Give Liberia a Fighting Chance
Ansu O. Dualu, MBA
The basis of this article stems from the first one in the series: “Common Sense Economics for Liberia”. People are encouraged to read the original piece in this series to help guide their understanding of what these articles intend to achieve. It seems Liberia is stuck in this place of nothingness and total oblivion. Each one of us has a duty of the highest order to lighten a path to get our beloved country back to civilized arrangements. But first, we must lay a foundation that is designed to support the order we seek.
The first article focused on economic solutions with the current system in place. However, this one will center on creating a robust system to support a future of economic growth by aligning our laws and policies to local conditions and not arbitrarily adopting foreign policies that do not fit into the Liberian mold. Leaders must develop and diversify local human capita through strategic planning and positioning; creating an environment that ups our standard of living, a higher life expectancy and an “in-country” middleclass that will ensure all of this is made possible and sustained. Liberia will NOT develop if we continue to naively believe that transformation will happen through the efforts of those least prepared to do so!
This Renaissance of Liberian Transfiguration can only be started through targeted leadership! Not IMF or World Bank Trojan Horse Loans; not expats who temporally come in with their hand sanitizers, nor unsupported infrastructure or multi-national control with an infusion of diaspora currency – only Liberian-Centered Leadership can make this possible! For these reasons, the people’s minds must first be set right and adequately guided before true development can begin. All of this must be guided by abled leadership.
One might ask: Where do we find such leaders? Those leaders are everywhere, but will never be given a chance to lead because s/he does not typify, or exhibits the boisterous belligerence that most Liberians associate with leadership, hence the “Changing of the Minds and Attitudes” approach that must be initially nurtured. To elect the best leader for such transformation, google and read “A Guide to Picking Liberia’s Next President” to know exactly the person you need to spearhead this reconstruction. It is crucially important however, that this leader has the skills and charisma to give the people dignity, the rule of law, purpose and a national belief in themselves; a commander who will sharpen their abilities and ignite their will to be their very best to fuel a rising Liberia. Remember, you cannot just make anybody the president – it is a make or break decision and has nothing to do with love, tribe, or relationship; but rather, it has everything to do with preparedness, tested capabilities, a clearly defined and actionable national vision, with the eagerness and technical knowhow to see it come to fruition. This leader must inspire.
Consequently, after Liberians have chosen the leader described above, visit the Liberian Constitution with the intent to modernize it and remove archaic laws and statues that protect personal interest and a small group of people – the true goal of our constitution should be to protect our collective interests and ensures a national order of total equitability. The constitution must be the overarching vision of the country! It should not be bent to appease anyone – yes, including the president.
This new approach that will guarantee total economic revitalization must be entirely supported by the rule of law in an aggressive and uncompromising way. There is nothing that harms Liberia more than the lack of law enforcement and institutional protection of certain powerful individuals. Moreover, most things the leadership tries to do will fail if s/he bends the law in the slightest way. The rule of law must rule without fear or favor!
Nevertheless, do not focus on corruption; focus on the systems you setup that guard against corruption from happening in the first place – structural prevention should form part of your policy in all government allocations. Understand that Liberia does not have a corruption problem; it has a lack of systems and law enforcement problem! Get ahead of this by removing access to state resources, strengthen and give full prosecutorial powers to our anti-graft institutions – have a centralized payment agency that standardizes purchases and contractual agreements. No government agency should make payment to any entity doing business with the government; payments should be made and verified only through this new agency.
In addition, government ministries and agencies should only see their budget allocations on paper – they should never, ever see physical cash or have access to a government bank account! Prevention is far way more effective than chasing ghosts who are protected by our current “ghost judiciary”, something that must be changed if Liberia is to have a fighting chance. To get more details on how to structure this new system, read “Restart Liberia and Build a New Foundation”, one of the articles in this series.
To increase Liberia’s chances for success, reach out to our well-positioned compatriots in the diaspora, not in the usual lackadaisical way, but rather in a serious, policy-driven manner. Establish the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs, grant full dual-citizenship to people of Liberian Heritage without restrictions and push for Diaspora Liberians to vote from abroad!
Leverage this by capitalizing on their expertise to improve our human development index, raise additional taxes for national development and draw them home to be the starters of that “in-country” middleclass that will keep it all together. Design some part of your policy around the Liberian Diaspora; they have the means and could be the grease that oils the engines that give Liberia the boost our country desperately needs. Secondly, base your hiring decisions on straight meritocracy; only employ Liberia’s best and brightest especially for the most senior, policy-making positions.
Moreover, center key components of your policy on local job creation. We are not talking some vacation jobs touted by kowtowing political lackeys, but real permanent employments – like the ones you will see in agriculture, start-up industries, sanitation, construction, transportation, tourism and small businesses. These kind of employments will shift the people’s minds from attention-grabbing, corrupt politicians to the power of the will of the people.
Understand our strength and weaknesses. Reorient our focus from natural resource export for revenue generation to local industry development and expansion because these will give us the greatest returns and best possibilities for the revision of Liberia.
Natural resource extraction and exportation have given us near zero benefit and never will give us the growth we seek until we prepare to guard our interests and maximize any potential benefit that can be derived from natural resource exploration. For these reasons, halt any further concession agreements until the rule of law is strong enough, the technical knowhow and institutions are developed and able to protect our interests. Furthermore, because Liberia does not have the expertise (or refuses to use the ones it has due to mostly political reasons) to negotiate with these multi-nationals who take full advantage of our gullibility and the lapses in our tendering process, Liberia will always get the short end of such deals. Our leaders must appreciate this fact and position their policies to protect against such intrusions and exploitations.
Nevertheless, we may not have the resources we need now to do everything we want. However, we can stretch our current resources by giving priority to growth drivers such as the rule of law, education, road connectivity, electrification, security and health infrastructure – limit wasting huge sums of money on wooing investors; prepare locally and investors will come pouring in without lifting a finger. A stable environment is the most important attractor of investors, not pity or begging!
Furthermore, a system of balanced budget allocations that ensures equitability and expands government strategy across the country will buttress policies and lay the foundation that is needed to build a robust, free market system that will give our people the tool to partake in the creation and maintenance of a Liberian centered economic system. The Liberian Budget must give power to the people!
On the other hand, put government salaries into local context – stop having First World Salaries and ridiculous perks for Third World Government Officials who add little to no value to the country. Relate officials’ salaries to Gross National Income (GNI)/Per Capita Income (Liberia’s $621/annum, World Bank) to the average civil servant pay. Make it law that no one should make more that 5x (or in special cases more than 10x) the average civil servant pay. Remember, less than 1% of non-business owners in the entire country can make more that USD$1000/month! Why pay more than this? Governance is about service, not accumulation of wealth. If people want to get rich, let them go start a business. Shift the difference from localizing and normalizing salaries to direct people and infrastructure development.
In reality, this chance will not come from some distant shore nor will it be actualized by transient Arab Traders, or strings attached World Bank Loans nor hand sanitizer-carrying NGOs, but rather it must be championed by the Flomos, Kollies, Kromahs, Glaygbos, Sendolos, Massaquois, etc. In essence, it must be ushered in by everyday Liberians who are willing to put all on the line to create the Liberia we all imagine for all of posterity – those of us at home and abroad!
About the Author: Mr. Dualu is the author of a series of articles on how to improve Liberia’s current desperate conditions. Some of those articles include: “The Modernization Guide for Liberia”, “A Guide to Picking Liberia’s Next President”, “Leveraging Liberia’s Resources to Lift the Pro-Poor Agenda”. The author works as a financial professional out of Massac