor’s participation in politics is indispensable to the survival and progress of the labor movement.
“Through engagement in politics, unions have not only been able to win benefits for their members, but also to protect their very essence and existence.
"This is why I have an issue with Article 81 & 82, which tends to exclude labor unions from canvassing directly or indirectly and making contributions to political parties.
"A better interpretation and/or amendment will have to be sought in the future,” He states.
Inducting the officers, Mr. Emmett Crayton, Assistant Minister for Trade Union & Social Dialogue at the Ministry of Labor, called for working relations with the government to ensure substantive success for the Union. He encouraged them to work together to realize their objectives.
Meanwhile, Labor Congress president Alfred B. Z. Summerville, pledged his administration’s preparedness to work harder to ensure that the objectives of the Union are realized.
He called on members to live up to their commitments to the Union and warned that there will be no handbag unions as members.
He spoke briefly about his interactions across West Africa with Labor Unions in Ghana, Nigeria, and Senegal and warned that his administration will do things differently to bring progress.