Decade Failure: Report Card for Ellen’s First 10 Years in Office

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This January President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is expected to observe her 10th anniversary as leader of Africa’s oldest independent republic. She was elected in 2005 following the end of the country’s brutal bush war.

She and her ruling Unity Party entered the national political landscape with a popular platform vouching for economic and social reform, as well as a promise to fight corruption without compromises.

But with nearly 10 years in control of state governance, the nation can only reflect and point to a wasted decade that yielded a palpable economic development governance failure.democratad

Liberia has one of the poorest infrastructure in the world
Liberia has one of the poorest infrastructure in the world

The President failed on her promise to transform the country. Corruption, which she promised to tackle ferociously, has become a lost war, defeating her government and overwhelming the entire country. People in Liberia are facing hash economic conditions with more than 70 percent of the population reeling below the poverty belt. Health and security situations in the country remain a major problem. Hospitals are poorly equipped, makeshift and lacking adequate supply of trained doctors and nurses. Treatment possibilities are slim at public health facilities necessitating referral of major cases to Accra or Lagos, of course, by persons with the financial wherewithal.

The Ebola Virus Disease that affected more than 10,000 Liberians killing 4,500 exposed the precarious national health infrastructure, a resultant government failure. Ebola erupted in Liberia with 51 doctors and approximately 5,000 healthcare workers.

However, the willingness by Liberians to adhere to preventive measures and international funding served as effective factors that defeated the pandemic.
Progress toward reducing maternal mortality (MDG 5) was minimal. The maternal mortality rate in 2007 was 994 per 100 000 births, an increase over 2000 when it was 578, and far from the 2015 target of 145. The MDG health related target for reduction of under five maternal mortality is 75%. Liberia by 2015 achieved 47%. The proportion of births attended by skilled health personnel declined from 51% in 2000 to 46% in 2007, and by 2015 it climbed to 61% but still below the 2015 target of 97% . The World Health Organization ranks Liberia’s health care system at 186 amongst 190 countries. Liberia is experiencing its worst economic crisis in decades and its septuagenarian leader often come under public criticism for doing little to rebuild the country and revive the economy. For more than a year the domestic economy has been in recession with no clear sign of recovery. Unemployment for successive years remains high. Though officials claim over US$10 billion has been injected via direct foreign investment with US$4 billion of that amount generated, the economy has not experienced appreciable stimulation.

A Moore Stephens audit of 68 concessions showed that only two were legal and regular. The private sector of the economy is virtually weak due to bureaucratic bottlenecks and the patronage nature of the overall economy that projects a gloomy politico economic climate.

The Central Bank of Liberia reports that real GDP growth of the Liberian economy was estimated at 0.7% at end 2014 down from 8.7% in the previous year and that for 2015 real GDP is estimated at 0.9%. Any responsible government facing these tough domestic issues will devote more time designing policies and programs that will lead to its mitigation and subsequent transformation of the lives of its citizens from bad to better.

But the most public officials are accused of being preoccupied with how to amass ill-gotten wealth, political aggrandizement and prepare for new life beyond the President Sirleaf’s political lifespan, come December 2017.

First elected in 2005 following the exit of dictator and now convicted warlord Charles Taylor, Johnson-Sirleaf was re-elected in 2011 under the constitution that forbids a third term. Now the succession ambition is fluid in the governing Unity Party (UP) where scores of party members scramble for the succession crown. House Speaker Alex Tyler has quitted the UP and organized the Liberia People Democratic Party to contest the 2017 polls.

But 10 years on the main focus now is the performance rating and legacy of Johnson-Sirleaf, a politician whose relative advantage in the 2005 presidential election was the celebrated perception regarding her ability to fight corruption and rebuild public institutions. This was based on decades fighting for social justice and equality in Liberia, in reflection against her academic credentials as an Ivy Leaguer as well as working experience at the World Bank and the United Nations bodies.

Her impressive resume wooed voters, defeating the retired football legend George Weah and other respected politicians including Cllr. Charles Walker Brumskine, and UN diplomat Winston Tubman (2011).

Almost all Liberians are agreed on corruption being the root cause of their brutal civil war and underdevelopment, thus someone with the credential of fighting the menace was highly sought since a decline in graft would lead to an increase in revenue to address pressing development needs including provision of basic social services. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf recognized the devastating impact of corruption on Liberia and so she made it the most singular issue during her first inauguration in 2006, receiving wide applauses locally and international.

She said: “Fellow Liberians, we know that if we are to achieve our economic and income distribution goals, we must take on forcibly and effectively the debilitating cancer of corruption. Corruption erodes faith in government because of the mismanagement and misapplication of public resources. It weakens accountability, transparency and justice. Corruption shortchanges and undermines key decision and policy-making processes. It stifles private investments, which create jobs, and assures support from our partners. Corruption is a national cancer that creates hostility, distrust, and anger.”

“Throughout the campaign, I assured our people that, if elected, we would wage war against corruption regardless of where it exists, or by whom it is practiced. Today, I renew this pledge. Corruption, under my Administration, will be the major public enemy. We will confront it. We will fight it. Any member of my Administration who sees this affirmation as mere posturing, or yet another attempt by yet another Liberian leader to play to the gallery on this grave issue should think twice. In this respect, I will lead by example. I will expect and demand that everyone serving in my Administration leads by example”

With this pronouncement it was easy for journalists, like those with this paper to measure and grade the President’s performance in office.

Yet in the face of growing scandals in her government, the President has not flexed enough political mussle, demonstrating helplessness. In the face of economic difficulties she has failed to inspire. In summary, the government’s domestic performance has been zero. Its economy is in complete mess while health, education and other sectors measure in a similar state.

Meantime, the ruling establishment, oligarchs and multinational companies are those profiting from this sicken economy. Its governance interventions like the General Auditing Commission and the Liberia Anti Corruption Commission lack independence and are proven to be toothless and a burden on taxpayers. Its national security is still in the hands of foreigners and the strength of its national army falls below 2,000.

The regime has a stuttering form in foreign relations, which it has long, prided as its top achievement. This is mainly due to souring relations with its neighbor—Cote d’Ivoire, which has been accusing Liberia of hosting, rebels against them.

But Liberia under a nascent democracy has refused to open old wounds about how President Felix Houphouet Boigny assisted Taylor’s rebel NPFL multiple passage with arms and ammunition as well as heavy weaponry to invade Liberia in the 1990s. To no avail, Liberia then advised authorities in Abidjan to assist to quench rather fan fires burning a neighbour’s house.

The President’s international prestige has been fading, too with her Mano River Union colleagues isolating her on key global security issues like the war against Islamic jhadists and terrorists. Guinea, Sierra Leone and Cote d’Ivoire have joined the military fight against the Islamic State fundamentalist now waging terror in the world including Africa. Liberians continue to travel to Accra and Abidjan to obtain entry visas for non-African countries.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has fallen behind Joyce Banda (2013) and Nigeria’s Ngoz1 Okonjo- Iweala in international perception, including Forbes’ Magazine most powerful women in the world. Yet her administration has maintained good international image and unprecedented support.

Analyzing and rating the President and her administration’s first decade in office, The New Democrat has taken a different approach. Instead of focusing on individual performances, which could be arguably limited by budgetary constraints and casting blaming on each other, as some in Government often blame their failure on the lack of funding provided by the Ministry of Finance, The New Democrat has focused its grading on a cluster of issues. These are the issues that have undermined the wellbeing of the Liberian nation for more than 168 years. All of these issues clearly point to overall failure in presidential leadership in tackling these issues for which she was elected. The New Democrat dubbed this as the decade failure.

As the grading shows, President Sirleaf and her administration have focused mainly on international matters to boost the personal standing of the President, collecting awards in foreign countries including a newspaper award in the Federal Republic of Nigeria, doing little to improving the domestic affairs of the country and relying on the goodwill of donors and foreign concession companies to take on the domestic responsibilities of programming and financing domestic issues such as healthcare, education, and the economy.

The current Minister of Finance announced in 2013 that his hope for economic revitalization was on the “good heart” of concession companies to create jobs for Liberia, without any tangible internal domestic economic policy to improve the standards of living of Liberians. But outgoing US envoy Deborah Malac described it as an outdated approach to modern economic development. Truly, the jobs have not been created but the multinational companies have been a workforce en masse.

Thus The New Democrat rates the Sirleaf administration in 2015 after nearly a decade in office on the scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the best and 1 being the worst:

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s Year End Report Card for 2015 After Decade in Office

National Issue Score Grade Justification
Corruption 1 F- Corruption is on the rise in the Government. Accountability institutions are weak. In Sirleaf and her government have admitted a total failure to fight corruption, declaring in 2015 that it has become a vampire although she said it was “Public Enemy Number One” and there would be “Zero Tolerance” in 2005”

 

Transparency International on 1 December 2015 released its report on corruption in Africa with Liberia leading the bribery table. Eighty one percent Liberians believe their government is doing badly to fight corruption according to the corruption perception survey.

 

Bribery affects more than one-in-five Africans, and disproportionally affects the poor in urban areas. The report said 22 per cent of people that have come into contact with a public service in the past 12 months in Sub-Saharan Africa have paid a bribe, but the situation is worst in Liberia where nearly seven-in-ten paid a bribe.

 

In December 2013 – Declaring corruption “public enemy number one” in developing countries, World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim said. “We will never tolerate corruption, and I pledge to do all in our power to build upon our strong fight against it.” Kim described the pernicious effects corruption can have in developing countries. “Every dollar that a corrupt official or a corrupt business person puts in their pocket is a dollar stolen from a pregnant woman who needs health care; or from a girl or a boy who deserves an education; or from communities that need water, roads, and schools. Every dollar is critical if we are to reach our goals to end extreme poverty by 2030 and to boost shared prosperity.” Liberia’s poverty is derived from rampant corruption in this and previous government, as articulated by President Sirleaf and WB President Kim. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has failed miserably on this all-important national issue. The US Foreign Policy Magazine blamed the unprecedented spread of the Ebola Virus Disease that affected 10,000 Liberians and killed 4,500 to official corruption in Liberia. So, 10 years on Johnson-Sirleaf’s promised to fight corruption that has retarded economic development was remains undeliverable agenda and a war lost.

 

Education 1 F- Entire education is in a mess. The President has admitted to this. Not a single university in the country is ranked internationally. Liberia’s education remains in a ruin despite the intervention of donor agencies and the international community.

 

The President has said that university graduates in the country have eighth grade student brain while the state owned University of Liberia has been controversially claiming high school graduates are unable to pass its entrance examination with close to 30,000 failing in one of its test. Education Minister George Warner told Senators he has a 20 year master plan to revamp the sector, using the South African school model in which lesser students would be allowed in class rooms and where ‘quark teachers’ would be replaced with qualified foreign teachers. Whatever that is, the actual reality clear is the administration’s admittance that the education sector will be better in 20 years when it is out of office.

Health 2 F Health sector is in a critical poor state. Public hospitals and medical centers are poorly equipped. People are still dying from curable disease. Officials of Government are still leaving the country to seek better medical treatment in foreign countries. The World Health Organization ranks the country 186 out of 190 countries.

 

Liberia has 5,000 full-time or part-time health workers and 51 Liberian doctors to cater to a population of 4.5 million,   This is equivalent to about 76,000 civilians being attended to by 1 doctor

A study by the American Medical Association (AMA) in 2008 had showed that a staggering 40% of adults had shown symptoms of major depressive disorders. 44% of adults also had symptoms of PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder.[10]

45% of Liberian children suffer from varying forms of malnutrition. A nutrition adviser from UNICEF told IRIN that malnutrition results in learning deficiencies, which will affect the economy in the future

Agriculture 1 F- Liberia, Like other Sub Saharan countries runs an agrarian economy with agriculture constituting 30 to 40 percent of GDP, yet the problem of food insecurity persists with approximately 90 percent of its staple food[rice] being imported. The situation remains unchanged under the current administration thus prompting Vice President Joseph Boakai to promise improvement when elected President in 2017. “Farmers will own their own land and crops; and they will be able to sell it at fair market price,” he said.

The Johnson-Sirleaf administration in December 2008 adopted the Food and Agriculture Policy and Strategy (FAPS) with the goal of attaining a “revitalized and modernized agricultural sector that can contribute to inclusive and sustainable economic growth and development”.

 

Specific targets achieving: (i) Food security; (ii) Enhanced, inclusive and pro-poor growth in agricultural production, productivity, competitiveness, value addition and diversification, and linkages to markets, and (iii) Enhancing effective and efficient human and institutional capacities of stakeholders (public sector, private sector, civil society organizations, especially grassroots community based organizations) to undertake planning and delivery of services.

 

With this, the African Development Bank and other international donors would present the Agriculture Sector Rehabilitation Project, providing approximately US$18million to finance agriculture activities in 30 districts located in Liberia’s Western and Southeastern counties.

 

Dr. Moses Zinnah, the current Agriculture Minister is the man who was in charge of the Agriculture rehabilitation project at the Ministry until his recent appointment by the President. The FAO report which points to serious insecurity seems a validation of his work.

The Food and Agriculture Organization reports that a 2015 comprehensive food assessment result shows food insecurity affects about 640,000 people in the country. The report further indicates that of the 640,000; fifty-two thousand (52,000) Liberians are “severely food insecure”.

The Japanese provided US$1.4million back in 2014 and the Ministry of agriculture promised to construct five modern rice storage facilities in heavily produced regions in the country. The status of that project to date remains unclear with the Liberian presidency reporting that its implementation has been slow and marred with financial mismanagement.

Infrastructure 1 F Electricity and road reconstruction are two critical pillars of the government’s medium term development agenda, the Agenda for Transformation- a strategy design to drive long term inclusive economic growth and development. Notable achievement so far has been the Buchannan road and the yet to be completed Monrovia Ganta Highway.

 

Forbes Magazine reports in 2015 that Despite economic growth under Sirleaf, it became clear that Liberia, one of the world’s most impoverished nations, still has work ahead to modernize its infrastructure

Over 52 road and bridge projects, which the Liberian   government and the World Bank have spent more than US$517 million on for three years are incomplete, poorly constructed and do not demonstrate value for money, the General Auditing Commission said in its special procurement audit report released this year.

Liberia has one of the worst road networks in sub Saharan Africa, with the situation hindering agriculture and other economic activities. Only seven percent of its 66,000 miles of roads is paved, suggesting the need for more public spending to address the problem. Electricity is still lacking in more than 90 percent of the country despite international and domestic efforts to revamp the sector.

Economy 2 F Real GDP (0.9%) High unemployment (85%), Inflation (7.5%), declining foreign reserve (3.4%). The Central Bank Governor and the Minister of Finance have admitted that the economy is still heavily import dependent as it was in the past and low overall product output to support the dollarization of the economy.

 

The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) 2015 Human Development R report puts the poverty rate in Liberia to 81.86% with vulnerable employment population ration stands at 72% while 94.4% of the country’s workforce  is considered ‘working poor’ as they live on less than $USD 2.00 a day.

 

Governance 1 F- Governance Institutions like the General Auditing Commission and the Liberia Anti Corruption Commission lack independence and are proven to be toothless and burden on taxpayers. System and controls in Government is also lacking, giving way to unhindered corruption and other forms of financial malpractices. Governance Commission has focused mainly on theoretical propositions, rather than practical restructuring of the structure and institutional governance in a more practical and sustainable way.

 

Governance reforms have been crumbling include those on the forest, and civil service. From 2005 to present, there has been two (Land Reform Act, Community Rights Laws) separate laws governing the forest sector with no success. The Third Community Rights law is being debated.

Although President Sirleaf was a lead figure in the creation of several transparency entities in the country, but in her presence these anti corruption institutions in the country are showing fading signs.

 

They were established to serve as corruption watchdogs statutorily obligated to prevent, investigate and apprehend fraud but appear passive with respect to   mandates.

 

For instance, the Liberia Anti Corruption Commission is empowered to investigate all corruption related matters in the country either real or based on suspicion and to design systems to track fraud and prosecute perpetrators.

The same is with the General Auditing Commission, which has the legal right to audit all government’s entities and financial transactions.

Also, there is something called the Internal Audit Agency (IAA). This agency is an autonomous government body responsible for internal audit functions within the public sector. Its mission is to help government accomplish its objectives by bringing a systematic, and disciplined approach to evaluate and improve the effectiveness of risk management, internal controls, and governance processes.

Auditors from this agency focus on 10 key areas including, human resource management, bank reconciliations, procurement controls, asset management systems, accounting and budgetary control systems, pre-audit of disbursements, prior audit recommendations, time processing efficiency, deliverables validation, and revenue management system.

Despite the existence of these public institutions that are notables offshoots of post conflict public finance and governance reform programs, NOCAL crumbled into financial mismanagement undetected. And even after the mess had occurred, they have demonstrated no known willingness to probe into possible financial wrongdoing and economic crimes. On the other hand the Central Bank of Liberia has been resisting audit and no action has been taken to compel its compliance.

If measures are not instituted to address the troubling state of reforms and governance in the country, the next administration, comes 2018 will start from ground zero, illustrating waste of donors’ and national funding.

Reconciliation 1 F The country still remains divided on ethnic and political lines after 10 years of war. The President has not reconciled with her political enemies. The European Union, United States and the Chairman of the Unity Party all saying that unless the vices of the past are ended, Liberia will remain unrecognized. Rampant corruption, increasing impunity, growing economic marginalization and exclusion, threats and intimidation of the media that reports on corruption and nepotism, etc. have remained permanent fixtures in the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf administration. The Economist reported that although peace has been maintained for 10 years, “tension and resentment are rising” because of corruption and economic exclusion. Poverty is rising because of corruption and mismanagement and it is hard to recognize a people and nation who are intentionally impoverished by the corrupt practices of the regime.

 

The United Nation   Secretary General in his 29th progress report [2015] said “There has been little progress on the National Reconciliation Roadmap and in the implementation of related projects supported by the Peace building Fund since my last report.”

The Reconciliation Roadmap except the launched of the symbolic palaver Hut dispute resolution mechanism, it merely remains on paper. Nobel Laurent Laymah Gbowee, first appointed to lead the program, stepped down charging the President with continuously practicing vices that caused the war such as corruption and nepotism. football icon and now Senator George Weah, also quitted the role.

In June 2012, the International Crisis Group indicated that the country was “still a paralyzed nation filled with corruption, Nepotism and impunity” and that dishevelled security sector; youth unemployment; and gaps and inconsistencies in the electoral law” were potential sources of violence in the country.

In 2013, a US sponsored report said “Only a small fraction of Liberia’s relatively small population of 3.7 million operates in the formal political, governance, and economic sphere. As a result, kinship ties among those elites are strong, and everyone knows one another and their personal and business affairs. There is a cultural trend toward hiring people that you know well and not creating a stir when a family member, friend, colleague, or even an acquaintance does something that is clearly wrong or illegal. Likewise, many interviewees told the LGSS Team that the trend in Liberia is to “live and let live”.

 

The President appointed a “Peace Ambassador” but Liberians have characterized the appoint as yet another cosmetic move. This first “Peace Ambassador,” Nobel Laureate Layman Gbowee resigned accusing the Sirleaf administration of being unserious and perpetuating corruption, nepotism and economic elitism. The $5 million budgeted for Reconciliation in the 2012/2013 budget was spent without any activities on reconciliation and it has not been accounted for by the Government.

Foreign Relations 7 B The regime has a stuttering form in foreign relations which it has long pride as its top achievement. This is mainly due to souring relation with its neighbor – Ivory Coast that has been accusing it of supporting rebel against it.

 

The President’s international prestige has been fading, too with her Mano River Union colleagues isolating her on key global Security issues like the war against Islamic jhadist and terrorists. Guniea, Sierra Leone and the IVORY Coast have joined the military fight against the Islamic State fundamentalist that area waging terror in the world including Africa. Liberians continue to travel to other Africa countries like Ghana and the Ivory Coast to obtain traveling visa for non African countries.

 

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has fallen behind Joyce Bainda (2013) and Nigeria’s Ngoz1 Okonjo- Iweala in international perception, including Forbes’ Magazine most powerful women in the world. The President has fallen from Number 70 in 2014 to Number 96 in 2015 Compared to Okonjo- Iweala who sits at Number 48.

National Security 2 F Its national security is still in the hands of foreigners and the strength of its national army falls below 2,000. In 2013, Foreign Policy Magazine showed Liberia as yet again in the Danger Zoom of a failed state. Liberia and North Korea are ranked as failed state, both earning 95.1 and 23 place out of 178 countries.

 

The Director of Police and the Minister of Defense have all shown a distaste for the President handling of legal and corruption issues as contained in the infamous Airport saga,- leaks. On top of this There exists a bitter infighting amongst the Executive Protection Service, the Ministry of National Defense and the National Police of Liberia, and the Ministry of Justice for power and money.

 

UNMIL has remained in Liberia longer than it did in Sierra Leone. In Sierra Leone, United Nations Peace keeping ended right after the second election of President Tejan Kabah. In Liberia, because of how badly managed the national security situation is, UNMIL is expected to remain in Liberia throughout the second term of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.