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Varney Sherman’s “tomorrow is not an option”

By Tewroh-Wehtoe Sungbeh

Varney Sherman - Liberia
The highly anticipated Liberian presidential election is four years away. Already, potential candidates are lining up to succeed Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

So it is not a surprise when a politician is given a high-profile role during the historically patriotic “26” to speak to the Liberian people about daunting national issues that confronts them and the nation.

With the 2017 presidential race looming and the names of potential candidates are popping up everywhere, it is difficult to gauge the seriousness of those who suddenly professes to care much about national issues, since these people are known to play along only when their political and financial interests are not threatened.

Varney Sherman, the politically savvy party insider and potential presidential candidate got the attention of his life when he was chosen as the national orator during Liberia’s 166th Independence Day ceremonies held in Monrovia on July 26.

If you are H. Varney G. Sherman, one of the nation’s top lawyers who have national political aspirations, having such national exposure suddenly thrown at you is like winning both the lottery and the presidency at the same time.

The analogy is on the ball, and Sherman played the occasion well with his catchy theme, “tomorrow is not an option.”

The timing was also perfect for Sherman who used the imaginary bullhorn and the convenient bully pulpit to fire friendly admonitions at his party’s standard bearer, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, whom he believes achieved a lot during her nearly seven years in office; but failed the Liberian people “even after two circles of general and presidential elections.”

Even though Mr. Sherman called himself criticizing Ms. Sirleaf for her lackluster presidential performance in the Executive Mansion, he however blamed the president’s lack of effective public relations as the reasons her accomplishments are not known.

“I am however concerned that enough information about these achievements and accomplishments has not flowed to the Liberian public at large and too many people, even within Monrovia and its immediate environs don’t know enough about these achievements and accomplishments. The absence of information to the Liberian people about these achievements and accomplishments is a serious deficiency that must be remedied immediately,” he added.

“Even after two circles of general and presidential elections, the social and development challenges which face our people are still very daunting; some of our people appear to give up all hopes for the betterment of their situations during their lifetimes,” he also said.

It is refreshing when a leading member of the president’s political party stands on a national platform and painfully spells out the failures of her administration. It is also painfully disconcerting when the same individual – in the same speech becomes an apologist who chimes that “some of the accusations of corruption have no basis” even as allegations of corruption reverberates daily, and living conditions continue to deteriorate in the country on the president’s watch.

The truth is it has been two election circles since Sirleaf and her unity party-led government took the helm of political leadership. Yet, genuine change and progress are a far cry from reality.

However, after the first election {circle}, it was unheard of for any member of the president’s political party or inner circle to publicly acknowledge her failure to lead and deliver jobs and other basic services to the Liberian people, which makes Sherman’s public comments even more debatable.

So when did Mr. Sherman awakened to the biblical Saul-like conversion to understand the seriousness of the leadership and poverty crisis in Liberia?

True indeed, the Liberian people are feeling a sense of hopelessness on Sirleaf’s watch. That sense of hopelessness is a result of record unemployment and a lack of opportunity for countless Liberians who have to beg family members, friends and neighbors to eat and live in dignity, which could eventually lead to absolute violence and anti-government activities.

As Sherman noted, “abject poverty, socio-economic deprivations and drudgery are fertile grounds for unrest; it is abject poverty, socio-economic deprivations and drudgery that unscrupulous people take advantage of when they employ violence as the instrument to make a difference in the lives of a people.”

While Sherman is right to sound the emergency alarm about what could happen if nothing is done to ease unemployment and suffering in Liberia, he is dead wrong by referring to Liberians who bravely demand genuine change as “unscrupulous people” who will “employ violence” to get the national government’s attention.

Are people unscrupulous when they demand jobs, better standard of living, better and affordable healthcare and education and a clean environment? Are these Liberians unscrupulous when they demand an end to rampant corruption, which seemed to have gotten Mr. Sherman’s attention when he recommended “both you and Members of the Legislature to re-consider the actions you have recently taken in this regard and pass the necessary law to enable us to more vigorously fight corruption in our country?”

Varney Sherman cannot have it both ways. And how can he advocate passing the necessary laws “to fight corruption in our country,” but yet acknowledged in a judgmental and profoundly disheartening way that “some of the accusations of corruption have no basis,” which is hardly the way a national political leader with an open mind about ending corruption, help fight corruption.

Varney Sherman’s “tomorrow is not an option” resonates with some Liberians who applauds his boldness in tackling head-on some of the chronic problems facing their country. These individuals applaud his speech so much that they vowed to vote for him if he were to run for president in 2017.

It is important to note that the entire speech is not a flawed piece of work, but partly judgmental and contradictory, and panders to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as if the day was about her and not the nation.

While it is true that Sherman’s stand on eradicating corruption is unclear, he spoke favorably of the TRC report, (which Madame Sirleaf trashed) but wants to “seriously pursue implementation of the legally and constitutionally implementable recommendations of the TRC.”

On decentralization, I am not too clear about his take on the issue; but would like to study his recommendations before seriously commenting on them. Sherman however, gave credit to Madame Sirleaf for the archaic and corruption-plagued county development fund program, “which no government before you even thought about.”

Mr. Sherman suggests the beginning of a “Once-a-Liberian-Always-a-Liberian” policy, so that “every Liberian citizen, wherever he may be or whatever his circumstances might be, can feel a part of and be a stakeholder of Liberia.”

Mr. Sherman did not call on Liberians to engage in volunteerism (to do volunteer work) on Independence Day by helping others, by cleaning beaches and streets in and around Liberia, and attending to the sick, handicapped and elderly at various homes, hospitals and clinics. Sherman discussed economic development but did not elaborate any further in addressing concrete strategies for providing assistance to other deprived areas of the country.

As usual, the speech was all politics on another Independence Day.







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