Liberians voted for equal fighting chance

AP Photo/Abbas Dulleh

Registered voters in 14 of the 15 counties of Liberia voted overwhelmingly for George Manneh Weah for president over Joseph N. Boakai for equal fighting chance. They voted to end the old patronage political culture, which has been killing the country for more than a century; Jarwinken Wiah writes.

Equal fighting chance is the one that allows everyone to compete for something to make his or her own money regardless of job title. It is about one recognizing that if he or she does certain things correctly in line with societal norms, there is a reward for it. Such a thing that is worth the sacrifice in one’s life as it is guaranteed under governance structure.

For example, if the Liberian Legislature were to include U.S $20 million dollars in the national budget for local scholarships for higher education at the University of Liberia or any of the private local universities. This would be a fair chance for competition.

It should be available for science and technology, medical, engineering, agriculture, teachers’ colleges, among others, and only require one to make and maintain certain grade level for continued eligibility.

This will motivate higher learning and competition for all students in all the 134 administrative districts, 73 electoral districts, and 15 counties nationwide.  This is because such competition requires one to make and maintain certain grades. This is worth sacrificing for because no special connection or relation and having a wealthy family is required.

Such funds should be administered by Independent Commission created by an act of legislature to attract voluntary contributions from Liberians at home and abroad. It will as well attract the goodwill of non-Liberians and international institutions once it is run outside of political influence.

This means cutting salaries and allowances through legislative act to raise the projected amount in favor of ordinary Liberians. This also means putting aside one percent of all taxes for education.

Taking such actions are critical because the Liberian electorates voted for equal fighting chance. This desire was demonstrated on October 10, 2017 in the presidential and representatives’ elections.

This demand eliminated 18 other presidential contenders, which produced the December 26, fierce contention between Weah now president, and former Vice President Boakai.

This was also characterized by legal challenges and the election of Coalition for Democratic (CDC) Weah ended Unity Party (UP) of Boakai 12 year’s political rule.

Whether one supported Weah or not, the outcome was cleared as President Weah earned indisputable and huge political capital and mandate to bring to life this long awaited equal fighting chance.

That this wait took too long is why this president must deliver with measurable results with timeline. This should not be another did well or did best regime as usual with nothing tangible with positive impact on the lives of the suffering majority.

The true is, Liberians have accustomed to the old patronage political culture that makes one to think it is his or her turn to rip off the resources of the country at the expanse of ordinary Liberians whose daily livelihoods rely on the mercy of nature.  This must stop.

This is because patronage political culture is the one that makes those in position of power to treat others with indignity. It allows them to usurp the rights of others and makes them to think low level employees work for them.
 It is the kind of political culture that turns majority of the citizens into beggars. It deprives them equal fighting chance politically and economically.

Yes, it is the kind of culture that makes those in leadership failing to recognize that they and the low-level staff members are equally working for the Republic of Liberia. They have the same human dignity and inalienable rights guaranteed under the Liberian Constitution too. The difference is job titles, assigned responsibilities, and incentives. 

There is no doubt, events so far in the infancy of this administration are embracive of this old patronage political culture of entitlement. It makes those in position of power to be above the rule of law. It allows personal interest over patriotism.

The fact is President Weah’s inaugural speech and State of Nation address failed to clearly set the stage for a new direction of the country.
There was no concrete agenda in measurable terms with timeline. This would have allowed all Liberians to internalize in relation to one’s individual livelihood.

The question now is what we should all expect as this was not presented in either speech and yet to be heard from this presidency. For example, what is going to be different from previous administrations, particularly from the regime of his predecessor, President Ellen Johnson- Sirleaf to manifest CDC’s campaign “mojo” hope for change that propelled Weah to the presidency over 19 career politicians?

As it stands now there is no signal yet from this president to his cabinet members and other government officials as to what is expected of them in terms of new direction that will create equal fighting chance for all Liberians and equal protection under the rule of law and access to justice.     

The president is missing out on the use of his political capital. Time is running out. There is a saying that “one must beat the iron while it is still hot.” It is crucial for President Weah to take on the big issues head-on while his popularity is still peak nationwide.

The voluntary 25% salary reduction he spoke about for himself is abstract. Firstly, what is the actual dollar amount of the presidential salary?  What is the dollar amount of the 25%?  Is it in Liberian dollars or United States dollars?  Who is going to implement the cut? Where does it go after the cut?  

To avoid all the confusion, the Presidential Office should first determine and state why anyone’s salary or allowance needs to be reduced?  At what percent should the cut be made across the board? How much will the total cut amount be, and which public project or projects will it go to?

The president should do this through a legislation stemming from his office to Capitol Hills. He should take ownership of such fight beginning with a negation, threat of veto, and referendum if necessary. This is presidential leadership that he will win because majority of the Liberian people are on his side than any other Liberian politician right now.

This presidential fight should also include reforming constitutional provisions that are discriminatory against other Liberians, immunities granted government officials and family members, particularly legislature above the rule of law. These are all efforts with measurable results aimed at creating equal fighting chance. 

If those in positions of power, including the ones who make the laws, cannot abide by them then why should ordinary poor Liberians be forced to?
For example, the president clearly knows the current disparity in salaries and allowances is unacceptable, discriminatory, and unsustainable. This is also true for the tenue of the president, representatives, and senators.

These were all brought about by patronage political culture that protects and allows those in position of power to think it is their turn to grab what they can get from anything that passes through the corridors of the position they occupy with impunity.

Because these have been there do not make them right. If they were right, then why talk about and fight for change? True change begins with one and few willing to make sacrifices for the common good of the ordinary people who are in the majority.

What we have seen is this patronage political culture allows our presidents, senators and representatives, and government officials to earn more salaries than the presidents, senators, representatives, and other government officials, for example, in the United States.

Looking at the tenues of Liberian democratically-elected leaders is critical. Liberian presidents serve six years in one term, U.S presidents serve four, Liberian representatives serve six years, U.S representatives serve two years, Liberian senators serve nine years, and U.S senators serve six years.

Comparing the governance structures of Liberia with the United States makes sense because Liberia’s founding was the result of the Emancipation Proclamation signed by U.S President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863.

Moreover, Liberia is the only country in Africa whose independence marked the end of legal slave trade in the United States. So, it makes sense for Liberian governance to write the wrong of discrimination, abuse of power, unequal access to rule of law and justice.   

This will truly actualize the meaning of the “Love of Liberty Brought Us Here” when equal fighting chance is finally created for all Liberians irrespective of backgrounds, sex, religion, and ethnicity, country of origin, disability and ascribed status.  We are bounded by Liberian identity.
Jarwinken Wiah, is executive director of the US-based Emancipation Movement of Liberia