A speech delivered by Tiawan Saye Gongloe at the closing program of the St. Anthony of Padua School, Louisiana, Montserrado County, Republic of Liberia On June 24, 2012
Students, parents and guardians
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen
Permit me, first, to thank the student body and the administration of the St. Anthony of Padua School for inviting me to serve as the keynote speaker for this year’s closing program. Let me also congratulate those students who are today getting their just reward for hard and honest labor by being promoted to a higher grade. Further, I admonish those who did not work hard this year and will, therefore, repeat their classes during the next academic year, to learn from their peers who are leaving them behind and change their situations for the next academic year. Furthermore, I want to thank the teachers, parents, guardians and those who generously provided financial support to the needy among these students, for their collective efforts in preparing these students for the challenge of making Liberia a better country.
I hope that my remarks on this occasion will serve as a motivation for the students of this institution to study harder in order to be in the position to change Liberia for the better. It is also my expectation that my speech on this occasion will stimulate the teachers and the administration of this great institution of learning to become more dedicated to imparting the type of knowledge that will make their students to become strong, dedicated and honest agents of transformation. The Government of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has made commendable efforts in transforming Liberia. However, there are lots of challenges in the effort of transforming a country like Liberia that still faces systemic problems. These challenges are, largely, in the nature of the will to overcome old habits in the governance of our country. As a nation, we need to overcome the old habits that kept our country underdeveloped and led its citizens to engage in a violent civil conflict, in a manner, unprecedented in our history.
The hope of a transformed Liberia in which the security, rights and welfare of the people are clearly seen and felt by every citizen as a primary concern of government is what every citizen expects the Government of Liberia to give. History has shown that this kind of hope is impossible with bad governance. Bad governance in Liberia resulted in the following state of affairs: a brutal military overthrow of one hundred thirty three years of constitutional rule followed by ten years of a brutal dictatorship, fourteen years of civil conflict and the sentencing of a Liberian President for aiding and abetting war crimes in a neighboring country. Bad governance is, therefore, a threat to our collective security.
It is within this context of the role of the quality of governance in keeping a nation peaceful and secured that I have chosen to speak to you today on the topic: Good Governance: A Foundation for collective security. Good governance is an atmosphere of governance in which government shows an unwavering commitment to maintaining the security of its citizens and seeking their welfare in an open and transparent manner, as well as, on a fair and equal basis. The standard of what is considered good governance is determined based on the type or system of government in power. If the government in power is a monarchy, then what is considered good governance is determined by the king or the queen as the case may be, through edicts, proclamations that have the force of law.
If the government in power is a military government, then what is considered good governance is determined by the military junta through the issuance of military decrees. But if the government in power is a democratic government, then what is considered good government is determined by the people through the constitution, written by them and the statute laws passed by their duly elected legislators, as well as executive orders issued by their duly elected president.
An atmosphere of good governance also exists, where those who govern are guided by the wishes and aspirations of the people as expressed by them. For example, the government of President Johnson-Sirleaf has made the reconstruction of roads, schools, medical facilities and other basic infrastructures primary in her governance of Liberia because in her consultation with the people across the country, they directed her to make the issue of infrastructure, especially road re-construction her number one priority. This is an example of good governance in a democratic system of governance. With the meager resources that her government has, she has made laudable efforts in reconstructing roads and constructing new roads to areas that had not been connected to central government by motor roads in the past. An example of such effort is the Belleh Yallah motor road.
Yet, the President has fallen short of other important indicators of good governance. There are two of these indicators that I want to emphasize here today. First the President has not been keen on keeping her promise not to repeat the mistakes of the past. Second, the President, on some fundamental issues, has ignored the Constitution and Statute Laws of Liberia. I have chosen to emphasize these points because the President both in her 1997 and 2005 campaigns made the issues of respect for human rights and the rule of law as well as making a clean break with the past, key components of her platform. We believed her and campaigned vigorously for her. When she won the election of 2005, she established a transitional committee to help her develop a general framework of governance and the reconstruction of Liberia.
In her marching orders to the transitional committee, the president, publicly, said that she wanted it to be clear to everyone in Liberia that her government would be formed using the following criteria: one, that nobody with a poor human rights record would be appointed by her and she made Mr. Paul Mulbah, the former police director under President Charles Taylor an example of the kind of people who would have no place in her government; two, that nobody with a history of corruption would serve in her government; three, that nobody would be in her government and at the same time be engaged in private business, in order to avoid any appearance of conflict of interest; and four, that she would appoint only competent persons in her government, i.e. persons with the required education and experience.
During her inaugural address on January 16, 2006, President Sirleaf said, “We know that your vote was a vote for change…We have heard you loudly, and we humbly accept your vote of confidence and your mandate.” She went further to say, “ Today, we wholeheartedly embrace the change. We recognize that this change is not just for the sake of change, but a fundamental break with the past, thereby requiring that we take the bold and decisive steps to address the problems that for decades have stunted our progress, undermined national unity and kept old and new cleavages in ferment.” She further promised to form a small and efficient government.
Has the President kept her promise on changing from the old ways of governing Liberia? My answer is a resounding no. Has the President not appointed anyone with questionable human rights record? In less than two years after she singled out the name of Paul Mulbah as having bad human rights record, she appointed him as the Advisor to the Liberia National Police. Has she not appointed anyone who has in the past being accused of corruption? Are there not persons in government directly or indirectly engaged in or connected to private business ventures? Are there not people in government with questionable credentials? Has she not expanded government beyond what it was when she came to office? I leave you with your own conclusions. However, it is important to state here that the failure of past Liberian governments to make the fundamental change that our President promised us is what led us to fourteen years of a devastating civil conflict.
It is important that the President takes note of this historical fact and correct herself in order to keep our country secured. The President is aware that she cannot say one thing to us and do something else. When the President says one thing and does the opposite or does nothing about what she says, she, by such act, undermines public confidence in her government. The frequency of such act leads to a breach of public trust in government.
A breach of public trust by a President is a threat to the collective security of a nation. Our history has shown that it was the breach of public trust by the past Presidents of Liberia that led this country to a complete lack of confidence in government and the breakdown of law and order. Our collective security is, certainly, directly linked to the quality of governance, in this country. The President and her advisors are advised to seriously reflect on this issue because the President’s ability to unite Liberia, keep it reconciled and progressively developed is undermined by those steps she has taken and continues to take.
The result is a growing lack of public confidence in her ability to lead. History has shown us in Liberia that it is important for the President of Liberia to listen and take corrective steps when people are still talking because when they become quiet, a situation develops whereby the top of the water is still and yet boiling underneath. We have experienced the result of such a situation many times as a nation and do not want to experience it again.
Liberians are like the Jews of Biblical Egypt, who while on their way to the promise land after four hundred years in captivity did not want to see any sign of their experience under the Pharaohs, in their leaders. Liberians do not want to see any of the signs of what they suffered under the True Whig Party, the People’s Redemption Council and under the National Patriotic Party. Such signs undermine the hope of Liberians in their collective effort to reach the promise land of a just and humane social order under a well-developed democratic governing system. The hope of a free, democratic, progressive and prosperous Liberia is what we voted for in 2005. And that is what all Liberians expected of President Sirleaf when they voted for her in 2005 and 2011. As a consequence of this expectation, Liberians believed the President when she said to us in her 2006 inaugural speech, “I will lead by example. I will expect and demand that everyone serving in my administration lead by example.” An example of saying one thing, but doing the opposite is not a good example for anyone to follow, because it undermines public trust and is therefore a threat to our collective security.
The second issue is that the President has not respected our constitution and statute laws on certain fundament issues. One of such issues is the appointment of family members in government. This is called nepotism. In a monarchy this is not a problem. Members of the royal family such as princes, princesses, dukes and duchesses, counts, viscounts, marquees and earls, amongst others are privileged citizens and are, therefore, given preferential treatment over the subjects of the thrown. In a democracy the situation is different. The standard of treatment for all citizens is the same or better still, should be the same. A democratic country is like a corporation with one class of shares. All citizens in a democracy should have equal shares in the corporate state. For example, the President of Liberia and the genitor at the executive mansion have equal shares in the corporate state called Liberia. The Constitution of a democratic state and its statute laws provide the standards of treatment of citizens by the government of Liberia.
Under the Constitution of Liberia, nepotism is prohibited. The Constitution of Liberia considers nepotism as an abuse of office and a corrupt practice. Article 5(c) of the Constitution states, “The Republic shall take steps, by appropriate legislation and executive orders to eliminate sectionalism and tribalism, and such abuses of office as the misuse of government resources, nepotism and all other corrupt practices.” By this provision, nepotism is considered an abuse of office and a corrupt practice.
The President took oath to “ …support, uphold, protect and defend the Constitution and laws of the Republic of Liberia…” She is not at liberty to violate this solemn pledge to the Liberian people. The President should, therefore, be aware of the legal consequences of the violation of her oath of office. The appointment of her sons and other family members in government is a violation of article 5(c) of the Constitution of Liberia. Let me note here that article 5(c) of the Constitution has no exception. Therefore, the President’s arguments that her sons are qualified and they are citizens of Liberia are not legally valid justifications for her nepotistic appointments under Liberian Law. With the President’s appointment of her family members in government, has she not lost the moral authority to punish any member of her government for engaging in nepotism? Of course, she has!
Another law to which the President has not paid keen attention is the law that provides for mandatory representation of each county in the cabinet. The Executive Law of Liberia at section 10.2 provides for the president of Liberia to appoint at least one member of her cabinet from each of the counties of Liberia. Some counties have complained that the President has not appointed a cabinet member from their counties. They are right and the President is wrong for not appointing her cabinet in compliance with the Executive Law. I believe that our legislators made that law to ensure that every county is included in the governance of this country at the highest level of decision-making. This is how our law-makers wanted the government of inclusion to be formed. The President has also violated the Executive Law by appointing persons into positions that were not created by law. Apart from the office of the President, she has no authority to appoint anyone to a position that does not exist in the Executive Law. The creation of positions in government is given to the legislative branch by the constitution of Liberia, because it is a law-making function. The President should take steps to correct herself on these matters. If she does not change the situations that I am highlighting here, she will be promoting impunity in the highest office of our land. A good government is the one that respects the law and does what the people want, a responsive and accountable government.
Lastly, the President has not done well in supervising the Acting Mayor of Monrovia, regarding the respect for human rights. There have been repeated media reports of assaults and other actions by the Acting Mayor against the dignity of the residents of Monrovia, without the President taking action. Besides the President’s pronounced commitment to respect for human rights, the Constitution of Liberia and international treaties to which Liberia is a state party prohibit cruel and inhumane treatment of people. The President cannot allow the humiliation of the citizens and residents of Liberia by any of her appointees no matter how good and dedicated that person is.
If the Acting Mayor cannot clean Monrovia, which she is doing with a high degree of dedication and results, without abusing the rights of individuals then, she is not the right person to clean the city. There can be no justification for the violation of people’s rights, except as provided by law. Governance at every level must be in accordance with law.
Similarly, it is wrong for officials of the Ministry of Finance to stop civil servants from entering the ministry because they come to work after 8:00AM, the time prescribed by the Civil Service Standing Orders. The Civil Service Standing Orders provides measures that should be taken against civil servants who violate it and shutting doors or gates of a ministry to employees who report to work late is not one of those measures. Governance in a democracy is by law and not the wishes and caprices of those appointed or elected to serve. Democratic governance has no place for instilling fear and intimidation or diminishing human dignity in any manner, shape or form. The President must stop the humiliation at the Ministry of Finance by instructing the officials there to follow the law. There is no doubt that the intention of the officials of the Ministry of Finance to promote punctuality is good but they are using an approach that is unacceptable under Liberian Law. All of these actions are elements of bad governance and they pose threat to our collective security because they have the potential to cause mass disenchantment.
Can the President be excused for these indicators of bad governance? My answer is no. President Sirleaf unlike President Samuel K. Doe is a well-educated and experienced President. We campaigned for her because she had all of the qualities for excellent performance as a President, qualities that not many presidents of Liberia since 1847 possessed before becoming president. Not only did she graduate from the world’s best public policy school, she also served in the Government of Liberia as a cabinet minister and chairman of the Governance Reform Commission, worked in very senior positions in the world bank, several world class private banks, the United Nations, amongst other experiences, before declaring her intention to run for the office of the President of Liberia. She was the best qualified candidate amongst all based on the quality of education and experience. Unlike President Charles Taylor, she was an advocate of good governance, respect for the rule of law and human rights and suffered for her role as an advocate, before running for the highest office of the land. It is only logical to consider her failure to follow the tenants of good governance, as I have dealt with here today, as a deliberate and well-considered act. She definitely has no excuse. She knows exactly what she doing and its implication.
I am pointing these things out for her and her close advisors to take note of and correct the situation because the failure of President Sirleaf to do well on any issue of governance will not only mare the image of Liberia and Africa’s first female President, but also, establish a bad foundation for post conflict governance in Liberia and perhaps other parts of Africa and therefore, dampens the hope of our people for a progressive and secured society.
The other reason is that a future president of Liberia could justify his action by referring to the failures of President Sirleaf because he/she would be quick to say, “if the President who was a graduate of the Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, held cabinet post in Liberia, held senior posts at the World Bank and the United Nations, served as chairman of the Governance Reform Commission, amongst other areas before becoming president, could not fully follow the law, or could say one thing and do the other, or could refuse to listen to the people on some cardinal issues, why bother me?” This kind of behavior certainly threatens our collective security and diminishes the Country’s prospects for good governance under any leadership.
President Sirleaf cannot afford to leave such legacy. On the blood of the estimated three hundred thousand who died in the Liberian civil conflict, nearly ten percent of the population of Liberia, I caution the President to re-examine her record on these issues and change for the better. To the memory of advocates who suffered for good governance in Liberia such as Albert Porte, Tuan Wreh, D. Twe, Weewee Debah, Tonieh Richardson, Wuo Garbe Tappia, Jim Holder, Robert Philips, Edward Beyan Kesselly, Gabriel Kpolleh amongst others and so many advocate journalists, the last of whom was Tom Kamara, that she musters the courage to do the right thing by changing for the better. Doing what is right should not, by any stretch of imagination ,be a courageous act. This is my wish for our President. I make this appeal out of friendship and deep respect for her. I am making it publicly because I believe it is more effective to do so, than doing so, privately. I also believe that by raising these issues publicly, I am providing an opportunity for the necessary public debate that could weaken those who may want to use the President’s second term to be reckless in their theft of public money and abuse of their closeness to her.
This speech is therefore, intended to give the President the required internal strength to change her inclination towards what I consider tendencies of arbitrariness and to free her from the shackles of those who she finds it difficult to say no to, for the good of our country. I could have sought an opportunity to whisper to the President but I just find it difficult, very difficult to whisper about my country.
Let me conclude by advising President Sirleaf to take note of the fact that she is no more the only female President in Africa. There is now one in Malawi. While nobody can take away her historical place as the first female president of an African country, Africans and observers of Africa have begun to compare the quality of governance coming from both Liberia and Malawi. Our President should be aware that she is now in competition with the President of Malawi on the quality of governance and the referees are closely watching the two players. It is my hope, and I believe the hope of every Liberian that in the end our president will be adjudged the better of the two female presidents.
President Sirleaf should also remember that she is the first President in nearly hundred years to be elected in a credible democratic process and the only president to have ended a term and get a another mandate from the people, since President Tubman, who died in office, nearly forty one years ago. I advise her not to squander this glorious opportunity. Instead, the President should use her second term to lay a firm foundation for good governance for all times in Liberia. This is the legacy that Liberians expect her to leave behind when her second term ends. To achieve this, she must, as a matter of necessity, subordinate her personal interest and the interest of her family and friends to the collective interest of the Liberian people. This is the sacrifice that President Sirleaf has to make if she wants to be remembered in Liberia as a great leader in Liberia and on the African continent for generations unborn.
Many of us who campaigned for her expected that she would, at the end of her leadership, attain the same level of greatness that President Nelson Ohlehlahla Madeba Mandela has on the African continent and before him other selfless leaders like Presidents Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere, Patrice Lumumba, Modibu Keita, amongst, other African patriots. Our President still has chance, if she is prepared to change for the better. No well-meaning Liberian wants President Sirleaf to be remembered as just another African President.
I hope you students will reflect on what I have said here, today, and use your education to respect the laws of our country and to be honest and respectful of the Liberian people, by doing what you say, when you find yourselves in positions of trust, in the future, so that Liberia can be safe, secured, peaceful, progressive and prosperous, for the collective security of the Liberian people.
I thank you.