Monday, December 6, 2010

Tiawon Gongloe’s Stance: A Reasons to be Hopeful (By: William G. Nyanue)

Source: The Liberian Journal

William G. Nyanue

 Not long after Cllr. Gongloe published his reaction to President Johnson-Sirleaf’s decision to send her entire cabinet but one on "Administrative Leave”, a friend of mine asked what I thought about the Cllr.’s reaction. I told my friend that I thought Cllr. Gongloe had performed a true national service. I told him that I thought his statement addressed several issues that are critical for the development and nurturing of our fledgling democracy, but two caught my eye and I thought he addressed those two issues clearly, forcefully and transparently. His handling of those two issues, I thought, was exemplary and is the subject of this article.

I realize that it is easy to use actions such as Cllr. Gongloe’s for various political ends and thereby completely miss or simply ignore the very important issues he raised. So, in writing this piece I am careful to find just the right words in order to focus the readers’ attention on the issues and avoid being seen as another political actor who wants to take a potshot at the President, or as someone who is out to sing Cllr. Gongloe’s praise. I don’t know if I’ve succeeded but I think the benefits of weighing-in on this very important thing that has happened in our country and possibly engendering a serious, civil discussion outweigh the risk of being misunderstood.

The first of the two issues I thought Cllr. Gongloe’s recent actions raised, and addressed, was the unfortunate view of government officials that has developed in our country. There is now the pervasive belief by the general public that every government official is corrupt; that all those who opt for public service, or more correctly, those afforded opportunities to serve in our government, are motivated by greed and the desire for wealth. The President’s recent action only strengthened this perception.

Of course the public’s view about government officials and corruption, while not entirely true (not every government official is corrupt), is informed by the sad history of endemic corruption in our country. The culture of public corruption has contributed in no small measure to the current state of our country and has kept many promising Liberians in a state of perpetual poverty and hopelessness. And because our national leaders have been far, far less than effective in dealing with this cancer, the general public has not only become distrusting of government and those who run it, but we are approaching a point where government officials, I mean all government officials without exception, will be viewed the same way tax collectors were viewed in Jesus’ days. Instead of government service being seen as an honorable and patriotic thing as it is in other countries, ours is slowly becoming a dishonorable thing.

So, I thought it was high time someone reminded us that, in spite of the undeniable fact of public corruption in our country and the urgent need for drastic action, there has always been a group of Liberians, albeit small, for whom public service has always been motivated by a genuine desire to help build a just and prosperous Liberia. Members of that group have often been variously referred to by the larger society as being naive, not using their heads, stubborn, critical, etc. But that characterization has never deterred them from being consumed by the desire to do the right thing and to lead a lifestyle that supported that desire. I think Cllr. Gongloe, by his recent action, reminded us that that group still exists in today’s Liberia and many more of us need to aspire to become its members. Corruption will be minimized by instituting systems that work but also if each of us would challenge himself/herself to become, where we are today, the men and women of integrity that we would like to see in government.

The second issue that I thought Cllr. Gongloe’s statement and subsequent actions highlighted and addressed was the issue of the exercise of political power in Liberia. Historically, our Presidents and other public officials have held the view, in my opinion, that no matter what they did we will always come crawling to them, even sell our man/womanhood, for a government job no matter the level of our education/training/expertise. And by and large they’ve been on the money. The evidence shows that we will do practically anything to get and keep a government job. And this is why I think Cllr. Gongloe’s recent action, a complete departure from this “normal” practice, is worth serious notice.

In his statement, Cllr. Gongloe said when he was asked whether he would call the President to lobby to be recalled to his position at the Ministry of Labor he told those who had called, “My answer is no and the reason is the responsibility to call is hers not mine.” By letting the President know that he thought that it was her responsibility to call him, Cllr. Gongloe did something alien to our society, at least in recent memory. He let the President know, as I think all senior government officials should, that it was she who needed him – needed them to help actualize her vision. And I don’t believe this stance was informed by a sense of indispensability, for surely I know Cllr. Gongloe does not entertain the illusion that he is indispensable. I believe his stance was informed by international best practice whereby no serious leader treats his/her valuable asset (the cabinet) nonchalantly and with disregard.

Furthermore, not only that we always come crawling to our national leaders no matter how they treat us, but we accept whatever they give us. Cllr. Gongloe again departed from this “normal” response to the use of political power in our country. When the President reconstituted her cabinet, it was reported she offered him the position of Minster of Post and Telecommunications. Cllr. Gongloe was reported to have refused the offer on grounds that he did not believe he had the expertise for the position. Not only that he will not go begging for his old job, but he will not take just any position.

Corporations, and I believe nations, that prosper are those that diligently/intentionally seek-out talents and expertise and then deploy them in such a way as not only to enhance productivity, but also promote and spur innovation. Our leaders often forget, or perhaps simply don’t know, that those who have the liberty to innovate are those who not only understand how something is done, but who also can answer the “Why” question—why is the thing done the way it is done? In the case of Liberia, we not only expect “talents and expertise” to seek-out the government, but the government often deploys our limited talent/expertise in a way that suggests that the only consideration is simply to provide a job. We and our leaders seem to have come to the erroneous conclusion that all one needs to serve in any given government position is common sense. We ignore or simply don’t know that each profession has its own language and culture. So, our leaders often end up putting some of us round pegs in square holes, and sadly we accept with gratitude.

I suggest that this President, who came to the position with so much promise and goodwill, and aspiring future leaders of our country carefully read/study Cllr. Gongloe’s statement. I think heeding its message will be a very good thing for the future of our country. I believe our country will continue to be denied the best that many of its citizens can offer as long as political power continues to be exercised the way it has been historically exercised by our political leaders.

Before writing this piece, I sent Cllr. Gongloe an email to let him know that I thought he did a very valuable national service by his recent statement and subsequent actions. I concluded that email with the following paragraph:

Finally, let me say that I don’t know whether or not you and I will be members of the same political party, or even support the same candidates—but then again we just might. But I am convinced that for someone like you, loyalty to a political party/individual leader will never supersede loyalty to country; exercising your best judgment, I sense that what is best for our country will be your motivation and overriding consideration. I know for such principled stance there is always a price to be paid, but you already know that that’s a price worth paying.

Principled stance, without arrogance and the pounding of the chest, is something not often seen in our society, especially in recent times. So, when we have the rare opportunity to see one displayed I think a genuine “Hooray!” is in order.

Editor’s Note: Mr. Nyanue can be reached at and at 847-298-5523

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