Civil Society Takes Issue With Ellen

By Janjay F. Campbell

National Civil Society Council of Liberia Chairperson, Frances Greaves, has disclosed that transparency in governance is an essential building block in any open society and should be a cornerstone of all organizations, including the ones in civil society, in Liberia.

Reacting to President Ellen Johnson’s annual message on Wednesday at a press conference in Monrovia, Madam Greaves said, “Teachers and health workers, who form the bedrock of our development are still being dealt as lip service with regards to commiserate remunerations and benefits.”

She mentioned that this is sad and disappointing and that Civil Society Organizations believe that development should not be seen purely as an expansion of GDP, but also as a tangible reduction in poverty and that robust governance should ensure quality investment that helps communities gain an improved standard of living.

“We do agree that corruption remains endemic in Liberia and is pervasive in most sectors and generally welcome your government’s efforts to introduce anti- corruption instruments. However we must reiterate the vital role civil society plays in tackling corruption,” Madam Greaves said.

She noted that the role entails being the bug that bites when you least expect and at times get us branded as agent provocateurs rather than partners in development, who must continuously provide the government with another version or assessment of its activities. “Corruption is the obstacle we must fight in the realization of economic freedom and national sovereignty. This is a challenge all Liberians must fight together,“she stated.

“Across this poor post-war nation, the benefits of our natural wealth should improve the lives of our citizens. Despite the improvement of statistical economic data on GDP, Liberia still languishes at the bottom of most if not all economic development and governance indices in the world,” Madam Greaves said.

“Madam President, Liberian history is replete with the governance lessons of the last five decades. Those lessons have shown that economic mismanagement, corruption ‘and the unequal distribution of benefits from resource exploitation still remains as one of the biggest challenges to our peace. Therefore, supporting natural resources played a central role in sparking and prolonging our bloody civil sector is essential for sustainable development,” she noted.

“Madam President, your government has positioned agriculture, mining and forestry as key sectors for economic development. Such, the failure of the forestry sector is tantamount to a failure of governance, this was most evident in as the Private Use Permit (PUP) scandal, a process in which civil society was integral in uncovering,” Madam Greaves stated.

She further said that weak implementation of legal requirements in relation to concessions as uncovered in LEITI’s post award process audit shows that significant challenges remain in the enforcement of legal and regulatory frameworks.

“From that report, Liberians and the world are aware that close to 90% of concessions awarded under your authority were not fully compliant with the laws of the land. Civil society has been working to support and strengthen these processes, “she added.

“Let us underscore that we are a valuable partner of the government for the implementation of oversight and enforcement in these sectors to the benefit, not detriment, of pro-poor Liberian development and owing to these issues, it is with grave concern and disappointment that we note your reference to ‘unreasonable community demands’ and accusations of communities’ harassment and extortion of investors,” Madam Greaves intimated.

“Lest we forget, communities are the real owners of these resources and must be involved in determining their own development path. And so, they must benefit from investor activities which utilize their land and resources, “she maintained.

According to her, instead of dismissing and ignoring these morally valid claims, the government should be working to formalize, refine and entrench law/polices of land title and tenure with particular attention to customary rights because without these efforts and as long as mismanagement, corruption, collusion and incompetence permeate the concessioning process, there are bound to be community grievances and divisions which must not and cannot be casually dismissed as unreasonable.

“Madam President, Liberia civil society supports good governance, transparency and accountability, and will work to empower citizens to participate in the democratic process. We share your belief that more accountability and reforms will help to achieve the common good for our people. See us as partners, not ‘super-national’ entities and let us work to achieve this together, “Madam Greaves noted.