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Is Decentralization Timely for Liberians?

After 15 years of civil wars in Liberia, it is an opened secret that bad governance and misappropriation of public money since July 26, 1847 to 1989 led to the brutal wars in Liberia. But analysts of conflicts have warned that the peace Liberians enjoy today was hard-earned and should be strongly protected by all Liberians. According to many conflict experts, the years of civil crisis showed symptoms as far back in the 1800s till 1985. Some of the symptoms included the long time discrimination that existed between the free slaves from America, the Congos (slaves left along the Congo River) and the indigenous people of the soil, the 1979 Rice Riot, the 1980 coup d’état, and the mixed feelings from the 1985 General Elections fall among some of the symptoms that burst opened into crisis in 1989 December, in Nimba County. To mitigate some of the problems that led to the 15 years of civil conflict, Liberia is working with her international partners to decentralization some central powers to the local government in each political subdivision. Since July 26, 1847, the governance of the nation has been heavily centralized and style of governance has almost appeared like Autocracy.

Lango Lippaye Multipurpose building, Social Development Fund of Margibi County

Margibi county

In support of the new plan for Liberia governance, more policy documents including the Decentralization Policy, the Public Financial Management Act of 2009, the Poverty Reduction Strategy, and the Vision 2030 among others have been developed. Notwithstanding, various professional experts have however continued to warn that if the executors of these fine policies are not properly trained and careful, it may further exacerbate Liberia problems in the future. They have emphasized on trainings and proper information dissemination in all means possible.

At head of the decentralization, the government has embarked on testing the ability of local county officials. Each county do receive two hundred thousand United States dollars as County Development Funds (CDF). In addition, counties like Margibi and Nimba also benefit from Social Development Funds (SDF) provided by companies operating in these counties. For instance, Margibi County has companies like Firestone- Liberia, Salala Rubber Corporation and China Union that contribute to her Social Development Funds over a million United States dollars per fiscal year.

Social Development Funds Project -20 bed room Guest House in Margibi County

Social Development Fund Project

Despite of these relative efforts applied by central government to decentralize some of its functions to local administrations, there are often outcries from citizens about misappropriation of development funds in all of the 15 counties of Liberia. Citizens often alarmed and alleged that county officials overstate the monetary values of projects but still yet failed to complete most of the projects or complete them unsatisfactorily. On the defensive sides, county officials have repeatedly denied the allegations. However, though audits have been conducted to verify most of these claims and counterclaims, findings of audits have many times been bury under the carpet according to citizens’ views on national and local radio stations.

In view of these conditions, decentralization experts and analysts have warned if Liberians should be successful in handling decentralization efforts to manage the major resources (human, financial, and material) must not be over look. They stressed that manpower development is cardinal to every nation development. If the citizens are not well developed educationally in every professional job to handle critical issues at the county level, they warn that decentralization may lead to more problems judging from the current symptoms.

Though critics of government have often said that decentralization is not timely for Liberians under the Leadership of the Unity Party led government, some Liberians do think considerable efforts have been applied to take the government to the people. In addition to County Development Funds and Social Development Funds, President Sirleaf’s leadership has often encouraged citizens to join her teams. For examples, she has always taken every year Independence Day celebration to most part of the country. Each celebration is marked with major developmental activities in the host counties. Major roads are often reconditioned, electricity and water provided for the citizens. These developments are intended to serve the people after the Independence Day celebration. But sustainability and maintenance becomes a major challenge for the counties. Unfortunately, some of the very citizens have even helped to destroy what is left behind. Margibi, Nimba, Lofa, and Bong Counties are victims of such uncivilized actions. Electrical wires used by the Liberia Electricity Corporation (LEC) to electrify these cities were all stolen by criminals. Notwithstanding, Liberians can still do better to champion their decentralization drive. What I believe is more urgent now is human capital development. A well developed mind brings innovation and innovation brings competition and competition move people to continually think of new ways of doing things better than the others. So, counties will be competing to do the best for their citizens when the decentralization finally becomes a reality.

Front view of Women Resource Center in Margibi County

Women Resource Center