Our Installing officer, distinguished guests, partners, fellow Liberians, Ladies and gentleman. Let me first of all begin by thanking all of you who have responded to our call and are here this evening. Before going any further, let me make it quite clear that I am not running for political office. Of course I will exercise my right to vote during the elections but only God and I will know the candidate of my choice. This organization, the Forum is non-partisan, that is, it will not endorse or support any political party during elections. It will not tell the voters for whom to vote but it will lay out the facts and make clear the differences between or among the candidates.
The formation of this organization is the result of several discussions among well-meaning Liberians regarding the pace of development in our country when compared to our many years of independence and when compared to other countries in our sub-region and beyond. We acknowledge and appreciate that changes which have been made in recent times but when one compares the changes made by countries, such as ours in the sub-region and beyond, we are far behind. This is confirmed by the IMF’s 2016 Report on Liberia which shows that the country’s scores on infrastructure, including social and physical, “are below average of member states of the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas).” These discussions focused on identifying the reasons for our slow pace of development and ways in which the process of development can be accelerated. As a result of these discussions, and my many visits abroad, when progress made by other countries was observed, I decided to pen the article entitled, “How Can We Liberians Achieve Our Own Great Leap Forward”. This article has generated a lot of discussions and interest in accelerating our development process by Liberians here, those living in the diaspora and other well-meaning individuals interested in the growth and development of our country. This prompted the establishment of a group, the “Forum for Societal Change”, a dynamic force for change in our country geared toward impacting and creating a significant influence on how Government’s policies, programs and methods of operations are conducted, by engaging in constructive dialogues with the hope of accelerating meaningful change in Liberia. Specifically, the objectives of this organization are:
- To influence and impact the 2017 elections by making it more issues based:
• Educate voters on the qualification (experience and track records) and platforms of candidates focusing primarily on the what (content) and the how to (implementation)
• Conduct research to fact find and fact check positions on issues during discussions or debates
• Participate in the organization of debates
- Influence and impact the operation of the elected Government thus leading to its efficiency and effectiveness:
• Hold the Government of the day accountable to the Liberian people through collective group action
• Organize the discussions of various topical issues of governance and make recommendations to improve performance – i.e attached, is a suggested list of topical issues for future discussions
• Improve the 2030 vision and strategize to ensure its implementation in partnership with the Governance Commission
If you look at your Inaugural brochure on page 4, you will observe a list of suggested topics for future discussions, related to various aspects of governance, which is by no means exhaustive. We intend to conduct symposiums similar to this tonight on a monthly or bi-monthly basis. We will select an individual who will serve as presenter for one of the topics, after which comments & questions will be entertained and clarified. If need be, we will conduct seminars/workshop to deal exhaustively with the topic of concern. Proceedings from these discussions will be placed in the print media, and on our website, we will then engage the government with the findings/recommendations.
To accomplish this, we will need researchers, knowledgeable people in various fields of discipline and individuals prepared to spare the time to fact check and make information available to the public during and after elections. We need to work with others to design and organize the debates. We need to do whatever is necessary to make the elections fair and peaceful. We must never sit by again and become mere spectators during events of national concern and importance. We must act collectively.
We must also impact the preparation of the national budget and impact how budget decisions are made. Presently, they do not reflect national priorities, the 2030 vision or, support the line function of ministries/agencies. Budgets consists meanly of salaries and benefits. When inquiries are made regarding the performance of line functions such as, why is the Ministry of public works not planning and laying out the construction of residence between Robertsfield and Monrovia when there is a zoning division at the Ministry of public works. We are told that there is only money in the budget for salaries and benefits and none for carrying out this function. This response is widespread when such inquiries are made about the functions of other line Ministries/Agencies.
We are making the same mistakes that were made in the development of Monrovia, building every which way. How then can we make our country orderly and beautiful as in other countries? We must as a group begin influencing budget decision during the next budgetary cycle. We must make decision makers free up some of the funds used to support unreasonably high salaries and benefits to deliver badly needed service and for development.
The 2030 vision prepared by the Governance Commission is a step in the right direction of attempting to accelerate the pace of development in our Country but it is nothing but a vision. A vision without concerted action and budgetary support is nothing but a dream. It is only a good piece of document. The 2030 vision as it is needs some improvement. For example, there is nothing in it about the cleanliness, orderliness, and protection of our environment. It does not expressly mention the need to maintain and improve our infrastructure. But more importantly, there is no budgetary support to implement the vision in a meaningful and comprehensive way and no organizational framework to coordinate the activities of line ministries and agencies. We need to work with the Governance Commission on these things.
An objective of the forum is to make this election more issues based. For example, tackling the high youth unemployment and the protection and cleaning of the environment, such as our beaches. Can’t we make our unemployed youth useful by establishing a well thought through National youth corps to among others, clean up and protect our beaches around Monrovia and beyond. By the way, which agency of the government is responsible for securing our beaches? They have become areas for illegal sand mining under the cover of darkness, blocking making ventures, at night, latrines and dumpsites. Look at the condition of the beach behind the old Sophie Ice cream. Many countries wish they had beaches like ours, but instead of making good use of them like The Gambia, Senegal and other countries in the sub-region and beyond to create jobs for our people, we neglect them and abuse them. So to you politicians, who are present tonight and those who are absent, we want to put you on notice. We will no longer be mere spectators of the political process. We will no longer permit the government to monopolize the process of governance, making decisions that impact our lives and livelihood with little or no input from us. We intend to be active and totally involved, we will be seeking constructive engagement with you. We hope you will see us as partners and not as adversaries.
In view of the above, all like-minded Liberians are invited to join the Forum in pursuit of this patriotic cause. Remember that there is strength in collective group action. Together, we can make a difference by altering the pace of development, thus achieving our own “Great Leap Forward”.
Fellow Liberians, our partners and well-wishers, when we do things the same way over and over again we get the same OH same OH results. We Liberians have sat by as mere helpless spectators and permitted our Government to be run the same way for too long and consequently, change has been very marginal or at a snail’s pace at best when compared to other countries similar to ours. We must explore or consider new ways of doing things to get new, different, but better results. We must think out of the box to achieve this, we must collectively hold to the fire the feet of the Government of the day. We must make constructive engagement with the Government, the first option of choice but hold all other opinions open. This is the only way, in our opinion, we can redouble or even retripple our efforts in achieving the needed societal change.
We are joining other advocacy groups in this endeavour with no feeling of arrogance, no feeling that we have all the answers, that we know it all or we are better than they are. We are prepared to join forces with all like-minded groups. Let us come and work together to make our voice louder and stronger, cognizant of the fact that “in union strong success is sure”.
I say to you Liberians. We know each other well. We lack the persevering spirit. We give up too easily. We don’t like to see things through. But remember that nothing of value comes easy. We need your time, your moral support and your financial resources. To do what we want to do cost money. Even to organize this program cost money but someone made the sacrifice. We must all do the same. We must put our money where our mouths are. Let us together climb the ladder of change and together share the cost and pay the price of inconvenience, self-denial, and belt tightening so we can achieve our own “Great Leap Forward”.
We will need people to work on the following committees:
We will need people to serve on several sub-committees. Therefore, we need many hands on deck.
Finally, Fellow Liberians and well-wishers we say to you: