Democratic sustenance or national development priority:

Economic perspective of bill to fund political parties

Immediately following the pronouncement of the results of the 2011 Elections, I released a cautionary piece of development article titled: “Liberia’s Post 2011 Electoral Development Paradigms: International appeasement, self-enrichment or national development priority”. The thematic emphasis of the article was on eliciting the conjectural expectations about the performance of officials-elect relative to preference for international appeasement, national development or self-enrichment (source: type article in google). The article also endeavored to guide officials-elect in putting human life at the center stage of development instead of self-enrichment. Looking at the below excerpt from the article, Liberians, in particular, our political leaders would apparently redefine their thought:

“Our conviction is tied to those whom we have elected on the basis of confidence and optimism, that they are leaders of ideas and positive change to implement and execute sound policies and laws. It must not be an astonishment to see the opposite of our conviction, but continuity of Liberia must never be compromised because of possibly ill-performance of those voted in. By the unpredictable nature of human behavior, let’s not be over excited with the belief that genuine human development and transformational change could automatically be achieved through the officials-elect in Liberia. Possibly, we could go another six years with many new thoughts, misconceptions and controversies, especially as it pertains to the issue of rent-seeking, neglect for youth development and employment as well as women empowerment. The new challenges dictate putting things in perspective for our work to be connected to our own struggle. Everything may not necessarily be done, but some pressing needs must inevitably be undertaken to keep the hopes of Liberians alive”.

Almost a year now, political officials, especially those within the legislature seem to be swaying from the nucleus of development priorities to possible adoption of “false paradigm” framework perceived as instrument for strengthening political institutions. The motivation of this piece of work is to constructively add to the ongoing debate relative to push of a democratic sustenance bill in the lower house to fund political parties and candidates at the expense of appalling socioeconomic maladies. Any development rationalist would concur with the idea that the fight to attain human development and the fight to sustain democracy go hand in hand, but human development reinforces strong political institutions for sustainable democracy. The questions are: should we support strong political institution amidst low human development, threatening food insecurity, weak security apparatus, and outdated medical facilities? Does human development drive strong political institutions or is the reverse true?

Moreover, can Liberia anchor its development agenda on the pursuance of gross national happiness (GNH) where the ideology of legislators should reflect putting human life at the center stage of national development priorities, instead of funding political parties and candidates? The former is interestingly the fundamentals for strengthening political institutions through opportunity and freedom that people enjoy. In the face of the appalling social imbalances, the concern is whether the distributive process of Liberia’s meager resources takes the path of self-enrichment or national development priority. This requires critical mass of viable policy decisions.

Political institutions are not robot to operate on their own. Quality human knowledge and sound environment are pre-requisite to direct the robot. If our response therefore is to have strong political institutions to drive human development, then our thought should be thoroughly re-examined. Botswana and Mauritius are Africa’s two success story. Their development beginning was via human development. Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and other African nations are also threading this same path. Linking this argument to Liberia, any genuine development should be addressed from bottom to top and not the reverse as it pertains to ongoing decision to use scarce public revenue to fund political parties and candidates.

Development of large pool of quality human capital is the inception for having any viable political institution for sustainable democracy in Liberia.  Bringing some of our vital statistics into focus, Liberia has very limited human capital, evidenced by very low human development index of 0.329 (ranked as 182 out of 189 countries, UNDP, 2011). In addition to weak infrastructure, the security sector is struggling for logistic to effectively function. Awfully, the health sector is not only over-stretched with very limited specialized medical doctors, but still using outdated medical facilities to provide health services in only few populated urban towns. Shamefully, the country’s renowned knowledge producing institution, University of Liberia, is ranked 7900 in the world and outside the top 200 universities in Africa (World University Ranking, 2012: www.4icu.org), with limited quality staff to compete on the frontier of academic knowledge. Limited access to energy (power) stands as serious macroeconomic constraint for a thriving investment climate. Amidst all of these, our national budget operates in perennial deficit while we front for budget support to achieve development through another “allocative extravagance”.

For Liberia to economically take-off, we need to confront the problem of our own past and see the image reflected therein through an unbiased decision. Sustainable development in Liberia should be seen as a “generational challenge” anchored on promulgating innovative policies and strategies to foster Liberia’s progress and induce transformational change. We expressed our voices for sustainable development through our far-sighted legislators, who are now deceptively using their power to allocate resources for perpetuation of their political hegemony. With the ongoing decision to fund parties from our scarce national budget, one wonders when Liberia would get ready to move out of the “underdevelopment box” and converge with other progressive African nations. Our legislators must come to know that actualization of Liberia’s aspiration by tremendously reducing poverty depends on exhaustively tackling our priorities: infrastructure, education, health, security and agriculture.

The main inference therefore is that prerequisite for sustainable economic development is through capital formation and human capital development which enhance strong political institutions. Policy for strengthening political institutions should be integrated to national development priority focusing on education, health, infrastructure, agriculture and security with less emphasis on directly funding parties and candidates for democratic sustenance. Use the legislature as a development frontline to make Liberians better-off through good infrastructure, better education, improved security, decent health center and pro-agriculture policies, which are the recipe for national human development and institutional strengthening, otherwise “gross national unhappiness” shall continually haunt us. Any use of public fund for parties and candidates exposes Liberia to more political woes, because our political institutions are still built around individuals with “egoistic” vision.

The Author
Dukuly is currently an economic lecturer at the University of Liberia (UL). He is a PhD fellow of Econometrics and Development Finance at the Universities of Nairobi (Kenya) and Dar Es Salaam (Tanzania), and former lecturer in Development Economics at the University of Nairobi in Kenya.

By Musa Dukuly, PhD Fellow/Lecturer of Economics, University of Liberia

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