Walking The Fine Line - Are “Young” Liberians Ready Or Not?


By: James W. Harris

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
August 4, 2007


I sincerely don’t know about other writers and/or journalists, but for me personally, it is always a high privilege whenever I get feedback from my readers – whether negative or positive. Usually, they come in the form of e-mails dropped into my Inbox by people who were either mad that I had written something critical – albeit constructive – about someone they admire or people who simply want to say thank you.

In other instances, I get feedback from my readers by way of published articles in the various Liberian-run media outlets of the author’s choice. In either case, I find it to be very rewarding to know how others are thinking.

As for the e-mails, I always make it my duty to respond to them for one special reason – they’re warmly personal. I mean, if someone can find the time to not only read my work, but most significantly, to take time off his or her busy schedules just to e-mail me then I see no reason why I shouldn’t find the time too to reciprocate in kind. Again, that’s just me!

When it comes to published reaction in response to one of my pieces, I usually feel reluctant to reply since I believe that readers out there are more than capable in determining whether my work is credible or not. Simply put, I leave it to the best judgment of my readers, except in some cases where I find it compelling to clarify a few key points which may have been deliberately ignored by the responding party.

It is in this spirit that I would like to thank Mr. Isaac Browne, Jr., for taking up some of his precious time to comment on my earlier piece, “Morlu Has ‘No Fish’ to fry in Budget Matters.” [http://www.liberiaitech.com/theperspective/2007/0619200702.html] Isaac, I really appreciate your response like I do all others.

You’re not alone
And to tell you the truth, many other Liberians (even some of my own friends) feel the same way you do - that Morlu did the correct thing to have exposed the many flaws which he had found in the 2007/2008 draft budget submitted to the Liberian (National) Legislature recently by the Johnson Sirleaf administration.

They tell me that they really don’t care if he made his observations about the budget in his official capacity as the Auditor General (AG) or a private citizen. As far as they’re concerned, it doesn’t matter. All they know is that the young man was only taking on the suspect Liberian government boldly.

Honestly, though, I really do respect everyone’s opinion on this seemingly controversial issue or anything that has to do with the Unity Party regime’s governance of the war-wrecked country for that matter...

However, I strongly feel that it is about time that “young” Liberians begin to see things in a radically different light, especially so, after suspectedly living in a developed country like the United States for a good while now where a lot of things related to a person’s conduct and/or character aren’t taken for granted like we do.

You see, “young” Liberians need to learn that it is always good to follow the law as well as long established principles and practices which tend to make people credible and well respected, particularly by their peers. I’ll be the first to admit that there is indeed a very thin line between a person’s public duties and responsibilities as a government official versus his or her duties and responsibilities as a private citizen. Nevertheless, there is a gray area here.

Even though said line may be severely blurred, but a person who can draw a clear mark of demarcation between the two will no doubt wind up being both credible and trusted – something I think every “young” Liberian should strive for at this particular point in time. It is clear that the future and destiny of Liberia lie delicately in the hands of our young people as opposed to the failed generation now running our fallen state...That is why, in fact, I think it is very important that we raise the bar for our young people.

The Million Dollar question
But the big question is, can our young people step up to the plate and stand on principles or are they going to continuously base their positions regarding critical issues affecting the country on mere friendship, family ties or whatever? That’s the million dollar question! Another important question is: Are “young” Liberians ready for a drastic change or not?

I must say that we’re not dealing with rocket science here. Given all that our ‘poor’ country has been going through lately, one would think that Liberians would be craving for change not only in the way we’ve traditionally been doing things, but certainly the way we think.

How can “young” Liberians see nothing wrong with what was clearly a misstep by the AG, while at the same pretending to want change in the status-quo? Frankly, I don’t get it. Isn’t it clear as daylight that we can’t have it both ways? Liberia’s young would have to make a choice here.

I’m very troubled that our “young” people appear to be incapable of standing on principles – I really am because Liberia’s future could be dismal if their collective attitude of always taking things for granted doesn’t change...

Let’s take for example this quote from Mr. Browne’s reaction to my article; He wrote in his July 2, 2007, piece on the Perspective website: “As a young Liberian it is encouraging to note that The Perspective has certainly given me, among other things, the platform to air my opinion regarding matters concerning my country Liberia. Among the many articles I read daily some are encouraging and quite stimulating, while others leave much to be desired particularly when I attempt to analyze the actual logic behind certain articles.”

He continued: “In particular, a rather shallow article by one James W. Harris about Liberia’s Auditor General’s legal or constitutional role in addressing budgetary matters just left me wondering whether this individual actually has Liberia’s current development at heart or whether he is just engaging in an intellectual discourse that really has no basis.”

Wow!! When I first read this, I thought to myself, gee, where is he going with this? But as I patiently read through his article captioned “Morlu certainly has a “fish to fry” in budget matters in Liberia” [http://www.liberiaitech.com/theperspective/2007/0702200702.html], I became seriously concerned to the point where I almost reached the conclusion that our young people probably will do no better than the current group of diehard opportunists when it comes to separating their personal positions on issues as private citizens vis a vis their individual roles as public servants. But again, I realize that not all “young” Liberians think or feel the way Isaac does – prayerfully not.

No need to analyze – just follow stature
In the first place, Mr. Browne doesn’t need to “attempt to analyze” anything. What he really needed to do was to try to understand what was at stake here – John Morlu’s credibility. In fact, has anything changed in Liberia since the AG made his rather inflammatory remarks concerning ongoing alleged corruption in the Johnson Sirleaf government? Clearly not!

I guess that “young” Liberians like Mr. Browne just find satisfaction in the fact that Morlu was able to embarrass the government and nothing more as if he (Morlu) was the first in recent times to raise an alarm about ongoing corrupt practices in the current administration. I know that I too have written several articles in the immediate past concerning the same issue of alleged corruption in Liberia.

I can even remember challenging young Liberian accounting and financial experts residing both inside the country and abroad to form something like a watchdog group to keep a close eye on the government. Disappointingly, only a few Liberians actually accepted my challenge mainly because they probably couldn’t help remaining silent any longer while things stayed the same in the country. Two Liberians who took up my challenge were Messrs. Robert L. Kilby and Francis Zazay, respectively, who took on LPRC managing director, Harry Greaves, for publishing a sub-standard report on his corporation’s financial performance.

So, it’s not like I’m writing to become popular, seek a government job or simply to appease people. It’s absolutely nothing like that... As the matter of fact, I did emphasize two things in my article which Isaac deliberately ignored... (1) That: “First of all, I’d like to make it crystal clear and be emphatic here as much as possible that as a “PRIVATE” citizen, Mr. Morlu, like any other Liberian, has every right to voice his opinion on any issue involving the country But in his “OFFICIAL” capacity as the sitting AG, I’m afraid not..” And (2), that: “… I [was] only addressing the role and responsibility of the AG as far as Liberia’s budgetary process is concerned. I’ve not even mentioned Mr. Morlu’s assertions that the Sirleaf Johnson administration is “Three Times More Corrupt” than the previous government, because it just may well be.” Seriously, how could Isaac miss these major points except he was just reading the headline and decided instantly to run with it?

Where we differ
So, Isaac, I never said that Morlu didn’t have a “fish to fry” in Liberia’s budget process. I only said that he couldn’t do so in his official capacity as the nation’s current AG. Further, Morlu already has his job cut out for him that I personally would rather see him do – to audit and leave the budget debate largely up to the Legislature. Or, are you all suggesting that members of the National Legislature aren’t competent enough to raise the same kind of issues about the budget as Morlu? I hope not,

But I really do know now where we differ on this issue. You and other “young” Liberians only find pleasure in the fact that Morlu could expose some flaws in the budget and publicly blast the Unity Party government for being “three times more corrupt” than the previous Gyude Bryant administration, while I would prefer Morlu carrying out actual audits of the various public entities, including, corporations, ministries, bureaus, etc and calling a press conference to tell us what he had found. This is where our difference lies!

All I’m saying, Mr. Browne, is that if the AG is really serious about fighting corruption in Liberia, then I suggest strongly that he starts with the Liberian Maritime program which has more or less been a cash-cow for a few Liberians as well as their foreign partners. Can you imagine John Morlu thoroughly auditing the maritime program and coming out with an audit report highlighting the kind of corruption still taking place there even today? That would be something else, wouldn’t it?

Isaac, Mr. Morlu would be more credible and respected if he were to quietly go about his auditing duties and letting the Liberian people and their international partners know exactly what’s going on in the seemingly unresponsive Liberian government, rather than making reckless statements without substantiated facts or evidence which could otherwise be used against the present administration.

Also, let’s not forget that the duties and responsibilities of the AG has already been defined under the stature creating the position, but if you or any other person can show me another stature apart from the one that I mentioned in my article, I’ll be more than happy to reconsider my position.

Another immature outburst
In another immature outburst, Mr. Browne wrote: “I must state that before going any further with my response to this individual’s lack of appreciation of the AG’s role regarding budgetary matters in Liberia, it is important to highlight that the good Harris observation of the AG’s position really has nothing to do with the financial integrity of the Liberian Government and its agencies to the Liberian people, but rather his aim was to serve his appetite unfounded argument”, adding, “for instance, Harris’s article was written not at the request of the innocent Liberian people who are constantly affected by corruption, but it was in response to his colleagues need for an unwarranted debate. I am referring to the so-called ‘several persons’ he mentioned in the beginning paragraph of his work.”

I must admit that this portion of Mr. Browne’s piece was laughable in that he should know that I really don’t write based on “response” to “[my] colleagues need for an unwarranted debate” since they are highly capable of writing their own opinions. I’m simply a man of principles motivated by my own core values as well as professionalism – nothing less.

Moreover, I don’t write in “response” to people as my thoughts are always original. It’s actually no secret where I stand when it comes to issues involving Liberia, because my position is well documented. All you have to do is “Google” my name and you’ll definitely see where I stand.

Browne also wrote: “What should however be noted is that the purported constitutional or legal argument this man has put forward is the same argument that has exposed him. For example ,he categorically stated that according to “section 53.3 of the Executive Law of 1972(Part a) it is stipulated that once a year the AG should perform audits of all Government agencies and organization and examine, to the extent the AG deems necessary etcetera.” It is clear in this line that the law has given the AG the power to carefully scrutinized books of government agencies and organizations in Liberia.”

He then ignorantly added: “The AG therefore does not only have a mandate to address the legislature after his/her analyses, but as is deeming appropriate he may examine all transaction and speak out. Note, as he/she deems necessary. This is important because after the AG’s examination, he/she must be accountable within the framework of his/her practice and the law. This mean he/she is to speak out the facts for which he/she was put into office, and according to the requirement of his practice, and not just the law.”

Do your homework
Now, what Isaac seriously missed above is the simple but key word “audit”. For your information, Mr. Browne, “auditing” is significantly different than just giving an opinion which was what Mr. Morlu in fact did with the budget. He simply gave his opinion. If you want to talk about the role and responsibilities of an AG, then please follow this link http://www.liberiaitech.com/theperspective/2007/0620200701.html... The article was written by a prominent Liberian who knows exactly what he’s talking about. Another Liberian professional accountant also made similar observations in an article published on FrontPageAfrica.com not too long ago, but. I’ll let you do the research this time, okay!

Lastly, Isaac wrote: “Furthermore, to merely assert that the AG operated outside his domain, as was claimed by Harris, is a display of lack of understanding of the role of the AG. The AG is not only Liberia’s auditor general but he has an obligation to other stake holders in and outside Liberia.”

After following the link that I’ve provided for your convenience above and doing your own homework, Mr. Browne, who “lack … understanding of the role of the AG.” in Liberia today? Surely not me!

And your assertion that my “argument that the Auditor General of Liberia has no legal mandate to publicly address irregularities discovered in the recent 2007/2008 Liberian Budget” is “bogus”simply tells me one thing - that you don’t even know what the word means. How can something be bogus when it’s based in fact, namely, the statutory law which created the position?

If you have been following my writings, you’d quickly reach the conclusion without apprehension that I’m surely not a fan, supporter, apologist or what have you for the present Unity Party government or any other group. I’m just a principled Liberian who believes in doing things professionally and correctly.

I do realize also that the AG in the person of John S. Morlu, II, does have popular support amongst young Liberian professionals, especially those living abroad. But as I said, if you (Mr. Browne) and others just want to cheer him on without steering him in the right direction, that’s absolutely fine with me. It’s just that I have a completely different view about how we should be doing things in Liberia...

As one prominent “young” Liberian remarked to me in private: “Man, you should know that Morlu is the last chance for our generation to make a difference in Liberia. So, we really need to give him all the support in his fight against corruption in Liberia.” To that I say very well, only if he did it in a way that makes him convincingly credible for too long now we’ve been doing things carelessly and backward. Well, I’m just sick of it!

You got the government you wanted On another note, didn’t the Liberian people vote overwhelmingly for this administration – Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s – even though they were aware of the major character flaws exhibited in the immediate past by many top players on the President’s team?

Well, I’m clearly not one of those who believe falsely that one can plant eddoes and expect to get cassava, because that just doesn’t happen - perhaps, only in Liberia.

And so, to even consider that the same bunch of people who carelessly destroyed our country can curb ingrained corruption in the body politic means that we aren’t serious at all about moving our country forward, much more talk about real development. The bottom line is this – the Liberian people are getting precisely the kind of government they wanted. So, why is all this talk about corruption? Is there anything new going on in Liberia now a days? If so, then please fill me in on it Isaac. I would really like to know.

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