De-concentration Of Services To The People:A Laudable Initiative, But…

By Atty Philip N. Wesseh (PNW)

In his remarks at the just launched De-concentration Platform by President Sirleaf, in Gbarnga, Bong County, last Wednesday, the African Union (AU) Ambassador , H. OluwatoyinSolaja, to Liberia correctly described the launch of the platform as “laudable” in that it brings the essence of democracy…” and that it is useful in “conflict prevention and conflict resolution.”

Yes, indeed, the AU Ambassador was right in his description or impression of the launch as it is necessary in a democratic setting, especially as it relates to the objective of such a program, which is principally to bring services closer to the people, who painstakingly have to travel to Monrovia to get services.

The de-concentration program, is said to be the prelude to the National decentralization program, which was approved by the Cabinet in September 2011 and launched January 5, 2012 by the President and is a framework document that defines government’s vision for a new Liberia that responds to the needs of its people by being more inclusive in governance, service-oriented and economically participatory. It is geared to achieving four major goals- participation, diversity, efficiency and conflict resolution.

Additionally, decentralization is the transfer of power, authority and services from a centralized governing system to a lower-level administrative structure for the purpose of bringing services closer to the people. Its three components are political decentralization, which is the transfer of political authority to sub-national level; administrative decentralization which is the transfer of administrative functions from a centralized governance system to the sub-national level and, lastly fiscal decentralization, which would grant fiscal authority to local government structure so that fiscal decision-making does not necessarily have to be controlled from the central level of government.

At the launch of the de-concentration platform in Gbarnga, all of the speakers, including President Sirleaf who launched it, outlined the importance of this program in the governance system of the country. In a nutshell, the President said it is all about making services accessible to the people, and making sure that the people are “active participants” in the delivering of services.

The President said this concept is not new, as it was initiated by previous administrations and that her administration has learnt lessons from the past and would ensure that local capacity is adequate and do everything to avoid the “pitfalls” in the past that retarded this program so that her government would be able to respond to national development. The President acknowledged that the de-centralization is a long process that would be done in stages.

Earlier, Internal Affairs Minister, Morris Dukuly , who presented the de-concentration platform to the President, said similar initiative regarding health, education and agriculture were initiated in the past, but observed that they were “fragmented and uncoordinated” for which the desired or intended goals were not achieved. He said people should be trained at the local level to execute these services.

One of the moving remarks that received applause was that which was made by the Representative of the African Development Bank (ADB), Margaret Kilo, when she stressed on the issue of training, as the experts or consultants might leave one day. She noted that programs would also leave to strong governance system and infrastructures such as roads, energy and housing.

Again, as the AU Ambassador said, this launch is a laudable initiative, but what matters is to ensure the full implementation of this program. Many times government launched national programs, like the one done Wednesday in the centrally-located city of Gbarnga, and nothing else is heard about ensuring that they achieved the objective for which they were established.

One of such programs in the past was the “Green Revolution” launched by the late Samuel K. Doe to boost the country’s agricultural program. The program was well received by the Liberian people, as many of them saw it as an important step to make self-reliance in food production, considering the vast and fertile soil the country possesses but disappointingly, the lack of political will undermined its success.

I remembered this because at one point as a reporter of the DAILY OBSERVER in the 80’s I reported how vehicles intended for the Green Revolution program were being misused. That infuriated the then Agriculture Minister, Toweh, who took issue with me and the Managing Director, Mr. Kenneth Y. Best for the story, especially when he and Mr. Best were former schoolmates from the Booker Washington Institute (BWI) in Kakata, as they referred to each other as “Future Farmers.”

Also, as I was reading through the Ministry of Internal Affairs newsletter on the Wednesday’s program, I gathered similar efforts on de-centralization or de-concentration during the Tubman’s era. The paper reported that “in further demonstration of his policy orientation in the direction of inclusiveness, the President encouraged the holding of Executive Council Meetings in the rural parts of the Country. In 1945 President Tubman held Executive Councils in Tchien (Zwedru) from April 3” to 22nd and in Webbo, from April 29 to May 5. Those were just two of the many types of Councils held outside Montserrado County.”

The newsletter also reports that then came President William R. Tolbert with his Mat-to- Mattress Policy, which was to develop Liberia into one body politics where each citizen would have a feel of the dividend of democracy or of having a sense of belonging to the state. Similarly, after the civil war in the 90’s, President Taylor launched what was known as Vision 2024 which also “incorporated much of the elements of delivering the goods of democracy to the citizenry irrespective of where they resided.”

Today, we are again talking about a national program known and styled as “DECONCENTRATION”- all geared to providing and bringing services closer to the people. No one in their sound mind, being fully aware of inefficacy that the centralization of government services in the past would oppose or reject this program.

Noticeably, besides getting the services to the people, this would be of great help to thousands of people in the leeward who have to spend their meager income or resources to come to Monrovia to get certain services performed. To say it the Liberia way, this program would “remove headache from the Liberian people heads.”

The million dollar question is whether or not this issue of de-concentration would be a reality; is the question on the lips of Liberians who had witnessed or participated in similar national events? Howbeit, the ball is now in the court of this government under President Sirleaf, the first female President in Africa. This means that the way and manner in which she and her team would play the ball would determine the result of the day. If they play like in the past, this program will undoubtedly fail, but if they make a difference then, they are bound for success.

In fact, the advantage this team has is that it has learnt from the mistakes or “pitfalls’, as the President alluded to, and so it is believed that it has taken into consideration some of those things that led to those programs not being successful, thereby putting it in a position to avoid the mistakes of the past for success as Minister Dukuly noted that this did not work in the past because they were fragmented and uncoordinated.

Now with this observation, nothing else is expected of this government or administration, than a complete success in the de-concentration of services to the people. It is logical to deduce that this time around, it would not be fragmented and uncoordinated.

At the same time, let it be known that the Governance Commission under Dr. Amos C. Sawyer, who President Sirleaf joyously described as “Architect or Power Point” for the governance reforms program, has put too much time and efforts into this initiative. I have followed with interest and admiration the work the Commission continues to do. Therefore, these efforts should not go down the drain.

Equally, so much has been invested into this program by donors, especially the European Union and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). The UNDP on the day of the launch, presented several vehicles, as part of its continued support to government’s development.

Once more, the de-concentration platform, which is a preclude to the decentralization program of the country, MUST not fail; it must not be business as usual, as it is crucial, while the decentralization package, which may take a longer time, is being discussed; let everything be done to put this de-concentration program into full swing to see the demise of bureaucratic redlips in government services.

For too long government services have been centralized, thus undermining efficient and effective services delivered and also costing government unnecessary funds which could be used for other development purposes.

Let me emphasize that as the nation welcomes this initiative, the ball is in the court of President Sirleaf and her team; the way and manner in which she and her team would play, would definitely determine the kind of result, which is either failure or success. I Rest My case.