Grand Bassa ‘Youthful’ Superintendent Relishing Challenge of Leading County

Baikpeh says he’s “not under pressure” amid stereotypes about young people’s ability to lead the country.

Buchanan – Despite being Grand Bassa County’s youngest superintendent in as many decades, Janjay Baikpeh says he’s “able and determine” to meet the expectations of his people.

Report By: Alpha Daffae Senkpeni / [email protected]

Baikpeh claims he’s “not under pressure” amid stereotypes about young people’s ability to lead the country. To achieve such feat, he has embarked on holding regular discussions with all stakeholders.

“Since we took over in March 2018, we’ve gone like nine months in office; we are able to reach out to every facet of our county ranging from the young people, elders, the Christians and Muslim communities, and the disabled community – having conversation on how we can govern with them,” he told FrontPageAfrica during an exclusive interview recently in Buchanan.

“Nobody was born with experience, once you’ve been charged with responsibility to perform certain task you have to do it for your generation, and I think this is what we see in this position.

“There will be stereotyping but it is our responsibility as leaders to defy those stereotypes that will come our way so that we can be able to give another young person the opportunity to serve.”

The youthful superintendent of one of Liberia’s most historic counties faces a daunting task of breaking the jinx of politics in the county – its divisiveness and segmentation coming from the divergence of political views amongst county officials and legislators.

The ramifications of political bickering in the recent past years have led to delays in the implementation of several development projects.

Some observers say competing political interest often sparks discordant amongst members of the Legislative caucus, on one hand, and the appointees of the president on the other hand.

Between 2010 and 2016, the rivalry was palpable and reached a boiling point on several occasions. On one occasion, the Legislative Caucus filed a vote of no confidence in the then Superintendent Etweeda Cooper. And a certain Levi Dehman was appointed by former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to replace Cooper, but the political disagreement was still unending.

Baikpeh says he’s not wary of the competing political interest coming from other influential politicians of the county.

“We must put away our personal ego and make sure we do what our people want. So, what you do, if a vision comes by a vision bearer, that vision should be embraced by all of us; work along and make sure that it is achievable,” he said while citing the Fairgrounds road project, which was proposed by Buchanan District Representative Matthew Joe.

“You don’t do unnecessary chest-beating for these things because it is for the people, even if somebody takes the glory, what I want is it was done during my regime so that when I leave from here you can beat your chest for me… if the time comes to run campaign, I’m going to draw my line because I will support my party but outside of that we must all work together because it’s the most singular objective for any leader.”

With just nine months in office, the new superintendent first task was to galvanize the support of stakeholders in the county. Balancing his power in a traditionally rooted and politically charged county is still a looming challenge for him.

But so far, there has been no major incident and it appears he’s enjoying the confidence of all the lawmakers and major actors.

“We have been reaching out to everyone; whether you are in the governing structure of the local government or not,” he said. “We make sure that we bring them on board to make them to understand that they all have a role to play.”

“It is our responsibility to bring all of our compatriots together to make sure we work in the common interest of our people,” he said, referencing the success of the December 7, 2018 county council sitting held in the port city.

Over the last decade the sitting often generated tension, giving birth to strain relations amongst county officials and legislative caucus members.

Despite few upheavals, 2018’s sitting was relatively successful.

Superintendent Biakpeh says the polarity of political views did not perturb the pertinent issues during the gathering.

“The first thing I know is that in leadership, you don’t look down on people you lead … what you do is to make sure you swallow the bitter pills and inculcate everybody in your leadership; our people think we are flexible.

“This county is highly political then even Montserrado but we’re managing with all those things to bring them together, so we take responsibility we don’t switch blames.”

He says political campaign can wait until the time is ripe for it; for now he’s committed to working with different political ideas and individuals for the betterment of the county.

“Now, we have left the campaign mode [and] we are in a leadership position, we must be able to lead and bring people back together after a heated political debate in 2017 that lasted close to a year, we need to now come together as leaders.”

Already, he and others worked with Senator Jonathan Kaipay of Liberty Party to host the county’s first investment conference – an event that lured several foreign investors, although the tangibles are still far-fetch.

However, the superintendent disclosed that some of the firms have become returning and holding further consultations for possible investment in Grand Bassa County but he called on people of the county to exercise patience.

Buchanan hosts several multinational companies including steel giant ArcelolMittal Liberia, Equatorial Palm Oil and Liberian Agricultural Company (LAC) – the country’s second largest rubber plantation; however, many residents claim they are not feeling the impact of these FDIs.

But Baikpeh says his administration is engaging these firms through dialogues to ensure they impact some of the ongoing development projects of the county. 

“We cannot be combative with concession companies. We will negotiate between the companies and our people but we cannot be combative because when they pullout we have more to lose, so we will be persuasive and sit with them and make sure what belongs to our people be given to them and that should only be done in a constructive and orderly way,” he explains.

He disclosed that over 125 young college students were recently given vacation jobs by some of the companies in the county following several engagement.

Challenges Are Still Glaring

From bad roads to upheavals at the county’s community college to slicing of jobs at ArcelolMittal Liberia and alleged bad labor practice at LAC plantation, the county has a rocky economy.

Corruption has always been hovering over all the past administrations. Audit reports by the General Auditing Agency unearthed several financial improprieties in recent years and the consequences of alleged corruption have seen development projects stalled.

At the same time, the new superintendent says “financial capacity” is now a challenge for the county. He’s confident that with the conduct of the recent county sitting, things would gradually fall in place.

“What was agreed upon [at the county sitting] has been resoluted and signed by each and every one of us so we made it our duty and responsibility to write the Ministry of Internal Affairs so it can be able to submit the resolution to the Ministry of Finance so that we can be able to access our county development funds.”

Like his boss President George Weah, the Grand Bassa County superintendent too says roads connectivity is also one of the top priorities of the county.

Putting farm-to-market roads as key amongst the road projects for the county, he also cited the under construction Fairground road which links the city center to the Unification pavilion as a major project for the county.