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GC holds National Conference for Political Parties

The Governance Commission held a two day Conference for Political Parties on decentralization in Buchanan Grand Bassa County from June 8-9 2016. Twenty of Liberia’s twenty two registered political parties, donors and partners graced the occasion.

During the conference’s opening ceremony on Day one, Grand Bassa County Superintendent’s designee, Eddie Williams welcomed everyone to the City of Buchanan, and noted the relevance of decentralization in Liberia’s development and reform processes, with emphasis on inclusive peoples’ participation in local governance. He enumerated the numerous benefits of the County Service Center, a key component of decentralization which, among other things, includes assuring government’s delivery of and easy access to public goods and services. Mr. Williams urged participants to prevail on their members currently serving in the National Legislature to pass the Local Government draft Act, LGA, which is highly crucial to the full implementation of decentralization in Liberia.

Donor and collaborating partners and the Conference urged Liberians to prioritize decentralization and lobby their lawmakers to the draft Local Government Act currently before the Legislature. Development partners at the conference included the EU, UNDP, and UNMIL.

In Remarks, the European Union Ambassador to Liberia Ambassador Tina Intelmann among other things observed that the political scene is getting very active in Liberia, yet it is still not clear which direction Liberians truly want to stir their country. She therefore urged the participants to probably work on a framework that would help determine a clear direction to lead Liberia toward a common goal, one that assures growth and development. She said political parties should take advantage of the decentralization process, a process to which the European Union has contributed 4.5 million Euros to assure provision and easy access to public goods and services such as offered at the county service centers. She hoped that the conference would provide logic and understanding to political parties so that the LGA is passed into law, the decentralization process is not reversed even after the 2017 elections, and government and donor spending monitored.

UNDP for its part reminded participants of the important responsibilities of political parties including representation of people, ideas and policies (should they be successful in a competitive election process) and urged participants to blend such responsibilities with decentralization which assures of the provision and easy access to basic services. Mr. Kaykay acknowledged the imperfectability of decentralization but added that it is a process that does not end in one day.

He noted that people are financially, economically and/or politically excluded from participating in national growth and prosperity programs but decentralization addresses the issue of exclusion, while at the same time empowering citizens by providing options and opportunities for inclusion and participation as witnessed by the opening of county service centers and the increase in business registrations. He said when political parties support decentralization they would have fulfilled a fundamental responsibility to society and national development.

UNDP commended NEC for making a representation at the highest level at the Conference, noted the challenges of decentralization to NEC, but promised support to the elections process.

Also making remarks was the United Nations Mission in Liberia, UNMIL. Mr. Bornfree Adile said UNMIL sees decentralization in Liberia as a priority issue critical to reforms needed for national development. He said it was about changing views about the future.  Mr. Bornfree Adile noted that as of July 1, 2016 Liberians are expected to take control of their own security, though UNMIL will continue to provide some support to Liberia including the decentralization process. Mr. Bornfree Adile reiterated that decentralization is about innovation, and encourages citizens’ participation in the development of their county and country as a whole.  He therefore urged political parties to work towards assuring that the necessary structures are put in place to support decentralization and national development.

Dr Roosevelt Jayjay was designated to represent the Minister of Internal Affairs Dr. Henry Togba. Dr. Jayjay reminded political parties that as the conscience of the state and embodiment of the people, (and in pursuit of a democratic nation), it was important that they work toward assuring that Liberians are able to achieve their individual and collective aspirations. He said decentralization has become the thermometer for national growth and development, and therefore the need for political parties to see it as a national priority issue that must succeed.

National Elections Commission Chairman Mr. Jerome Kokoya, in remarks (and among other things) observed that the impressive turn out of political party leaders at the Conference was indicative of their interests in the entire elections process. He said the election process is guided by the rule of law and therefore the need for the passage of the Local Government draft Act to support the full implementation of decentralization in Liberia. His comments were in line with the election of county superintendents and others as proposed by the LGA which need the backing of a legal framework. He also urged political party leaders to encourage the passage of the LGA into law in support of the full implementation of decentralization and enhanced people’s participation in the elections process.

Commissioner Yasuo Weh-Dorliae made remarks on behalf of the Chairman of the Governance Commission Dr. Amos sawyer. Dr. Dorliae likened decentralization to religion. He said there are many religions all geared toward preparing the path to heaven so too he said decentralization in the actualization of national development.

Day 1 of the Conference featured two major presentations:

The first was the Overview and Status of decentralization reforms in Liberia by Commissioner Dorliae of the GC; and the second on “The role of political parties in decentralization reforms” by Senesee Freeman. The first presentation highlighted the decentralization policy, the history of centralized governance, political decentralization, faces of inequality and marginalization, goal, objectives, benefits, background and achievements, and the current status of the decentralization process.

The second was participatory with participants divided into four groups to discuss and report on the role of political parties in decentralization reforms. The groups’ presentations had similar findings including that political parties adopt decentralization in their platforms and manifestos; that political parties engage the Executive branch of government, through a joint resolution, to send the draft LGA to the Legislature for passage into law; lobby Legislators; increase public discussions and awareness on decentralization and the draft LGA; engage IPCC. Both sessions were followed by interactive discussions facilitated by Dr. Alfred Kulah, Consultant.

Political parties were given three minutes each to make statements as to their commitment or non-commitment to the decentralization process. All committed to supporting the full implementation of the concept of decentralization except the Liberty party that raised issue with the election, and reporting process of county superintendents.

All Liberian Coalition Party, ALCOP thanked GC for the current state of the decentralization process and for organizing the conference geared toward political parties’ involvement and commitment to the decentralization process, and commended the Liberian government for the support given the decentralization process thus far. ALCOP promised to remain supportive and committed to the decentralization process. ALCOP promised to remain engaged in the decentralization process.

Alternative National Congress, ANC noted that decentralization was incorporated into its party platform because the party believes that decentralization is the way forward to assuring national development. The party expressed commitment and support to the process, and expressed willingness to working with GC to assure the success of decentralization in Liberia.

Congress for Democratic Change, CDC  commended GC for being proactive in its efforts at making government more responsive to the needs and aspirations of the people. They look forward to the devolution of government which they believe goes beyond everyday politics to ensure that Liberians participate in the economy of Liberia. They called for the incorporation of education in the decentralization process, bringing under the umbrella of the University of Liberia all public universities and colleges in Liberia. CDC wants government to proceed with caution the decentralization process so as not to create parallel governing contending structures. CDC pledged its commitment to working with GC and other political parties and partners in crafting a national agenda to making government more responsive to the needs and aspirations of the Liberian people.

National Democratic Party of Liberia, NDPL disclosed that Decentralization is a part of their party’s platform though not explained in detail, adding that they are committed to working with GC and to learn more as to how the party can be of more help to the decentralization process. NDPL promised to commit to a process that leads Liberia to a transformed future that highlights development.

Liberia National Union, LINU recommended among other things that an institutional framework be put in place to guide the decentralization process while the Local Government Act is being discussed and pending passage into law. The party cautioned that plans be also made to address future challenges associated with decentralization to assure that the process is not stalled. LINU hopes the LGA takes into consideration the people’s rights to freely express their concerns without reprisals or victimization.

Liberia People’s Party, LPP urged all Liberians and stakeholders to support the decentralization process and to consider it as a challenge that we need to overcome in order to achieve national growth and development. The LPP wants counties to see as national priorities agriculture, health, and education, and urge government to improve these services for the benefit of the Liberian people, and make funds available to sustain county development projects.

Liberty party, LP says though it supports the decentralization agenda, the party will not support the draft Local government Act as is right now until it is amended. The party expressed concerns relative to the election of county superintendents and the system of reporting under the current proposed LGA. LP questioned “to whom would the superintendent hold loyalty to: the people that elected him/her or the president?” LP was however quick to add that decentralization is relevant to national development and promised to lobby their lawmakers to give the draft document the attention it deserves for passage into law.

The Liberty Party did not sign the Joint Referendum document but said it remains an available partner in fostering decentralization and other policy programs of GC and the Ministry of Internal affairs that address empowering the Liberian people.

The National Patriotic Party, NPP for its part, attributed the underdevelopment of Liberia to a centralized system of government. NPP believes that decentralization is key to national development and commended government for initiating the process. NPP observed that decentralization will enhance economic activities in rural Liberia, adding “that people can now live and work in their counties and that teachers will no longer have to abandon their classrooms for weeks to travel to Monrovia to receive their salaries”. NPP noted that sincerity is lacking in Liberia and therefore urged Liberians to make practical their love for country and desist from playing lip-service to patriotism.

The ruling Unity Party, UP disclosed that some members of the Legislature have described the draft LGA (which promulgates decentralization) as a “stab in the back”, alluding that it undermines their authority while at the same time giving more political power to the local people. The party maintained that despite these odds all efforts are being made to ensure the draft Act will be passed into law because it is the right thing to do in support of national development, and people’s participation and inclusivity in governance.

The True Whig Party, United Peoples Party and others all pledged their support to the decentralization process, and promised to lobby their respectively lawmakers to ensure that the draft Local Government Act (LGA) is passed into law.

The review of the Draft Joint Resolution, the final item of Day 1 agenda was post-pone to Day 2 of the conference to give participants ample time to read and digest the draft resolution before affixing their signature to the document.

Day 2 of the Conference featured an impressive presentation on the operations and available services provided at the County Service Center in Buchanan Grand Bassa County, and the signing of the Joint Resolution of Political parties. The Resolution among other things ………..

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