Small Changes We hardly See

By Abdoulaye W. Dukule

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
March 19, 2009


About two years, I paid my first visit to the Old Executive Mansion on Ashmun Street. John Morlu, the new Auditor General was slowly moving into the dilapidated building with his staff. Petty vendors, cook shops, displaced people and drug dealers threatened to create “chaos” if anyone tried to remove them forcibly. In the building, on the walls, one could read graffiti everywhere former rebel “commandos” had lived. People somehow managed to rent space to petty traders who kept their merchandises in some of the rooms. Slowly, without much fracas, and with the help of government and the European Union, the General Auditing Commission managed to reclaim not only the building but the adjacent grounds and cordoned everything off. Now, the offices in the building are carpeted, with new windows for the most part. Some 300 people work in the building today. Two years ago, it sounded like a crazy idea, but today, it is just the right thing to have done.

The government has followed in Morlu footsteps and many abandoned public buildings are now being renovated to house government institutions.

Behind the Executive Mansion, there are many buildings that were once occupied by the Executive Mansion Guards. Through the war and like much of the rest of the country, everything went into disrepair. Last week, I went there to pay a visit to Minister of Planning and Economic Affairs, Amara Konneh. Again, surprisingly, out of the ruins, stands a new office building, with an environment conducive to productivity.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs has also renovated one of the buildings and moved in there. The Governance Commission and other agencies have all been assigned buildings to renovate and move in them. The Ministry of National Defense will also be moving inside the Barclay Training Center in a short while. It is also important to note that the great majority of ministries will soon be located near the Executive Mansion, thereby considerably reducing the cost of moving from one agency to another. It could also help workers, who with government identity cards could be allowed to use any of the service buses going in the destination they are heading.

If all works and there is no reason it won’t happen, the Sirleaf government, in a short 3 year period, would have moved more housing for government institutions than all previous governments in the past 140 years!

This movement of government agencies out of private home is an important policy shift that has not been heralded much. One can just imagine how much money government paid in rent for more than a century. There are other not-so-material considerations that would become more obvious as time goes. This a big positive change that sometimes happen under the radar that people hardly notice.

Slowly, Monrovia and certainly other cities around the nation have been getting a face lift, one road at the time, one bridge at the time, one school at the time. Because they live nearby or pass through the same places everyday, people hardly notice the difference that materializes over time.

For example, now, people take for granted the street lights that run almost uninterrupted from Broad Street to Congo town. Those who drive enjoy the fact that there are few potholes, if any at all, on the same roads. On the Old Road, Sinkor, the roads have been rehabilitated. All this infrastructural change is taking place for the first time since the 1980s, when government stopped all development work.

People take these changes for granted, and that is expected. That is what candidate Ellen Johnson Sirleaf promised the Liberian people. The fact that she delivers seems not to surprise anyone and naturally, people want more of everything. In politics, what has been done today rarely matters when it is something good. But if it is bad, people never forget nor forgive.

The government must continue on the same path. There are several incomplete structures that need not much work to be turned into new and slick office buildings.

As changes are the subject of this paper, an important overdue change that could have a great impact on government finances just as the rent it once paid for office space would be to look into gasoline and fuel coupons distributed to government officials. The system was relevant in the days – especially under IGNU – when there was no money to pay people. A ration of gasoline and a bag of rice were very helpful. But now that people are getting paid regularly, the issue of gasoline must be looked into seriously.

There is one government official who gets 1,500 gallons of gas a month! I heard there others who even get more. One wonders, what does one person do with 1,500 gallons of gasoline a month? A swimming pool? Gasoline coupons are sold on the market openly, at gas stations, especially at the end of the month. There are employees who receive gasoline coupons but have no car. Why not simply pay the person a decent salary and leave him or her to buy gasoline for the car assigned to him or her?

Another solution would be to put pumping stations at ministries and where all government cars refuel once a week and only when driven for government business…Ivorians do it, UN does it. So could we.

Changing the minds and changing attitudes must include how we see government services. Waste comes in many forms. Government spends too much money on cars and wastes a lot more on gasoline. Now that many people get paid through banks, it may be possible to create a credit system allowing those who want to buy a car and pay it over time to do so…

The General Auditing Commission could look into how much government is saving on rent and how much it is wasted on gasoline… Why not save every where?

Change takes time. But some times, it is better to make changes before people get settled in a bad habit. This government has he opportunity to make those decisions that could bring a new culture in our governing process. Going to the beach on Sunday with friends and family is a not a therapy the taxpayers have to pay for.

There is one more change that must be written about, and it is probably the most important, the most priceless change of all: people in the streets are now more civil to one another, they are now more cordial and the social tension has lessened very much. Liberians are regaining that sense of humor that is so particular to them. This is where one finds out that the war is slowly but surely sliding in the back of our minds… That change that makes people smile, be friendly and look to the future with hope is one that no money can buy. And we must all work to make that hopefulness last for ever…

© 2009 by The Perspective

To Submit article for publication, go to the following URL: