Saturday, 19 March 2011

Sirleaf’s Diaspora Policy is Long Overdue

The Editor,

When Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf became president she traveled the world,
especially across the United States encouraging Diaspora Liberians to
come home with their skills and money to help develop their country
a good idea one would think. With the exuberance of a new political
dispensation obtaining in Liberia, many Liberians took up the
president's offer; sold their homes, packed up and moved to Liberia to
live their dreams. I think people naively believed that the system of
corruption would disappear overnight hence the election of a
no-nonsense, anticorruption president. But to the surprise of many it
would be their worst decision ever, perhaps a nightmare. The vampires
within the corrupt government bureaucracies awaited these
unsuspecting, exuberant homecoming Liberians.

By the time you were done paying numerous bribes and going through
onerous red tape to get anything accomplished, one was almost out of
money. For many it meant selling their personal belongings at a huge
financial loss and then returning to the United States to start life
all over again. In fact a director in Customs at the Ministry of
Finance complained that many Liberians were coming, taking advantage
of duty free privilege only to sell their belongings and returning to
the United States. Well he may have been right on both issues but
there were good reasons why people were doing that. Notwithstanding
the government failed to find out the root cause of people returning
to the United States after going through so much to make the journey
home. Some brave souls shared their epic stories online detailing the
hideous corrupt bureaucracy at the Freeport and other government
agencies. Some were simply too embarrassed to tell their stories
The mistake Sirleaf made was that unlike Rwanda or a handful of
African countries that have systems in place for returning Diasporas,
no system were put in place to accommodate these homecoming Liberians.
Consequently people were left to the vices of the corrupt bureaucracy
which robbed them of their hard earned cash before they even had a
chance to settle in Liberia. That was a lost opportunity for the
country and a failure of government to cease an opportunity which
would have contributed to socio- economic development of the country.
So when I read a recent article on FrontPage Reconnect with Homeland:
Sirleaf Tells Visiting Diaspora Liberians I thought why did it take
five years for her to address this important issue? I am sure she had
over the past five years heard complaints from many Liberians when she
visited the United States. However, it is better late than never but
now she must deliver a real solution. I am encouraged by her plan to
speed-up the dual-citizenship law. Secondly, any Diaspora program put
in place must be directed from the President's office to give it the
credibility it deserves otherwise people will have doubts. The
nightmarish stories are still fresh in the minds of many across the
Once the program is up and running there should be a link on the
Executive Mansion website where people can go to learn about the
program. On the website there should be a means to send and receive
emails. In other words one should be able to interact with staff
running the program. People should be able to ask questions and get
answers in a timely manner - within a couple of business days, not
weeks or months, or never. All these things will give the program the
credibility it deservers otherwise Diaspora Liberians will not have
the confidence to risk relocating to or investing in Liberia.
Philemon George,