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Amos Sawyer’s national decentralization report falls short of making the grades

By Tewroh-Wehtoe Sungbeh 

 

Amos Claudius Sawyer, the go-to guy in the Sirleaf administration and in Liberian intellectual circles, finally released to the public what is supposed to be his National Policy on Decentralization and Local Government. As always the case with Sawyer’s work, the devil’s always in the details until it is thoroughly read and analyzed for comprehension.

The report, in its current form seems to be the final document that could finally make or break the ancient political system that helped to keep Liberia and Liberians in political darkness and abject poverty throughout the years.  If implemented, however, the new decentralization policy could be Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s proudest domestic policy achievement, even if the visibly flawed policy is bulldozed into the people’s consciousness without revision.

The decentralization report is an ambitious one typical of Sawyer’s flair for taking on huge national tasks, but short on making the drastic change Liberians everywhere want in order to move their country forward from being a centralized government to a decentralized one.

However, with the clarion calls for political reforms constantly reverberating in every corner of the country to dilute the powers of the imperial presidency, and to also empower the political subdivisions, their leaders and people to control their taxes and political future, proves why this issue, as popular as it is should have been deliberated exhaustively with the public so as not to give the appearance of imitating change.

To Sawyer, however, his signature decentralization report is the change Liberians always wanted in these troubled times. As a man of incredible substance, however, the celebrated report cements his standing as an intellectual heavyweight who often answers the call when tapped by Liberian leaders to take on a national challenge of any magnitude.

With such national clout, Sawyer brings to the table respect from some quarters and disdain from other quarters for this report and past report (1983 Liberian Constitution), which like this one invite questions, scrutiny and skepticism for a job not well done.

Like the 1983 Liberian Constitution whose commission Sawyer chaired inflated the term limits of Senators to an 8-year term (Article 47), and Representatives to a 4-year term (Article 50), the National Decentralization Policy needs to go back to the drawing board because part of it is a flawed piece of work that played around some of those nagging national issues instead of fixing them.

Had Sawyer, the political activist used his incredible influence and intellect to boldly guide the process as expected and not capitulate to pressure from the military government of Samuel Kanyon Doe when he was chairman of the National Constitution Commission, the 1986 Constitution Advisory Assembly headed by his predecessor Edward Kesselly wouldn’t have embarked on their own shameful journey of bending over and copying Sawyer’s playbook to also inflate the term limits of Senators to a 9-year term (Article 45), and a 6-year term for Representatives (Article 48).

Sawyer’s latest work partially represents the political aspirations of the Liberian people, because it seems he also  capitulated to pressure from President Ellen Johnson and the ruling party to water down the sections that dealt with the working relationships between the Executive Mansion and the Superientendents.

This also played into whispers from some quarters that the political activist is no longer one of them, but represents the interests of the politically influential and entrenched status quo of which he found himself to be a convenient member.

The problem I have with part of Sawyer’s report is its mixed message about decentralization, which failed to give the counties and their Superintendents uninterrupted and undiluted powers to carryout their duties, without having to take orders and be micromanaged by the President of Liberia and the Minister of Internal Affairs.

That is not to say Mr. Sawyer’s efforts shouldn’t be applauded. It should.

However, while it is true that the fiscal sharing portion of the report (section 4.0) gives broad power to the local governments to control their own tax base and policies, the “reporting relationships” (section 5.4) maintains the same odious policy that gives broad power and authority to the President and his/her Minister of Internal Affairs to control the counties and Superintendents.

According to section (5.4), “The Superintendent shall by law, report to the President of Liberia, and shall maintain a symbiotic or interdependent administration, executive, and advisory relationship with the Minister of Internal Affairs.“

Section 5.4 also states: “The Superintendent shall report annually to the President of Liberia through the Minister of Internal Affairs on all matters including the general and specific circumstances and status of the county, its administration and fiscal status, the report shall also include the extent of the county’s conformity with national regulations and standards of good governance.”

Since the founding of the Liberian nation in 1847, the imperial president, as the highest political leader of the land is not accountable to the people, which allows the president to make unilateral decisions that affects their lives and the direction of the country.

Perhaps it was an oversight on my part, but I did not read in the report anything about accountability – or a section that holds the president accountable to the people. I also did not read anything in the report that deals with electoral reform, and making the National Elections Commission a neutral and independent body.

Serious political reform is needed in Liberia, and not a “play-play” report as Liberians would say that puts bandaid on the issues. This is unacceptable and too much to swallow in these modern times when people worldwide are demanding freedom to decide the direction of their lives.

Because when so much power is given to a singular person to dictate one’s future in a land that naturally belongs to all can be unbearable and excruciatingly painful.

Decentralization is about taking power and functions away from a central authority to a less concentrated area of authority. In other words, it is about dispersing from the very powerful and influential, to empowering the powerless and disenfranchised in society.

Decentralization is not about macro managing and putting power back into the hands of the few and politically powerful – in this case the Liberian president and his/her cronies and family members. Decentralization is not about intellectual exercise, either, but about making life better for all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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