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Matrix for Decentralizing Political Power In Liberia

By Bai M. Gbala, Sr.

Throughout the 167-year history of our nation, administrative, economic and political power had been and is rigidly centralized, controlled and dispensed from the Republic of Monrovia, Montserrado County, preserved under the doctrine of the Unitary System. This System was duly passed into law and enshrined in our Constitution, the Nation’s organic law.

Also, the 167-year history was, and is, characterized by dissent, protests, up-risings and sporadic armed hostilities, due to iron-fisted, dictatorial rule by the very few – political tyranny, systematic denial of human dignity, freedom, justice, equality and basic, civil liberties that led, inevitably, to and climaxed by the April 12, 1980 Event. But that was not the end; for, the ruling group responded swiftly, with powerful military might, a historic mind-boggling plunder, destruction, human suffering and death, including massive, people displacement into refugee camps in neighboring and distant foreign lands. The rest is known, recent history and the prevailing conditions.

Then there arose a call, after the tragic nightmare of the civil war during the late 1980s, a re-introduction of the notion of decentralization, a political thought dedicated to decentralize administrative, economic and political power; a known, proven democratic system in which all eligible counties of the Republic – the administrative, political sub-divisions – shall have the right of semi-autonomous constituents of a Liberian federation – to elect their political leaders and, thereby, ensure effective/efficient delivery of socio-economic and political services. Proponents argue that decentralization presents a possible, viable option in our search for democratic, political redemption.

It was not until 2006, some 8 years later, on January 6, 2006, in her first Inaugural Speech delivered to the nation, Mrs. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, as President of Liberia, demonstrated foresight, vision, profound courage and encouragement for the future of our country, when she declared “. . . I pledge to bring the government closer to the people. The days of the imperial presidency . . . are over in Liberia . . . The Executive Mansion and ‘Monrovia’ will, no longer, be the only center of power . . . The people and their interests, as defined by them, will be at the very heart of our new dispensation of decentralization . . . of power” (Vol. 1 No. 1, Governance Commission Decentralization Bulletin, March 31, 2011). Indeed, these pledges of foresight and encouragement are, in fact, two of the major themes of the argument on Decentralization.

It is important to note that the President followed that pledge by formation and establishment of the national Governance Commission in 2011, a government “Think Tank”, so to speak, on “Decentralization for Public Sector Reform”. This action affirms decentralization as a compelling, social, economic and political need in our country at this point in time. Accordingly, the Preamble to the National Policy on Decentralization and Local Governance provides, among others, that:

1. “. . . Since 1847 and throughout the history of Liberia, governance and public administration have remained highly centralized in Monrovia and controlled mainly by institutions and structures of the central state which have not allowed adequate legal opportunities for the establishment of a system of participatory local governance”.
2. “The citizens of each county shall have the power (and right) to elect the political and executive officers of the county. The following positions shall be elected:
a) Superintendent
b) Administrative District Commissioners
c) Members of the County Legislative Assembly
d) Paramount Chiefs
e) Clan Chiefs
f) Mayors of communities granted city charter, and
g) Members of city councils or assembly of communities granted city charters”

Now Comes the Ministry of Internal Affairs – No. 1 In November of last year (2014) the FrontpageAfrica newspaper reported (FrontPageAfricaonline, November 27, 2014) from Sinoe County that a “weeklong consultation sensitization exercise aimed at rationalizing the administrative structures of local government has gotten underway in the Southeast”.

Indeed, as senior citizens of the isolated and forgotten Southeast, this “exercise” is welcome news, although we are left wondering about the use of the term “rationalization” of that which, we believe, to be a duty, responsibility and obligation of an on-ground, in-county gathering (research) of objective facts of the location, number and population of sub-sub & sub-structures – cities, townships, towns, villages, clans & paramount chiefdoms and administrative districts -within national sub-structures of the Counties or Political/Administrative, Regional Sub-Divisions. “Rationalization” suggests, to us, a literal, academic/intellectual application, a fudging, on-paper for statistical logic.

Add to this seemingly inappropriate descriptive terminology, the term “sensitization”. Who are those, in terms of the individuals/officials to be sensitized, and the subject of sensitization? For, the facts of history regarding administration of our regional, political, administrative sub-divisions (the counties, etc.) show that there had been, and is, to this day, the profound, troubling absence or lack of policy rationalization & sensitization in the Monrovia offices of (the-then Interior Department, now the Ministry of Internal Affairs) policy-makers who crafted, continue to craft, and dispense decisions and/or policies imposed on the sub-, sub-structures and the leaders thereof.

In an article elsewhere, we reported that “our recent research shows that county administrations, nationwide, are saddled with policy contradictions and confusions due to administrative decisions and policies made and dispensed by bureaucrats sitting in Monrovia, creating more and more new sub-structures such as clan and paramount chiefdoms, townships, administrative and statutory districts, in addition to existing sub-structures created by ancient, Liberia Law governing Hinterland Liberia, without the benefit of current, research information”.

We noted, for example, that there are eight (8) new sub-sub administrative districts, with newly-appointed sub-sub administrators and deputies in Grand Gedeh County (my home county), created out of, and in addition to, the main, three (3) – Tchien, Konobo and Gbarzon – Administrative, sub-Districts. Perhaps, this new approach is intended for reforms, in response to the rapid population growth and expansion; but, there are glaring overlapping of administrative authority, with unnecessary creations and duplications.

In her Annual Message delivered on January 28, 2013, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf drew national attention to this disabling condition when she observed that “. . . the challenges of the Decentralization Policy . . . the present local (in the counties) governance structures are bloated, and difficult to manage. For example, there are more than 149 cities – 33 in Sinoe (County) . . . 93 Administrative Districts; 251 Paramount Chiefs; more than 689 Clan Chiefs; 1,410 General Town Chiefs; and 250 Township Commissioners. The government has to deliver services to more than 16,000 Towns and villages. As if these statistics were not daunting enough, the boundaries of all these localities overlap, leading to confusion over jurisdiction and administrative authority . . .” (President’s 2013 Annual Message, The Executive Mansion, Monrovia).

These statistics, quoted by the President of the Nation are essentially different, in numbers, than those reported from Greenville, Sinoe County, by the Honorable Minister of Internal Affairs.

Adding “insult to injury”, our prevailing or on-going policy activities appear to be compounded, negatively, by participation of our friendly Foreign-Aid-Donor-Assisted Policy Advisorswho come to Liberia not only with policy instructions to “cooperate, reasonably, with the government on the ground” (no matter what – lack of reasonable policy approach, implementation, public/official dishonesty, etc.), but also, with socio-cultural and educational backgrounds at variance with and inapplicable in our African setting.

To this condition we must factor in crucial, critical infrastructural development – transport/ communication, education, light & power, water & sewer, etc. – infrastructural development that facilitates “rationalization & sensitization” but are not only woefully absent, but also, profoundly and dangerously ignored and neglected. Today, now as we speak, getting to Barclayville, Capital city of Grand Kru County, is a herculean task, while Greenville, Sinoe County, is caught in throes of massive erosion by the Atlantic, as is the City of Buchanan, Grand Bassa County. Indeed, it was, and is, this fiasco that aborted the holding of 2014, 167th National Independence Day celebrations in the Southeastern cities of Greenville, Sinoe and Barclayville, Grand Kru Counties; it was, and is, a compelling case in point.

Meanwhile, the “Honorable Senators, other important, high-profiled officials, etc., etc.”, law and policy-makers from these historic towns and cities who earn fabulous salaries in addition to personal expenses borne by the tax payers, hardly visit “their homes” of origin, let alone advance/advocate for change or “transformation”.

Now, December 31, 2014, the Ministry of Internal Affairs
Twelve GOL Ministries with “Decentralization Matrix”
and “De-concentration Matrix”, No. 2.

Again, the newspaper FrontPageAfrica reports (FrontPageAfricaonline, December 31, 2014) that “Twelve government ministries and agencies have concluded the formulation of a De-concentration Matrix (and De-concentration Matrix) which will be used as an enabling tool for effective service delivery to citizens and residents in rural Liberiafollowing a ministerial validation of the documents”. What about validation by the citizens of rural Liberia?

This announcement, a tongue-twisting mouthful, supposedly academic/intellectual/scholarly, Ivory-Tower double-talk, in fact, says nothing, does nothing and adds nothing to the National Policy on Decentralization & Local Governance.

Pray tell us, what, in our laypersons’ language, is “Decentralization Matrix” or “De-concentration Matrix”? Desktop research of the Oxford English Dictionary, Google online and Wikipedia Free Encyclopedia online say that “matrix is a mold in which a thing is cast or shaped”. Others provide that Matrix have numerous applications in mathematics and other sciences; but, decentralization/de-concentration of political, economic and administrative power? Perhaps, May be.

But, to us, Decentralization Matrix or De-concentration Matrix appears to be another high-sounding, academic/scholarly, fancy language designed for “you chop, they chop, I chop”; remember, Liberia’s celebrated Corruption, Inc.?

On Decentralization, although we admit validity of the Governance Commission’s argument for a ten-year, incremental implementation of the Decentralization & Local Governance Policy, mindful that “Rome was built not in one day”, including the sordid facts of our history. But we, too, in response, argue that a journey of one thousand miles is begun by one, single step. This, in the Liberian context, demands a revisit of the Nation’s Constitution for repeal/amendment of the relevant provisions, in our effort to enable and render decentralization lawful/legal. This critical, first step appears to be a problem, despite the several, extra bureaucracies created in the interest of decentralization, including a committee of high-priced attorneys/ lawyers.

Finally, in any case, we hold that Decentralization is the major, critical factor in the process of democratization of Liberia.

Therefore, we argue that as long as we hold on to and maintain the doctrine of Unitary system of our government and governance; as long as we cling, religiously, to the prevailing, rigid centralization of political power in the Republic of Monrovia; and as long as we ignore, unreasonably and ritualistically, the tried, tested and proven benefits of decentralization of political, economic and administrative power in Liberia, all efforts for democratic governance and the efficient/effective delivery of public services are doomed to failure, irrespective of the level, depth, breadth and scope of academic/intellectual excellence of Liberia’s leaders/policy-makers; and that Liberia will remain a “failed state”, rather than a modern, functional nation.

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