The annual disbursement of development funds is a big deal in Liberian politics. It is a way the heavily centralized and imperial national government doles out funds to an appointed official or officials in a particular county in the name of constructing needed projects, which wouldn’t have gotten any attention had it not been for the disbursement of those funds.
Successive Liberian presidents including the current one, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, often looked forward to disbursing those funds as if the funds are her personal funds, and will use the publicized occasion to highlight the president’s “concern” for the poor and the region.
Interestingly, the local official or officials in whose hands the funds lands also look forward to this major payday that could possibly change the individual’s life for better or for worse.
Since Liberian presidents, including Ellen Johnson Sirleaf are not held accountable for their actions, and since they are known to exercise imperial powers because of the office, it is seen as suicidal for anyone to challenge the president’s role in the disbursement of those funds known to also breed corruption, misappropriation, embezzlement, and any other word in the books one could possibly use to describe the eventual misuse of those funds..
The handling and disbursement of development funds by an autocratic Liberian president as it has been in all cases throughout the nation’s history is not always about the nation and its weary citizens, but about a president’s ego, power and control. This is also a reminder of the manipulative politics that has guided the president’s distorted views of governance since occupying the office.
The advent of this sleazy political tradition is unknown. However, Liberia’s longest-serving president, the chain-cigar-smoking dictator, William V.S. Tubman gave new meaning and legitimacy to this madness by using those annual financial giveaways to the counties as a public relations strategy. Together with his cleverly staged and ubiquitous annual national birthday celebrations, solidifed his corrupt political base and kept him in power for 27 years until his death in 1971.
However, since Tubman’s death over 40 years ago, the practice of presidential financial giveaways in the name of development funds has increased under successive Liberian presidents with nothing significant to show for the money in terms of eye-catching development projects that captures the minds and imagination of the population.
So far, the only news that has captured the minds of the Liberian people are embezzlement and wanton corruption, which stems from the disbursement of development funds. Because for every development funds that’s disbursed annually, there are countless mind-boggling allegations of embezzlement levied against County Superintendents and other officials and cronies of the president, who are usually fired or not fired; only to be recycled to other government jobs as if the individuals did not commit any crime in the first place.
That’s because since the imperial president is the one and only one in town who calls the shots, it is left to that president to decide single handedly whether the individual who was accused of embezzlement is put on trial for the crimes he or she allegedly committed.
The funding and building of projects intended to give a neglected country like Liberia a facelift is the right thing to do. Not doing it the right way undermines the language of development, which adds to the believe that this practice is meant only to enhance the political capitals of an entrenched, publicity-seeking president who is bent on playing political games, manipulation and dirty tricks to remain in power.
Putting those development funds into the hands of a meaningful, patriotic body (if there are any around), is the right thing to do. Constructing those projects will not only create shovel-ready jobs and other kinds of jobs out of work Liberians really needs in these troubled times, it will also gave the entire country a welcome facelift that the Liberian people will surely embrace.
However, those development funds and projects are doomed from the start when the selfish politics of an overbearing president who is not accountable to the Liberian people takes over the disbursement process.
When a President decides unilaterally for and against which projects should or should not be constructed, which croony of the President should be given or trusted with the development funds, and which county should be given priority often eclipsed the purpose and true meaning of the program.
As we all know, corruption exists in most countries. However, when that happens, the people are the ones who often suffers the most. In this case, the Liberian people are the ones who are feeling the brunt of this abuse of power as rampant corruption and mismanagement of funds, political neglect, skyrocketing unemployment and abject poverty, continues to diminish the standard of living of a proud people, who now must beg total strangers and family members to survive daily.
If the development funds program is to survive and be productive, the best argument in support of it would be to decentralize the process and steer the development funds away from the Almighty president who ought to concern his/herself with governing the country, and not be commander in chief of development and construction projects in the Republic of Liberia.
By taking the disbursement of development funds program away from the president, individuals comprised of development and financial specialists ought to be appointed (not by the President) but by a Board comprised of development-minded business leaders, civic-minded Liberians, elder statesmen/women and respected community/local leaders whose regions are targeted. These individuals should be empowered to work with the appointed Board members to decide what is to be built, where it should be built, and how it should be funded.
After that is done, the bidding process takes over as private Liberian contractors and engineering companies are allowed (first) to bid for the contracts in their own country. In the event where there are no competent Liberian contractors or engineers for the projects, a search committee should look outside of Liberia for bidders to construct the projects.
As part of the contractual agreement, any foreign construction company that wins the bidding war must make it a priority to hire Liberian workers and managers to be on their team.
With a strategic plan and projects in mind for their region, the regional leaders also must work with the various groups, and with engineers at the Ministers of Public Works and other agencies to construct the projects that will benefit the Liberian people.
Development funds are supposed to mean what the name clearly says – development funds, and are not supposed to be private presidential funds that perpetuates patronage, power, control and despotism.
Since the funds to the counties are dubbed “development funds” intended to construct much-needed infrastructure in a particular region of the country, there has to be a better way to safeguard against presidential abuse and manipulation of the process.