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Poverty Reduction may become Poverty Revitalization

Some of these programs like the poverty reduction strategy (PRS) currently in full swing in Liberia consist of borrowed ideas that often times don’t align with our own situation and needs. The World Bank and IMF notorious for one size fits all solutions might be prescribing for Liberia what may not fit our unique situation. I don’t know for sure but I have serious reservation about Liberia’s readiness for such ambitious if not ambiguous undertaking. Before adopting a poverty reduction strategy, a clear understanding of why these people are poor in the first place is inextricable and an indispensable factor that must not be oversimplified. A wrong diagnosis will evidently result into a wrong prescription of course and worsen or does nothing to help the situation. Read PRS document here.

PRS presently going into its second year in Liberia assumes that Liberia was relatively a wealthy state prior to the 14 year war and blames the country’s poverty on the war. This is according to the Joint Staff Advisory Note on the Poverty Reduction Strategy which lays the foundation for the program. While the war clearly exacerbated the situation, pinpointing this unfortunate man made situation as the sole reason for poverty in the country is a false premise upon which to adopt and implement a strategy as poverty was real and active in Liberia even prior to the war. But even if Liberia only started to be poor as a result of the long civil war, I don’t believe our present government is well positioned and able to achieve poverty reduction anytime soon. My skepticism takes into consideration government’s own weaknesses and the time it is taking for this body to get a foothold on its own mandate and put a functioning structure into place. As the government scrambles to put itself together to be what a government ought to be, it is ill advised to put too much on the shoulders of this government that for time now has been gasping for air to stand on its own feet with each component understanding what it suppose to do and be accountable to the people.

I don’t want to be insensitive to the plight of the Liberian people by insinuating that poverty reduction is not a priority but I don’t think the stage is yet set for such ambitious undertaking. To me such venture is like asking a drowning person to rescue another drowning person. The government which heads the country needs to be responsible and accountable to gain the trust of the people before attempting to rescue them out of poverty. After years of abuse by government and its soldiers, it would take concrete actions and fruits worthy of repentance to buy back the people whom for years have been the target of government’s evil machinations and ineptness. After years of cheating the people out of everything, this government has to demonstrate that it is able to swim before attempting to rescue a drowning population. So far it has not proved to use money for projects it was intended for, restrain or punish those who rob the poor, close the loopholes through which monies continue to be sucked out, uphold, protect and defend the constitution or restrain its voracious appetite for prodigal living on other people’s money.

I believe using this broad stroke of PRS to address poverty in a country few years ago was considered a failed state is overly ambitious and a frivolous attempt to be busy doing nothing. The actual functions and expectations of each branch of government are in themselves poverty reduction strategies. Consequently accountability and efficiency alone can address our major needs and drive down poverty considerably. We have enough money and resources to go around if managed properly or if every government employee from the president up to the street sweeper does what is required of his/her job. Why I don’t dismiss the need for setting goals and working towards them, let government be what government was set up to be - a credible representation of the people and we will not have to carry on one by one all those things that need to be reduced - poverty reduction, crimes reduction, diseases reduction, illiteracy reduction, prostitution reduction, domestic violence reduction, inequalities reduction, unemployment reduction, etc. They will all be grouped under the mandate of a responsible government that is doing its job. If government fails to redeem her image and be accountable, it cannot be a trustworthy agent to reduce poverty even for a single village. I don’t know how many persons will trust the same person who has wounded them to treat those same wounds. I will be skeptical if not scary of such “abuser by night, therapist by day.”

It came as no surprise to me that the government ministry responsible for the planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the PRS (wow, that is heck of a job) reported that there has been dismal performance –achieving a mere 18% of what it set out to do after one full year. According to its framers, the PRS sets up the government’s agenda wrapped up in a four-pillar structure including enhancement of security, economic revitalization, good governance and rule of law and rehabilitating infrastructure and delivering basic services. You can imagine that this should embody the function of an entire government which now rests upon one ministry especially that which is headed by a rookie minister.

It is self explanatory that the Minister who heads such project could blame the poor performance or early failures on the policy aspect of the PRS. The problem is with policy? The minister could be correct because policy drives everything; it is typically the plan of action that guides decisions towards desired outcomes. And this is exactly where the Sirleaf government has struggled miserably in most of its workings. Those political, management, financial and administrative mechanisms laid out to reach explicit goals or policy as the minister called them are either none existent or just for flow show. And I am in sympathy with the Sirleaf government because it takes time for Liberia to get herself out of the hole dug as a result of a century of misrule exacerbated by the long years of lawlessness and bloodletting and that what makes pulling her self out of this hole an urgent priority before anything else. It has done a good job in putting a number of band aids on those open wounds by constantly shuffling and reshuffling its workers so that by some luck things will just fall in place. Unfortunately, the policy and lack of system wounds are still visible to cause a setback for the drive to reduce poverty. But as the Minister as observed, there is no substitute for policies and so if that aspect falters or lapses everything else will fail. What would make sense in my view is for government to first lead the effort to get all its parts up to speed and functioning well. When government becomes government, a system that lasts beyond a presidential term will be put into place, policies will be put forward and followed through, penalties and rewards set for good or bad behaviors and the rest of it will follow through even if we don’t reach our 100% milestone. But for now, recovery has been ridiculously slow due to the lack of serious effort and it makes government so ill prepared for any serious undertaking such a poverty reduction program.

I suggest that let government be government first –accountable and effective and poverty which is a result of the many things that plaque government ranging from ineptness to mismanagement will drastically reduce. If we jump the gun to attempt reducing poverty first before making government what government ought to be, this poverty reduction strategy or PRS will become a poverty revitalization scheme instead. And that other PRS will be unpardonable.

And that's the way I see it.

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