RIA Scandal Secret Recordings
RIA Scandal Secret Recordings
RIA Scandal Secret Recordings
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|Legacy of a Failed Experience: The President's Smokescreen Unveiled||| Print ||
|Written by Philip B. Suah, Jr., Contributor|
|Wednesday, 11 September 2013 04:43|
One of the marks of great leaders is the persistence of their impact long after they’ve left the scene. Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Nelson Mandela are classic examples of leaders whose legacies continue through retirement and/or death. I was in Washington DC for work during the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and I saw firsthand the impact of Dr. King on Americans (decades after his death) as thousands of people from all over the country braved the rain and long lines to commemorate his actions. What he gave to humanity is unquestionable and speaks to the character he exhibited during the most challenging of circumstances. His sacrifices have changed my life as well, affording me opportunities I could not have had he failed. Legacy of such is not based on rhetoric alone but actions that are compatible with speech. Today, Liberians are witnessing President Sirleaf’s quest to establish a legacy; however, one where speech and actions are misaligned.
During a recent installation program, President Sirleaf encouraged government officials to fight corruption and stand up against the disease that has ravaged her administration since 2005. The President reportedly exhibited anger towards corruption but what puzzled me as I read the story was the potential source of the reported anger. Was the President angry because of corruption? If so, then the President should have consistently shown such anger since 2005 because corruption is nothing new in her administration. Liberia has been on the list of the world’s most corrupt countries for consecutive years under President Sirleaf, according to Transparency International, an independent organization in Europe. Was the President then angry because she has started to receive negative public criticisms from the International community and foreign press? This seems to be logical given the recent bad international press the administration received for the mass failures during the University of Liberia’s entrance exams as well as the embarrassing fiasco surrounding the Rodney Sieh case.
The President seems to be more concerned about her legacy than she is with the plight of the average Liberian. She is relying on her goodwill with the international community to beautify an embarrassing performance at home. Despite domestic cries of corruption, nepotism, poor health care and justice systems since 2005, President Sirleaf has vehemently defended her administration to the International community. Her show of confidence in the midst of contradictions at home have led to perceptions of success from the international community, allowing the President to receive accolades (including the Nobel peace prize) from envoys and foreign dignitaries, lauding her accomplishments in Liberia. Despite crippling joblessness and economic hardships to the majority of Liberians as corruption goes unpunished, President Sirleaf and some who enjoy the comfort of her government have proudly proclaimed that Liberia is moving forward.
After criticizing President Tolbert of nepotism, President Sirleaf defends her decisions to employ her immediate and extended family (and friends) to high positions in government, claiming their qualifications justify those appointments. The very premise of her argument suggests President Tolbert’s relatives were unqualified, which I believe is untrue (and irrelevant). In her memoir This Child will be Great, President Sirleaf says of Tolbert “Every step he took towards integration of the country was vigorously and tenaciously opposed by the ruling oligarchy. These people were members not only of his inner circle but of his very family; one brother was minister of finance and one of the nation’s top businessmen, another who was President Pro Tem of the Liberian Senate, a cousin who had served as assistant secretary of the Treasury, and on and on. All this made it very difficult for Tolbert to pursue his progressive ideas. Later, when the terrible descent began, his brother Frank would accuse him of “opening the gates of hell” by consorting with natives. This was Tolbert’s contradiction: he was a man caught in the middle, willing but unable to move fully forward, unwilling to retreat.” Madam Sirleaf published these statements as President of Liberia while appointing and justifying the inclusion of her following immediate and extended family members, among others (who serve or have served in the following capacities):
The President has more immediate family members in her government than Tolbert did while thousands of other qualified Liberian are jobless, and the future of thousands more (including the 25,000 who failed the entrance exams)are handicapped by the dismal failure of the education system in Liberia. Any President serious for change would distance his/herself from the appearance of copying the failed policies of past administrations. So if the President’s family members are qualified (and I do not question their qualification), why would the President want her administration to look like the Tolbert administration she strongly criticized in her memoir? If nepotism was bad for Liberia under President Tolbert, shouldn’t it be bad for Liberia under President Sirleaf?
So let’s not get hopeful that the President is finally angry at corruption; I believe the President is only now embarrassed because the International community is looking beyond the smokescreen she’s relied on to polish her “legacy.” But those who should be angry are the Liberians who have no jobs, those who cannot afford to sustain a family with food because of poverty; those who have to watch their family members die at underfunded and ill-equipped local hospitals as the President and others in government hop a plane to foreign countries to get adequate healthcare; the youths whose development receives little funding in the budget relative to budgetary allotment for cars; I’ll understand anger from students who attend schools with poor curriculum and can barely pass an entrance exam, anger from Liberians abroad who have to hear the dismal failures of 25,000 students from foreign co-workers and friends; anger from students who want to use their diplomas to enter institutions of higher learning outside of Liberia and are fearful because of the negative press about the education system at home; anger from people struggling to find “bony” for “dry rice” while corrupt officials ride cars five times their pay; anger from Liberians who spend a lifetime building a small shack only to see that a newly appointed government official can build mansions within months of working for the government; anger from Liberians who cannot afford transportation as some in government receive almost a thousand gallons of gas monthly for commute within a 15 mile radius; anger from parents who send their kids to school hungry while they see the girlfriends of government officials traveling to foreign countries to buy clothes; anger that people accused of corruption in valid audits can turn around and sue reporters for quoting audit findings. Such anger we can understand, not the rhetoric of posturing without action. The newly installed officials have no incentive to stand against anything when they see a leader who has escorted corruption unabated eight years running.
Since 2005, Liberia has received billions of dollars in foreign aid, yet we have very little to show for it. According to the Financial Times, in 2008, “foreign aid to Liberia represented 771% of government spending, up from 652% in 2007, 369% in 2006 and 218% in 2005.” Our reliance on foreign aid has more than tripled under the President according the data, leaving Liberia susceptible to foreigners controlling its destiny. This increased dependence on foreign aid contradicts the President’s earlier promise to free Liberia of foreign aid within 10 years. Furthermore, the failed promises of the President’s poverty reduction strategy (Liberia is still among the world’s top 10 poorest nations), the current “road for resources” approach with China (poorly constructed roads at that) and some of those ill-considered concession agreements will continue to keep us as beggars while mortgaging the future of Liberia.
The initial increase in foreign direct investment to Liberia is now hamstrung by poor concession agreements, while the gain of some debt forgiveness made by the International community (with credit to the President as well) has now been reversed by corruption. The President suggests it would have been accurate if Auditor General Morlu said she inherited an administration that was three times more corrupt than other administrations. Ironically, that would mean there is a corruption multiplier far greater than Morlu’s assertion because more money has been unaccounted for in this administration than in Interim President Bryant’s administration. So if Bryant’s administration was three times more corrupt than others, and President Sirleaf’s administration is more corrupt than Bryant’s, where is the benefit to the Liberian people? Whether three times more corrupt or not, corruption continues to destroy Liberia.
I believe institutional attitude depicts leadership; the corrupt attitude of government officials since 2005 depict a leader that is accommodating of corruption; a leader seemingly putting loyalty to family and a network of friends over the people, a leader who has no credibility to sincerely fight corruption because of the same entrapment she mentions against President Tolbert. As parents, we can’t always prevent our kids from misbehaving; however, one thing we can do is discipline them when they do. Eventually, a smart kid would realize the consistency of discipline and desist from the unwanted behavior. That’s what good parents do. The same is true with leadership in government. Start prosecuting theft (embezzlement or whatever we call it now), start investigating sudden wealth, and auctioning off property of guilty officials to pay back government for stolen funds and you start to see that behavior dwindle. This is how one starts to leave behind a good legacy and there would be no need to pay surrogates to craft or massage a legacy. It would be branded on the conscious of the people.
But our President intends to leave behind a majority of Liberians in economic hardship and ride into the sun, confident that her “legacy” is one that she and her progeny will be proud of. Not so. What the President miscalculates is that Liberians are more exposed today. We too have received quality education; we have traveled and worked for reputable companies in foreign countries. Additionally, we have the benefit of the media that is more technologically advance, and information is much more available and accessible than in previous generations. So we can make informed decisions by connecting the dots, something previous generations could not do because of less access to information. So regardless of the stance the International community takes, we all will help write the legacy of President Sirleaf and this administration. Our voices will be heard, not just the paid lobbyists and crafty surrogates who will be hired to try and reshape the reality of a failed leadership into an illusion of greatness when the President leaves office. We will inform our children and grandchildren of the hardships experienced by the majority in the midst of abundance for the few who hold high positions in government or who are in the President’s network of family and friends. We too will write books and memoirs detailing the countless audits from reputable organizations and auditors who have exposed corruption in this administration, only to see their reports shelved while the same corrupt officials are transferred from one government post to another in wanton disregard for all that is ethical and professional. This, too, will be the legacy of our President and her administration. We will use libraries, museums, the Internet, social media and future media to document the intransigence of this leadership in fighting corruption and delivering basic needs to the average Liberian. We will campaign against any effort to celebrate a massaged legacy because the reward would not match the domestic output.
My frustration toward the output of this administration is not one stamped in hate as others have exhibited in print, neither disrespect for President Sirleaf; rather, it is one dipped in disbelief at how a well trained and experienced professional (whose individual academic and prior work credentials I truly admire) could manage such a failed and corrupt system of government for so long. How can one who stood admirably against the tyranny of President Doe (with personal and emotional scars) perform in ways that repeats the “sins” of our fathers?
It is difficult sometimes to write as I have written because Liberians are used to deferring to the older person, the younger person sometimes “biting the tongue” to show respect to someone older. What gives me courage is the saying that parents should not provoke their children…and President Sirleaf has provoked us all with unrestrained corruption, increasing income disparity, nepotism, delusion of grandeur in the midst of poverty, and a repeat of failed policies. So if we believe our grade school book that the emperor had no clothes, let’s also proclaim that we see through the pretense and smokescreen enough to know that Liberia is not moving forward. And fortunately, the International community is now seeing what we’ve been seeing for quite some time.