By Jones Nhinson Williams
In a recent remark, Liberty Party’s leader and Liberia’s 2017 presidential candidate Cllr. Charles W. Brumskine said, if elected president of Liberia in October 2017, he will institute a system and program that would not only provide support to, but assist senior citizens (the elderly), and the disabled population of Liberia.
For the record, I am a not a member of the Liberty Party, of which Cllr. Brumskine is the leader. I am the founder of the New Liberia Party and one of Liberia’s most distinguished public intellectuals. Besides, my desire and interest in Liberia’s civic life and political discourse is not based on party politics or tribal sentiments; it is rooted in good ideas, patriotism and love of country as well as the desire to see a better Liberia where all Liberian citizens, irrespective of race, tribe, social status, or religious affiliations, can and will have a fair shot and improved living conditions.
That said, Cllr. Brumskine’s recent declaration regarding helping the elderly and disabled population of Liberia, if followed by a commitment to do just that, not only shows that Liberian politics is changing and becoming more visionary, but that the Liberty Party’s presidential candidate is prepared and ready to lead.
When people are ready and prepared to lead they think big. When people are ready and prepared to lead they become inclusive. When people are ready and prepared to lead they provide leadership, first and foremost, with ideas, and second, with deeds. When people are ready and prepared to lead they do not provide excuses as to why certain things happened, or why certain things could not happen. When people are ready and prepared to lead they do not cast blame on others but instead take responsibility. When people are ready and prepared to lead they do not look nor live in the past; they look forward and develop visionary positions. When people are ready and prepared to lead they do not see obstacles, they only see possibilities and a bright future. Cllr. Brumskine’s recent remark tout a political leader who sees possibilities and a bright future, and what could happen when we have a true and visionary manager as our next president.
This is why I am moved by the declaration from the Liberty Party’s leader regarding helping and supporting senior citizens and the disabled. My hope is that every candidate for elected office in Liberia must take a page from Brumskine’s example. Our country should not continuously be a territory where there is no room for big ideas as we have seen since 2006 when the failed Unity Party-led government under President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf took power. When there is no room for big ideas in a small-minded politics like ours, the people suffer and the country declines.
Critics and nay-sayers in Liberian politics and social discourse will have opposing views to this narrative, which is fine. But when one’s opposing view is not only flaw and visionless but is also rooted in impossibilities, then we are headed for a roadblock as a nation. In Liberia and outside of the country, we all need to ask ourselves a question as a people. Where has all the vision gone in Liberian politics?
Apart from tribalism, baseless smear campaigns and insults, is there nothing left that might appeal to the hearts of Liberians, to our voters as citizens, to something, anything beyond individual self-interest? I do not think so. Liberians are better than tribal and small-minded politics, and we can do better. And, our country and our government should not be defined by corruption because corruption is more than cancer; it can kill an entire country and population.
As a result of widespread corruption, nepotism, greed, poor and disgruntled leadership in the past 12 years under the Unity Party-led administration, the poor people in Liberia who constitute 99.99% of the country’s overall population have all but disappeared from political and economic sight. So forgotten are they that some Liberian political agitators and remunerated social and campaign activists do not want anyone to talk about them.
As the October 2017 Liberia’s presidential election gets closer, there are anxieties among the country’s forgotten poor, the elderly, women and the unemployed youth and families – about the possibilities of them getting jobs, their children’s education, and whether tomorrow will be better than today in the country where over half a million children are out of school, million more malnourished.
Liberians quite legitimately worry about their incomes and their costs (including taxes) and the difficulty of balancing them. Equally, Liberians who are still living in refugee camps in West Africa and in exile around the world, including those in the United States on the Temporary Protective Status (TPS) or the Deferred Deportation Status, are seriously concerned about whether they will have a better country to return to post October 2017. These preoccupations must figure in our election campaigns and in our political debate more generally.
Brumskine’s recent utterance tests one thing and proves one thing, and that is, when tribalism, insults and smear propagandas take backstage, and vision and big ideas take front and center stage, these are the kinds of declarations and bold ideas we get from aspiring candidates for public offices. It is up to us the citizens of Liberia to inquire and delve into the details of this bold vision put out there by the Liberty Party’s leader. This is what is called constructive politics.
On the other hand, constructive politics is and will be impossible if we allow political parties to target their appeal only to a slices of the Liberian electorate––by appealing just to their tribes or a few people. Or, when political supporters focus on irrelevant issues. This is why tribalism, a very extraneous matter is unacceptable in politics and governance. Tribalism and small-minded politics not only prevent candidates from putting forward big, bold and good ideas; these ills also deny citizens the opportunity to make informed decisions during an electoral process.
What Cllr. Charles Brumskine proposes to do when he is fortunate to be given the presidency is really not hard to do if one is a good, selfless and strategic manager. What is hard about taking care of our elderly citizens and disabled population, anyway? Other countries do these things every day and that is what makes them great.
I am proud of Cllr. Brumskine on this major public policy assertion. It is good public policy and a common sense move. It shows that he is thinking out of the box; that he has big ideas and a clear vision for a better Liberia. Africa, Liberia included, needs leaders with grandiose ideas. People that think big. One reason why our country (Liberia) suffers is because we have always had leaders who think small or have small minds.
When John F. Kennedy was running for president, he told Americans that he wanted to make sure human beings – men and women – go up into space. And that he wanted the first people to go into space to be Americans. Because Americans like big ideas they bought his thinking and supported him, and he won. Today, not just American astronauts, but scientists from most parts of the world go into space, and because of what they do on space missions we have many scientific and technological breakthroughs.
When Dwight D. Eisenhower was running for president, he told Americans he wanted to ensure that all of the continental United States became connected by super highways and railroads. Given the size of the United States one would have thought otherwise. But today, from one corner to the next, the US is connected by good super highways roads and railroads. This is why I can afford to live in Delaware, another state and be able to work in Maryland, another state. This is why people live in Pennsylvania and work in New York City.
Belgium, Sweden, the US, Australia and almost every advanced nations take care of its senior citizens and disabled population. These people and their leaders are not angels. They are human beings like us. The only difference is, unlike us in Liberia, they have good leaders.
Every year, the job I do we (state of Maryland) send data to the federal government. And every state in the US does that too through their labor market information and analysis offices. The federal government uses the data to make allocation of aid and public benefits to states so that programs that support seniors, foster children, poor people and unemployed persons go uninterrupted.
Eligible people receive social security benefits, unemployment insurance, workers compensation, social security disability insurance benefits, Medicare and Medicaid, child care assistance known as Purchase of Care (POC), food stamps and more. And, workforce development and training grants come from this data too. If these things can be done by other countries like the US, Germany, Canada, Israel and more where people have and use their five senses, why can’t we Liberians do these things as well?
Are we saying the countries that do these things have people with five senses and we have less than five senses?
We can do anything that other countries do and can do. We just need the right people in power. We can’t be a nation of doubts, complacency, greed and corruption, and poverty. We spent more than US$45 million dollars on a group of lawmakers (less than 100 individuals in total) who do nothing innovative. Half of that money can take care of all our elderly people and disabled population in Liberia.
Nay-sayers will ask: where does the money come from to do that? Well, easy answer. From the Liberian economy. The same place more than US$50 million comes from each year to support and feed less than 100 people who make up our national legislature. The same place millions of dollars come from to support five members of the Supreme Court of Liberia. The same place of dollars come from to support the Unity Party-led administration leadership and their families who do not care about the rest of Liberia.
There are three fundamental things that are more important than every other thing to American presidents and lawmakers, and they are: national security, jobs and care for their citizens. When people feel or have a sense of security they can have free movement and engage in productive things. When people have jobs, every other thing flows or follows. They can afford basically anything they plan to do or have––from paying for healthcare, children schooling, owning transportation and good housing to having leisure time with family. And the government benefits in revenue that can be used to fulfill development projects and provide care for the least fortunate of the population.
All of the social safety net programs in the United States, Canada, the UK and most European nations are paid for by people who work, or have jobs. The international aid that goes to Africa, Liberia included, are paid for by monies from people who have jobs through taxes. Some of these people work in places like McDonald’s, Tyco Bells, and Costco etc. Others even work in nursing homes. Most do not have offices. This is why it is heart-breaking when our politicians and leaders in Liberia think small, become greedy and engage in corruption while our country relies on foreign aid from the tax dollars of poor people in Western nations.
Like Brumskine has done, I challenge other presidential candidates to present their ideas and vision about what they will do for our senior citizens or elderly and the disabled population of Liberia. So far, Brumskine has just scored one point higher than the rest of the candidates in the poll for 2017 on the elderly and disabled care front. This will make for a productive electoral campaign season.
About the Author:
Jones Nhinson Williams is a Catholic educated Liberian philosopher and distinguished public intellectual with an accomplished international experience in public policy, labor market information and analysis, strategic management, public diplomacy, and workforce development.