By Moses D. Sandy
On September 25, 2012, when Front Page Africa(FPA), the Liberian owned online and print media institution, in one of its daily news reports made public allocations covering benefits for members of the House of Representatives of the National Legislature in the 2012/2013 budget, Liberians at home and abroad were flabbergasted, appalled, and displeased.
The publication drew ire from every quarter of the Liberian society because the figures associated with the remunerations for every representative were exuberant: Special Allowances, US$1,992, Monthly, Transportation Reimbursement Allowance of $US2,500, Monthly, Domestic Daily Subsistence Allowance of US$500.00, Monthly , telephone, telex, fax, internet, postage and courier allowance of US$1,403, monthly, US$5,000, monthly medical allowance, US $ 1, 200 for monthly residential property rental/lease stipend, US$25,000, annual transportation allowance, and US$30,000 for the purchase of a brand new vehicle.
The monetary projections seemed incredible, especially at a time where civil servants, who constitute a buck of the public workforce, are barely surviving at the skin of their teeth. The average civil servant in Liberia reportedly earns $100 monthly. Furthermore, many including friends of Liberia could not stomach that in a third world country like Liberia where 67% of its nearly 4 million population lives in abject poverty coupled with underfunded and ineffective social services, members of the House of Representatives could reap such whopping benefits.
Even President Sirleaf, who paradoxically endorsed the 2012/2013 fiscal budget, could not hide her indignation over what Liberians called the lawmakers’ lion share. Responding to a recent inquiry from Professor Bernadette Atuahene of Fordham Law School regarding corruption in Liberia and the lawmakers’ allocated benefits, the President said “We didn’t give it to them; they took it. We’re still fighting that battle. We have a legislature that’s aggressive in terms of their own interest.” Mrs. Sirleaf spoke when she addressed the US Council on Foreign relations in New York last month.
The Chief Executive description of how the Representatives’ huge salaries and benefits were obtained equates to what many consider greed and self-indulgence. According to the Webster’s New World College Dictionary-4th edition, greed is the excessive desire for getting or having, especially wealth; desire for more than one needs or deserves.
This is the unchecked and unresolved social problem that permeates Liberia’s growth and national development. Avarice is one of Liberia’s worst nightmares. In Liberia, greed has taken a center stage over national interest. It does not matter whether the John F. Kennedy Memorial Hospital and the University of Liberia are meeting the health and educational needs of the poor, but the privileged few must live in grandiosity.
It is survival of the fittest; it does not matter whether there is running water or adequate public transportation for the economically disadvantaged, but those flashy cars must be bought and those duplexes or mansions by Liberian standard built for the advantaged few.
The excessive desire for wealth or material things even at the detriment of the people is a way of life in the country. It is a culture or an ingrained practice. The problem is neither unique to members of the House of Representatives nor the Sirleaf government as a whole.
Greed in Liberia is a social conundrum that cuts across gender, nationalities, religion, political affiliation, creed, professions, institutions, and governments. It is a systemic problem; there is voracity in the public and private sectors, media, church, academic institutions, community organizations, and families.
Materialism and Liberia’s founding history are inextricably linked. It dates back as far as 1816, when the American Colonization Society (ACS) established the country. From Liberia’s founding era to April 12, 1980 when 17 enlisted men of the Armed Forces of Liberia(AFL) then led by the late Master Sergeant Samuel K. Doe dethroned the William R. Tolbert government on charges of rampant corruption and nepotism, Americo-Liberians dominated Liberian politics for 133 years.
Although they make up only about 5% of the population, Americo-Liberians had absolute control of the nation’s wealth. They lived “large” while the vast majority of the people languished in destitution.
Even though the late Sergeant Doe and his men during their reign promised to stamp-out corruption from the face of Liberia, they too, succumbed to greed. The oligarchy was tribalistic, nepotistic, corrupt, and politically repressive. Supporters of the regime, especially the Krahns disproportionately managed and showered in the nation’s wealth at the disadvantage of the people.
As a result of the government’s indifference to the needs of the masses, on December 24, 1989, one of Africa’s bloodiest civil wars ensued; claiming more than 200 thousand lives including that of the Late President Doe. Over a million people were displaced nationally and internationally.
In 1997, Mr. Charles G. Taylor, the former Rebel Leader of the disbanded National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) and the brain child of Liberia’s civil wars, won the UN and ECOWAS backed special elections. He was elected president.
Mr. Taylor was also, a greedy man. He was egotistic and autocratic. Under his leadership, Liberia became internationally known as a pariah state due to his use of blood diamonds and illegal timber exports to fund the Revolutionary United Front(RUF) in the Sierra Leone Civil War.
Taylor’s Liberia was a fiefdom; he single handedly decided who gets what, when, and why. Before August 11, 2003 when self-proclaimed freedom fighters or rebels of the Liberians United for Democracy (LURD) militarily cowed him into resigning and fleeing into exile in Nigeria, former President Taylor was ostentatious. By Liberian standard, he was a wealthy man. He controlled millions of dollars acquired through shady deals in Liberia and Sierra Leone.
He had absolute control over Liberia’s revenues and natural resources. During the hey days of his presidency, he and his loyalists drove flashy cars and lived in upscale homes while the masses including civil servants went without regular meal, safe drinking water, electricity, and salaries. Educational and state owned institutions laid ruined while they literarily “showered” in ill-gotten wealth. In Taylor’s Liberia corruption also, festered.
In 2005 when political stability was restored to Liberia, Mrs. Sirleaf, the Harvard trained economist was elected as the nation and Africa’s first female President. Her election to the highest office in the land gave Liberians hope for a better and stable country.
On January 6, 2006 following her inauguration, she promised to take the fight against greed and graft in the public sector head on. She declared corruption the government’s public enemy number one, but after more than 7 years of political stewardship, she too has failed miserably in containing the problem. Corruption has quadrupled while greed has become a life style of the government and its functionaries.
The President has become unpopular at home and abroad for hiring, recycling, and pampering the corrupt, greedy, and dishonest in government. She refuses to prosecute individuals and institutions linked to issues of avarice and corruption. Since coming to power, the General Auditing Commission (GAC) has compiled more than 72 forensic audit reports that have indicted public officials and institutions for theft and the misapplication of the people’s money.
But sadly those reports remained pending while some of the accused are either recycled or elevated to other prominent positions of trust in government. Appalled by the current state of affairs in the country, Nobel Peace Laureate Leymah Gbowee, who until October 8, 2012, served as head of Sirleaf’s National Reconciliation Initiative, on October 9, 2012put a dent in the government’s image when she while in the French capitol, Paris on a book (French edition of the book, Mighty Be Our Powers) signing tour told the AFP news agency, that Mrs. Sirleaf and her officials are greedy and indifferent to the socio-economic needs of Liberia’s poor “In her first term she developed infrastructure. But what good is infrastructure if people don’t have enough to eat? Development in a land of hungry, angry people is nothing. The gap between the rich and poor is growing. You are either rich or dirty poor, there’s no middle class,” Ms. Gbowee accused.
Greed has multiplied corruption in Sirleaf’s Liberia and has eroded public confidence in the government locally and internationally. Greed and dishonesty remain significant impediments for the Sirleaf administration in its dealing with the International Community. For example, the International Crisis Group in its June 2012 Policy Briefing on Liberia’s state of affairs, enunciated that “A more convincing effort against corruption is needed to provide a basis for addressing reconciliation in Liberia."
Transparency International (T.I.), the world’s most credible organization that measures domestic and public sector corruption in 2011, also, ranked Liberia the world 91
corrupt nation with a score of 3.3. T.I.’s corruption index scores range from zero to ten; scores of 3.2 with 1 being the least, are considered significantly corrupt.
Mr. Jerome Verdier, the former Chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (T.R.C.) in a recent news article on the state of affairs in Sirleaf’s Liberia says “The President is threading the same path that of Presidents Samuel K. Doe and Charles Taylor that which led to the military coup of April 12, 1980 and subsequent brutal civil wars. Ellen’s leadership style and policies run deep: flamboyant and imperial as Taylor; brutal and election rigging as Doe; nepotistic as Tolbert and manipulative, autocratic and an astute adherent to ingrained political culture of patronage like Tubman.”
President Sirleaf’s legacy is doomed unless things change for the better. Liberia is now 165 years old since it gained independence in 1847. The country is one of Africa’s oldest independent nations, but one of the least developed and poorest countries in the world. Research show that insatiability is a key attribute for the country’s under development.
Since its founding, greed continues to be a prominent causation for the polarization of the Liberian society. It laid the basis for the April 12, 1980 military coup, November 12, 1985 invasion led by the late Gen. Thomas Quiwonkpa, the December 24, 1989 civil war, which claimed thousands of lives and millions of dollars’ worth of properties, among other crises.
Moses D. Sandy, the author of this article, can reached at email@example.com. Tel: 302-494-4688