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The study investigated decentralization and local government autonomy and how these factors enhance grassroots development in Liberia. The onerous centralized system of government practiced in Liberia is thought to have impeded development and significantly hindered local participation in decision making. However, it is a litmus test to see if the Decentralization Policy initiated by the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf administration will grant local government the requisite autonomy to engage in development at the local level.

The study adopted a survey research design .The population of the study was the entire population of Liberia with a population of  4.5 million people according to the Liberia Institute of Statistics and Geo-Information 2008 National Census. The largeness of the population compelled the researcher to draw the sample from three counties that were purposively selected and a total of 395 respondents as sample size. The main instrument of the study was questionnaire which was tested with a reliability of 0.88 Cronbach Alpha. A total of 395 questionnaire were administered and 386 of those were retrieved for analysis. Data collected was analyzed with SPSS version 21 through descriptive and inferential statistics.

The findings gathered from the study revealed that the three counties selected, Bong had the highest (56%) respondents, followed by Nimba (35%) and Gbarpolu (9%) respectively and that most respondents had acquired secondary education (51%), followed by Bachelor Degrees (34%) and a few Masters. Also, the findings of the study revealed that Liberia has a centralized system of governance which has impeded development and punctured political participation in decision making. It was disclosed by the findings that decentralization is not an entirely new phenomenon; but its realization has been hampered by lack of defined policy and legislation. Lack of professionals, government’s commitment and political will were identified as some factors that militate against decentralization. Additionally, it was unearthed that the applicability of decentralization is assured as it builds the fiscal, political, economic and decision-making capacities of local sub government. Finally and by no means the least, local government was identified as engines of development because of it nature and proximity to those they represent.

 The study concluded that decentralization and local government autonomy are two distinct, but inseparable precursors of grassroots development. The following recommendation were proffered based on the findings: there should be concerted effort for the three branches of the Liberian government should coordinate by increasing budgetary allotment to support the decentralization process and enact or repeal laws that promoted centralization; there should be attractive salaries to lure professionals to the counties and each county should have a university to groom would-be leaders of the county; information regarding implementation of the policy be properly disseminated to suit local consumption and there should be continuity of the policy because most policies died with successive government.

Keywords: Decentralization, Local government, Autonomy, Fiscal, Political,

                    Economic, Grassroots development



1.1  Background to the Study

Decentralization as a concept is not completely new to Africa; but rather, it has adopted diverse strategies. English speaking and French Speaking African nations have seen various pre-and post-war decentralizations. After independence, governments across Africa kept on utilizing governments at the local levels as administrative units, and significant elements of local governments, for example, basic healthcare, construction of roads, education and local revenue collection were shifted toward central government control (Gbartea, 2011).

Kiwanuka (2012) believes that African nations have additionally capitulated to the expanding wave of cities and metropolitans. Some dominant elites groups in Africa, for example, the Americo-Liberian in Liberia embraced decentralization as a means to bargain with local elites with secessionist tendencies, and as a remedy for political instability. Nations began truly considering decentralization as an option after the manifest disappointments resulting from centralized economic planning in the 1970’s. Although there was no confirmation that decentralization would succeed, there were adequate information demonstrating that the centralized system of governance had failed (Awortwi, 2010). As Mookherjee (2006) observes, the primary reason for embarking upon decentralization is that transfer of some central government powers, assets, duties, and responsibility to lower tiers empowers local institutions and associations to engage in more successful self-administration and improvement suitable to local conditions.

The historical backdrop of modern local government systems in developing nations, including Liberia, is stacked with experimentation. There have been purposeful endeavors to modernize; however, tradition is still profoundly established (Ekpe, 2007). Some eminent issues confronting local government systems in developing nations with Liberia not an exemption include, but rather are not restricted to, basic dysfunctionality, absence of acceptable and ideal structure, capacities and duties. At the point when these are tended to, local government could be receptive to the necessities of the rural citizens who make up a large number of the populace in the developing countries (Ekpe, Ekpe, and Daniels, 2013).

The Liberian Local Government system is exceptional when contrasted with different countries in West Africa. Local Government authorities, generally, are designated by the central government, and have no characterized powers and capacities. All choices with respect to development projects and use of money are made at the central, and the local governments are compelled to do the bidding of the central government (Gbartea, 2011). The 1986 Constitution of the Republic of Liberia gives the President the exclusive authority to appoint county administrators and other local authorities (Article 54 Sec D). The Constitution additionally states in Article 56 (A) that every single such authority appointed by the President holds office at the pleasure and will of that President. This obviously has been the pattern of administration in Liberia since the 1986 Constitution came into existence. Authorities of government work at the will of the President and are not responsible to the general population even at the local sub-units (Gbala, 2004).

The process of decentralization in Liberia began as far back as the later phase of the nineteenth century. In 1880, G.W. Gibson outlined a plan by which full citizenship would extend to aboriginal groups in return for an increased production of agricultural commodities. However, the coming of Arthur Barclay to the presidency of Liberia in 1904 is by and large considered a defining moment in Liberian politics; since it denoted the start of a deliberate, official strategy to build up a hinterland administration grounded on the British principle of indirect rule. Barclay formally established the principle of recognizing the pre-existing indigenous power structures (or rather, what "Americo-Liberians" took for indigenous power structures) and controlling through powerful families of local political groups. He imposed a uniform system of administration through a two-layered system of "Paramount Chiefs" and "Town Chiefs" on the hinterland (Gerdes, 2013).

Afterward, President William V.S. Tubman in 1948 promulgated the Unification Policy which was adapted towards integrating the hinterland. His endeavors can, to a significant degree, be traced to the way that Tubman, brought up in Maryland County, was relatively untouched by the Monrovia establishment and in part turned to less powerful groups with a specific end goal to build a voting public (Pham, 2004).

Immediately following President Johnson- Sirleaf ascendency in 2006, the President's administration started sweeping changes geared toward the consolidation of peace and the establishment of a legal framework simultaneously that would set the basis for a decentralized system of government. Amongst her first acts as President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf repositioned the Governance Reform Commission (GRC) which was a brainchild of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in Accra, Ghana, which was geared toward promoting good governance and instituting public sector management reforms. Executive Order Number 2, issued March 6, 2006 changed the GRC into the Governance Commission (GC) authorized to finalize and actualize blue print giving alternatives to political, social and economic decentralization (USAID, 2012).

In any case, the return to civilian democratic leadership in Liberia was an initial step to bringing sustainable change. The first post- war government through  an initiative of the  President introduced programs and decision-making processes geared toward empowering local citizens to take interest in electing county officials, and managing local development. This process could be enhanced, and will engender adequate local participation in making decision at the local level (Nyei, 2011).

Alongside the draft Local Government Act of 2013, the decentralization process will concede political, fiscal, administrative and economic autonomy to the counties; this will induce sufficient participation in basic leadership at the local level, allowing local ownership of development activities.

1.2 Statement of the Problem

In line with the current global trend of streamlining the role of the state, the governments of most developing countries including Liberia  have devolved power to grassroots institutions with a view to enhance development. Grassroots development is very essential to the overall development of any country. It is intended to bring development closer to the people and enhance local participation in the governance process of any country.

However, this seems to be absent in Liberia. Liberia has been branded as under-developed after several decades of existence. The country remains inaccessible and impassable after more than a century and a half of existence. The administrative system of governance and development initiatives have been firmly situated in the capital and in the hands of a very few people with the president at the center of this hegemonic authority. There seems to be lack of basic structures at the local level which leads to government employees at all levels to abandon their duties to travel to the capital to receive their pay check not without difficulty. Local government employees are seen as an extension of the government in the capital; at such, they are reportable to their bosses in the capital in every respect.

Additionally, rural citizens lack control over resources and the opportunity to participate in decision making. They are not empowered to participate or engage their leaders in the development process. Development programs are planned by stakeholders at the central level; some of whom have not seen what is obtainable at the local level. Consequently, this has led the researcher to investigate the centralized problem and how decentralization and local government autonomy could enhance grassroots development in Liberia

1.3 Objective of the Study

The main objective of the study is to examine the roles of decentralization and local government autonomy in the assessment of grassroots development in Liberia. The specific objectives are to:

1.      examine the implication of centralized system of administration to grassroots development in  Liberia;

2.      investigate the type of decentralization adopted and factors impeding its realization in Liberia;

3.      probe the applicability of decentralization to grassroots development in post- war Liberia and

4.      interrogate the usefulness of local government to grassroots development in Liberia.

1.4 Research Questions

1.      How has the centralized system of administration affected grassroots development    in Liberia?

2.      What are the forms of decentralization practiced in Liberia and factors militating against its realization?

3.      How is decentralization applicable to grassroots development in post-war Liberia?

4.      To what extent is local government useful to grassroots development in Liberia?

1.5 Justification for the Study

In 2010, the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf administration initiated a policy to decentralize development especially to the grassroots level. Consequently, research needs to be done to ascertain the applicability of decentralization in Liberia. Unlike other studies that consider decentralization as a process in itself, the research will be unique because it seeks to assess the relationship between local government autonomy and the way(s) in which local government autonomy can serve as a vehicle that drives decentralization which will lead to grassroots development in Liberia.

As observed by the researcher, there is gamut of extant literature on decentralization. However, it seems that very few publications are available to validate the Liberian case. The research benefitted scholars who intend to embark on similar project and add to the few literatures on Liberia decentralization process. This research has provided the major stakeholders including but not limited to government actors and Civil Society the requisite knowledge on the process of decentralization.

The decentralization process is ongoing in Liberia. As such, policy makers need to be guided to make decision from an informed position. Along with other studies in this area, the study served as a guide to policy makers on priority areas that need to be addressed. This work added to the existing, though few literatures on Liberia decentralization. The findings provided stakeholders firsthand information on what is obtainable at the local level and unearth those challenges that exist which could also prompt further research as Liberia earnestly strives to take grassroots development to the local level.

1.6 Scope of the Study

The study focused on the period from 2010 to 2015. The time frame was considered because of the decentralization policy initiated by the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf led government in 2010 which is set to pave the way for local government autonomy through deconcentration and devolution.

The study covered three of the four major regions of the country.  One county from each region was selected. The counties that were selected are seen as the hub of each region. The counties to be selected are also the “regional headquarters” of each of the three major zones. The three regions are the Southwest, the North and the Central. The counties that the study took into account are Gbarpolu County in the Southwest, Nimba County in the North, and Bong County in the Central region.

The study investigated the problems caused by centralization and how those problems have hindered development at the grassroots level. Explanations were sought from extant literature on the process of decentralization and its relevance to grassroots development in Liberia. Local government autonomy was also examined as a vehicle through which the process of decentralization can be achieved.

The National Decentralization and Local Governance Policy was initiated in 2010 after the President and relevant ministries and agencies embarked on a nationwide consultative process to harness the views of locals. The hitherto policy is expected to pave the way for increased local self-governance aimed at enhancing development. The policy has five distinct parts. The researcher considered key components of the Policy including Part one of the Policy entitled Policy Framework; the Structure of County Government (Part two); and some major section under part three entitled Powers of the County Government. Additionally, the researcher considered the Fiscal Powers of Local Government under part four. The Preamble of the Policy was considered as it specifically outlined the nature of the Policy (see appendix four).  

1.7 Operational Definition of Terms

 Decentralization: basically, the concept implies that there is a horizontal transfer of authority and decision-making from a higher sphere to lower tiers.

 Devolution: this involves a significant transfer of some political, administrative and fiscal authority to governments usually at the local level.

 Deconcentration: this primarily involves decongesting central government of its many functions by assigning duties and responsibilities to field units detached from the capital.

 Local Government:government closest to a locale which carries out administrative and executive functions assigned to it by statute or law.

 Delegation: a form of decentralization wherein central government designates duties and responsibilities to agencies that are not necessarily under the jurisdiction of the central authority; however, reportability remains to the central government.

 Grassroots Development: For this study grassroots developments refer to initiatives aim at spreading development evenly across the local level of government. For the purpose of this study grassroots development is used interchangeably with rural development.

 Autonomy: autonomy can be understood from the perspective of this study as the right to self-administration.

 Local Government Autonomy: in this study local government autonomy is giving local communities the right to governed themselves by initiating development activities and engaging in decision making. It is used synonymously with Local Governance in this study.

1.8 Plan of Work

The researcher organized the study into five chapters. The first chapter is captioned introduction. Here the researcher discussed the background of the study, the statement of the research problem and the objectives of the study. These objectives are transformed into research questions. The significance of the study is explained followed by the scope of the study. Key terms and concepts are defined to suit the purpose of the study. The second chapter is the review of extant and related literature on the area of study. The theoretical framework of the study was also discussed in chapter two and gaps in literature are proffered by the researcher. Chapter three discusses the methodology the study incorporated. Chapter four is where the researcher did data analysis and discussion of findings of the study. Chapter five concludes the study and provides recommendations from the researcher.

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