Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Liberia: Transforming Our National Security Institutions

The idea that just anyone with no prior security experience can successfully transform Liberia’s post war security sector efforts is a mirage.

The recent appointment of a Mart Amblard as police chief, and along with his counterpart who replaced him at NSA is suggestive that those with the noble task of ensuring that our security sector attracts more experienced people to transform it are not looking harder enough.

No need to discuss the general lack of good will on the part of these selectors to attract qualitative and well intentioned people to head our security units. For instance, our new cop has absolutely no prior security experience apart from his very short tenure with the National Security Agency (NSA) before taking advantage of an accelerated short-term scholarship opportunity with the University of Minnesota. Before then, he was a salesperson dealing mainly in gas canisters.

Like him, one Terrence Doe, a key person at NSA responsible for economic crimes, and a close friend of the NSA boss, Fombah Sirleaf, was indicted for murder by a US district court and spent some time behind bars. He fled the United States while on probation. Not only is he a flunky with little or no formal education who can no longer returned to the US, he has no knowledge what so ever in security.

The same can be said of our Ministry of National Security (MNS) designate, Victor Helb, an expert in hotel management. His tenure with the Special Security Service as a key presidential chef is not sufficient to place him as head of a viable security entity.

It must be emphasized that the basis for appointing people to head our security apparatus should not be on friendship, but on competence too. And if our focus is to weed out unprofessionalism and those with shady characters from our security forces, those with shady backgrounds should not be allowed access into the system through other means.

No one can say that the Liberian bank for experienced security veterans is broke. On the contrary, it has an excess of well meaning Liberian security ex-officials with enormous experience who can effectively transform our security sector to meet the country’s postwar challenges.

Already these unusual appointments has brought in people who spent the productive part of the day at the likes of Zoecan, a bar and restaurant that attracts mostly seniors, to a police boss who was more concerned with the protection of her job than the Liberian people and state.

Liberia is a country where the lapse of its security responsibilities in the past largely occasioned a cross border training which later fueled the Taylor’s insurgency war machinery. Such was a lapse in which the best brains were brushed aside for unqualified tribal family friends of the former Doe regime.

We sat by while goons and empty heads were sent abroad to pursue expensive trainings, only to return with a certificate of participation for poor performance. Too many irregularities went on in the past, the semblance which we are slowly creeping into our security sector today.

This is a country for all Liberians. Our interest should mainly be on how to secure it when the United Nations leaves. This paper focuses on how to transform and reintegrate our national security sector.

I believe that the transformation of the Liberian national security sector should gear toward nurturing a future force that will provide tailored deterrence of both state and non state threats. The way forward should be to enhance and extend the transformation of key institutions like the army, police, NSA, MNS, immigration, NBI, etc.

Improve our security institutions to plan and respond to post-conflict and failed state situations which largely contributed to the collapse of our Liberian nation. I still believe that the intention of the Liberia Reconstruction and Development Committee (LRDC) was a brilliant idea. In my opinion, this institution should have been left to operate independently and not brought under the ministry of planning.

You need an institution like the LRDC that will coordinate and integrate relevant Liberian government resources in conducting reconstruction and stabilization operations. The LRDC did show some good will in the implementation of the Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS). Although we are behind the implementation schedule, more efforts must be focused on building the security and law enforcement structures, which are often the prerequisite for restoring order and ensuring success.

There is public euphoria and a national indifference that some of our security institutions are no longer relevant in meeting our post war challenges. I strongly believe that all of our prewar institutions are not only relevant, but that post war security sector reform efforts must also accommodate all of them. Take the Ministry of National Security for instance...

Firstly the standard for overhauling the Ministry of National Security (MNS) in Liberia should be based on qualitative criteria, and not on number of security personnel trained. This also means that MNS may have to use improved efforts to unveil economic crime statistics and the conduct of unfair treatment surveys among the population of Liberia. It will also require a radical shift in mindset from quantity to quality of human resources to include the development of personal appraisal systems.

But as a matter of utmost priority, MNS should hasten to form a composite part of the team of professional institutions that is formulating Liberia’s comprehensive national security strategy and policy in line with the wider governance reform agenda. If done, it will provide a legitimate policy framework within which to get MNS fully operational as a covert unit that will be deployed at various national establishments and points of entry to fight economic crimes.

My main aim is to address ways to improve the efforts made so far by MNS with the process of security sector reform, and to recommend short and long term strategies to enhance the system. Firstly, the MNS is not one of the exclusive institutions provided for in both the IPRS and PRS as in the case of the police, immigration and the armed forces of Liberia. However, though effective security structure under civilian and democratic control may not guarantee economic development, under the IPRS, it is set as a precondition within the four pillars of reform, enhancing national security, revitalization of economic growth, strengthening governance and rule of law, and rehabilitating infrastructure and delivering basic services.

Quite significantly, national security happens to be the first pillar, exclusively from reinforcing governance and the rule of law. It should be noted that post conflict security sector reform also takes into account the comprehensive review and restructuring of intelligence services in a way that preserves and promote the safety and security of the state and its citizenry. However, despite the overarching amount spent so far on the police, army, and perhaps the immigration, Liberia still lacks a national security strategy, a promulgated defense policy, and a more robust security sector oversight and management mechanisms almost three years of this administration.

It is important to always reflect on the principal intelligence role of the MNS, established on September 6, 1979 to coordinate the entire array of security services. MNS is also tasked to prepare intelligence and security briefs for the President, monitor and give guidance to the operational activities of the various security services, primarily Presidential security operations and counterintelligence and counterespionage operations of the security services. MNS also has the mandate to coordinate the activities of all security services and is also tasked to prepare and implement rules and regulations pertaining to personnel, finance, logistics, training operations, and organizations necessary for the efficient operation of our security forces.

On funding and sustainability of the MNS, UNMIL and the US government are tasked with the responsibility to restructure the security apparatus of the country. Article VII of the CPA and UN Security Council Resolution 1509 of September 19, 2003 clearly say that UNMIL shall support the transformation of the security sector. Currently, UNMIL and the US government have mainly taken interest on the AFL and LNP. The US government is making good on its promise made at the donor conference held on behalf of Liberia but has only focused its efforts to the AFL. It needs to prioritize other sectors of the security apparatus also. Doing so will complement the role of the AFL in a country whose population has almost doubled prewar size? The overhead cost for covert operations are very expensive and no amount of national or supplemental budgeting can sustain it.

MNS should also adapt a right financing attitude if it must sustain its operations. Inevitably right financing is also the modus of the SSR in that it takes into account measures like working through the national budget as the primary tool of the government on security reform; minimize proliferation of parallel security service delivery through NGOs/UN; establish sustainable security, law and order and justice institutions through functional reviews; prioritize civil service reforms within civilian security entities like MNS alongside anti-corruption measures; prioritize and sequence investments that foster national, human and asset security; establish budgeted service delivery targets at both national and sub-national levels; establish expenditure-tracking systems increasingly focused on monitoring security outcomes; develop sustainable SSR service delivery models to guarantee basic and essential services.

Adopting “Right-Financing” policies for the security sector is vital to sustainable state-building. From the period of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) of Accra, through peace support operations where a semblance of national security and law and order are restored, decisions taken by UNMIL and other international security advisory services seem to be forcing the government into mortgaging the future of security. Right-financing calls for (i) external assistance to be coordinated and consolidated within the national budget (ii) a formal security sector reform program to be adopted (iii) a common needs assessment and prioritization involving both the incumbent state and external actors to be pursued (iv) clear decisions of force sizes and pay and grading structures within the fiscal envelope of government (v) the financing of security policies should be aligned with long-term budget realities (vi) security forces should support revenue generation (vii) clear security benchmarks and targets should be incorporated into the annual budget process (vii) the fundamental principles of public financial management are equally applicable to the private sector.

The right-financing approach also calls for sound public administration reforms to be adopted alongside enhancement of civilian structures of the defense sector, to improve transparency and accountability. Right Financing calls for responsible financing decisions to be taken, in terms of fiscal sustainability, but also in terms of the prioritization and sequencing of external support. The aim is to strengthen the state building process to improve security service and to enhance private sector growth.

To conclude, whatever budget policy approach GOL wishes to adopt, MNS should always have a sizable share in it. Doing so will not only compliment our nation’s uniform personnel, but will strengthen our national security machinery.

By Ret Colonel Edmond R. Gray

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