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THE 2005 ELECTIONS - THE "CRITICAL" CENSUS ISSUE
By: James W. Harris

As Liberians prepare (or may I say brace) themselves once again for the upcoming Presidential and General elections in 2005 in their now badly ruined country, the issue of conducting a nation-wide census prior to the nervously awaited "big event" is somewhat becoming a rather hot topic (as it should) for serious discussions amongst people that are interested in seeing things done correctly this time around - and rightfully so.

Perhaps, more than anything else, the pending elections there hold the key to whether or not our now severely damaged nation will rise up and achieve permanent peace or continue on its ugly path of self-destruction as it has been doing for the past 15 years.

While there obviously are pros and cons regarding the sensitive issue of census, like with everything else these days, the need to take a national count before the 2005 elections is absolutely necessary. Also, it's the wisest thing to do and in line with the rule of law in our now sick country. And I must emphasize this!
Granted that the recently constituted National Elections Commission (NEC) in Monrovia could definitely carry on the said elections without first taking a national census as proclaimed not too long ago by none other than the Chairlady herself, Cllr. Frances Johnson-Morris [please see: "No Census For 2005 Elections….. Says Elections Commissioner, But", the Inquirer/Perspective, May 7, 2004], we really need to step back for a minute, at least for once, and ask ourselves whether or not such a move would be in the best interests of our country.

Or better yet, we need to ask ourselves, and with all honesty and sincerity, whether or not we'd again prefer "expediency" at this crucial time in our nation's turbulent history which could lead most likely to other serious problems down the road rather than correcting our nagging mistakes by appealing to the international community to give us more time and help primarily to ensure that we get it right this time around so that the entire elections process can be seen as being truly legitimate. These really are the two main issues facing Liberians today as they get ready for the election of a new and hopefully incorruptible government.
When she was asked recently in what appear to have been an exclusive interview with the Perspective webzine (short for web magazine) why her Commission (the NEC) had infact decided to go ahead with the 2005 elections without holding a census first, Cllr. Johnson-Morris gave one of the most confusing answers that I've ever heard on an issue as important as this.
Here is partly what she had to say: "The only thing [that] we need [to conduct the] elections is qualified Liberians who are eighteen years [old] or above and who are not disqualified otherwise under our law [s] So voter registration can take care of that " ("The Liberian National Elections Commission Chair Addresses Elections Issues [interview]", the Perspective, August 13, 2004).

But when asked further in the same interview whether or not Special Elections Law [s] would come into play for the ensuing elections like in 1997 when the despot, Charles Taylor, was supposedly 'elected', she responded in the negative stating that: "We [the NEC] are going by the 1986 Election Law [s] as well as the reforms that we have proposed …[like] suspending Article 52c [which has to do with the residency requirements for both the Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates under the 1986 Liberian Constitution].

Now, if that's the case - conducting the 2005 elections based on the 1986 Elections Law [s] - then one could argue vigorously that the need for a census before the upcoming elections becomes very, very clear as well as compelling. Doesn't it! However, when one reads other portions of the Chairlady's interview, one can't help but see the confusion implied in her statements.
For example, she also said the following in her interview: "Well, it is necessary to conduct census [of course it is]. And I have always been one of those who have spoken of the need to conduct a census because the last census we had [in 1984] in our country was 20 years ago", adding, "we do not have any reliable data on the population of Liberia [of course not]." Then why now the change of heart, Madam Commissioner!

Cllr. Johnson-Morris continued: "However, there are projections - projections made by the United Nations (UN), some groups have worked on some population surveys and so we can use these figures for the purpose of [the 2005] elections." "But we are going to conduct voter registration. Census is not necessarily the prerequisite to holding elections", she then added.
On the last statement, I'd just say, WOW!! Well, wait a minute. Since she has already admitted above that: "We do not have any reliable data on the population of Liberia" as every Liberian should know by now, isn't it then only logical to take a nation-wide census at this time in preparation for the ensuing elections, especially so, after all these miserable years of carnage and mass population shifts in our now war-wrecked country? That's what I and other Liberians had thought. Certainly, it would be the correct thing to do - no doubt!
But I'm very sorry Madam Commissioner. The mere fact that there are "projections" by, let's say, the UN, as well as, "population surveys" from other groups as you had correctly mentioned, just doesn't cut it. Simply put, it's just not good enough, although it may have been in the past. This is a brand new day.

With all seriousness, we must strive to gather every bit of new information that we can possibly lay our hands on at this particular time so that we can have the very latest, most accurate and up-to-date data on Liberia not only in preparation for the upcoming elections, but something that we can pass on with confidence and pride to whoever assumes power in 2005. In that way, the newly elected government would have the most significant thing that it would need to hopefully chart a different course for our now destroyed nation, thereby, avoiding the usual long delays in implementing programs and policies geared towards uplifting all our miserably poor people - people victimized by the "system".

In this respect, I really don't think that it makes good sense to be contended only with voters' registration as suggested by the well-respected Chairlady compared to a full census prior to the elections. If anything, the opposite is true! Also, we should all bear in mind that the international community, upon which we rely on so heavily for assistance, has already said that they're giving us (Liberians) one last chance and we would do well not to blow it either.
As far as I can determine, the apparent confusion in Cllr. Johnson-Morris' mind (and probably in the minds of her entire Commission, I may add) lie in her response to the following question during her recent interview.

When asked specifically: "Will the 2005 elections be special elections or regular elections?", she replied in this way. "They [the elections] will have to be special - special in a sense that they are not done in accordance with the constitution." Why not? Because, according to her, "The [so-called] Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) [had] suspended many of the provisions of the [Liberian] Constitution. So these are not elections that are done in accordance with the constitution. And anything that is not done in accordance with the constitution must be special."
While it is true that the much talked about CPA has infact suspended [certain] provisions of the Liberian Constitution, none of them pertain to the upcoming elections in 2005. So, let's not confuse ourselves, okay!
If my eyes aren't playing tricks on me (and I do hope that they aren't), then according to the CPA, the only provisions of the Constitution that have been suspended so far have to do with Sections b & c under Article XXXV (Special Provisions). Furthermore, Section d under the same Article is perfectly clear on this. It reads: "All other provisions of the 1986 Constitution of the Republic of Liberia shall [and I repeat, SHALL] remain in force", obviously including our Elections Law [s].

And so, I could therefore argue again with some degree of confidence that whichever provisions of the Constitution were suspended under the CPA pending the inauguration of a 'legitimate' government, really have nothing to do with conducting the 2005 elections in the proper way as Cllr. Johnson-Morris would like us to believe. Far from it!
Infact, a renowned Liberian lawyer, Cllr. Tiawan S. Gongloe, has since cleared up some of the looming confusion in a rather brilliant article that was published not too long ago [please see: "Elections in Liberia without Census Would Be Unconstitutional", The Perspective, May 20, 2004]. In his appropriately titled piece, he wrote that: "The Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) requires that besides those constitutional provisions that were explicitly excluded for the interim period, all other provisions of the Constitution of Liberia are observed in the implementation [phase] of the [CPA] agreement…[therefore] if the Constitution of Liberia must be observed in the electoral process, then census must be held [simply] because the Liberian electoral process is a constituency based process", meaning that census MUST be taken into serious consideration. I mean, it definitely can't get any clearer than this!

The good-ole Cllr. (Gongloe) then went on to explain in depth why infact "Elections in Liberia without Census Would Be Unconstitutional." But please understand that I can't insert Tiawan's entire article here for obvious reasons - space and time, but you can read it for your own understanding and benefit by referring to the source that I've cited above in this piece.

Naturally, Tiawan and I are surely not the only Liberians that see things differently from Cllr. Johnson-Morris and others, especially on the census and elections issues. There certainly are many other Liberians, including, one W. Topor and N. Wiah, of Uplb Los Banos, the Philippines, for example, who feel that a new census definitely is needed before the elections in 2005.

In a recent piece titled, "Yes to Census Before [the] 2005 Elections" (the Perspective, May 11, 2004), they jointly asked: "Liberian People, what is this?" in apparent frustration at the NEC boss for her untimely comments on the delicate census issue.

"One wonders of the reaction of the 18 [?] registered political parties which the National Election Commission (NEC) Boss was addressing when she made this statement [on the census issue]? [.] Of course, all parties would ask, how can free and fair elections be held without [a] census. [?] The last census was held in 1984, after which there has been [a devastating] civil war? [.] In case no party was able to raise this issue perhaps due to egotism or an oversight on the part of those Parties' bosses; now, it's time that it becomes the 'issue of our time' for every Liberian, if Liberia is to march forward rather than turning about face", Topor and Wiah wrote.
Not surprisingly, they then called on all Liberians to appeal to the UN to facilitate, what they called, "all democratic mechanisms", including conducting a national census before the elections, so that lasting peace can come finally to their troubled homeland.

Yet again, another remark from the Madam Commissioner regarding the critical census issue that I don't quite understand is this: "The result of an assessment conducted by the United Nations team working in collaboration with the commission and the Ministry of Planning, has concluded that the conduct of a census before the pending elections are not possible" (The Inquirer/Perspective, May 7, 2004, "No Census For 2005 Elections…Says Elections Commission, But"). Now, what exactly does she mean by that? I wish that she would have given us some more details just how they had arrived at that conclusion.

With many Liberians still languishing in refugee camps throughout West Africa and far beyond, in some cases, living in sub-human conditions after escaping the civil war in their country that was characterized by barbarism, cannibalism, and naked cruelty, among others, coupled with the fact that most rural areas in Liberia still remain inaccessible by recent reports to authorities who seem to be satisfied with being just in Monrovia, it would be ludicrous to hold a "credible" elections under these circumstances.

Where and how, infact, will the voters' registration be conducted? Only in Monrovia and its environs, I guess! If every Liberian citizen who wants to vote in the pending 2005 elections must be given that sacred opportunity to do so, then the government and the international community must ensure that they are repatriated to their homeland as soon as possible and resettled so that they can participate fully in the political process. Otherwise, the whole exercise will be seen as a sham - and correctly so! That's another reason why census is indeed critical to the upcoming elections.
And I'm very sure that the UN and other friends of Liberia would be willing to assist us with gathering new census data before the 2005 elections, but my take is that we just haven't been assertive enough. With all sorts of new technologies available today, I just can't see why it's not possible to conduct census in a small country like ours. All that's really needed is our desire to do just that.
That's why I wholeheartedly agree with Topor and Wiah that indeed "Liberians [must] tell the UN [and others] what we feel that can bring total peace to our [troubled] motherland. And for sure, the UN [and others] [hopefully] as [the] world police for maintaining peace and order will never reject our perception for amicable peace in Liberia. Therefore, let us be firm in stating what exactly Liberia needs from the UN [and others]." Well said guys!
Likewise, I also strongly agree with Cllr. Tiawan Gongloe that without holding a census prior to the 2005 elections, that many Liberians seem to be counting on, the whole exercise would be unconstitutional and therefore illegitimate - something that we have the power to avoid

Finally, we must do everything possible, individually and collectively as Liberians, to convince the NEC as well as the UN about the necessity to conduct a new nation-wide poll before the ensuing elections just to make sure that we get it right this time around. Most importantly, though, it would be the only way that any future government of Liberia can get the legitimacy, credibility and respect from the international community that it deserves. It would also be the only way to restore hope to our country, whose image has been damaged almost irreparably in the immediate past by various crooked administrations dominated mostly by losers and criminals

In this light, I'd strongly like to appeal to the good consciences of Cllr. Frances Johnson-Morris, her entire Commission as well as the UN to rethink the census issue very, very carefully once more, because a whole lot would be riding on this election - 2005. Moreover, conducting a national census before the elections would only help the process, not hurt it.

Isn't it about time that we do the right thing at least for once for the sake of our country? I truly think it is!

- 30 -

KEEPING THE NTGL UNDER THE MICROSCOPE
- the Charles Bennie Allegations
By: James W. Harris

In the eyes of some Liberians, the recent allegations made by a senior official in the incumbent interim government, the National Transitional Government of Liberia (NTGL), in effect that the country's very scarce financial resources were being "misapplied" [squandered] by the Charles Gyude Bryant administration instead of providing basic social services for the people or even paying longstanding salary arrears to its employees, is nothing more than the issue of a team player gone berserk for one reason or the other.
Yet to others, Customs and Excise Commissioner, Charles Bennie, a LURD appointee, is a good example of a new breed of young Liberians, who, in spite of his very visible position, would not hesitate to ring the alarm bell when something seems to be going wrong with the way the government chooses to do business, particularly, regarding the expenditure of the Liberian people's already scarce financial means. Or is he?

With the country now completely ravaged by more then 14 years of a brutal and savage civil war to the extend that even human feces has become a common sight in the streets of Monrovia these days as reported recently by the media [see allafrica.com "After Peace - Household Waste, Sharapnel [?], Carcasses…" (the Inter Press Service, July 6, 2004), one would think that the Bryant administration would be sensible enough, if anything, to use the people's meager financial resources on things that would directly benefit them. I'm talking about things that have obviously been missing from their already miserable and wasted lives for quite a long time, like, clean and safe drinking water, electricity, health care clinics, education facilities and roads, among other basic needs.
Sadly, according to the Commissioner, this government, like the ones before it, continues to lavish the people's money on utterly expensive items, like, "brand name" cars, frequent and unnecessary travels abroad, etc., while the bulk of our people continue to live in squalor at home, refugee camps and other dangerous places abroad waiting for the right signal from their so-called leaders.
But whether Liberians like Charles Bennie or not, they must give the man the credit that's due him, if for nothing else, for just blowing the whistle on the NTGL for continuing the bad and contemptuous practice of misappropriating the people's money while carrying the hat around for more. I must remind Liberians, as I should, that these are not ordinary times in our country as our people who are already traumatized by years of senseless wars are badly hurting for almost everything just to survive (much less to live).

Although the recent charges made by Mr. Bennie against the NTGL is still said to be under consideration in some quarters, however, Liberians need to collectively DEMAND a full and thorough investigation into this matter in order to bring out the naked truth. My point here is that if we do not keep this Interim Government under the microscope for a fresh start, then it's more than likely that we'd keep any future administration or government (elected or not) in check going forward - something we definitely must do at this particular junction in our sad history if we want to build a brand new Liberia that'll be based on the twin principles of justice and equality for all, amongst many other virtues...

Moreover, we owe it to ourselves as well as the future generations of Liberians to ensure that whoever takes the reigns of power in our now comatose country is transparent, honest and most of all, accountable to the people. Unless we can collectively hold our government's [not only the NTGL, but any other future leadership] feet to the fire to make sure that it does the correct things this time around, taking into account the total neglect of our people in the past, the precious lives of more than 250,000 of our compatriots would have been wasted in vain. And I'm very certain that's not why so many Liberians were slaughtered in cold blood by the various warring factions in the last decade or so. On the personal level, I stubbornly refuse to accept any other reason (s) for the carnage that has taken place in our nation, thereby, bringing it to its knees other than that it was meant to empower the people - giving them their country back!
Since his allegations against the Gyude Bryant regime, Mr. Bennie has lately been reported to have produced some documents to the International Contact Group on Liberia (ICGL) - a kind of monitoring group that the NTGL itself had asked to intervene in this particular matter following the Commissioner's apparent refusal to cooperate or even meet with a committee that had been set up by Chairman Bryant to look into the specific charges made by him (Mr. Bennie).

But so far, the Bryant government's official response to the specific charges in this rather scandalous matter seem to be very inadequate to say the least in that the NTGL, through a press release dated July 6 by its point man, Mr. Harry S. Johnson, Deputy Minister of State for Public Affairs, focused mainly on the dollar amount of the issues in question as opposed to explaining in full details how "wisely" the government is spending whatever meager funds it's handling supposedly on behalf of the Liberian people.

Obviously, Liberians do not see the roads or government-owned buildings (if there are any) being repaired. Nor do they see any reasonable improvement in their sorrowful living standards. Or any promising sign that electricity and pipe-borne water will be coming their way any time soon. All they often see is their so-called "big shots" riding up and down Broad Street in their shiny luxury vehicles (many with tainted windows) on pothole-laden roads. They also see their so-called "big shots" (many of them not even qualified in the first place, but presently occupying big jobs) living in and building huge mansions tucked away behind fortresses that they call fences - all of them riding on the back of our miserably poor people who they pass day after day in the same old condition - helpless, hopeless and abandoned, among others.

I mean, let's be real! This is not the way to build confidence in a government that came to power in the first place seriously lacking credibility and legitimacy from the very start. Not at all!

Besides, Mr. Bennie is not alone in accusing the Charles Gyude Bryant administration of doing things that are harmful or detrimental to the general interests of our country and people. Indeed, there surely are other instances where this NTGL is seen as misusing its authority to promote its own selfish interests. For a good example, let's consider the recent observations made by yet another official in the NTGL - in person of Mr. Dusty Wolokolie, a member of the so-called Contracts and Monopolies Commission.

Writing recently in a rather lengthy piece entitled "No Genuine Commitment to Accountability and Transparency in [the] NTGL" (The Perspective, June 16, 2004), he observed that: "…..Several agencies of Government have initiated or already entered into contracts, concessions, grants, treaties, etc., with the direct/indirect and open involvement and/or approval of the Chairman of the NTGL with NO [emphasis mine] reference whatsoever to the CMC" as they had agreed to in the so-called CPA (Comprehensive Peace Agreement) [whatever that is!].

Well, is there anything new in Mr. Wolokolie's apparently frank observations? Not to me at least! But to understand what is actually happening in our severely battered country today, let's go a little bit further just to show you how, in this current so-called Interim Government, one hand doesn't seem to know what the other is doing.

"Some of the initiatives being undertaken or contracts already entered into UNILATERALLY [my emphasis] by officers of Government agencies without any reference to the CMC include: the review of concession agreements in the forestry sector in which 24 out of 30 [got that!] companies have been granted clearances 'and will be re-certificated to recommence operations following their settlement of financial obligations to the Authority (FDA) [Taylor's one-time personal pepperbush] and to the government'; oil exploration agreements and requests for bids for Liberia's Offshore Oil Exploration Licensing by the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL)", among others, Mr. Wolokolie further observed.
For those of you that are really interested in shaping the future of Liberia, I'd urge you strongly to go back and re-read Dusty's entire article, because I can assure you that it'll well be worth your time. Furthermore, it'll give you a very good idea about the inner workings of this government - the NTGL.

But I must confess, though, that I'm no fan of Mr. Charles Bennie [simply because of his affiliation, past and present, with one of our nation's most murderous rebel groups - LURD.]. Neither am I an admirer of Mr. Dusty Wolokolie, who I happen to know as a student at LU (aka the University of Liberia) in the late 1970's. Then, I thought of him as a young and promising leader, but have since been disappointed with his performance on the national level as an official in previous administrations with highly questionable records.

Nevertheless, I must tell you quite frankly that I do respect both men for their courage in spilling the beans (so to speak) on this seemingly corrupt NTGL. For whatever reason (s) either man may have been prompted to blow the whistle on Chairman Bryant, be it to gain political advantage or whatever, their individual efforts in exposing this interim administration should go a long way in helping us to decide what it is that we want out of our government, now and in the not too distant future

Do we want more of this kind of bad governance which existed in the past or do we really want to see fundamental changes in our institutions of government that are geared toward transforming our country for the good of all? Do we want a government that is wasteful, irresponsible, insensitive, etc., or do we want a government that's thrifty, reasonable, responsible, etc.? These are just a few hard questions that we ought to be asking ourselves as we go forward.

As regards Commissioner Bennie's whistle blowing, the only satisfactory outcome, to me, is to have the entire NTGL audited completely from top to bottom, preferably, by an independent entity, like, say, a 'patriotic' group of young Liberian public accountants (CPA's) and other financial types. That sure would be the best way to find out the truth about just how the Bryant administration is spending our little money. Are there any takers? Arguably, the only discrepancy between Mr. Bennie's version of things compared to the government's is the dollar amount in question - US$7 million in collections per month as alleged by the Commissioner versus a total of roughly US$48 million as mentioned by the government in its July 6 press release.

Although it would be nice to know exactly how much the NTGL is taking in each month in terms of overall revenues, but the larger question still is: What is Gyude Bryant and his administration spending our little bit of money on? Because it surely can't be on electricity (there is none) or health clinics (there aren't any except those owned and operated by private/public individuals) or roads (they're still unrepaired), etc. And so, the government must be spending our meager financial resources on something else. What something? Does it benefit the people directly? That's exactly what I, like many other Liberians, really want to know.

Since Mr. Wolokolie's personal observations, the entire Contracts and Monopolies Commission, made up of five (5) members ironically chosen by Mr. Bryant, has come up with its own accusations against the Interim Administration. In a press release issued recently (The New Democrat, July 20, 2004), the Commission said, among other things, that: "The Contracts and Monopolies Commission (CMC) is taken aback and very disappointed by yet another violation of Article XVII of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) by the Chairman of the NTGL, [Charles] Gyude Bryant, in his appointment of a Forestry Concession Review Committee despite the [current] existence of the CMC, the [sole] body clothed with the authority by the CPA to 'oversee activities of a contractual nature undertaken by the NTGL' as a way of ensuring accountability and transparency" in Liberia.

And then there's this thing about the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) and its former Governor, Elie Saleeby; the Telecommunications war over frequencies rights; the continuing abuses by Liberian law enforcement officers, etc. etc. Well, I just don't how much longer the Liberian people will tolerate this kind of sparring between their government and its officials. But one thing is perfectly clear, though - they (Liberians) must wake up and take a stand before it's too late.

In conclusion, I'd like to challenge other Liberians to follow the good examples of Messrs. Bennie and Wolokolie, albeit, their personal responsibilities for some of the ugly things that have occurred in our country in the recent past. Indeed, we must keep the microscope focused sharply on this interim government as well as any other to ensure that nothing is done under cover as in the past. Also, we must send out a clear signal to future administrations that we'll be watching them very, very closely.

You know, sometime as I'm driving to work and passing beside the many new projects, especially, roads being constructed throughout the area that I live in, I wonder if it would ever be possible to do the same in Liberia one of these good-old days. I mean, that's one admirable thing about the United States, you always see the people's money at work - whether it's road repairs, well maintained public buildings, lively parks, etc.

Yes, it is possible, but it depends on all of us, individually and collectively as Liberians. That's why I think it's very necessary to always hold our government accountable, beginning right now.
- 30 -

LIBERIANS MUST WAKE UP…BECOME VIGILANT
By: James W. Harris

When the very avaricious Liberian tyrant, Charles Taylor, was forced to flee his homeland in disgrace in shameless exchange for a life of luxury in Calabar, Nigeria (thanks to President Olusegun Obasanjo who personally escorted him there), last August, some Liberians were optimistic and hopeful that their now demised country was about to finally turn the corner for the better. But not too long after the tyrant's abrupt departure from the country that he had wrecked for 'temporary' exile, Liberians began to find out that their battered country was stuck in reverse once again and going no where - at least not for now.

The fact that Liberians could settle for the present group of so-called national leaders, some of whom have allegedly committed heinous atrocities and crimes against our poor people and the state with impunity in the immediate past, speak more of their complacency and lax attitude about life in particular. In general, it shows that Liberians are not yet ready to take full responsibility for their country.
To allow the same group of old and failed so-called leaders, who in many cases don't even have any constituency in the now crippled country, to run our nation's affairs - a nation that they infact helped to destroy - is tantamount to cynicism of the worse kind as far as I'm concerned. That's why we're getting the same results: corruption, abandonment of the people, .use of public property for personal gains, fiscal mismanagement, etc. during this interim period.

I mean, let's face it…. you really have to be crazy to believe that you can continue to do something repeatedly the same way but yet expect to get a different result. That just doesn't happen - something fundamental (like practices in government in this case) has to change before anything good can happen!
You know, one good thing about Liberians is that we have many traditional parables, which when considered seriously, can provide wise guidance as to the possible outcome of a given situation. Here's a very familiar parable (one of my favorites) for an example…."You can't plant eddoes and expect to get cassava." Why? Simply because mother nature just doesn't work that way except through some kind of divine intervention.

Now, if Liberians had applied the same logic in the parable above to the selection or acceptance of our current core of so-called leaders following the abrupt ejection of the morally bankrupt Taylor government, they definitely would have rejected many persons that make up the present government based on their individual records - past and present. Yet, it's never too late to throw out those rascals and bandits that continue to pillage our country, and worse of all, mortgage it to foreign elements, particularly, the Lebanese, without any remorse.
. Today, we're asking the Gyude Bryant's National Transitional Government of Liberia (NTGL) why it isn't delivering the beef (i.e. resolving the sanitation crisis in the country; providing light, pipe-born water, jobs, etc.). as if we didn't know what was going on or the background of officials that make up this administration. We knew who they were, but chose instead to. condemned others who began to raise the red flag long before the convention in Ghana out of which came this NTGL as to the fact that nothing was going to change in Liberia with this particular bunch in charge due to their past records of exploiting the country for their personal gains. I'm one person that has always considered the Bryant Interim Government as illegitimate, simply because of the way that it was put together. It really doesn't represent the hopes and aspirations of the Liberian people.

If senior members of this interim administration couldn't bring meaningful changes (build road infrastructures, schools, clinics, provide clean drinking water, etc.) to the country when they had the power, for whatever reasons, they definitely can make no difference now being of the same characters. . Nothing about them has changed so why even give them another opportunity to keep ruining the country. Because it's still on deathbed, we must realize that Liberia urgently needs some new blood pumped into it so that it can resuscitate itself and move along.
Because we neglected to challenge the way things were being done in Ghana, particularly, the way the new interim government was being formed and then forced upon us, we shouldn't even be questioning them right now. We got exactly what we wanted - a raw deal!

Haven't said that, I'd like to draw your attention to some of the news on the ground that have been making headlines lately to see if anything has really changed in Liberia compared to the immediate past. Here we go: "Exploitation Discovered at the Capitol" (the Inquirer as carried by The Perspective, July 3, 2004); "Civilians Still Bearing the Brunt of War", [UN Secretary-General] Annan says" (UN News Service, June 7, 2004); "Police Flog Information Officer" (Press Release, Media Foundation for West Africa, July 6, 2004); "Charles Bennie Releases Evidence of Corrupt Practices [in the NTGL]" (The Perspective, July 3, 2004), "US 10M Iron Ore Deal" (the Analyst as published by AllAfrica.com, July 6, 2004), "After Peace - Household Waste, Sharapnel [?], Carcasses…" (the Inter Press Service as carried by AllAfrica.com), and on and on.

Now pray tell me, aren't these the same kinds of stuff that we've become accustomed to reading during previous administrations, starting with the last one, the crooked and brutal Taylor (NPP) regime? That's what it seems like to me!
What this indicates to me (and should to any sound or sensible person) is that the Bryant Interim Government is indeed carrying on "business as usual" in sharp contrasts to what he had promised the nation in one of his first speeches. Am I disappointed? Nope - not a bit! I knew it all along that's how it was going to turn out.

You know, sometimes I'm inclined to blame the Liberian people (masses) for their own pitiful plight. But again, how can I blame them in good conscience knowing exactly all they've been through for the past 150 something years. That would be too heartless, wouldn't it!

Therefore, I'd rather blame the continuing madness in our country squarely on those individuals that keep holding the nation hostage, people like Blamo Nelson, Willie Belleh, Harry Greaves, Jr., Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, George Dweh (who actually should be facing war crimes) and Emmanuel Shaw, amongst a long list of other unprincipled Liberians. Instead of sheepishly embracing these kinds of folks whose actions have harmed the country in one way or the other, we should be demanding that they step aside immediately and leave us alone for good.
Seriously, how could any Liberian in his or her right mind ever believe that things could change in Liberia for the better with many of the now disgraced Taylor's close associates still in charge? How could Liberians really believe the then new Chairman Bryant when he said that it "won't be business as usual" during his interim term, especially so, knowing who he had surrounded himself with (remnants of Taylor's, Doe's (the late Samuel K.), and Tolbert's (the late William R.) inner circle? Of course it was going to be "business as usual" with this particular group in charge - no doubt.

If Liberians will ever garner the courage to seize their now war-torn country and turn it around, they will first have to wake up and then become vigilant in terms of speaking out forcefully and vocally about the continuing damage being done to our country as the direct result of the apparent misuse, or better yet, abuse of our meager resources for personal gains. I've noticed that a few Liberians have begun doing just that and I must greatly applaud them for their courage and patriotism.

What I'd really like to see is, for example, young professional Liberian financial experts, like John S. Morlu, II, Robert L. Kilby, Emmanuel Reeves, J. Yanqui Zaza, to name a few, coming together to do a complete AUDIT of this administration [the NTGL] to see where we are at this point. That should be very interesting. Because as things currently stand, many of us just do not know who owns what in Liberia today or how our money is being spent by this government. Moreover, an 'independent' audit of our government and resources (whatever is left) could go a long way in setting the course for the future. I do hope that our relatively young financial experts are thinking along these lines for the sake of their country. That's what I mean when I say that Liberians must wake up and become vigilant.

After 14 long and brutal years under the Taylor dictatorship, coupled with more than a hundred and fifty years of misrule by successive administrations, one would think that Liberians would have said "enough is enough" in vehemently opposing many members of this so-called interim government. especially those that are well-known crooks, criminals, potential war crimes candidates and diehard opportunists, amongst others, who, seemingly, are only interested in themselves and not necessarily the welfare of the downtrodden Liberian people.

As some of you may have noticed by now, I've been conspicuously absent from the ongoing debate pertaining to the final destiny of our now completely wrecked country for some very good reasons that I'd rather not get into at this particular time. Please forgive me for that. But I can assure you that I've been following very closely events that are taking place on the ground in Liberia with much dismay and a rather heavy heart simply because I know that as a people we can truly do better.

Whenever I read news headlines and articles, especially those that are carried frequently in the local newspapers in Monrovia, I can't help but come to the sad conclusion that in order for any "real" change to come to our country, Liberians will have to step up and challenge their so-called leaders, not by way of new violence, but by 'civilized' means like demanding their rights in an organized fashion (i.e. showing "people's power" thorough peaceful demonstrations). That's the only way that they'd be heard, following the recent example by the Spanish masses who took to the streets and brought down the incumbent, thereby, replacing it with a government that they wanted.

And with the UN peacekeeping forces on the ground, I don't see why this wouldn't be possible. Admittedly, though, we'd first need a group of sober and relatively young leaders whose commitment to a "fair and just" Liberia is unwavering. Please don't tell me that we can't find a few good Liberians who could ably steer our ship of state to better times, because we can if we look hard enough. But the main problem is that we've grown to become too complacent about a lot of things, even those that are apparently threatening to our personal lives.

I mean, what Liberians really need to do (soon rather than later) in order to save their almost forgotten country is to get organized and desperately hungry for a change. Such organization must be formed not on the basis of tribalism, social or economic statuses, friendship, personal relationships, etc., but on the age-old principles of justice, equality and most of all, the issue of human rights for all Liberians.

With ever increasing news about their appetite for luxury items, like huge homes and expensive cars, on the part of our government officials, continuing bribery and corruption in the various ministries and agencies, insensitivity to the deplorable conditions our people continue to live in, among others, Liberians can't afford to remain silent at this time. We must become activists for the people to ensure that they too benefit from their country's resources and most importantly, that it's not "business as usual" in Monrovia.
In spite of all the assistance we've been getting from the international community, the NTGL is still saying that it's broke that's why it can't deliver. But we know why it is broke - because it's spending our little resources wastefully just like previous administration. Even at that, it still can't account for the little bit that's been entrusted into its care. And yet it wants sanctions that were imposed on the ruthless Taylor regime by the UN for intervening in a neighboring country (Sierra Leone) to be lifted so that they too can benefit materially from diamonds and timber profits. On the issue of lifting the sanctions, I'd say NO emphatically until the Bryant administration can give accounting of what it has done with our money so far.

It's disheartening to know that even with the little help that we're getting, the majority of our people still live in abject poverty and misery with no end in sight. This leads me to the one question that I've been asking all along - they say that Liberia is in "transition", my question is: From what to what? Obviously, I don't see any difference between this government and the previous one, except we want to be naïve or unrealistic - the denial syndrome. More or less, things are basically the same in Liberia. That's why we have to wake up and become vigilant as I keep saying!
If we could only insist on getting a government (interim or elected) that's transparent, accountable, trustworthy, honest and selfless, among other good virtues, Liberians could get light and water to improve their daily lives, because they'd have a government that's interested in their welfare. But in order for this to happen, again, we'll have to be careful in determining who we want to lead us going forward, lest we'd get the same results. And we shouldn't be fooled either by people who say that the upcoming elections will change everything for the good of the country. The fact of the matter is that it just could be the same folks in charge after the elections, thus the same kind of bad governance we've been experiencing for so long.

Honestly, if I had my way, I'd rather have a select group of our tribal chiefs and elders run the country during this interim period with the assistance of Liberians with high moral and ethical standards instead of this present group of people that have seemingly been imposed on us. After all, whose most close to the Liberian people than our chiefs and elders - because they live in the villages, towns and hamlets. And besides, they know our people very well. Furthermore, they're not as tainted as many in this so-called interim government.
Whenever I bring up this particular topic about our tribal chiefs and elders running the government, at least in the interim, I usually get negative responses from people who see and dismiss them merely as illiterates incapable of managing a modern-day society. As one of them asked me in the most serious tone: "Harris, do you really believe that those illiterate chefs can go to the IMF (International Monetary Funds) and World Bank to plead our case?" Never mind that I had told them earlier that the chiefs would be supported by a group of young Liberian technocrats that the people can trust.

Anyway, in response to him, I said: "Well, we've had all these so-called educated people with PhD's, MA's CPA's, CFM's, MBA's and what have you running Liberia for so long in the past and even currently….. look where we are. Can we get any worse? Hell no!" I then continued: "He who is already down, fears no fall, but I won't mind trying something radical and different. I'd rather. give them (chiefs and elders) the benefit of any doubt, because I now know what our so-called educated people represent - despair, selfishness, lack of integrity and dishonesty, among others." That ended the conversation, but we still remain friends, though. At this stage, I'd rather try anything new or radical that work for our people as opposed to staying with the old that just won't do.

Finally, if Liberians choose to remain complacent or silent during this very crucial period when they have the ears and eyes of the international community, then they'll have no one else to blame but themselves. After surviving more than 20 combined years of ruthlessness by the late Samuel K. Doe's and Charles Ghankay Taylor's dictatorships, Liberians should really have nothing to fear, especially with UN forces on the ground. I don't think that they (UN peacekeeping forces) would deny us our right to assemble peacefully and demonstrate, if that's what it'll take in order to draw attention to the ongoing mess in our country.

After all, it is the responsibility of each Liberian, regardless of where he or she may be, to ensure that our country survives and that its natural resources be used always for the total benefit of us all, not just a selfish and greedy few.
Just as I was about to file this article, I came across yet another disturbing headline which is a clear example of what I've been talking about in this piece: "[Liberian] Parliament Rejects Petition for Taylor to Be Tried in Sierra Leone" (IRIN, as carried by AllAfrica.com, July 7, 2004). Did the human rights groups in Liberia really expect Taylor's cohorts (or partners in crimes) who make up most of the so-called Parliament to embrace their petition? I hope not! Now you see what I've been saying throughout this article.


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