LIBERTY PARTY’S RESPONSE TO THE PRESIDENT ANNUAL MESSAGE CUM CAMPAIGN SPEECH
By Charles Walker Brumskine Political Leader, Liberty Party (February 1, 2010
Officials of the University of Liberia
Administrators and Faculty
Student Leaders and students
Officers & Members of Liberty Party
Ladies & Gentlemen
Liberty Party’s political leader Charles Walker Brumskine looks over speech before presentation at the University of Liberia Monday. Brumskine said it is understandable that anyone who is not a Liberian, feeling the hardship caused by the failed policies of the Sirleaf administration, would believe that miracles are taking place in Liberia from listening to Sirleaf’s State of the Nation address.
As has become customary over the last four years, I have the distinguished honor, on behalf of Liberty Party, to respond to the Annual Message of the President, Her Excellency Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Today, I am particularly proud to be able to do so on the grounds of my Alma Mater, the Lux in Tenebris, in this auditorium, where I too once sat to listen to other alumni of this great university. From Liberia College to the University of Liberia, this school has produced some of Liberia’s better leaders, and always will. Where you sit today, I once sat, so I thank you, the students, student leaders and the authority of the University of Liberia for this opportunity to once again be a part of you.
Lest I forget, let me take this opportunity to say a big thank you to the Government of the People’s Republic of China for the newly constructed facilities at the University’s Fendell Campus.
Our response this year is, however, slightly different in two respects: (i) we respond not just to an Annual Message pursuant to the constitutional duty of the President, but to an Annual Message cum campaign speech of candidate Sirleaf. (ii) Some of the criticisms and suggestions we make today, you would have heard before, as many ills of the Sirleaf Administration remain unabated, while the President continues to impress non-Liberians with pronouncements of her “fight against corruption,” “good governance and the rule of law,” her “poverty reduction strategy,” and so forth.
Listening to, or reading the President’s speech, it is understandable that anyone who is not a Liberian, feeling the hardship caused by the failed policies of the Sirleaf administration, would believe that miracles are taking place in Liberia. But we also cannot run away from the fact that over the years, we have, and, to some extent, we continue to conduct ourselves as a people incapable of self-governance, unable to unite in the interest of the common good, and have yet to realize who we are, knowing our rightful place in the annals of nations.
It therefore comes as no surprise when others tend to define us by the assumed limitations that have been self-inflicted. But I am convinced that the vast majority of Liberians are ready and prepared to break the shackles of the past—ethnic divide, classes of the privileged few and the neglected masses, corruption and nepotism that subject our national interest to insatiable greed, selling our children’s future for a few dollars today, and beating and torturing others because the President must stay in power at any cost.
Let us instead remind ourselves of who we really are. We are a people who declared the first black republic in Africa, its shortcomings notwithstanding; we served as a beacon of hope for blacks all over the world, particularly those in the United States of America, who were still laboring under the yoke of slavery; we are a people who started the process of dismantling the evil system of apartheid in South Africa, when, Liberia along with the Empire of Ethiopia, instituted legal action against the South African regime; the tax dollars of our forebear were used to support the struggle of the African National Congress (ANC) and the South West African People Organization (SWAPO) of what is known today as Namibia; in Saniquelle, Nimba County, our nation gave birth to what is known today as the African Union; and, we were a founding member of the United Nations and ECOWAS. Yes we may have fallen, but as Marion Cassell sings, we will rise; Liberia will shine again. We are a great people!
No administration in the history of our country has received more international aid, benefited from more multilateral assistance, and been the target of such international goodwill as the Sirleaf government. Yet after four years of being in power, about 85% of the population is still unemployed and four out of every five Liberian cannot find $1 dollar a day on which to live. For the ordinary Liberian, not much has changed. In fact, life has gotten harder.
The Government’s Vision
The President spoke of her vision for Liberia being enshrined in her Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS). And that partly explains why the President has performed so poorly. A national vision is not simply a document of imported ideas or a dream of a better tomorrow without a strategy to achieve the dreams. A national vision embraces goals and objectives that are pursued in the interest of the people and not the interest of a few. It is not a vision when the action or lack of action of the government make the few richer and the majority poorer; it is not a vision when the government pursues the same policies that brought Liberia to its knees!
How can the President claim to have a vision for reducing poverty among Liberians, when the President has made no secret of her desire to destroy the Liberianization policy, which is designed to ensure that Liberians have a chance to compete in business, lift themselves out of poverty, feed their families, send their children to school, and pay their hospital bills? The Liberianization policy of setting aside specified businesses for only Liberians was inaugurated by President Tolbert, and expanded during my leadership of the Liberian Senate.
The President’s first attempt to put Liberians out of business was to have the Liberianization Act repealed. After much opposition from the Liberian Business Association and the Liberty Party, she was compelled to recall the bill. Now, her proposed Investment Act of 2009 is stealthily drafted to destroy the whole idea of Liberianization, and thereby throw more Liberians out of business. The result of this Act will increase, not decrease, poverty. No wonder President Sirleaf’s PRS is now widely referred to as PIS, poverty increasing strategy, at many Intellectual Forum Centers (Hitai Shops). All the talk of poverty reduction will be nothing more than talk, unless and until Liberians are empowered to own and operate their own businesses.
We once again call upon the Legislature to delete from the proposed Investment Act of 2009, every provision that would allow non-Liberians to engage in those businesses that have been set aside for Liberians. The Legislature would also serve the interest of the Liberian people well and help minimize corruption in the country by enacting sector incentives that everyone is entitled to once a certain level of investment is made, as opposed to special project incentives as are now in vogue. This would limit the discretion of bureaucrats, which discretion creates the opportunity to corrupt the investment process.
And the Sirleaf Administration should learn from the United States how affirmative action works, and how it has helped disadvantaged Americans by reversing years of inequities. Ironically, it must take a sort of affirmative action plan to empower Liberians to participate in trade and commerce in their own country.
In Liberty Party’s Economic Policy Brief of 2008, we suggested, among other things, that the Government provides incentives for banks and other financial institutions to extend credit to small Liberian businesses. We were pleased to learn that the USAID has entered into an arrangement with local banks for the funding of Liberian businesses. But USAID’s intervention must be seen for what it truly is or ought to be–a stop-gap measure, never a substitute for a well-thought-out national policy and program to empower Liberian businesses.
The President spoke of several concession agreements that she has submitted or will submit to the Legislature for ratification. But the irony of the investment situation in Liberia is that last year the President told Liberians that the global economic downturn has resulted into rubber concessionaires not replanting and ArcelorMittal Steel (Mittal) delaying the start of its operations. During her 2009 Annual Message, the President told Liberians that China Union and Buchanan Renewable Energy were expected to create more than 3000 new jobs. Liberty Party then asked the President to kindly explain how she expected China Union to escape the effect of the global economic downturn, which had adversely impacted Mittal and other companies operating in Liberia.
What happened to the China Union investment, which was supposed to be about US$2.6 billion, and has not created the 3000 jobs, as President Sirleaf had promised? There is now evidence that the government failed to do its due diligence, and as a result awarded Liberia’s major mining concession to China Union—a firm, lacking the financial resources to implement the contract. What else explains China Union’s inability to pay the full amount of US$40,000,000 that is due the government?
Now this time around, the President has promised to create 8,000 jobs. The President asked us to believe that she will create the 8,000 jobs over the next six months, not from multi-billion dollars investments, but from US$231,000, which she expects to collect from the Lebanese Cultural Union, the Indian community, and from several public corporations and institutions. Can you believe that, or am I missing something? Does the President not remember what she promised to do last year and has not done with the multi-billion dollars investment?
The President could not create 300 jobs with more than $3billion in investments. She would now have us believe that she will create 8000 jobs with $231,000 in investments. I know I left LU years ago, but mathematical formulae could not have changed that much. This has to be an illusion! I wonder if her advisors have been reading fairy tale books and thought they were economics text books. The President’s promise reminds me of the girl in fairy tale, Rumpelstiltskin, who had to spin straw into gold to save her life. In any case, the girl had to promise to give up her first child to the dwarf, Rumpelstiltskin, as his pay for helping her spin straw into gold.
So let us be careful with the 8000 jobs that President Sirleaf will create in the next six months. Each job will pay not more than a monthly salary of US$28.88. (This is simple arithmetic.) And after one month all of the jobs will disappear, just as Rumpelstiltskin, did. If the President and her advisors would take the time to study Liberty Party’s Economic Policy Brief, they would find a few ways to create some real jobs.
The President said that the price of rice has been reduced from US$35 a year ago to US$25, and the price of cement has been reduced from US$16 to about US$8.50, because her government has of late “encouraged competition by opening the markets.” Congratulations, Madam President! But it is not enough for the President to appear on the day of the announcement of her candidacy for a second term to speak of this sudden reduction of prices. This announcement comes four years too late, Madam President! For four years, Liberians who least could afford it have been made to pay US$10.00 more than was necessary for a bag of rice, and US$7.50 more than was necessary for a bag of cement.
The Liberian people have been duped and someone should pay for this. Someone has to be prosecuted for this outrageous profiteering. The Sirleaf Government should account to the people for the profiteering that has taken place over the last four years at the expense of the average Liberian.
In our Economic Policy Brief, Liberty Party stated that, there is inadequate support for agriculture from government in the form of extension programs, exacerbated by the lending environment that makes it impossible for farmers to secure funding for that sector of the economy. As a result, agribusiness is far from realizing its potential. In fact the sector is stymied in its growth by the lack of available support.
It is good to learn that the Sirleaf government has taken yet another page from Liberty Party’s Economic Policy Brief, indicating that the World Food Program (WFP) will purchase rice from local farmers. While this is a welcome beginning, it confirms what we have said all along, that the Sirleaf government is lagging in its development initiatives. WFP’s involvement in Government’s attempt to stimulate economic growth in the agriculture sector indicates that after four years of her administration, Liberia’s development partners are still not convinced that the government has the capacity for development assistance. But as with the intervention of USAID to assist local banks provide funding to Liberian businesses, WFP’s intervention in our agricultural sector must not, and cannot, be a substitute for a national policy for the medium and long-term growth of this very vital sector of our economy.
Unfortunately, the shortcomings of the Sirleaf Administration have not been limited to economic revitalization, but extend to governance and the rule of law. After four years in office this administration still has not shown a clear predisposition to meaningful governance reform, particularly as it relates to those issues that make the Liberian president a virtual demigod and the government the master of its citizens. First, the President thought that it was strange that city mayors should be elected. She sought and was granted the authority by the Supreme Court to appoint city mayors, following confirmation by the Liberian Senate. Then our President felt that it was below her dignity to comply with the constitutional requirement of confirmation of her city mayors, as ruled by the Supreme Court of Liberia. Although in its fifth year, the Sirleaf Administration has refused to hold local elections for Town, Clan, and Paramount Chiefs since taking office—dismissing and appointing chiefs at will. President Sirleaf encourages the intimidating and dangerous practice of lining up the poor to present resolutions asking her to seek reelection because she has suddenly become indispensable to the body polity.
Presidential and Legislative elections are due in 2011. Following the first national census in more than twenty years, there is a need for re-apportionment of electoral districts. But the Threshold Bill has been more than two years in the making, and the President has simply failed to provide leadership on the issue. While I would like to agree with the President that the threshold should not be set too low, as to unnecessarily increase public sector expenditure—the wage bill and other benefits outlay, the questions remain: Where has the President been over the last two years; why has she not provided leadership on the issue? Every other bill in which the President has shown interest has been expeditiously enacted into law; sometimes too hastily. So why has the Threshold Bill been treated differently?
The President spoke of her Whistleblower Protection Act to “… encourage the participation of every citizen in the fight against corruption.” “This Act,” the President says, “will be a powerful tool in the fight against corruption.” Really? The President and her legal advisors have most certainly defined “citizen” in the Whistleblower Act to exclude Liberians employed at the General Auditing Commission (GAC). Just about every audit performed by the GAC has uncovered massive corruption in the Sireleaf Government. But the President treats the GAC as if it were the offender, as its findings are selectively dealt with—some are ignored, others are sent to the Legislature for their “professional review.” Most times the little guys are immediately arrested and imprisoned, some higher-ups are only suspended, while the President’s friends and political allies are transferred horizontally or even promoted.
While pretending to be battling corruption, the President failed to report to the people of Liberia on any specifics relating to her fight against corruption. What has become of the Knuckles Gate II corruption scandal, the LPRC oil deal with Nigeria, and the unlawful withdrawal of money from the Social Security funds by the President’s office? What became of the failed Jallah Town Road project, constructed by the Ministry of Public Works? These are just a few of the unresolved and unprosecuted corruption cases.
President Sirleaf should have realized by now that an effective battle against corruption must begin from the top, or else punishing junior employees of government, while the “big shots” are allowed to walk away with their loot and largesse only serve to embolden corrupt government officials. Remember the Liberian adage—the fish begins to rot from the head.
The huge amount of money that disappears from sources of national revenue every year under President Sirleaf’s stewardship could have been used to improve the lives of the average Liberian—making education less expensive for university students, for example!
Given the overwhelming evidence in support the President’s lack of resolve to fight corruption, especially when her friends are involved, it is difficult not to conclude that her Whistleblower Act is yet another one of her gimmicks designed to impress members of the international community.
Consider the TRC’s Report. Not long after the TRC recommended that the President be barred from holding public office for thirty years, because of her role in the killing of about 10% of the population of Liberia and the destruction of our country, she announced that she is seeking a second term. One can only wonder what would happen if a Whistleblower disclosed some corrupt act of the President. The President would most likely immediately announce her candidacy for a third term of office. And just as the TRC Commissioners cannot get their benefits out of the Sirleaf Government, the whistleblower is likely to be punished by the Sirleaf Administration.
“I have directed my Administration to give greater attention to corruption in our Human Rights report. People everywhere should have the right to start a business or get an education without paying a bribe. We have a responsibility to support those who act responsibly and to isolate those who don’t, and that is exactly what America will do.” Those are the words of Barack Obama, President of the United States of America, spoken during his visit to our sister Republic of Ghana. Liberia’s traditional relationship with the United States notwithstanding, the President chose not to visit Liberia. Corruption is indeed a human rights issue in Liberia!
Rule of law
The rule of law is a foundation for both our liberties and for order. In any functioning democracy, it is adherence to the rule of law that guarantees equal treatment of all citizens . The rule of law allows us to organize our lives, plan our futures, and resolve disputes in a rational and equitable way. Many of Liberia’s historical struggles have had their roots in the utter disrespect for the rule of law by those to whom state power has been entrusted. And though many of those currently serving in the Sirleaf Government and the president herself have been vocal critics of past governments on this issue, the country seems no closer to reining in this problem.
President Sirleaf, for example, spoke of her newly trained Police Force with a professionally trained Emergency Response Unit (ERU). But after millions of taxpayer dollars of foreign governments and ours, the newly trained police are again abusing the rights of Liberians, as badly as any previous government.
In January of 2010, for example, Sirleaf’s ERU brutalized the youth of our country so badly, it was déjà vu for so many. Upon my return to the country a few days ago, I visited with some of the young men who were severely beaten and jailed by Sirleaf’s ERU. They included Rcihmond Neufville, Secretary General of Liberian National Student Union (LINSU)—he lost three teeth, with his jaws being seriously damaged; Henry Smith, President of the University of Liberia Student Union (ULSU)—sustained laceration on his chin and suffers internal pain; Sylvester Diggs, Information Officer, Federation of Liberian Youth (FLY)—suffered internal bleeding, passing blood in his urine; Alfred Freeman—his arm was broken; Terrence Bartuah—beaten unconscious, seriously injured; Martin Kolleh—sustained injuries on his leg.
These young men were beaten by the ERU and severely injured, thrown into jail, and denied medical attention for three days. They were subsequently charged and sent to court for simply desiring to participate in what was supposed to be an election of officers of the Federation of Liberian Youth. (FLY). One can only imagine what President Sirleaf and her ERU are planning for Presidential and Legislative elections in 2011. There can be no excuse and no justification for brutalizing other people’s children. Previous governments also justified in their minds similar actions and were strongly condemned.
Most Liberians know what President Sirleaf did as an opposition politician, when either President Doe or Taylor committed such acts. She utilized her contacts in the international community, ensuring that the Liberian government was seriously rebuked, causing sanction to be imposed or otherwise condemning the perpetrating regime. To witness the Sirleaf Administration committing similar acts of violence against our children is sad and unacceptable.
Liberty Party, therefore, calls upon the President to apologize on behalf of her government to the young men who were mal-treated, dismiss those police officers involved in the savage acts against our children, and that the Government of Liberia indemnifies all the affected young people for their medical expenses, pain and sufferings.
On another note of human rights abuse, the Press Union of Liberia (PUL), in December of 2009, condemned the Sirleaf government for intimidating and harassing commercial printing houses whenever they printed stories, which the government considered unfavorable. According to the PUL, as carried by the Public Agenda, a journalist was also held by the National Security Agency (NSA), without being charged, for publishing a story, which the government believed tended to impact national security.
The constitutional premise for ensuring the existence of the rule of law is that the three branches of government remain separate and equal. When President Sirleaf chose to blend her constitutional duty of reporting on her stewardship of our national affairs over the last twelve months with a campaign speech, announcing her candidacy for another six-year term, as President of Liberia, she exposed our Constitutional Court, the non-political branch of government, to political entanglement—placed the justices in a “political circus” that could not only damage the image of impartiality of the Justices, but also hamper the effective dispensation of justice in Liberia. If the Justices are perceived as being partisans, how could they resolve any electoral dispute? Justices could be asked to recuse themselves, as the result of their demeanor during the President’s declaration.
What the President did was just plain wrong! And the signs are appearing again, the writing is on the wall, the omen is evil. We plead with President Sirleaf, her advisors, and her police force to spare Liberia another round of violence and chaos. When the President presides over the brutal beating of people’s children, and instead of punishing the culprits, she jails the children; when journalist are jailed and mal-treated regardless of the content of their stories, and printing presses are closed because they dare print a story to the dislike of the government; when the band plays a tune similar to “Tubman is the man we want,” hailing the President’s announcement of her candidacy for a second term, at a constitutional occasion in the presence of the Justices of the Supreme Court of Liberia, our nation is in trouble.
When the officials of her government are unable or fail to let the President know when she is wrong, and her friends have caused her to believe that she is indispensable to our body polity; the President conceives her invincibility and the constitutional foundation of the nation once again comes under attack. Then, although opposition politicians may not be physically exiled, every Liberian who honors the rule of law, and not just opposition politicians, becomes exiled within the borders of his/her own country.
We pray that time and circumstance permit a constitutional change come 2011.
May God bless the people and save our nation!