One does not have to be a lawyer to know certain issues and matters from the lenses of the law. After all, law, be it criminal, constitutional, corporate, moral, or even domestic etc., is grounded in common sense, and commonsense is also the basis of philosophy––the love of wisdom. That said, there is a clear understanding in law that posits that anyone who aids and abets in the commission of a crime is as guilty as the criminals themselves. Meaning, when one permits or facilitates stealing, he or she too should be accused or charged for theft. This is the case in Liberia, and this is especially the case with our leader.
In Liberia, we have many problems but our most serious problem is corruption. Our leaders, both elected and appointed, are not only addicted to unpatriotic behaviors, they equally have a theft of public resources problem. While it may not be all of them, majority of them are shamelessly corrupt, and our president facilitates those corrupt acts ingeniously and remotely.
No argument can erase the damage corruption has and continues to cause Liberia. While there may have been a history of corruption in Liberia and in past Liberian administrations, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and her dysfunctional Unity Party’s government have redefined and accelerated the engine of public theft and widespread organized corruption by creating and continuing to create tempting, lucrative, new opportunities through bogus ‘executive decisions’ such as the recent “Executive Order 84” which reduces the country’s Inshore Exclusive Zone (IEZ) from six nautical miles to three so that rogue foreign industrial fishing companies, led by Chinese and Middle Eastern hustlers, can ruin our coastal areas with little or no benefit to the Liberian people except to the benefits of the president, her friends, loyalists and conspirators.
President Sirleaf clearly knows that her recent action will lead to the exploitation of the near-shore fish resources of the country. She also knows that this will not only impact the self-employment capacity of our local fishermen and the poor women who sell fish in the local markets, it will intensify food insecurity and grossly affect the growth and sustainability of the Liberian economy which has been in reverse and in a structural unemployment since 2008.
The cynical nature of the President’s recent “Executive Order 84” is the fact that she opted to remove the Bureau of Fisheries, which was created by an act of legislation, from the Ministry of Agriculture to the Liberia Maritime Authority, even as her recently dismissed minister of agriculture protested such move. More cynical is the fact that the president decided to sack a minister who has the country and people at heart by protesting a bad political and economic move that is beached in greed and negligence. The sad part is, this action is not just a lone design by a president who is known for only looking after herself, her family, friends and loyalists; but the apparent willingness of other Liberian officials and outside players to join this illegal and immoral plot is mind-blowing.
Some may argue that previous Liberian administrations were corrupt and that no government in Africa is perfect. But this is not the issue. What is hand is that past Liberian administrations did not give away contracts and concessions to the relatives, brothers and sisters as well as the kin of the people in power, the influential and the higher ups. Neither did they knowingly do things because their interest was paramount than that of the state. President Sirleaf and her Unity Party’s administration do, and they continue to do so while the Liberian people suffer and are short-changed.
The German-based Transparency International defines corruption as “the abuse of entrusted power for private gain.” By doing things and taking actions that largely benefit her family, relatives, friends and loyalists, President Sirleaf has abused the power entrusted to her by the Liberian people, and moreover, she has used the power we gave her, as president, for personal gains. From giving lucrative government positions to family members, relatives, friends and loyalists to the control of the Liberian economy and security sector, the president has facilitated corruption in ways that are unimaginable.
Where is the revenue generated from the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL) today? Where are the meaningful impact of all the development funds (including Ebola donations) that went to Liberia? Where are the many tax dollars collected since 2006? Where are the family, relatives, friends and loyalists of the president and her officials getting all the millions of dollars from to buy homes abroad, obtain stake in foreign and local businesses as well as deposit stacks of riches in Middle Eastern and Asian banks?
In one of its analytical reports, “Helping Countries Combat Corruption: The Role of the World Bank––Corruption and Economic Development,” the World Bank argues that “corruption is a complex phenomenon. Its roots lie deep in bureaucratic and political institutions, and its effect on development varies with country conditions. But while costs may vary and systemic corruption may coexist with strong economic performance, experience suggests that corruption is bad for development. It leads governments to intervene where they need not, and it undermines their ability to enact and implement policies in areas in which government intervention is clearly needed—whether environmental regulation, health and safety regulation, social safety nets, macroeconomic stabilization, or contract enforcement.”
The stated argument or thesis of the World Bank applies to every action and decision taken by President Sirleaf and her “Disunity Party” government in Liberia over the past decade. And the impact, both short and long-term, are extremely severe for Liberians and will continue to be in years to come.
As we pen this narrative, over one million children and young people in Liberia (a country of 4.5 million people) either went hungry last night, or are food insecure; more than half a million school-age children are not in school due to acute poverty; more than two hundred thousand elderly people cannot afford or lack care; 99% of our country has no power supply; and 65% of our teen girls are either forced to sleep with older men for money to support their families or are raped because of self-imposed endangerment by being around bad people due to poverty.
According to international research data, over 61% of our people are aging fast or developing severe medical conditions due to stress, frustration and tension that result from poverty, hardship, unemployment, helplessness and the guilt of being unable to feed their family; hundreds of Liberians are stranded and crying in refugee situation in many West African states because all odds are against them since either option is bad for them: staying in continuous refugee life is tough but also returning home to Liberia where everything is stolen by a few is even worst. We cannot forget that our president and the top officials of her government ignored the plight of thousands of Liberians in the USA who are facing deportation.
While the leaders of Haiti were fearlessly negotiating with the American government to extend or make permanent the status of their citizens in the US who work and remit money back home to support the Haitian society, the Liberian president and her top officials were using our country money and resources to attend to personal and family related matters with no reference to the Liberians in the USA who remittances to our country are saving millions of lives in our country.
The most troubling aspect is we had our president the U.S. last week to give speech at a high school’s graduation without taking the time to speak to her citizens about their problems. Apparently, spending thousands of the Liberian people money to attend a grandchild’s graduation at government’s expense is far better than seeking the interest of the Liberians faced with immigration problems in the United States.
Here is what President Sirleaf and her Unity Party’s administration bad governance will leave with us: A culture of bribery. Bribes are one of the main tools of corruption. According to the World Bank, bribery can lead to the following:
Bribes can influence a government's choice of firms to supply goods, services, and works, as well as the terms of their contracts. Firms may bribe to win a contract or to ensure that contractual breaches are tolerated.
Bribes can influence the allocation of government benefits, whether monetary benefits (such as subsidies to enterprises or individuals or access to pensions or unemployment insurance) or in-kind benefits (such as access to certain schools, medical care, or stakes in enterprises being privatized).
Bribes can be used to reduce the amount of taxes or other fees collected by the government from private parties.
Bribes may be demanded or offered for the issuance of a license that conveys an exclusive right, such as a land development concession or the exploitation of a natural resource. Sometimes politicians and bureaucrats deliberately put in place policies that create control rights which they profit from by selling.
Bribes may be offered to speed up the government's granting of permission to carry out legal activities, such as company registration or construction permits. Bribes can also be extorted by the threat of inaction or delay, and
Bribes can change the outcome of the legal process as it applies to private parties, by inducing the government either to ignore illegal activities (such as drug dealing or pollution) or to favor one party over another in court cases or other legal proceedings.
Another negative impulse we will inherit from President Sirleaf and her Unity Party’s administration is theft of public resources. According to the World Bank, “theft of state assets by officials charged with their stewardship is also corruption. An extreme form is the large-scale "spontaneous" privatization of state assets by enterprise managers and other officials in some transition economies. At the other end of the scale is petty theft of items such as office equipment and stationery, vehicles, and fuel. The perpetrators of petty theft are usually middle- and lower-level officials, compensating, in some cases, for inadequate salaries.”
This is the Liberia we have and this is the Liberia we get after twelve years of giving power to Africa’s first woman president. Even my 9-year old American born daughter maintains that President Sirleaf has left an indelible stain on African women when it comes to governance and political leadership. Why I may disagree with my daughter, I believe this is a serious perception or charge. Is my daughter right? Perhaps. Either way, my little girl’s argument is that we all expect better from this president!
It is time that we as Liberians— in the country, in the Diaspora, in the government, in the media, and as pundits, analysts and academics — took a hard look at the causes of corruption and the negative impact of bad governance practices under the Sirleaf and the Unity Party’s government.
The hard fact is that we are, at least, as much to blame for what has happened as Liberians, and we have been relentlessly slow, weak or inactive to either admit our lack of action and efforts to say no to the president and her conspirators. We must do so now because if we do not, our outgoing president and her affiliates will mortgage the entire country before she leaves office in January 2018.
Jones Nhinson Williams is a Liberian citizen educated in philosophy by the Catholic Church, and is also an American trained public policy, labor market information, and workforce development professional.