100 Days In Pro-Poor Governance – The Glittering Functionaries
Analysis by Sherman C. Seequeh
As the fiery debate over the George Weah Government’s achievements and failures in its first 100 days subsides, let me hastily lift my pen on the matter as I see it, before leaving for the hometown in Sinoe County today. Truly speaking, a hundred days is an unfair period to adjudge any emergent administrative regime failed or successful, not even in jurisdictions that are more economically developed and stronger. Certainly, it cannot also be done in the case of the Coalition for Democratic Change regime that inherited a near-virgin state coffer from a 12-year kleptocracy that struggled and failed to wrestle with galloping inflation and massive corruption, which the leader herself described as a vampire. The first hundred days of the CDC and its flagship pro-poor governance agenda were to be a giveaway or a lull in concrete achievements in the first six years of the administration; a time to behold and rationalize the magnitude of the socioeconomic and political ruins left behind by its Unity Party predecessor; a time to assemble the human, material and technical forces that commensurate with the topsy-turvy of things on the governance landscape.
While it is true that public expectation hit an all-time zenith upon the advent of the George Weah regime, it would take only the most unreasonable faultfinders to expect multiple superhighways, spiraled nosedive of the hard cost of living and zero-sum unemployment rate in the country within hundred days of the CDC. The state coffer was too barren, the governance disorganization was too chronic to see immediate substantial reversal of the deeply rooted woes afflicting the country and its people in hundred days. What reasonable critics looked up to in the first hundred days was rather the demonstration of goodwill and competence through drastic re-organization processes at government as well as agency levels, the deliberate radical re-mobilization of human and material resources—all that would indicate that the campaign-time Change-for-Hope slogan is beginning to find expression in a radical break and departure from business as usual and the old order. So far as I noticed, and based on interviews with non-governmental elements, a few functionaries of Government stand out, at least initially, as the heralding paragons of the pro-poor governance crusade on which platter the CDC administration came to power a hundred days ago.
Don’t get it wrong. There might be many other government functionaries that have stepped the revolutionary strides underpinning the pro-poor governance agenda in their own corners and who may be not captured by my radar and my perspective. But I know for sure that those captured during the first hundred days have put their testaments clearest before the public space, and they deserve some pats on the back. While this is not a permanent approbation of them as long as they may serve, these are the names of the persons/institutions of Government caught by the radar for leaving some amount of enviable, well-intentioned marks—at least for doing something reasonably different and helpful from yesterdays and in support to the pro-poor governance crusade during the last hundred days.
Of course, President George Weah is one of them. Did he do anything extraordinary that was supportive of the pro-poor agenda during the first hundred days? Of course yes. The President threaded where angels feared. Which Liberian president voluntarily or even involuntarily surrendered a substantial chunk of his or her salary and benefit? Less than a week in office, President Weah waved 25 percent of his benefits. Cynics, faultfinders and pessimists will see nothing good in this. Others are asking, “How much is the President’s salary or benefit? What does the 25% waver mean in terms of actual cash and how does it help?” But these should not be the rational question to ask. Firstly, whatever his earning, subtract a 25%. Everyone knows if he were earning, for instance, US$10,000, the waver would be US$2,500. And this is a major hit economically on anyone. Secondly, who else in history has made such a gesture? Doesn’t he bring to governance unusual selflessness and care for the people?
The President did not stop at that. Within the first hundred days, he began to share if not impose his trait of selflessness on his appointees. Over 4,000 public servants earning more than US$1,000 are requested to surrender reasonable chunk of their earnings to other much-needed priorities.
Another revolutionary exploit that the President has demonstrated during his 100 days in office is the demystification, or if I should coin my own word, is the de-imperialization of the Liberian presidency. From the days of old, Liberians have lamented and decried the fangs of imperial presidency—aristocratic, all powerful, elitist and haughty presidency that looked down on common people—a tendency that often spread like an epidemic amongst other public officials. President Weah has leveled down the domineering, presidential aristocracy known throughout history. He has scrapped off mystics of the presidency so much during the hundred days that faultfinders criticize that he makes himself un-presidential by visiting slum towns too often, eating in lappa-be-door cook shops and with ordinary Liberians. His style is one of down-to-earth, dialogue, consultation and popular participation—traits that are rare in Liberia’s public service culture. Indeed, President Weah has, if I were to borrow from venerable pan-Africanist intellectual czar, Prof. PLO Lumumba, Magufulified governance or brought Magufulification of Liberian leadership, a new term he coined from Tanzania’s John Pompe Magufuli known for his revolutionary governance style.
Those radical demonstration of disengagement from actions and policies of the old order are also replicated and mimicked by a few of his public service lieutenants who, during the first hundred days, showed the moral will of breaking away from entrenched tendencies in the Liberian public service. Echoes from the likes of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, the Ministry of Education, the Monrovia City Corporation are reassuring; they reverberate, to some extent, the political rhetoric of change with which they CDC paraded for 12 years and particularly during the 2017 elections.
At the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, where Prof. Wilson Tarpeh is steering the ship, there appeared during the hundred days a radical break in the tradition of complacency, collusion and outright indifference to the welfare of the public which in times past made that ministry an accomplice in economic crimes and Liberia’s underdevelopment. The couple of policy actions taken by the authority of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, including probing price tags mainly of the political commodity rice, getting even with profiteering foreign moguls by arresting violators and companies dealing in expired products and goods, enforcing key commercial regulations, consulting on making the Liberianization Policy real and concrete—all indicate that those at the Ministry understand that the Ministry lies at the heart of the pro-poor governance agenda.
While it is true much is still desired, it is also very true that Prof. Tarpeh and folks have hit the nerve center of the criminal commercial cartel that have long hijacked the Liberian economy, rendered Liberians paupers in their own country and made political authority toothless and helpless to fight for their people. Despite great powers foreign businesses—rice importers, petroleum importers and other major merchants whirl in the country—the Ministry’s current authority, at least during the first hundred days, disregarded the risks that tore down many administrations to challenge the cartel. Not many officials of that Ministry were so bold, fearless and revolutionary minded to confront the cartel.
Another functionary picked up by the radar for exceptional performance in the CDC government’s first hundred days is the authority of the Monrovia City Corporation which now sits in the firm grip of youthful Jefferson Koijee. Yes, it is true that the MCC’s recent history had not been lacking in robust superintendence, because the once sleeping giant passed through the fiery hands of no-nonsense Mary TaryonnonBroh, who found the City Mayor job very serious and demonstrated allergy to filthy environment. She worked exceptionally well in keeping things in order. However, what Jefferson Koijee and team demonstrated in the first hundred days is noted in the replacement of Broh’s bulldozer insensitive policy with scientific planning, shrewd organization and intelligent engagement of stakeholders and ordinary citizens. Thus, during the hundred days, however short that period, the current MCC leadership showed its distinction in popularity rooted in popular mobilization of ordinary residents of Monrovia and important stakeholders who are all putting the city on the right trajectory of cleanliness, order and beautification.
Of course, there also are echoes of revolutionary actions bellowing at the Ministry of Education under the leadership of Dr. Ansu Sonnii whose ascendency as Minister followed 12 years or even far beyond this period a situation education was branded as a mess. This odd characterization of the country’s education system did not come from the clear blue sky. It followed close observation that found the system woefully wanting of the minimal quality desired by any civilized nation and people. What Dr. Sonnii has done during the first hundred days is to ignite critical stakeholder review of the system, putting its lingering debauchery on the prism not only for evaluation but also for the much-needed remedies. The magnitude of that debauched system requires all hands on deck, and the sensible and most revolutionary thing the Minister and team at the Ministry did during the first hundred days was to host a national education conference, bringing together international partners, governmental and nongovernmental stakeholders, students and parents to share their various perspectives of the problems as well as the solutions which reportedly would culminate into a rational strategic plan and roadmap for robust policy actions that would change the course of education programs in the next few years.
There might be other agencies or officials of Government that made extraordinary strides in the first hundred days to match the revolutionary nature of the CDC regime that did not come to the public glare and/or not picked up by this radar. It wouldn’t be a surprise either to note that many have slept on the revolution, lacking the innovation and stamina that go into what is required to make the government’s pro-poor agenda successful. In fact, not many of them see the CDC takeover as a revolution that’s needed to depart from entrenched complacency and the system of business as usual. They think the current government is an ordinary government or that it must make the new mat on account of the old mat. However, there are those who think differently, who see the advent of the CDC government as a radical democratic takeover of state power based on the Change for Hope slogan and therefore spent every hour of their office time endeavoring to severe relations with the old order of things so that the Liberian people see that indeed “Change is Here!”.
And during the first hundred days those picked up by our radar did one or two things that draw the line—to send out some message—that the CDC administration is here for a serious business, a business that is totally and radically incompatible with political misrule that we saw in the last 12 years and even beyond. The revolutionary message must transcend the hundred days, and must continue to be a natural embodiment and traits of the six years ahead, and for all and sundry who serve at every layer of the Government must fit in or fit out. Meanwhile, Weah, Tarpeh, Sonii and Koijee are perfectly fit in. They are my pick for the 100 days.