Recent commentaries from human rights and governance organizations around the world suggest that Liberia is gradually moving towards democracy and fiscal accountability and transparency. But the former chairman of Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Cllr. Jerome Verdier, says those who compiled the various commentaries might have been under some delusion. The Analyst, reports.
Former TRC Chairman Jerome Verdier says executive tyranny and dictatorship and the timidity of the legislative and judicial branches of government were slowly overwhelming the rule of law in Liberia thereby, amongst other negatives, sending corruption through the roof.
The former chairman made the observation on April 30, 2011 during the 22nd Anniversary Program of The News newspaper in Monrovia where he delivered the guest address on the theme, “Liberia towards Greater Democracy in Liberia”.
The human right and justice advocate said the fact that Liberia’s current political leadership and opposition politicians have nearly the same aspirations as the oligarchic True Whig Party did indicated that Liberians have failed to build appropriate democracy institutions.
For instance, he said, the nation has yet to be reconciled eight years following the formal cessation of hostilities in August 2003.
Besides, he said, the Executive Branch has yet to cease being overbearing as it were in the days of presidents Tubman, Tolbert, Doe, and even Taylor much as the Legislative and Judicial branches ceased to be timid, living in perpetual fear of the Executive.
He the lack of political and economic advancements, despite the current efforts to restore normalcy to Liberia, indicated that the solution to the nation’s problems lie not in violence and unreliable and dishonest promises. Instead, he said, it lay in determination, courage, and manifest respect for democratic ideals and institutions.
What pointed to such conclusion, according to him, was that the popular elections of 2005 appeared to have no effect on the business of government in Liberia.
“In Liberia today, creeping tendencies of tyranny and dictatorship will undermine our aspirations for greater democracy not only because of the great powers of the president but, most significantly, because of insufficient political, economic and social restraint on the powers of the president,” he said.
The counselor-at-law blamed the lack of political will to adhere to the rule of law for the observed lack of economic and social restraint on the presidency. But he said there was more; there were poverty, corruption, and the congenital lack of democracy within the political parties whence come those who often accede the presidency.
“The three constitutional branches of government responsible to sustain an effective fight against corruption are themselves corrupt and therefore wanting in moral, political, and legal will to fight corruption. This state of affair is undermining our aspirations for greater democracy and corruption seems to be winning the war against it. Liberia is not animal farm so corruption is free for all,” he said.
This is why, he said, the unique challenges of the Liberian democracy in the 21st Century could only be addressed with ten building blocks, which lead to the laying of foundations for greater democracy in Liberia.
The way forward
The ten building blocks of democracy, he said, were strong democratic institutions, frequency of democratic elections, peace and reconciliation, establishment of rights-based security and human rights institutions, and the tackling of corruption with honesty.
Others, he said, were the adherence to accountability and transparency in public service, the cultivation of national tolerance, the establishment of human rights and rule of law, the establishment of peace and reconciliation, and the fear of God.
He said the building of strong democratic institutions meant the overhauling of the three branches of government to ensure equity and checks-and-balances that would end the age-old superior tendency of the Liberian presidency.
“To maintain mandatory check and balance, we must ensure that legislators are competent, independent and well informed to maintain an effective oversight function that guarantee and enforces restraints on executive actions, public spending and passage of legislations that express the will and promotes the interest of the people as envisaged by the constitution of Liberia,” he said.
The human rights and justice advocate said this was necessary because unless Liberians achieved this, it would be another century before they got rid of the culture of “strongmen or women” presidency.
“Generalized tolerance of the excesses or absolutism of the president in Liberia is high because of poverty and patronage,” said, claiming that as the direct result of that, presidents often used state funds to their own political advantages.
The exercise of that advantage also, he said, exacted from ordinary Liberians, the National Legislature, and the Judiciary blind loyalty and subservience to the point of functioning inevitably at the wishes of the president.
Left unchecked by neglecting to lay a strong foundation of democracy, he said, the unfolding status quo would lead ultimately to the reinstitution of the ‘cult of the presidency’.
The antidote for this possibility, he said, was to elect to office what he called “right legislators who are imbued with democratic values and commitment”.
Cllr. Verdier’s ideal legislators would be those who he said would be “courageous and prepared to tackle the critical issues of corruption, executive spending, and ensuring a transparent budget process, the transparent and equitable allocation of public resources and disposition of public property through contracts and concessions that advance the best interest of the people.”
Once such legislators were elected, he said, such other strong institutions as education and the economic sectors would function properly, being aware of a strong legislative oversight.
He said while Liberians have the power under the law to change their wayward executive leadership and members of the Legislature, they would not do it with those of the Judiciary.
He made the point to indicate that a viable Judiciary was crucial to the survival of the Liberian nation and that therefore the strengthening of that branch of government was crucial to Liberia’s way forward.
“Corruption in the judiciary, justice peddling and the overbearing political influence of the President or the Executive over the judiciary is hearting our transition to a vibrant democratic society, and undermining peace and reconciliation in both the short and long term,” he said.
He then noted, “Once all our democratic institutions are independently functioning in a transparent and accountable manner and fashion, we can be certain of sustaining the growth and development of greater democracy in Liberia.”
But he said this would only be possible were the watchdogs of society, the press and other civil society organizations especially those accessing public and international private funding, to make themselves internally democratic, accountable to their constituencies and their donors.
“This will bolster the moral standing of civil society institutions to demand accountability and transparency from government,” he said.
Internal democratization, he said, was crucial to the creation of the moral standards required for the opposition and the civil society to demand prudence within government.
“Political parties in Liberia, historically, are inherently weak, wanting in internal democracy and driven by the oftentimes personal ambition of one man,” he said to make the point that such lack of internal democracy was to blame for the autocratic tendencies often associated with the Liberian presidency.
“Our country will have to invest in greater democracy and strengthen political parties to perform their roles by allotting budgetary support to political parties, at least to the first three or four parties with the highest votes in any given general election, for their annual administrative and operational programs,” he said.
Next to building stronger institutions, he said, the nation needed to respect human rights and the rule of law, which he described as the pillars of democracy and effective defense against corruption.
“Respect for human rights and the rule of law entails that all are equal before the law, which is applied fairly in a society with equal opportunities for all, the merit system is upheld, the constitution is supreme, and there is justice and accountability in such an effective manner as not to leave any room for impunity,” the former TRC chairman said.
The respect for human rights, backed by frequent free and fair democratic election, he said, would ensure the expression of the will of the people in matters of governance and governance.
Regarding peace and reconciliation, he said, Liberians needed to redouble their efforts in establishing justice because while open hostilities had ended, the conflicts that gave vent to them have not.
In his view, the conflict would end only when the government implemented all the recommendations of the TRC, of course, in spite of the controversy and implementation risks critics and pundits say surround the recommendations.
“Implementation of all the recommendations of the TRC is the first step towards addressing the root causes of incessant conflicts in Liberia and laying foundations for genuine reconciliation in Liberia. This is very critical to maintaining a stable society founded on justice and equality for all. Reconciliation is a process and implementing all the recommendations of the TRC will never happen overnight,” the former TRC chairman said.