By Atty Philip N. Wesseh (PNW)
It is normal that at the end of each year, people take stock of their activities of that passing year to determine whether or not the goal they set at the beginning of the year was accomplished, or what they had hoped to see coming to fruition actually became a reality. During the course of the passing year-2013- it was my wish that one of the major projects earmarked by this government, along with its
Chinese counterparts, the Administrative Complex, that is intended to host many government offices, would have started and be finished on time. In addition, I had also thought that the former Chief Justice, Johnnie Lewis, would have been honored for his contributions in the country’s judicial reforms program.
As for the Administrative Complex, my desire to see this become a reality is drawn against the background of what I saw the Chinese did in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, with the new African Union Headquarters, when I accompanied President Sirleaf few years ago to the dedicatory ceremony in that country. Also, I had the opportunity recently to see the newly constructed Foreign Ministry of the Republic of Ghana, which was built by the Chinese.
According to information, the Administrative Complex if completed in Liberia would be the second largest of such structure, as the one of the Ethiopian capital. Regrettably, to get this project started in Liberia has been faced with unnecessary bottlenecks, principally, on the spot on which the complex should be constructed.
It is an open secret that initially, when the project was announced, it was said that it would be built around the ELWA compound, since the area was not being used. This sparked off controversy, as there was opposition from church leaders for such a construction to use part of the area for the construction. During that time, some politicians became “bishops,” thus joining the fray opposing the construction on the site. Unsurprisingly, because of the mixed reactions and “noise” over the use of the ELWA land for the project, the government abandoned its plan to use the spot for the Administrative Complex. Again, it was reported that the government might use the Buzzi Quarters, which is not too far from the Executive Mansion for this project. Like in the case of the ELWA land, controversy emerged over that decision.
As uncertainty grew in the public as to the next course of action by the government in locating a new uncontroversial spot for this project, it was reported that the government has now resolved to use its own facility, the “new Defense Ministry” in Congo Town for the project. Again, it met up with resistance over this by some residents, in the proximity of the building who feared that this might affect, as there might be extension which would definitely affect their structures. Besides the residents, others joined in the argument that this would be a waste of resources to demolish such structure to replace it with the Administrative Building after millions of dollars had been spent during the late Samuel K. Doe’s regime, to reach the building thus far.
In all fairness, I take interest in this project, not because I have seen what the Chinese have done in Ethiopia and Ghana relative to similar infrastructures, but because of its enormous benefits to this country. In the first place, it would help alleviate some of the financial burdens of government in paying rent for the use of rented buildings; the second is that during the construction of this building, it would provide job opportunities, whether on a casual or permanent basis to many Liberians, and that considering the dependency ratio, this would trickle down to many others. Thirdly, it would also be a boost to local businesses.
I consider the delay in the beginning of this project that the Chinese are “ready’ to begin, as a complete disappointment last year because it is about three years since this idea was conceived. What is more nauseating is that someone (the Chinese government) is in readiness to help us, and we are yet to fulfill outside of the bargaining. The situation can be likened to a scenario in which someone is willing to help you build a gigantic house and only ask you to only provide a land to undertake the project, and you egregiously failed to do so. In the case of this government that has the power to invoke, “eminent domain,” which is rarely known as ‘compulsory purchase, is a doctrine in law, according to the Black’s Law Dictionary that defines it as, “the inherent power of a governmental entry to take privately-owned property, especially land, and convert it to public use, subject to reasonable compensation for the taking.” Let us assume that there is no vacant land available, something I know is not possible, this government can exercise this right and fulfill the two major conditions which are “public use,” in the interest of the general public and “reasonable compensation” which requires payment to the legitimate owners of the land that would be taken away. And so, I see no reason for delay in this project because of controversy over land. For me, this should be the simplest matter in this whole project.
Let me say that I am not in the mind of the Chinese government or know the present thinking of the Chinese over this delay; I am afraid that the more the delay, the likelihood that we might miss this great opportunity. Therefore, it behooves this government, which has made some strives, to act immediately for this project that would be of enormous benefit to the country and its people.
My next disappointment during the course of the year is that the former Chief Justice Johnnie Lewis was not appropriately honored after retiring from the Supreme Court Bench due to poor health. I had thought that based on the contributions made to the judicial reforms process, such an individual would have received his flowers shortly upon his retirement.
As someone who did “Development Communication,” which is people-centered, I believe that it is always good to recognize people for their contributions to the society while they are alive, so that others would be motivated to work for the society, bearing in mind that one day when such person shall have left the stage, such person would be recognized and honored.
It is rather unfortunate that this continues to be one of the problems in our society. We always wait when people are dead before eulogizing them for their contributions to the society. Had that been in the case of the former Chief Justice, we would have rained praises on him, but now that he is alive, we have failed, as a government, fraternal group and association to “give him his flowers while he is alive.” Some may even demand playing a predominant role during the funeral and also perform rituals. My question is what can’t it be now?
As human beings, we all have our shortcomings. He, too, may have had his shortcomings, on the aggregate, as the economists would say he did make his marks while serving in that position. Today, there are visible pieces of evidence of his contributions to the Judiciary. As such, he should have been honored upon his resignation. Even though the former Chief Justice and I had some rocky times, I still respect him for his steadfastness in the judicial reform program.
How-be-it, as it is always said, better late than never; therefore, such an honoring program can still take place and that the government can remove any bottlenecks for the Chinese to begin the Administrative Complex project.
As we enter the New Year, I am happy that I have gotten these two things that have been boiling in me. But I hope this will not be business as usual. I Rest My Case.