DECENTRALIZATION, LOCAL GOVERNMENT AUTONOMY AND GRASSROOTS DEVELOPMENT IN LIBERIA
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