Response to the Annual Message of the President of Liberia
Written by Lewis G. Brown, II
Tuesday, 02 February 2010
My Fellow Liberians:
Our hearts are troubled and our minds are disturbed – as well as it ought to be – when our nation is entreated to a travesty which bears telling consequences both for the present and for the future.
On Monday, the fourth working Monday of January, in what ought to have been a sacred fulfillment of an important duty of the President of the Republic of Liberia, Madam Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf sidestepped her responsibilities as President; plunged a dagger into the heart of our infant democracy; inflamed the pervasiveness of corruption; dishonored the Office of President; desecrated the hollowness of our National Legislature; and most shockingly, may have rendered governance difficult, if not impossible – at least for the next two years.
To deliver a Report on the state of the Republic is a duty conferred only on the President by no less a law than the Constitution. This duty of the President is of such importance that the protocol requires the convocation of a Joint Session of the Legislature; includes preparatory works which encumber state resources; the mobilization of national institutions; and rightly garners the attention of the entire nation and its international partners. Accordingly, what is to be expatiated upon are delineated and flavored with the supreme interests of the nation and its people.
By practice and the lawful requirements of the Constitution, the national platform provided the President and Commander-In-Chief affords the opportunity to lay out a vision for the future after a realistic reflection upon the experiences of the previous year. Here, economic conditions are presented; performances are assessed; successes and failures are juxtaposed; benchmarks are analyzed; legislative agendas are proposed; and a sense of common purpose and national cohesion are engendered and fostered.
And, under our especially difficult circumstances, a responsible leader endeavors further to persuade an apathetic and skeptical nation, that what is quickly becoming a fading dream of a better tomorrow of shared prosperity, of genuine reconciliation, of peace and of equal opportunity for all Liberians, is still possible and realizable.
What has never been done – well until the recent “Report” of this President – is to not just trivialize this important function of the President but also to employ the resources of the Liberian State in announcing a wholly selfish political ambition, such as was done in the announcement, by the President, of her candidacy in the ensuing 20II Presidential and General Elections. No President, since the foundation of our Republic, has so diminished and disfigured the Office of President and desecrated the sacredness of the duties thereunto assigned like President/Candidate Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.
Article 58 of the Liberian Constitution was not intended to be a ruse. It has never been used – nor should it ever be used without the required consequences – as a platform for political subterfuge and gamesmanship. The Legislative Dais and the national deference that is accorded are intended solely to be used by statesmen, and accordingly, entreated with the seriousness, soberness, respect and nationalistic character it deserves. To have caused a national convocation of the three branches of our government; the employment of state resources, and the attendant ceremonies, to quite simply, announce a naked quest for political power is disrespectful, is insensitive, and it testifies to the exercise of inferior judgment unassociated with responsible presidential leadership. We cannot but be outraged by this shocking travesty. We should not believe that our representatives would elect to be spineless and unprincipled, in what amounts to their involuntary sequestration, and that of the entire government, only to further a wholly personal political ambition. We should imagine that our representatives – even burdened as they often are with disagreements – will be restless until the Candidate/President is brought to book for such sacrilege.
What is at issue is not the right of a citizen Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf to run in 20II. Of course she, like many other qualified Liberians, is protected by law to pursue her ambitions. However, what ought to trouble all concerned is that, to the detriment of our fledgling democracy, and especially our need for cohesive governance, at least for the next two years, the Candidate/President has intentionally reduced the Office of President to a campaign headquarter, effectively rendering the entire Executive domain, their actions, including the administration of the national budget, as self-seeking and intended to make the candidacy of Madam Johnson-Sirleaf, to choose her word “formidable”. The Liberian people are now left with the only option of viewing all further endeavors of this administration – however selfless – through the prisms of seeking an unfair advantage on would-be opponents. Especially from this Candidate/President, tilting the field, as she has clearly begun to do, is a strange twist of fate. We will seek a balance. We must seek a balance.
As to the Legislature, the Candidate/President, in unprecedented fashion may have shattered what residue there may be of the hollowness and sanctity of the Legislative Dias. It is left to be seen what courage members of the Legislature will summon not simply to halt the cascading public impression with which their reputations have unfortunately come to be associated but also whether they can even muster the will to retain a modicum of self and institutional respect about what used to be popularly referred to as the First Branch of our government. Whatever they do or elect not to do, each legislator must know that they owe a fiduciary responsibility to their successors to not just keep the institution that is the Legislature unsoiled by the effects of negative influences but also to bequeath a respected august body, undiminished both in substance and in character, as those before them sacrificed so that they may inherit what really is the crown of our republican form of democratic government. We can only hope that they will equal the responsibilities they owe to themselves, to their heirs, and to their various constituencies.
The employment of state resources and the sequestration of the entire government to include the Supreme Court which should be insulated from the intrigues of politics, so as to justly anchor our democracy, to merely further an individual’s political aspiration would have been wrong then and is certainly wrong now. And, if allowed to go unchecked and unaccounted for, we unwittingly participate in corrupting the institutions of our government established to serve our national interests. Here therefore, we compromise the very foundational principles of responsible democratic governance – the principles of the separation of powers, of independence, and of checks and balances. And most unfortunately, we return to the dark days from whence we have struggled to come, and for which, we must be forever watchful and alert. Make no mistake. Our shameful return begins with turning a blind – and perhaps partisan eye – away from these truths.
Today, by a thoughtless political maneuver, this administration is now effectively transformed from working to preserve the common interests of all Liberians to colluding in furtherance of the selfish aspiration of the Candidate/President who happens to also be the giver-of-jobs and dispenser-in-chief of our state resources. Little wonder therefore that she imagines her announced candidacy to be “formidable”.
Madam Candidate/President while you busy yourself with the development of a “formidable” candidacy in 20II, our young democracy, achieved on sacrifices of blood, sweat, tears and treasure lies weakened upon the altar of greed, poor judgment, and the pursuit of otherwise wholly selfish fulfillments. While you busy yourself with the development of a “formidable” candidacy in 20II, even today, many of our compatriots continue to wear the scars of their brave sacrifices, voluntarily and involuntarily given, to provide the space for what they imagined to be a new and responsive political order, in which all and not a select few may benefit.
Madam Candidate/President while you busy yourself with the development of a “formidable” candidacy in 20II, many Liberians are still burdened with the weight of injustice, the humiliation of poverty, the lack of opportunity, and the magisterial call for forgiveness and reconciliation, all of which invariably impacts our advance to nationhood. And all of which your administration could have busied itself with addressing over the next two years.
While you have reduced the important business of governance to the selfish pursuit of a “formidable” candidacy in 20II, many yet are the unmarked graves and agonizing reminders of the need we must share to be better than our past – to manage our resources justly and equitably; to govern with respect for democratic values, in order to afford all Liberians the blessings of peace, the availability of opportunity, and the promise of prosperity.
Madam Candidate/President, even as you begin to busy yourself with being a “formidable” candidate in 20II, today, many of our young people are consumed by alcohol and are overtaken by drugs. We are on the doorsteps of raising a generation of beggars and incompetents who believe that it is naïve to be honest, okay to cheat, and who are obviously incapable of competing in the global market place.
While you busy yourself with the development of a “formidable” candidacy in 20II, many more Liberians are pained by the presenting reality of their choking economic circumstances. They have begun to conclude that the many sacrifices that they either made or were forced to endure, may come to naught. Some of them, tired as they are of waiting and begging, line up for Diversity Visas and the opportunities offered in other countries. They prefer to be classed as foreigners in the lands of others than as citizens in theirs. While you have concerned yourself with running and being “formidable” in 20II, the Liberian people just want a government that will work for them, today.
Fellow Liberians: Somewhere in the quest to be a “formidable” candidate, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf disregarded the truth of our current circumstances. While the President paints a rosy picture of Liberia, the World Bank Institute, in its report on Liberia has graded our country very poorly. The BTI, which measures economic and political development towards democracy and free markets, has ranked Liberia 114th out of 119 nations. The report draws attention to the difficult tasks confronting our economy. It listed living conditions as being severely poor; that unemployment levels are extremely high paving the way for the commission of high crimes; that the reintegration of internally displaced persons and former combatants, and the resumption of cash crop production are, as yet, amongst the serious problems with which our economy is currently saddled. The report concludes that “over 75% of the Liberian population lives in extreme poverty, subsisting on less than $1 per day.” Rather than busying oneself and the entire Liberian government with being a “formidable” candidate in 20II, the urgency of our many problems demands that Liberia needs and we deserve a “formidable” President, and a government that will work for us, today.
As to the development of the nation’s priceless assets, its people, the United Nations Human Development Index, a measure of the average progress of a country in human development has ranked Liberia 176 out of 179 countries. In simple terms, living a long and healthy life, having access to education and a decent standard of living are extremely difficult in Liberia. Again, we respectfully urge that rather than busying oneself and the entire Liberian government with being a “formidable” candidate in 20II, Liberia needs and we deserve a “formidable” President, and a government that will work for us, today.
Indeed, all is not well with our nation. As if determined to confirm this fact, in the 2008 Governance Indicator Report of the World Bank Institute, Liberia is not even listed in terms of the ability of our government to formulate and implement sound policies and regulations that would permit and promote private sector development. And, as to the World Bank measures of the Ease of Doing Business in Liberia, Liberia stands dismally at 170 out of 178 nations. None of these figures are opposition driven or opposition derived. They have been independently measured and reported by world renowned institutions, all of which are seriously engaged with helping our recovery processes. Interestingly, they sharply contradict the rosy image of our country painted in the recent Report on the state of the Republic. The state of our Republic is anything but well. Again, we cannot emphasize enough that Liberia needs and we deserve a “formidable” President, and a government that will work for us today, rather than a “formidable” candidate in 20II.
My Fellow Liberians:
The genius of democracy is that it does not rely exclusively on either the goodwill or the promises of leaders. After all, some have argued – albeit disingenuously – that promises are made to be broken, even if they testify to the character of the leader. We are consoled that democracy has its roots in and is strengthened by the resolve of the people. Leaders may be disconnected from the general will of the people or the stubborn truth of their harsh circumstances – as is the matter before us. But the past has demonstrated, and it can be repeated that, by the sheer force of democracy, our leaders can be made to bend to the will of the people. They may have the money but we have the power.
A few weeks ago, under the threats of vote purchasing and fraud, the Liberian people reminded this administration that enough is enough. The message could not have been clearer: That we cannot continue as we are, divided by tribe or ancestral heritage; that we cannot continue to thread along the paths of mutual suspicions and mistrusts inherited by our historic superficial divisions; that each succeeding generation need not be poorer than the next; that our governance ought not to be dominated by partisanship, favoritism and nepotism at the behest of competence; that our national appetite ought not to be fed only with short term gains and maneuvers but sustainable long term initiatives as well; that corruption ought not to infest our bureaucracies ceaselessly and cancerously, leaving our hospitals shamefully without drugs and beds, and our schools without the learning tools to improve the quality of education offered to our children; that we cannot be governed by the same laws; that our citizenships cannot apportion the same rights and privileges; that a few ought not to make more for the same work; that we ought not to support Liberian businesses and encourage Liberian entrepreneurship; that we cannot broaden the base of participation of the people in the decision-making process; and that we ought not to settle for the development of a so-called elitist class system. Enough, they said, is enough. We did not imagine that this message would have been unheeded by this administration.
But also, there was a clear message to the Liberian opposition. Enough, the Liberian people said, is enough with the mushrooming political parties and the blinding pursuit of personal political ambitions. The Liberian people want us to come together. Today, we admit that we are not where we would like to be. And yet, we are grateful for the faith that the Liberian people continue to keep with us.
We, the Liberian opposition know that we cannot continue as we are. The cost to our country will be too high. As we are, we risk undermining the general will of the Liberian people for change. We also risk persuading the international community that our cause is just and our motivations are unselfish. And yes, we risk losing perhaps the most critical moment to consolidate our juvenile democracy.
Finally, my fellow Liberians, we know, in the words of a famous leader, “he who gets behind in a race must run faster than the one ahead.” And so, we know that we have got some difficulties to overcome. There will be some bumpy roads over which we will have to speedily walk and some steep hills over which we will have to quickly climb. We urge you to hold on to your faith. Some people will come on board and others may disembark. We still urge you to hold on to your faith. Some people will agree with us and others may disagree with us. Just hold on to your faith. They will call us names. They will malign us. They will accuse us – they will bring their formidable war chest to stop us. They will fight; they will scream; they will get dirty – as well as they ought to be. Still hold on to your faith. Some people will cheer us privately even as they condemn us publicly. Still hold on to your faith. Some people will lose their jobs; they will lose their influences. Some people will be given jobs; they will be given influences. Just hold on to your faith. Be resilient. Our cause is just. God is with us. We stand unmoved and unafraid. We are on the right side of history.
Today, we leave you with this solemn promise: Change is coming. God bless you. I thank you.