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President Sirleaf's Inaugural Address Should Be About Jobs, Jobs and More Jobs

By Tewroh-Wehtoe Sungbeh

The one and only time I ever had a summer job was in 1975, when as a teenager, I was hired to work briefly with other students at the Ministry of Information in Monrovia.

I believe the late Edward B. Kesselly was Minister at the time, and we worked as a team retrieving and binding printed materials on the lower floor of the Ministry until it was time to go home, which was always a struggle.

It was my first job that prepared me for the twists and turns I would later encounter in life, and to work with other teenagers who shared similar goals of making money, hanging out, and preparing to go back to school after the break was an experience that prepared and exposed me to the joy of working to earn my own money.

The constant struggle for me was not the job or my colleagues picking on me, but finding a cab or bus in the morning to take me from my residence in New Kru Town to Camp Johnson Road; and getting home in the afternoon was even difficult than it was in the morning.

It was a task I dreaded but I had to get to work every morning, anyway, to earn that monthly $75.00 paycheck the Liberian government of President Tolbert promised to pay me/us but was actually disbursed the third month, which was the end of the vacation assignment.

I don’t really know what the disbursement procedure is in Liberia today, how summer or vacation jobs are allotted, and I don’t even know when and how students are being paid. One thing I know is that we got paid as promised, and never had a reason to take to the streets to destroy properties and national infrastructure to make a point that would later paint us as unrudely.

However, I was never told the reason or reasons for the delay in disbursing our paychecks, but it was customary for students working summer jobs not to receive their paychecks until it was time to go back to school.

After working that vacation job for three months, I finally got a lump sum of $275.00, which was a lot for me at the time.

The rushing, fighting and running all over the place to get to work weekdays was like a day’s work. It was bruising and tiring, and it took a lot of patience and determination to hold on to a job I wasn’t getting paid for until after a three-month period.

Even though I was able to brave Monrovia’s hot temperatures to get to work and home daily, I have only my parents to thank for making my trips possible; because without their generous financial support, getting those daily bus and cab fares would have been impossible.

I was fortunate. Some of my vacation job colleagues were not as fortunate as I was, and perhaps experienced their own issues with transportation and fares, while others probably had their parents or other family members around that assisted them in their time of need.

In 1978, a year after I graduated high school, I was hired permanently in January as Cadet in the Press Bureau of the same Ministry of Information that introduced me to the dignity of working to earn a living, for which I am extremely grateful. I however, left the Ministry in November 1978 to pursue other goals elsewhere.

I just can’t wait to share my story after reading about those young people who reportedly engaged in acts of violence all across Monrovia during the holiday season, when they did not receive their paychecks at the time specified by the Liberian government.

Those kids probably are like some of my former teenage colleagues who had problem getting to work because of the lack of bus or cabs fares, and were clueless about where their next meals would come from the next hour or day.

It is not unusual to read or hear stories about hungry school age kids, adults and struggling students who go to bed hungry. It is not unusual either to see or hear stories about poor and unemployed students dropping out of school or class because they cannot afford bus/cab fares, tuition, and instructor-inspired make-up fees.

This is happening because there are no jobs, no opportunities and social services in Liberia that helps and gives poor people and poor students the chance to study or work to move up in life.

The story resonates because it occurs too often in Liberia, a difficult and uninspiring place where the nation’s imperial and corrupt presidents and well-to-do Liberians rather provide assistance only to their children, wives, girlfriends, cronies and extended family members than provide meaningful assistance to others (with no strings attached) in need.

This is happening in a country where any hint of political unfairness and inequality can be explosive.

However, with unemployment and poverty way too high, and young people often showing their collective frustration at a callous and corrupt post-war political system that just experienced an explosive electoral crisis can be explosive, especially for President Sirleaf, who is still struggling to gain legitimacy as a leader of all Liberians.

That is why it is imperative that President Sirleaf, who is once again staging a very costly January coronation in the midst of hunger and abject poverty include in her inaugural address an aggressive strategy for creating jobs, jobs and more jobs, and also announce a progressive plan that creates jobs and programs for young people to stay out of trouble and not think violence is the only way forward.

The Sirleaf administration cannot claim to be caught off guard by this crisis, because the jobs issue that ignited this latest riot is a Liberian crisis that occurred on the president’s watch; and ignored by her predecessors once everything was under control and their despotic regimes were deemed safe – courtesy of the state’s armed and brutal security forces.

The seasonal politicians and wannabe presidential candidates are to be blamed also, because some are only interested in running for president and not concerned or interested in the plight of those they claimed they want to lead.

The graphic and rhetorical images of violence and destruction, and the public relations nightmare that followed after the recent student riot are reasons to question the Executive Mansion’s domestic policy agenda and public relations competence; because it seems the Sirleaf administration does not have a domestic policy agenda but reacts only when there is political fire burning somewhere in Liberia that threatens her regime.

This is not intended to glorify the terrible behavior of those students who obviously did not behave like students, when they took to the streets and destroyed everything in their paths. They acted child-like and played into the stereotype that often lumps Liberians and Liberian students into the categories of rebels and rogues waiting to kill or steal to own something that does not belong to them.

It is a well-known fact that Liberians are suffering and are also frustrated because of the lack of jobs to take care of their families and their basic needs. Poverty and unemployment cannot be eradicated, but can be controlled by sound fiscal/domestic policies.

It is believed President Sirleaf’s looming inauguration will cost that impoverished nation (Liberia) and its poor people over $1million dollars, the same amount it costs during the president’s first inauguration in 2006.

My phone has been ringing off the hook daily, and at times weekly because family members and friends are calling and crying for financial assistance to buy food, school supplies, or are begging for money to pay their kid’s school fees.

This is the time to prioritize, and the Sirleaf administration cannot continue to be insensitive to the suffering of the Liberian people.

 

 

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