For Liberia, Development is in Constitutional Reforms
Evaluating Article 54 D
By: Victor UkatuL
iberia is currently enjoying an uninterrupted era of peace. Civil liberties such as freedom of speech, “elected officials; free, fair, and frequent elections; freedom of expression; alternative sources of information; associational autonomy; and inclusive citizenship” are freely exercised throughout the country. While democratic rights may be freely enjoyed, there are developmental issues currently troubling Liberia. The most frequent question being asked is, what are the factors causing the stagger in growth, and what issues need to be fixed for Liberia to see continued growth in their development? Many would point that the causes of staggering development are a result of corruption, a failing education system, depleting infrastructures, and a lack of access to healthcare and fundamental social safety nets. While these issues are accurate representations of the bigger picture problems to slow development in Liberia, it is imperative to realize that the lack of these fundamental social services are a result of a too powerful centralized government through Article 54 (D) of the constitution which creates a strong centralized government. Article 54 (D) hampers developmental growth by, limiting local communities’ empowerment, their ability to take up development initiatives, and to seek revenues for their development.
Liberia’s road to a strong centralized government started in its foundation. Let us be frank, the constitution was not created for everyone. It marginalized and excluded some Liberians, who were mainly the natives. Arriving to an unknown land made it necessary for the settlers to create a constitution to include provisions which would help keep a stronghold on the newly acquired lands, and unity within the borders of this new formed country. Thus a strong Unitarian government with powers concentrated in the presidency was seen as ideal for Liberia.
Monrovia became the center of everything that was Liberia. It still is today. This created a social divide – giving roots to many conflicts in Liberia, as most development was located in Monrovia.
Building on this foundation of unity and control, Article 54 (d) of the constitution allows the president to appoint the superintendents, other county officials and officials of other political sub-divisions. Counties, cities and towns administrations serve as an outstretched arm of the central government. This causes local citizens to become disenfranchised from their communities and their local leaders. In return their local officials are disenfranchised from them. It creates a culture of non-patriotism and non-nationalism.; a culture of “government property” and them vs. us. Liberia’s sub-administrative government only serves the need of the central government and not local people. Loyalty in the administrative divisions is not to the people but to the presidents who hired them. While centralization may yield short terms results, (Security, Unity etc.) it causes more harm in the long run, as we see with Liberia.
-The need for decentralization
The only way Liberia can achieve full development is through a strong and comprehensive decentralization program. One which does not just bring social institutions and services to local communities, but one which allows citizens to elect their local officials and which sees a full devolution of democratic powers and economic power from the central government to local governments. Article 54 must be dissolved. This would see that Liberia gain more revenue and undertake more development.
- The Ills of Centralization
- Article 54(d) creates a cultural of dependency and limits self-development. Administrative divisions in Liberia have no voice of change, due to the fact that they do not implement their own agenda based on the wishes of the people in their local communities. They lack access to ministers such as those of Public Works, Health, Education and other social ministries, as those ministries are entitled to the president. How can a Superintendent fully function without access to agents to carry out his/her work? How can development come when the constitution allows for such wide divide between state and citizens?
- Furthermore, Liberia’s centralization creates a burden on the state. At current, Liberia’s total budget is a little over 6oo million. 600 million is not enough for building roads, schools, hospitals, providing electricity, and other social enterprises while at the same time paying for goods and services of these social institutions. The central government cannot handle it alone. This act of a strong central government makes development slow and virtually unachievable. The little that the government does achieve is seen as non-existent.
- Decentralization is necessary for growth
- (Reform for growth) After concluding on the ills of centralization one can see why article 54 (d) of the constitution must be amended. This would take away the power of the president to appoint Superintendents and Mayors. Second we must allow these officials to be elected. Thus completing the cycle of a true democracy and fully implementing civil liberties. Each county must be allowed to have a congress and each city a local council. This would allow for citizens to become more active in their communities, hold county administrators more accountable and bring faster and closer resources. Lastly, and more importantly. counties and local cities must have the power to tax. This would ensure that more revenue is collected for more self-initiative development. More schools hospitals and roads can be built. Imagine each county, city and town taxing local and international companies. With the amount of natural resources Liberia has, development would speed up if this reforms is made. At current, it does not matter who come into office, if this reforms is not taken growth will continue to be small. The presidency would remain a powerhouse with rotating officials, and those officials would only serve those close to him/her.
 What Political Institutions Does Large-Scale Democracy Require? Robert A. Dahl, Political Science Quarterly, Summer 2005