Opinion: Why Leaders Should “Eat Last”

In a previous paper, I underlined possible trends impacting Liberia economy in 2019 and proposed series of recommendations which preceded the IMS report.

In this article, I focus on leadership and why it is important for leaders to “eat last”.

Political Subdivision Map of Liberia map
Political Subdivision Map of Liberia Map

This is important because the circumstances unfolding in Liberia is disquieting and shocking.  The  lack of leadership is why we have economically and socially fallen of the cliff. It is unfortunate, because it doesn’t have to be this way. For over a century, we have failed to educate and improve the standard of living for our people. That is why the ability to make decisions that benefit them or know right from wrong is limited.

We cannot blame our people for the lack of social insecurity and failure. It is because of this confusion and indecisiveness that Liberia is in a chaotic state and given rise to the Yekeh Kolubah, Abraham Darius Dillon and Henry Costa of the world. It is because most Liberians under 30 (majority of the voting age population) feel they have no future and these individuals feel their pain, even if they are in it for themselves. And so I predict that we are in it for a long haul.

To correct the gross social imbalances of the past, individuals who aspire to leadership must understand Liberia’s  lessons from a historical context and correct it. Neither this current government nor the previous ones have done anything to turn the tide; so history is destined for reappearance.

First, I’ll conceptualize leadership.

One can equate a leader to being a parent. He or she is the core of the family, who makes sacrifices to see that his or her child interests are advanced so that, later in life, they would follow the right path and become successful. So, in the process sacrifices are made by the parent; lot  of them.

It is this kind of leadership Liberia requires to move forward. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. The CDC lead government under President George Weah came with all the hope and aspiration that they had the magic wand to solve Liberia’s problem only to drop the ball, because they were not prepared and had no plan; all talk and no substance. So, they are stuck.

Here is  why I think that John C. Maxwell had a right when he said “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.”  Similarly, Dwight D. Eisenhower the 34the President of the United States once said “The supreme quality of leadership is unquestionably integrity.” The rationale is that without trust and honesty first to yourself and others, success isn’t possible. You cannot force it.

Leaders Eat Last Module By Simon SinekIn Simon Sinek’s book “Leaders Eat Last” he laid out evidently that leaders should create the environment that allow people to feel a sense of purpose, fulfillment and self-actualization from what they do and why leaders must build trust so that people can thrive. In order to build trust, a leader must be transparent and everything he or she does. When they have nothing to hide, they are challenged less because people are aware of what they do and there are no hidden skeleton in their closets. He or she is a teacher and a coach, not a dictator. They communicate what they want to do so the vision is clear.

A leader that eats last is selfless, self-sacrificing; not driven by honor and power with the single-mindedness upon making everyone better. Your success as a leader must come from the vision and accomplishment of your people. Put your people in the spotlight and you will shine. Surround yourself with the best and brightest and you will gleam and standout. A leader that east last is careful of abuse of public office for private gain, since it impacts economic growth and livelihood.

One writer sums it this way with respect to how leaders must eat last  “…Although leaders may not be asked to risk their lives or to save anybody else’s, they should be glad to share their glory and help those with whom they work, succeed. More importantly, in the right conditions, people with whom leaders engage with should choose to also share their glory and take risk. And when that happens, when those kinds of bonds are formed, a strong foundation is laid for the kind of success and fulfillment that no amount of money, fame or awards can buy.”

This is what it means to work in a place in which the leaders prioritize the well-being of their people and, in return, their people give everything they’ve got to protect and advance the happiness of one another; a kind of shared purpose.

This is why we all owe it the opposition in Liberia as well as well Yekeh Kolubah, Abraham Darius Dillon and Henry Costa  because leaders must be checked or you will breed monstrosity and gargantuan.

I have been fortunate to engage with many organizations and have determined that those that are exceptional, whether public (government) or the private (business), are ones in which leaders set clear visions and where people implement those visions. And so, they push harder and harder, take risks to achieve shared-objectives and better the lives of their people. You can only achieve this  if there are empathy and compassion for individuals; not self. People!.

Leaders that eat last see aggrandizement and braggadocio as obstacles to progress and not the other way around. This is fundamental to creating a culture in which folks effortlessly pull together to advance the public good; not  the good of an individual.

Leaders that eat last create a sense of belonging that limit stress and reduce threats.  Everyone feel a part of something bigger; a greater purpose. They give their all, more time, and energy to protect others from the constant dangers outside and seize the big opportunity to impact lives. Smart leaders can accomplish this because it is not about them. Unfortunately, most of our leaders don’t see it this way. They are mostly driven by tittle-tattle, scuttlebutt and gossip.

This is why we need leaders; good ones – Leaders who would look out for people on both sides of the political spectrum (ruling and opposition) and the willingness to sacrifice their comfort for others, even when they disagree with you; a kind of trusted leadership. Trust is not simply a matter of shared opinions. Trust is a biological reaction to the belief that someone has others well-being at heart. Trusted leaders are those who are willing to give up something of their own for others. Their time, their energy, their money, maybe even the food off their plate. When it matters, good leaders choose be the last to take from the plate; Not the first.

In addition, a leader that eats last encourage others to do the right thing even if it is popular. When human-beings feel that they have the control to do what’s right and supported, even if it sometimes means breaking the rules, they will more likely do what’s right. Audacity and courage comes from good leaders. Chaos and uncertainties exist from those that are unscrupulous and immoral. A person’s’ poise and timidity to do what’s right is determined by how a person trust his or her leader. A leader that eats last isn’t often fooled because he or she uses common sense and moral judgment.

It is often said that the environment has an impact on the individual. Sometimes if respectable and honest people work in a bad culture, one in which leaders do not relinquish control, lack respect for the law, immoral, shady and corrupt, then the odds of the good habits go down and bad habits go up. Individuals will be more likely than not,  to follow the bad rules out of fear of getting in trouble or getting in trouble with the boss, losing their jobs rather than doing what needs to be done.

Market in Liberia
Market in Liberia

The current global economy will continue to see stock market volatility, decline in commodity prices, trade wars, falling oil prices, hyper-inflation, and the depressing economic prospects for Sub-Saharan Africa. The challenges of reducing poverty and the impact of high inequality across the region will continue to dampened progress and economic activity. And so the challenges of poverty reduction can only be realized through robust economic growth and equitable distribution of the national pie which would require effective and efficiency leadership.

We have by our own nature created a country that is politically and economically out of balance for ourselves and generation to come. It has been so for over 170 years. It will soon self-destruct unless we are smart enough to correct it methodically and with a sense of urgency. Given our inclination for instant enjoyment, satisfaction, pleasure and the weaknesses in our organizations, nevertheless, our leaders may not have the poise or patience to do what needs to be done even if it is the right thing.

For some reasons, there’s this strong feeling that Liberian leaders don’t see their people as individuals but rather pawn in a chess game; a means to an end and why empty promises are often made and they often take the bit and fall for the trap from individuals who are only in it for their own concealed motives. Now more than ever, the Liberian people live daily in a society in which they are total strangers in their own land; in which they struggle to make ends meet.

Liberia is in an imbroglio. How the current government overcome the current entanglement needs to be seen, but leadership should be at the core because effective policies requires sound thinking and facts based on the data to inform policy and drive decision-making.

I have always argued that good governance and effective headship is essential for success in any organization and for implementing policies whether fiscal or monetary. In most instances, crafting effective policy option takes time and requires weighing the pros and cons so that prescriptions drive results and outcome.

So my recommendation for every Liberia leader is to do the following:

  1. Fight to bring people together
  2. Create balance between selfish pursuits versus selfless pursuits
  3. Encourage integrity
  4. Talk less and listen more
  5. There’s always two sides to a story. Listen, listen, listen
  6. Share struggle
  7. Get the job done

To sum, leadership is not about doing less. It is striving to do more. And that’s the dilemma. Leadership takes effort and work. It takes time, energy and a ‘get-up-and-go’ attitude. The effects are not always easily measured and they are not always immediate. Leadership is always a commitment to people to do the right thing.

This is the change Liberia yearns  for; – “A leader that eats last, not first.”

Dr. A. Joel King
Dr. A. Joel King has a doctorate in Management and a diploma in Public Policy Economics from Oxford and Executive Coaching from Cambridge.

Special Feature: “Economic Outlook of Liberia 2019”

Liberia’s rapid decline is becoming alarming and unsustainable without the right policy actions to reverse course.

2018 Economic Freedom Score - Liberia
2018 Economic Freedom Score – Liberia

The current state of the global economy is expected to make things muddy for a country whose standing in the world has diminished from the fourth poorest country in the world in 2016 by Business Insider to #1 today, according to a USA Today report, and which GDP per capita per purchasing power parity (PPP) (not always an indicator of economic growth and wealth) has decreased from $934 U.S. dollar to $710 U.S. dollars within the same period.

While the current government bears the brunt of the decline, the country was already on a downward spiral during the last few years of the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Administration.

I think it is time that we take a capricious but nuanced perspective on the economic outlook of Liberia in 2019 and provide an honest and balanced perspective as to the global economic conundrum and headwinds ahead and propose recommendations for policy makers seeking measurable indicators to drive decision-making and prepare for the future.

These trends are particularly important for Liberia to achieve its Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development (PAPD) of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), if we expect to improve the living standards of our suffering people.

In Context

The outlook for the global economy in 2019 is becoming alarming even in established economies. The recent stock market volatility in the U.S. (at one point, 138% of stock market gains from the Obama Administration was wiped out and barely restored), unprecedented global interest rates hikes by the U.S. Federal Reserve to address monetary concerns, escalating trade tensions between U.S. and China (a tit-for-tat action), Brexit debacle in Europe and the murky state of UK politics, economic softening in China, slide in oil prices, inflationary pressures coupled with other global concerns (labor market tightening) are creating uneasiness worldwide.

Liberia National Investment Commission
Liberia National Investment Commission

Most economic indicators suggest that the global economy looks poised to slow from 3.8% in 2018 to 3.5% or less in 2019 and the risk of a global recession is becoming more likely.

All these geopolitical tensions mentioned earlier, suggest a daunting and challenging time ahead for the country since it lacks the structure, mechanism and fundamentals to react to shocks and would require policymakers to craft out effective monetary and fiscal policies to tackle these economic trends. But instead, most leaders are involved in political and/or social activities to the detriment and future of the country.

In October 2018, President George Weah unveiled the “Pro-poor Policy” agenda as a road map for building a “harmonious society”, developing the country, uniting and reconciling the Liberian people, educating and developing its youths and promoting peace and human rights; all bold and aggressive policy actions that are expected to take place in just under five years (by 2023).

PAPD
PAPD

The question is how is this going to happen if the resources aren’t available based on future economic outlook? And as the concept notes from the National Budget suggest, a macroeconomic environment that continues to pose challenges. Is it expected that with the economic challenges, this government will continue to rely on aid and remittances as the main source of foreign exchange regimens?

Look, we are richly endowed with water, mineral resources, forest, and climate favorable to agriculture and principal exports such as iron ore, diamond, gold and rubber and yet we are the poorest country on the face of the earth. Think about it!
Liberia is 43,000 square miles with a little over four million people. What the hell are we doing, people!

As one author suggested, Liberia is not a poor country. The problem it has is that it has been blessed with mostly bad rather than good leadership in its entire 170 years history. It is unimaginable that at the dawn of the 21st Century with all the resources in the world, yet our people lack access to clean drinking water, unable to feed ourselves, continue to be trapped in poverty.

I believe that some countries, because of geography or bad luck are trapped in poverty, but don’t see that in the case of Liberia. It isn’t bad luck; it is bad and terrible leaders who care more for themselves than people.

Alternatively, Liberia Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per PPP, increased from $6 billion U.S. dollars to about $6.12 billion dollars by 2017 according to the CIA World Fact Book; an increase from 0% in 2015 to 2.5% in 2017. Under the Ellen Johnson administration total USAID obligations to Liberia between 2006 to 2017 was $3.242 billion dollars (USAID Foreign Aid Explorer Dashboard). This is excluding obligations from the IMF, World Bank, United Nations, and other NGOs. Similarly, the European Development Fund (EDF) contributed $285 million U.S. dollars for the period 2008 to 2013 and $310 million U.S. dollars for the periods 2014 to 2020 and yet, 84% of our people live on less than a $1.25 per day, 59% of our people are illiterate, 55% have limited access to food and 1.3 to1.4 million of the population live in life-threatening poverty.

Western Union Location In Liberia
Western Union Location In Liberia

So, it doesn’t appear that we haven’t had the resources; it is also because of greed and mixed priorities.

Today, most of the world have progressed through stages of development in the ‘post-industrial society’ when the service sectors generate more wealth than the manufacturing sector of an economy and the codification of knowledge is essential for growing an economy. For close to two centuries we haven’t even evolved to where we engage a robust manufacturing sector, and we call ourselves a country?

I suggest that this government hit the STOP button and reset its vision of ‘Hope for Change’, if it wants to provide for its people and begin to address the many pressing issues such as lack of coherent monetary and fiscal policies, shortages in tax revenues and the problem of liquidity.

The Crystal Ball

According to the EIU, political stability is presumed to continue in the short-run, and this is the one sweet spot. But systematic, widespread and endemic poverty, corruption, high inflation, pain and suffering will continue and remittances which dominate aid will decrease as labor market tighten in the West causing a spillover effect.

The risk of a global recession will also make things worse and impact any poverty reduction effort.

In a previous paper, I argued that any poverty reduction strategy must be buttressed and strengthened with sustained economic growth. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) known as “Transforming Our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” adopted in 2017 by the United Nations is an ambitious inter-governmental set of 17 goals and 169 targets that are people-centered, transformative, universal and integrated and build on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Its intended purpose is to end poverty and hunger, improve health and education, make cities more sustainable, combat climate change, protect the world and oceans from environmental degradation and foster prosperous, peaceful, just and inclusive societies in which people can live and strive peacefully.

UN Sustainable Development Goals
UN Sustainable Development Goals

I sincerely think that PAPD should have been built on SDG and MDG since the objectives are relative the same, instead of crafting a new framework. So how can the PAPD become successful?

First, by increasing Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). The caveat is that size and growth potential of markets are a major driver of FDI – a challenge for Liberia. Moreover, favorable business climate depends on strong and robust institutions and investor-friendly regulations. Liberia fails on that too. Case in point, there’s no shortage of stories about business people who have been duped and scammed through unscrupulous and unprincipled people masquerading in the Liberian Government hierarchy.

Second, by leveraging the Better Utilization of Investments Leading to Development (BUILD) Act passed by the US Senate on October 5, 2018 to counter China’s investment on the Continent. The initiative is characterized as bringing US relationship with Africa from underground (resource focused on oil, gas and minerals, etc.) to above ground (infrastructure, agriculture, etc.) per se.

I see this as an opening for Liberia to achieve sustainable, broad-based economic growth if requirements are met. As a forewarning, success in the program requires public accountability, high standards of transparency, environmental and social safeguards which I think this government will have a challenge based on how they do business today.

AGOA - US/African Business Partnership
AGOA – US/Africa Business Partnership

Third, the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) enacted by the U.S. Congress to assist economies of sub-Saharan African countries develop a market-based economy and improve economic relations between the U.S. and the region. The act was extended on June 29, 2015 up to 2025. We haven’t moved the needle on that; an opportunity missed.

The Future

So, as we enter 2019, I think that thirst-quenching, vitalizing or invigorating the Liberian economy for the 21st Century will take clear policy actions, steps and skills to reduce poverty and increase the standard of living of our people. The world is changing. We cannot rely on what was done by previous administration. We must continue to reinvent ourselves as a people and government.

The history of Liberia is riddled with the same old failed and outdated promises that do nothing to move the needle one iota. Changing Liberia will require honesty, commitment, leadership, toughness and bold steps that include putting in the right mechanisms and structure that will combat corruption and limit waste in government.

Recommendations

At this moment, the government must develop and implement strategy that will result into economic diversification, increase business investment and trade, build robust institutions, maintain (if not build) its current infrastructure and continue to maintain the peace.

Liberian Dollars
Liberian Dollars

For one thing, there is a need to bolster human capacity development by increasing investment in Technical Vocational Education Training (TVET) and Science Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) and the list goes on.

And so, I like to propose the following recommendations for the current administration:

  1. Build positive relationships with Diaspora Liberians, so that those retiring can begin to transfer wealth and knowledge.
  2. Create efficiency and effectiveness in how taxes and fees are collected to help finance development. Simplify taxes for business entities and minimize corruption and ill-gotten gains.
  3. Strengthen the judiciary system as a catalyst to declare war on corruption and persecute individuals or persons engaged in ill-gotten gains and corrupt practices and the net-net is that a well-functioning judicial system underpins economic development.
  4. Prioritize two strategic objectives at a time or simultaneously. Maybe self-sufficiency in food production first and growing the service sector as a means of creating employment next or undertake both at the same time.
  5. Improve tax policies and improve ability to collect revenues in especially hard-to-tax sectors.
  6. Create a positive and welcoming environment where businesses (especially foreign entities) can strive and grow.
  7. Improve ease of doing business so it is easy to create and grow a business.
  8. Mobilize domestic resources to increase market size for goods and services.
  9. Develop dynamic capabilities in either agriculture or the service industry and achieve sustained competitive advantage.
  10. Leverage aid resources to achieve maximum impact and outcome by enforcing transparency and accountability across the board.
  11. Leverage data, quantitative research and machine learning algorithm to drive effective decision-making and help solve practical, real-world problems.
  12. Improve revenue intake by automating custom systems and streamlining logistics processes.

To conclude, I think efforts to address items mentioned earlier must be done effectively and efficiently in order to improve livelihood and impact lives and leveraging limited resources to realize those objectives.

Business District In Monrovia
Business District In Monrovia

I like to caution that public service is never about amassing wealth and ill-gotten gains. It is about contributing to the greater good and effecting social and/or societal change. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Otherwise, our nation of birth will continue to lag at the bottom of the economic and development pyramid and eventually the laughing stock of the world.

Lastly, we must start to rethink and find novel ways of fighting corruption and poverty.

The status quo has not worked and never will.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

References:

  1. World Bank.org
  2. Economics Intelligence Unit (EIU) Global Microscope

     3. Public Policy Magazine

    4. The African Economic Outlook from the African Development Bank (AFDB)

    5. USAID Foreign Aid Explorer Dashboard

About the author

Dr. A. Joel King has a doctorate in Management and a diploma in Public Policy Economics from University of Oxford and Executive Coaching from University of Cambridge, UK. 

He is a Wharton Online Scholar and an academic tutor at Coursera and volunteers at the American Academy of Management (AOM) and Strategic Management Society (SMS).

OPINION – Liberia: LEVERAGING THE WAR & ECONOMIC CRIME COURT

State Of The Nation

The Liberian economy is shrinking daily, mostly because of uncertainty. Grant that the UN drawdown, slump in international commodity price and other cash-flow minimizing events going into 2018 started the decline, but the change of government and the first few bold but inconclusive economic initiatives by the new government have ushered an atmosphere of uncertainty which is not good for business.

Political Subdivision Map of Liberia map
Political Subdivision Map of Liberia

The widespread perception that the new officials have gone on a spending spree buying homes and expensive assets even outside Liberia does not help. Two major loan schemes for nearly US$1Billion on which months of tangible and political capital were expended seem to have shadowed out. The suspicion of unauthorized printing of currency and the alleged stealing of LD$15.5 Billion, even if untrue, have left a gaping hole in the confidence of the people and the owners of capital. As a result, dozens of missteps that would otherwise be excusable for an infant government are now glorified into scares of dooms day nearing. All this, while the ability of the ordinary people to make a reasonable living is increasingly grueling, daily. People are hurting, at least for that, there is no dispute.

In the wake of the economic reversals pervading the country, a voice is rising among a large segment of the population; both in the country and the diaspora, and among key international stakeholders, for a final reckoning; the establishment of a War and Economic Crime Court, to hold accountable those responsible for the violation of International Humanitarian Laws (IHL) and the pillaging of the resources of the country under the canopy of war. The trauma of war is manifested every day in the violent outburst of youths when motor accidents occur, mob executions of accused thieves in public spaces and the massive explosion of an illicit drug culture among the youths, a by-product of the war.

There are some who are asking, “Why now? Why wasn’t the same pressure brought to bear on President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf for a War Crime Court?” President Sirleaf would not have implemented the punitive recommendations of the TRC; she did not have the fortitude to hold herself accountable. (To her credit, she did implement some of the less controversial items). That should be expected, but President Weah is not anchored by the same weight. When asked about the War Crime Court on his return from France over the last weekend, President George Weah, answered in such a manner as to make a disparity between the War Crime Court and his New Economic Plan, the Pro-Poor Policy for Prosperity and Development. I get the impression that key policy makers believe it is either War Crime Court or Economic Development. I think this is a misread; we can have both. In fact, the former will lift the latter.

Crimes Against Humanity

We need not argue that heinous crimes were committed in Liberia that fall under the definition of crimes against humanity. Non-combatant men, women and children were killed because of their ethnicity, some past disputes and, in some cases, for the like of it. In countless places in the country, including St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, Duport Road, Fandell, Po River Bridge, Gbarnga, Buchanan, Yekepa, Zwedru, Greenville, Caldwell, Monrovia, hundreds of thousands of people were maimed, drowned, decapitated, hearts taken from bodies while the victim was still alive, eaten and youths drugged and conscripted into battle to heartlessly do the dirty work of their masters. Liberians witnessed militias rip open pregnant women and extract their fetuses while dancing to their war songs in amusement and fanfare. Daughters and wives were forcefully taken from their families and made into sex slaves; some never to be seen again. Militias and their warlords commonly celebrated their cruelty by displaying skulls of their victims on their cars and even using their intestines as toll gates. Whole towns and villages were wiped out; people seeking rescue in God’s church were mutilated and many were stripped of their dignity. This does not begin to capture the depth of cruelty brought on the innocent people of Liberia. For one to suggest that asking those who have been accused of such cruelties to have their day in court is unreasonable and untimely falls flat in the face of reason.

Liberia Civil War Injured Victims
Liberia Civil War Injured Victims – File Photo

The demand for accountable is a cardinal part of reconciliation and national healing. It is justified under both domestic and international law. Liberia is a signatory and state party to the Geneva Conventions, Vienna Convention and all the International Humanitarian Laws (IHL) and protocols regarding, among other things, the conduct of war and the treatment of civilians and those who surrender in armed conflict. Like International Humanitarian Laws (IHL), the recommendation of the TRC has binding effect on the Government of Liberia and there are consequences for non-compliance. The TRC is an Act of the Legislature; it is Liberian Law. There is another argument that the Comprehensive Peace Initiative Agreement (CPA) signed between the Liberian warring factions, the very warlords who perpetrated the atrocities, granted amnesty to the perpetrators.  Self-amnesties are kinds of amnesty promulgated by persons or governments while in position of authority, purporting to protect themselves from prosecution once they relinquish their hold on power. Both self-amnesty and domestic Legislation for amnesty promulgated to unhook alleged violators of International Humanitarian Laws (IHL) are not respected under International Law.

Former Warlord Turned Senator Prince Y. Johnson
Former Warlord Turned Senator Prince Y. Johnson

Torture, ethnic cleansing and most provisions of International Humanitarian Laws (IHL) which perpetrators, in the case of Liberia, have been accused fall under peremptory norms in international law or “jus cogens.” A peremptory norm is a fundamental principle of international law that is accepted by the international community of states as a norm from which no derogation is permitted; they are compelling laws that cannot be set aside or pardoned, recognized as a whole as being fundamental to the maintenance of the international legal order. They include the prohibition of genocide, maritime piracy, enslaving in general, torture, refoulement and wars of aggression and territorial aggrandizement, among others.

Relying on the principle of “Pacta sunt servanda,”Article 26 of the Vienna Convention bars state parties to the convention from invoking provisions of their internal laws as justification for failure to perform obligation to prosecute and punish crimes under the Geneva Conventions, Vienna Convention and other conventions to which the state is a party. For example, many of those accused of crimes under the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) proffered the argument that the Lomé Accord which ended the Sierra Leone Conflict granted amnesty to the warlords but their claims to immunity were summarily denied by the court.

Already, many who committed war crimes in Liberia have been brought before courts and made accountable in jurisdictions other than Liberia. Charles Chucky Taylor was tried in a Florida court for crimes committed in Liberia and sentenced to 99 years imprisonment. His father, former President Charles Taylor was handed to the Special Court for Sierra Leone(SCSL) by the Government of Liberia, represented by its Solicitor General Cllr Taiwon Gonglor; so to suggest that Liberia does not ascribe to the International War Crimes Court is ludicrous. Former President Johnson Sirleaf’s failure to occasion the implementation of the recommendations of the TRC was predicated purely on the principle of self-preservation. She was unwilling to rollout a program that bars her and other co-accused in positions of power from public office for thirty years. If renewed pressure on the Government of Liberia for a War and Economic Crime Court, including a recent US Congress Resolution in support of Justice for victims of the Liberia Civil War, is anything to go by, one need not be a rocket scientist to know that the quest for some form of accountability for War and Economic Crimes committed in Liberia will not dissipate. Government’s continued rejection of the notion of War Crime Court puts Liberia at odds with the key international players in a battle we, a poor and dependent country, cannot win. We may as well ride the wind.

Leveraging Calls for War & Economic Crimes Court

Every problem brings with it an equal opportunity for finding a solution. My advice to the Government of Liberia is that we leverage the situation and use the international quest for a War and Economic Crime Court to attract the support for our economy necessary to gender growth and the upliftment of the lives of our impoverished population. Every post-war country that submitted to the demands of the international community for accountability was economically strengthened through the programs of direct economic support. Germany, Japan, Italy, Rwanda, South Africa, Vietnam, and next door Sierra Leone, are examples.

Instead of fighting against the inevitable, the Government of Liberia needs to go back to the Recommendations of the TRC and the Virginia Declaration of the Liberian National Conference ( June 19, 2009) out of which most of the TRC recommendations were taken, and identify those programs that have the highest potential of fostering reconciliation, unity and economic relief, and begin negotiations with international stakeholders with the hope of establishing a War and Economic Crime Court on Liberian soil concomitant with international provision of support for all the identified programs recommended by the TRC and the Virginia Conference.

Liberia TRC
Liberia TRC

Some of the recommendations for which the government should seek international support in pair with the establishment of a War and Economic Crime Court in Liberia include:

  • That those who died as a result of the conflict be memorialized by monuments and multi-purpose halls erected in the name of victims at all sites of massacres.
  • That individual reparations be granted to victims of Liberia’s civil crisis in the form of psychosocial support, educational scholarships, microloans, livestock support, agricultural support, and food aid.
  • That community reparations be granted to affected populations in the form of centers for psychosocial support, support to communal farming, and priority rehabilitation of roads, schools, and health facilities.
  • That community leaders should be empowered to use “under the palava hut” management to deal with all those that have acknowledged their wrongs and are seeking forgiveness.
  • That political appointments be based on merit.
  • That a national culture center be established to promote Liberia’s diverse culture.
  • That welfare centers be created to provide care to those who can no longer provide for themselves, including the elderly, mentally disturbed or mentally handicapped.
  • That vocational education be provided to adults in the form of literacy and skills-training programs.
  • That youth receive pre-technical qualification trainings in order to seek employment.
  • That the curriculum for children and youth be updated to include reconciliation, peace-building, human rights, and patriotism.
  • That more recreational opportunities be created for children and youth.
  • That more rehabilitation centers for deviant youth be established.
  • That a Peace and Reconciliation Commission be established to oversee, support, and encourage reconciliation activities throughout the country.
  • That a National Peace and Reconciliation Conference be held annually, rotating between all 15 counties.
  • Establish a special judiciary review committee to monitor the government’s progress on implementation of these and other TRC recommendations
  • That the economy be Liberianize and local businesses protect

Support for the establishment of a war crime court in Liberia, including the construction of the court, training and employment of hundreds of Liberians and the implementation of the measures listed above will require hundreds of millions of dollars that will serve to augment the weakening Liberian economy. The acceptance by Liberia of the establishment of the court will increase confidence in justice and the rule of law in Liberia. The Government may ask for international security, should it determine the need for additional security presence. The return of the international force will not only increase security but add new energy to the economy in terms of the additional cash flow affiliated with the large number of expatriate workers in the country. Handled properly, Liberia’s acceptance of the War and Economic Crime Court and the other recommendations will strengthen the Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development (PAPD) and catapult the Liberian economy back into the high growth trajectory.

Non for Self, But Country

My recommendation to leverage may come across as blunt and insensitive to those who have been accused. Far from that; I believe in the presumption of innocence, an aged old legal doctrine ascribed in the Latin “ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat,” meaning, the burden of proof is on the one who declares, not on one who denies. Those so accused must be brought before a court of competent jurisdiction where they will have the chance to confront their charges and defend themselves, even at the expense of the sponsors of the War and Economic Crime Court, in cases where the accused are incapable of footing his own legal fees.

Liberian Voters At Rally Town Market jpg
Liberian Voters At Rally Town Market – File photo

Occasioning the court and leveraging the other growth centric programs are but small sacrifices every citizen can make to the betterment of country. For those, including my Uncle, Sen. Prince Y. Johnson, who are edgy about the prospects of a War Crime Trial and who have spent countless hours grand standing their patriotism and love for country, this is their moment to show that patriotism and be remembered for something good. Inscribed over the chapel door at the US Naval Academy at Annapolis is the Latin phrase: “Non Sibi Set Patraie.” Let me admonish those who are being cowed into fear of a War and Economic Crime Court to adopt this motor: “Not for Self, but Country.” Let’s embrace the War Crime Court and kick impunity and all its attending vices out of Liberia.

Read my new book, The FOG – War, Love & Country, about my experience in the Liberian Civil War and my take on reconciliation and national unity, informed by experience of other post war countries.

About the Author

Cyrus L. Gray
Cyrus L. Gray

Cyrus L Gray, Jr., is the Author of the Negro Nation (www.amazion.com), the International Shipping Guidelines; and Publisher of the New Liberian Magazine (renamed LIB BUZNEY). His new book, “FOG (A Story of War, Love and Country)” will be published in December 2018 with first rollout in Monrovia. As a day job, he is a Logistics Business Development Consultant with Core competence in Air and Seaport Development. His recent work was Co-Consultant for the crafting of the Economic Analysis of the Mesurado Fishing Pier (Oct. 2018) at the Freeport of Monrovia, for Liberia’s National Aquaculture and Fisheries Authority (NaFAA). He can be reached at: cyrus.grayii@gmail.com

Opinion: Liberia- Are Tenured Positions Illegal?

Last Tuesday, the Government of Liberia submitted a bill for enactment to the Legislature titled, “Act Prohibiting the Tenure of Public Officials in the Executive Branch of Government.” The intent of the Government is to allow the President of Liberia the unhindered authority to hire and fire any official in the Executive Branch of Government at his will and pleasure. Today, there are statutes that grant tenure to certain officials of the Liberia Maritime Authority (LMA), General Auditing Commission (GAC), Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC), National Elections Commission (NEC), Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) and officials of a select number of public institutions.

President George M. Weah

Tenures were granted to these position by Acts of the Legislature, mostly under the administration of former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. 

If the purpose of the proposed Act is to enable the President to freely hire and fire public officials in the Executive Branch of Government, then the decision to craft and submit the Act was ill informed and ill advised; no disrespect intended to the President’s Legal Team.

Why do I say so? Current tenures are based on the authority of statutes. If the President’s proposed Act were to pass into Law, it will not enable him to remove those already serving under tenure. They will have to complete the current length of their tenures; the President may as well wait out the completion of the tenured terms before appointing replacements; hence the Act serves no purpose at this moment.

Justices of The Supreme Court of Liberia

Article 21 of the Constitution of Liberia prohibits the enforcement of any law ex post facto.” According to Article 21, “No person shall be subject to any law or punishment which was not in effect at the time of commission of an offence, nor shall the Legislature enact any bill of attainder or ex post facto law.” An ex post facto law is a law that retroactively changes the legal consequences of actions that were committed, or relationships that existed, before the enactment of the law.

Any Legislation that grants tenure to a public official appointed by the President in the Executive Branch of Government is a Legislative overreach that explicitly abrogates the Executive Powers of the President of Liberia granted in Article 56 (a) of the Constitution of Liberia.  

To the extent of its abrogation of a Constitutional provision, it is illegal. Article 56 (a) states. “ All cabinet ministers, deputy and assistant cabinet ministers, ambassadors, ministers and consuls, superintendents of counties and other government officials , both military and civilian, appointed by the President pursuant to this Constitution shall hold their offices at the pleasure of the President.”

Liberian Lawmakers- File Photo

The common argument in favor of granting of tenure by legislation is that the Constitution gives the Legislature the authority to create agencies of government. Article 89 states, “The following Autonomous Public Commission are hereby established. A. Civil Service Commission, B. Elections Commission and C. General Auditing Commission. The Legislature shall enact laws for the governance of these Commissions and create other agencies as may be necessary for the effective operation of Government.” 

The powers granted to the Legislature in Article 89 (and 34-49) does not inhibit any authority of the President already established under the Constitution. Article 2 of the Constitution provides the framework for this assertion. It states, “This Constitution is the supreme and fundamental law of Liberia and its provisions shall have binding force and effect on all authorities and persons throughout the Republic.

Seal of Liberia

Any laws, treaties, statures, decrees, customs and regulations found to be inconsistent with it shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be void and of no legal effect. The Supreme Court, pursuant to its power of judicial review, is empowered to declare any inconsistent laws unconstitutional.”

Therefore, granting of tenure to public officials who are subject to appointment by the President in the Executive Branch of Government as a provision of any stature is inconsistent with Article 56 (a) and is therefore unconstitutional. 

What then should have been the course of action by the President to remedy this error?

The opportunity offered itself in the case arising from President Weah’s appointment of Moses Owen Brown to replace Ambassador Isaac Jackson as Permanent Representative to the International Maritime Organization (IMO). In a case brought before the Supreme Court by Attorneys representing Ambassador Jackson, they argued that Jackson’s replacement was illegal and an abuse of power because he was entitled to tenure, which had not elapsed, under the 2010 Act creating the new Liberia Maritime Authority. 

Map of Liberia

The government’s counter argument was that the New Maritime Authority Act did not grant tenure to the position of Permanent Representative to the IMO but only to Commissioners and Deputy Commissioners of the Liberia Maritime Authority. Faulty argument because Liberia’s Permanent Representative to the IMO has always had the designation of Deputy Commissioner of Maritime Affairs.

The Supreme Court reserved ruling on the matter but placed a stay on the removal of Ambassador Jackson in the main time. 

Technically, the decision of the Supreme Court was a defeat to the government, induced by the fatuity of the argument of Government’s Lawyers. The Government would later replace a more impactful Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York, Lewis Brown, without fanfare.

Where is the logic? This case of Ambassador Isaac Jackson removal provided an opportunity to challenge the constitutionality of tenure granted to public officials appointed by the President.

The true argument was that tenure granted to Ambassador Isaac Jackson as Permanent Representative to the IMO on the basis of the 2010 new Liberia Maritime Authority Law was unconstitutional and an abrogation of the Executive Powers of the President granted in Article 56(a). 

The irony is that on March 2018, President Weah appointed former Representative Gabriel Nyenkan as head of the Secretariat of Liberia Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (LEITI), replacing Konah Karmo who was appointed by the Multi-Stakeholders Steering Group (MSG) in 2014 in a competitive recruitment process.

The Act which created LEITI in 2009 authorized the President to appoint members of the Multi Stakeholders Group (MSG), and granted the MSG the power to recruit the Head of Secretariat, Deputy and other staff members of the LEITI Secretariat. The President’s appointment of Nyekan, was a violation of the LEITI statute and unlike the Jackson Case, falls outside of the powers of the President as authorized in Article 56(a).

Note that the President does not have the authority to appoint the LEITI Secretariat, (condition imperative in Article 56a), hence, he does not have the authority to remove the head of the LEITI Secretariat.

In spite of the mixed reaction and condemnation by Global Witness and Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (EITI), the Government of Liberia has not corrected this error. As a consequence, Liberia has been delisted from the prestigious international integrity institution.

There is sufficient public favor for the continuation of tenure for the select number of public officials appointed by the President; be it those at the LACC, GAC, CBL, NEC, PPCC, etc.

Flag of Liberia

This sentiment is informed by a perception that the President, and for some, this President, by demanding the right to control the tenure of the designated public offices, is exercising dictatorial tendencies.

Let us put the Liberia Presidency in its proper legal perspective. The Constitution of Liberia creates for us an Imperial Presidency. The President is the Head of State, the Head of Government and the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces. There is an assumption, when one appraises the powers granted the President of Liberia; that the framers of the Constitution expect the President to be wise. By the same logic the framers also assumed that the people clothed with the Constitutional power to elect their President have the ability to elect a President capable of managing the vast power and authority granted the office of the President under our Constitution. 

There are limits to which the Legislature can manage the President in the execution of his authorities granted by the Constitution. The notion of tenure for a public official serving a position mandated to the President seem to suggest that the officials need to be protected from removal over a certain period. Who is the tenured official being protected against? The President? The President is the only elected official that has been granted the mandate by law to perform the duties of the Executive Branch of Government; he is responsible for the performance of the Executive Branch of the Government of Liberia. All appointed officials in the Executive Branch of Government are agents of the President; that is why the Constitution places their services at the pleasure of the President (Article 56a).

The Legislature cannot prevent the President from executing the authorities granted under the Constitution. The Legislature is not the people. It is a proxy of the people. The wishes of the people are enclosed in the Constitution, the supreme and fundamental law of the Republic. That is why the abrogation of constitutional provisions are expressly stated to be illegal (Article 2) and that is why there is a requirement for the assembly of the people in the form of a referendum to change or amend (Article 91 – 93) any of the explicit wishes of the people enshrined in the Constitution. 

Liberians Voting – File Photo

Cross Section of Liberians During Election – File Photo

Is there a reason for concern about governance? Yes! And rightfully so. When the will abandons that which is above and turns to what is lower, it becomes evil – not because that is evil to which it turns, but because the turning itself is wicked.

Therefore it is not an inferior thing which has made the will evil but it is itself which has become so by wickedly and inordinately desiring an inferior thing (St Augustine). 

In St Augustine’s attempt to define the source of evil, he illuminates a cardinal organizational challenge; the value of the quality of leaders.

We have been taught that the most important element of an organization is the quality of its people.  

Under Liberian Law (1986 Constitution Article 54) the President is granted broad powers to appoint all the senior members of the Executive and Judicial branches of Government, yet the constitution does not ensure that the Office of the President be filled with a person with the requisite qualification that makes him/her capable of making the value judgment in appointments.

There are only three eligibility requirements for the Liberian Presidency (Article 52) and they do not include any proficiency requirement whatsoever; hence, the only safeguard in the Liberian Constitution for vetting a Presidential appointee is the Consent of the Senate (Article 54). 

The framers of the Liberian Constitution made the assumption that the people, the Electorate, have the ability to elect the right quality of people to serve as Senators and President that enables them to make the right decisions on the quality of the team to handle the affairs of the country. 

Therefore, the only guarantor of good governance is the unknown. History has shown time and again that the absence of a visionary leader with a plan is always the demise of a nation. 

For years we in Liberia have grappled with the challenges facing our country and watched with frustration as many leaders appointed to manage public organizations fail and are replaced with new leaders who fail and are replaced again, and again; but this is the nature of the laws that the people have enshrined in the Constitution. At such time when these laws change, the people, all the people are required to uphold and defends them.

There are some who wish to undo the power of the Presidency because they either distrust the ability of the President or resent his Presidency. The Presidency of George Manneh Weah is already a done deal; water under the bridge. Should Liberians examine and question his policies? Yes, we should! Can anyone undo the fact that he is the elected President of Liberia and by virtue of that fact has the authority and right to exercise all the powers that the Constitution places at his disposal? No! No one should. Ours is a democracy. When in the early 1800s the French Republic faced a doubtful leader, the French Jurists and Philosopher, Joseph de Maistre, cautioned the public in these words, “In a democracy, people deserve the government they get.” Paraphrased, the democratically elected government is a microcosm, a miniature of the people. There is only one President of Liberia, let’s allow him to succeed or fail on the merits or demerits of his policies and their implementation.

Elections matter! Let every Liberian resist the temptation of attempting to micromanage a sitting President. 

My advice to the President: Put the unconstitutionality of “Tenured Appointed Positions in the Executive Branch of Government” before the Supreme Court; the only body which according the Article 2 has the power to declare “any inconsistent laws unconstitutional.” We will judge the government at the appropriate time by its performance. 

I hold this value to be true that “Adherence to the Law is the only safeguard of our democracy.” 

 

Author Cyrus L Gray, Jr., is the Author of the Negro Nation (www.amazion.com), the International Shipping Guidelines; and Publisher of the New Liberian Magazine (renamed LIB BUZNEY).

His new book, FOG (A Story of War, Love and Country) will be published in December 2018 with first rollout in Monrovia. 

As a day job, he is a Logistics Business Development Consultant with Core competence in Air and Seaport Development.

His recent work was Co-Consultant for the crafting of the Economic Analysis of the Mesurado Fishing Pier (Oct. 2018) at the Freeport of Monrovia, for Liberia’s National Aquaculture and Fisheries Authority (NaFAA).

Opinion: Students At Public Universities and Colleges In Liberia To Get Free Tuition

The decision by the Government of Liberia (GoL) to provide free tuition for students is welcome news, but I think the priority is mixed, farfetched and mind-boggling. I think it is troubling no matter how nice it sounds.

Teacher Training At Tubman University Liberia
Teacher Training At Tubman University Liberia

I expect that the party has started and the balloons are already out for the celebration. Good, but in my mind, this isn’t a strategic priority right now given the alarming and distressing economic situation in the country.  It makes me wonder what’s behind this sudden act of kindness.

If you read the just released World Bank Assessment (WBA) report on Liberia, it paints a complex economic situation (a country on the brink of failure) with more than expected declining and widening fiscal deficit compounded by a significant shortage in revenue intake, grotesque underperformance, blockbusting non-discretionary expenditures, and runaway inflation set off by decreasing foreign exchange supply and other negative externalities. Does it sound like a pretty nice picture to you for any new social program at this size and magnitude?

Grand Gedeh Community College Logo
Grand Gedeh Community College Logo

Let me say that in Public Policy there’s a time when collective actions by government are warranted. As a policy wonk, I understand that. But, providing free education to student when there’s depleting foreign aid and limited economic activities driven by new businesses and decreased revenue, it makes no sense whatsoever for government to make an already bad situation worse.  We understand the act of kindness and hardships, but a more prudent approach was not this decision. I’m sorry. Look, I admit we cannot be critical about every decision this government makes, but there’s a time when you call a spade a spade. This isn’t a spade. It is a Jack. It makes the administration look like a bunch of jokers. At this point, I can sense vulgarity from some ‘Cdcians’ reading this, but that’s fine.

According to “Front Page Africa” (a Liberian daily newspaper), the Vice President for UL Relations said that based on 20,000 students projection taking 15 credits you will have a budget of $1.2Million to cover the costs. Now that the government has agreed to cover this costs for the UL we also need to consider the costs of the other Public Universities and Colleges and explain where the government will get the funds to cover all of these costs.

I think for now, the more farsighted and logical thing was to engage the Administration of the University of Liberia (UL) to maintain the current $4.00 US dollars per credit per course or better yet, reduce the per credit amount by $0.25 cents to say $3.75 US dollars until the entire situation was assessed. The President should have sanctioned a committee of the best minds to propose the best way forward. Part of this committee’s work would have been a financial analysis of the costs and benefits and using data (facts) to drive decision-making. This committee would have included institutional and education policy-makers who would brainstorm ways in which government can pay for these added expenditures and to limit questions about “…how are they going to pay for it?”

Any important tenet of policy making, design decisions, suggestions, and choices shouldn’t be driven by gut feelings alone. Rather, adequate analysis and data-driven decision-making to ensure effectives and robustness of the outcome. Now, to many, it doesn’t pass the smell test. It appears as though government is trying to recover from the pejorative of issues it is faced with.

Students of Harbel Community College Liberia
Students of Harbel Community College Liberia

Done right, I think free education should start from the pre-primary and primary levels, in order to strengthen the foundation first and build for the future. Focus should be on creating the environment for learning; by renovating and modernizing established schools, erecting new ones where appropriate, paying teachers on time, providing nutritional services since hunger impacts learning, etc. Moreover, making teaching an attractive career choice and recruiting the best and brightest minds in the field should take precedence.

Graduation at the University of Liberia
Graduation At University of Liberia – File Photo

Look, I’m not saying the poor UL students don’t deserve it. They do. But it is not the right time. If I had the chance to advise the President, I would tell him to focus on developing the economy and bring everything to bear on it. Make this a strategic national priority for now. When people are able to find fairly decent paying jobs, they will care for themselves and their families. They’ll pay their own school fees. The rationale here is that Liberians need to start working. Creating jobs will create additional tax dollars to spend on social programs like free education for all. In contrast, even in mature economies like the U.S. where resources are in abundance, public colleges and universities aren’t free.

Let’s assume that this government finds free education a strategic priority choice; it then would have been appropriate to learn a thing or two from our nex- door neighbor – Sierra Leone.

Under the leadership of President Julius Maada Bio, the country pursued a similar flagship initiative to increase access to education benefiting 1.5 million Sierra Leone students – from pre-primary to secondary levels. But, it wasn’t a government only funded inventiveness; it started as a Public Private Partnerships (PPP) that included UK Aid, World Bank, Irish Aid, World Food Programme (WFP)and UNICEF.  Additionally, the Maada Bio government increased its education budget from 12 to 21 percent so that the education program would be broad-based to covers tuition, admission fees, teaching and learning materials, text books, examination and assessment fees – the whole yard. This sounds like a more ‘pro poor’ education policy objective to me, than just free tuition. Do you agree?

Lofa Community College
Lofa Community College

Look, I give credit to President Weah for this gesture, since it will help ease the burden on students and parents who are making a lot of sacrifices under extremely difficult economic conditions. However, by just reducing school fees without adequately studying the situation is the wrong approach of stretching an already cash strapped government that has no wiggle room because of large budget deficits. I would have felt better if the President had proposed to reduction in salaries of top government officials to pay for this initiative first. Well, the damage is done.

Political Subdivision Map of Liberia map
Political Subdivision Map of Liberia

So, I caution this administration to do itself a favor and learn from this lapse in judgment. This isn’t how government works. Moving Liberia forward requires new mindset and new ways of looking at the world by enabling policy makers to do their homework first. The ‘status quo’ is not sustainable. An initiative requires taking a systematic approach by examining both formal and informal impediments such as political, legal, bureaucratic, organizational, economic, financial, and social factors that affect it. Decisions that impact a lot of people cannot be hastily done. These things take time and effort to get it right. Be smart people. The world is watching!

The Author:

Dr. A. Joel King
Dr. A. Joel King

Dr. A Joel King has a doctorate in Management and a diploma in Public Policy Economics from University of Oxford and Executive Coaching from University of Cambridge, UK. He is a Wharton Online Scholar and an academic tutor at Cousera and volunteers at the American Academy of Management (AoM) and Strategic Management Society (SMS)