Editor's Note: Throughout his earthly sojourn, versatile Liberian journalist Tom Kamara, who died Friday while undergoing medical treatment in Brussels, remained an uncompromising campaigner for social justice at home and everywhere.
This unimpeachable trademark can be seen and acknowledged unquestionably by both his admirers and detractors in this last analysis of the situation in Liberia written by the man, whom his contemporaries often called “Tom” while his co-employees and workers referred to him as “Uncle Tom”:
One of Pakistan’s most respected charity heads, in an interview with the BBC, said most Pakistanis would prefer military rule over a network of corrupt civilian politicians that take turns in ruling the country with fat bank accounts abroad. For the poor, he said, democracy has meant nothing for them, only the incubation of poverty.
Prevailing developments in Liberia suggest the same trend. Because of the growing disconnect between politicians and the poor, as the Vision 2030 recently suggested, democracy—the freedom to periodically elect one’s own thieves and plunderers, amongst other democratic values—is fast becoming an endangered demon to the poor.
This mistrust in democracy serves as one of the growing reasons for the relevance of Mr. George Weah’s Congress for Democratic Change (CDC). The poor see their children hanging on crawling vehicles, running behind Mr. Weah, as their chance to material wellbeing once he gets the presidency. And one of the reasons for the fanatical loyalty Mr. Charles Taylor commands even as he prepares for a long jail term as the rest of the world demands is that under him, a few saw their material conditions enhanced.
This enhancement of their material conditions was at the expense of others in the forms of murders, looting, etc. But they would care less, since they saw what they considered a better life under Taylor. The wife of the feared Anti-Terrorist Unit (ATU) commander was filled with nostalgia in an interview with foreign journalists as the verdict against Mr. Taylor came down. She had a better life under Taylor, she said, since the prices of commodities were cheap or for the taking, since her husband was an ATU commander who had in his hands the power to administer death or allow someone to live.
Since the elections, with the advent of democracy, the poor see their marginalization in material terms because the rules have changed. This is now a democracy, a defined better system that should address their needs more transparently and ably. But is it really so? The verdict of the Pakistani charity head cannot be dismissed.
Detestable Symptoms of this democracy have risen in many forms, such as the Count Development Fund meant to help the rural poor that fell in the palms of Monrovia politicians. Schools, clinics and other facilities that should have been built are non-existent.
When the General Auditing Commission was viable, it spearheaded debates on the fiscal budget, unearthing gray areas and fostering health exchanges as to what was in the budget, who received what and how the money would be spent. The necessary conditions were enhanced for active media participation by making materials and facts available, so that the people could be informed, as is expected in functioning democracy. Now, it is the return of the dark and ill-informed past when the fiscal budget, the sum total of what the country has and would spend along with how, is placed behind a dark closet, impenetrable for public scrutiny.
If democracy is a free for some system under the ‘law’ that allows the government and its functionaries to fatten themselves at the expense of the population, then a demon is being created that could be slaughtered sooner or later.
Imagine, well-placed public servants in one office alone, spending US50, 000 to purchase 3 simple cameras from China. Imagine several government officials refusing to make their financial documents public. And imagine senators announcing their opposition to forestall any attempt in making the stealing of public money a criminal offense with direct imprisonment.
In one rather lucrative state agency, the agency’s head is the sole signatory checks. Would it therefore be wrong to conclude that the money is her personal account, available to her at any time without counter-checks?
All this is with reports that legislators are bent in hiking their salaries and benefits again, even if they are amongst the highest paid on the African continent. That legislators have vowed to oppose tough anticorruption laws is understandable.
And that the rush for membership in the legislature has intensified is obvious because once there, money. A lot of money is assured along with benefits.
But not everyone will get a seat in the legislature. So the poverty scale will go up in the coming years because all in government are not aiming at service, but personal benefits at the expense of the poor. They collect taxes on their behalf, handle national resources in their name, and decide how to spend the money without questions.
To get a graphic picture of the unbalance, the fiscal budget is a hand–to-mouth document for the government and its officials because 80% of it is recurrent, which means money spent on the government and its officials, while 20% is long-term, which suggests projects for redevelopments. Even in the latter, the kickbacks may as well go to recurrent.
What makes democracy within the African contest unattractive is its corruptibility. But the danger is that there are no exceptions, since all those who serve in government during various periods resort to the same schemes. They know no other, and attempts to impose anything fundamentally different will face resistance with risks to stability. This explains the re-hiring of well known past corrupt officials or those with horrible human rights records, for fears that they could cause trouble. And since those at the helm are operating on the same platform, such fears are logical.
This presents a question whether drastic reforms needed to enhance the performance of the state and cut down the unnecessary and growing fat can be done within the framework of ‘democracy’ as it is?
As the Pakistani charity leader suggested, the answer is an absolute no for various reasons.
Most players, if not all, in the ‘democracy’ have intrinsic and similar interests, and that is to preserve their personal benefits. Thus when a senator emphatically vowed that an anticorruption bill would not be passed as long as he and his colleagues are senators, he was presenting a position of honesty.
But even where laws are passed, implementing them presents the test. For example, the President has released a bulky Code of Conduct for public servants under the Executive. The test now is to implement it, and implementing it would encompass all the brothers, sisters, in-laws, nephews, cousins, uncles, etc. of high-ranking government officials stuffed in the government with high benefits beyond the public’s rights to know.
In this ‘democracy’ any suggestion of halting the rising salaries and benefits of legislators will encounter resistance, since the legislature must approve the budget.
Thus with the level of incompetence, corruption and greed, it is difficult to see how reforms can be carried out. In this, the poor will be the sacrificial lambs until there is a serious schism for the system to be recycled. But even the poor, placed in charge, will have no new model. It is an endangered society.