Four of Liberia’s presidential candidates including Charles Brumskine, Alexander Cummings Joseph Boakai and Benoni Urey have each suggested strategies that they believe could work in strengthening national security here, if they were elected Liberia’s next president this October.
The first in a live presidential debate on Thursday, 17 August featured opposition Alternative National Congress (ANC’s) Cummings, opposition All Liberian Party (ALP’s) Urey, ruling Unity Party (UP’s) Boakai and opposition Liberty Party (LP’s) Brumskine.
Two opposition presidential candidates who had also been earmarked for the debate including Movement for Economic Empowerment (MOVEE’s) Dr. Mills Jones and Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC’s) Sen. George Weah did not appear.
In response to what could be done to strengthen security and rule of law here, the ruling UP’s Joseph Nyumah Boakai says the issue about Liberia’s security is not external, but internal.
Mr. Boakai agrees that Liberia has done well in training its soldiers [and other security personnel], but he suggests that if crimes are committed, the criminal must be brought to bear and the rules must be enforced without seeking to protect certain people.
Mr. Boakai believes that the law works in a way that “nobody should be protected” from its enforcement, regardless of who they are. “You can’t have rules for certain people,” he says, arguing that to be able to protect society, one must be able to protect everybody.
He notes that there are crimes and there are criminals everywhere in the world, but he believes that if the quality of education and lives of the people are improved, it would make headlines in terms of [improving security].
But opposition ANC’s Alexander Cummings believes that Liberia’s biggest security risk is the number of unemployed youth in the country. He has strongly argued that the police force and the army need to be strengthened, trained and paid more in addressing security issues here.
“But again I say to you unless we grow this economy … unless we give jobs to our people, we will not solve the national security problem,” Mr. Cummings says. He maintains that unless Liberia addresses the underlying causes of the insecurity, fixes the economy and provides jobs for the young people, those who may see themselves as having nothing to lose or to protect, may be very vulnerable to doing things that destabilize the society.
He agrees with Mr. Boakai that there has to be consequences against people who misbehave, but he also argues that there cannot be consequences for just the petty criminals.
He wants government to extend punitive measures against government officials who steal because he believes that a rogue is a rogue, no matter who the rouge is. Giving his perspective on the question, Cllr. Brumskine says his government will ensure [neutrality] regarding security and law enforcement, claiming that as president, there would be no influence if for instance, he heard that Liberty Party chairperson had been arrested.
He promises to work with the judiciary, the chief justice and lawyers to make sure that some of the problems in the justice system are solved. Cllr. Brumskine agrees with Cummings that the underlying thing is the economy, but notes that the LP has specific plans from which it will move the Liberian economy forward.
He criticizes the Sirleaf - Boakai administration for relying on the Tubman policy over the years and exporting unprocessed raw materials. Instead, Cllr. Brumskine says his government wants to diversify the economy and not rely on natural resources as major source of revenues.
In his promise to create more jobs for Liberians, Cllr. Brumskine says small business institutes will be created to help Liberians get loans and finance their business operations.
For his part, Mr. Urey says the issue of security and the justice system are not a challenge only for the president and vice president of Liberia, but a challenge for every Liberian.
“Our security sector needs a lot of improvement,” he says, suggesting the need to tap on the resources of experienced security personnel. Mr. Urey is suggesting the need to scrap some powers from the hands of the president by establishing a “Ministry of National Security” that would work as umbrella institution for Liberia’s security apparatus where experts would review security reports and come up with decisions.
He wants experts to be brought in the country to play advisory role in his proposed “Ministry of National Security” to avoid the president being too involved in the security matters. Mr. Urey does not favor the idea that the National Security Agency here, the police and immigration are all reporting to the president.
Instead, he believes that if a national security ministry is established, all the security apparatus would be under one umbrella where experts will be able to examine security reports.
Today, he claims that a lot of information the president gets are not correct, claiming that they just fool and lie to the president and she in turn takes action. Though he admits that at times “we” get angry with the president, Mr. Urey notes that they are getting to realize that it is due to the alleged misinformation given her.
He therefore suggests that a trained security expert is needed to evaluate these security reports and come up with a decision.
“This is what we need in this country, to ensure that these security people don’t go around lying [about] people. They use these things to generate money…,” Mr. Urey claims.
Mr. Urey notes that it is inhumane to give the average man on the street, the police and teacher low income, on grounds that one official makes $75,000 a year when others cannot earn $10,000 in a year.
But in reaction to Urey, Mr. Boakai credits the Sirleaf government for allowing the public to know how much people make today, unlike the way it was in the past.
--By Winston W. Parley, editing by Othello B. Garblah