Goal: Build at least 5,000 affordable homes a year over the next five years to solve the acute housing shortage in major cities like Monrovia.
Encourage private sector development of affordable but decent housing in well-planned suburban communities surrounding major cities like Monrovia. Government can guarantee development loans for private developers who, in turn, will provide affordable homes, costing between $8,000-15,000 per unit and 15 to 20-year mortgage loans, with monthly payments starting as low as $50-$100 that the ordinary Liberian who needs better housing can afford. Provide low-cost public transportation to transport residents from these communities to jobs and markets in city centers.
In addition to providing an improved standard of living for ordinary Liberians, better homes will alleviate the problem of slum and shanties that detract from the look of major cities and give the government the opportunity to better plan and implement urban development and beautification projects.
Housing construction can also trigger economic growth and job creation, producing a multiplier effect throughout the economy. It directly creates jobs for laborers, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, etc. It also requires the purchase of building materials (lumber, zinc, etc) that leads to indirect job creation in other sectors of the economy. Once a person moves into a new home, he is likely to purchase furniture and appliances, which also leads to job creation in other sectors.
Goal:Reduce by a third the level of illiteracy within 10 years, with the ultimate goal of achieving close to universal literacy over a thirty-year period.
Study, adapt and employ strategies used by other societies, like Cuba, to successfully increase literacy levels in a short period of time. Create a national student corps program under which high school students who graduate from government-run schools will spend one year between graduation from high school and enrolment in college working on literacy campaigns outside their communities for a small stipend. Also consider creating a program in which students who attend government-owned universities spend six months after college working on literacy campaigns. Launch a massive national publicity and mobilization campaign to involve adults who are literate to volunteer at least once a week for literacy campaigns. Provide incentives, such as presidential or national awards, for individuals who devote significant amount of time to literacy volunteer work.
Goal:Ensure that within 5 years there is at least one computer in each classroom to make sure our young people are sufficiently IT savvy to compete in an increasingly digital world.
Purchase refurbished computers at bargain basement prices. (Note I just participated in a program to send fully loaded but refurbished computers that cost under $200 to journalists in Liberia, and we bought them from regular merchants, who had a built in profit margin in the price.) If the government directly works with businesses and firms that regularly discard used computers, it could conceivable obtain such refurbished computers at prices closer to or even below $100 per computer.
Goal: Make compulsory universal education a reality for K-12.
Devote larger share of national budget to school building. Government should come up with a series of standardized but simple architectural designs for public school buildings. It should then encourage local communities to build schools, using local materials, such as mud bricks, and having community residents volunteer their time to work on school construction. Government can encourage such volunteerism by creating a national school building competition, with the county or community that builds the most schools receiving recognition and a monetary award from the national government
Goal:Provide free or subsidized lunch for students in kindergarten through 6th grade and then look to expand the program to grades 7 through 12 in 5 years.
Free or heavily subsidized lunch will help ensure universal education because parents who know their students will get at least one decent meal a day in school are likely to make sure their children attend school daily. Properly fed students are also more likely to excel in their studies. The government should standardize the school lunch diet and contract out to private Liberians the preparation and supply of ready made meals to schools. Government can work with local communities to develop a school diet but, as much as much as possible, diet should be based on foods grown in Liberia (cassava, plantain, eddoes, sweet potato, etc).
Goal: Spot and nurture gifted and talented students
Set up program to spot exceptionally gifted and talented students, particular in the had sciences, in the early grades (1-6), who will pass competitive exams for enrollment in specially established regional academies (grades 7-12) for rigorous academic training. Provide full scholarships (tuition, books, and board) for top graduates from such academies for enrollment in the University of Liberia and then enrollment in graduate school abroad. The ultimate goal is to create a pool of talented professionals in the hard sciences who can, among other things, run or work in research institutions funded by the government, or teach at the university, including creating and running graduate degree granting programs in their areas of specialization.
Goal:Provide capacity to absorb 5,000 newly enrolled university students annually
Create a University of Liberia System, with the flag ship campus remaining in Monrovia/Fendel, but with regional universities around the country to meet the increased demand for access to university education
Goal:Increase supply of teachers and attract the best minds to teaching.
Invest in and expand the current teacher training institutes in Kakata and Zorzor. Consider significant increase in teachers’ salary to attract the best minds to teaching. Create annual program to honor the best teachers selected by students—probably institute annual best teacher awards for teachers from each county or school district.
Goal:Create 1,000-2,000 commercial farmers over 5-10 years who are capable of large scale production of export crops (cocoa, coffee, mangoes, pineapples, bananas, plantains, papayas, etc.)
At present, virtually every Liberian farmer operates on a subsistence level that is insufficient to generate income to lift him and his family out of poverty. A long term goal of turning these farmers into profitable commercial farmers should begin with training people from various local communities to be "farmer field school" technicians, who can teach famers in their local languages simple ways of improving farming methods and yields by employing proper planting and harvesting techniques and using inexpensive/readily available tools to fight pest and weed problems. Farmer field school sessions will be held on the weekends literally in the field, i.e., farms (cocoa, coffee, mango, etc) selected by farmers in the communities. Experts from the Ministry of Agriculture, working with the farmer field school technicians, will spot those farmers, who by their current farming output, level of interest and participation in the farmer field schools, demonstrate the ability to succeed as commercial farmers. The government, working with private sector lenders, will then help these farmers acquire sufficient land as well as farming equipment and supplies (fertilizers, seeds, machinery, etc) necessary to support large scale commercial farming. Farmers must also be trained in post-harvesting techniques, including proper handling and packaging of products to meet standards set by the authorities in major importing regions or countries, such as the EU and the US.
To ensure farmers retain as much money as possible from their labor, government should seriously consider doing away with monopolies, including government monopolies, such as the Liberia Produce Marketing Company (LPMC), that have exclusive authority to export agricultural products. Instead, the government should focus on helping farmers set up cooperatives that can export their products.
Goal: Produce at least 200 doctors every year for the next 10 years.
Restore and possibly increase the $50 monthly stipend for medical students; ensure free education, housing and meal for medical students; make arrangements with teachings hospitals in the US, Europe and Asia (India, China, and Japan) for graduates of medical schools in Liberia to pursue specialized training, with the emphasis on primary health care training.
Goal:Provide access to health care facilities with minimum of equipment.
Refurbish and get up to speed JFK hospital as well as existing hospitals in the various counties. Ensure that every major hospital in Liberia has latest diagnostic equipment (X-rays, CT scanners, MRI’s, Dialysis machines, Electrocardiogram machines, etc) and the trained personnel to operate such equipment. The prices for such equipment are not as prohibitive as they seem. For example, depending on whether it is refurbished and the level of technology it has, a CT scanner at the lower price range costs about $100,000 to $150,000; medium prices range from $150,000 to $300,000, and the top prices range from $300,000 to $500,000. The government of Liberia can enter credit arrangements with seller/manufacturer of such equipment so that the costs of acquiring them are paid over several years with minimum strain on the national budget.
Goal: Make tourism a major source of foreign exchange earnings
Use Liberia’s historical ties to the US as a branding and marketing tool to attract US tourists, particularly African-American tourists, to visit Liberia. A well-executed media/ad campaign playing on the cultural/historical ties between Liberia and the US can be a starting point for such an effort. Such a campaign need not be expensive. The advent of multi-channel cable television means that one can target ads to specific communities/areas of the country, without paying the hefty ad costs that come with a national ad campaign. For example, ads can be targeted at communities such as Prince George’s County, a Maryland suburb just outside Washington, DC and other areas with significant black population with disposable income.
On the home front, the government will need to make the tourism arm of the Ministry of Information, Cultural Affairs and Tourism more functional. It may make sense to carve out the Tourism arm of the Ministry as a separate entity that will work to provide tourist attractions, such as living history farms, for visitors.
F. INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY
Goal: Use IT to promote and enhance efficiencies within the government
Develop nation-wide Information and Communications Technology (ICT) plans to standardize technologies and solutions across government entities and to support:
Government ministries and agencies;
Local governments and municipalities
eGovernment initiatives (Government services provided through Internet-based services)
Reduced costs for ICT services across government (economy of scale)
II.Political and Governmental Reforms
A. Making the political process more democratic by amending constitution so that:
City mayors are elected by the people and not appointed by the president; Only the people and not the president can remove elected tribal chiefs from office.
Terms of office of members of the House of Representatives and the Senate are reduced from 6 and 9 years to 4 and 6 years respectively; (the current terms are too long and deprive the people of the opportunity to more frequently evaluate the performance of their elected representatives through the ballot box)
B. Promote decentralization by enacting legislation ensuring that:
Superintendents of counties and district commissioners are elected by the people and not appointed by the president; Revenues generated from real estate taxes go into the coffers of the local government and not the national government
C. Reduce the size of government and control public spending by:
Reducing number of ministries and agencies and/or consolidating some of them. Reducing number of deputy and assistant ministers in each ministry from the current three or four each to no more than two each. Publish online all items of government spending over $20,000 along with salaries of cabinet and sub-cabinet officials, and other senior political appointees, as well as top officials of public corporations and commissions. Place strong limits on number of foreign trips government officials can make per year at the expense of government, with limit to be exceeded only upon showing of significant need for trip
D. Insulate officials of public commissions and boards of public corporations from political pressure by:
Appointing them to fixed terms of office, subject to removal only upon a showing of cause. Limit the president powers to appoint members of commissions and of boards of public corporations so that the president can appoint a majority of the members of such commission or boards, with the opposition party with the largest number of vote having the right to appoint minority members. For example, if a board or commission has five members, the president may appoint the chairman and two other members for a total of three members, with the opposition appoint the remaining two members
E. Ensure the existence of a viable opposition to check the excesses of the ruling party by:
Enacting laws providing state funding for the two opposition parties with the highest number of votes in the preceding presidential election or the most seats in the legislature as well as some financial support for the leaderships of such parties. All too often in societies like Liberia where the government is the major employer, members of the opposition are forced to join the ruling party to ensure they obtain a job to make a living. This tends to defang the opposition and effectively leads to the creation of a de facto one-party state. Providing opposition parties and their leaderships with some minimal funding will likely ensure they remain independent of the government and in the long run help consolidate a truly multi-party system in young democracies such as Liberia.