Commissioners Decline Aid To Liberia

Cite Recession

December 01, 1991|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Staff writer

The county commissioners recently turned down their first chance to provide international humanitarian aid.

In an October letter, a Baltimore-based foundation trying to help rebuild the West African nation of Liberia asked the commissioners -- and the heads of the other local governments in the metropolitan area -- to send any outdated cars, trucks, computers, typewriters, fax machines telephones, office furniture or copiers.

"Your county's generous donation to this worthy cause will help to ease the pressing problems of this war-torn nation," wrote Joseph D. Z. Korto, executive director of the Liberian Development Foundation.

What Korto got in return was pretty much what anybody seeking anything from the county gets these days.

"While we sympathize with your plight, we cannot join your solicitation," the commissioners wrote in return. "This is a time of great financial crisis for Maryland counties. Quite simply, we have no surplus office equipment, furniture or machinery."

While Carroll and Maryland struggle to balance their budgets, the interim government in Liberia is struggling to open schools for the first time in two years.

"It's like starting over," Korto said from his third-floor office in the Medical Arts Buildingin downtown Baltimore. "Our entire socio-economic system has been destroyed. There has been a tremendous human toll.

Korto's foundation is working to help the interim government in the small nation rebuild roads, buildings, hospitals and homes. More than half the country's 2.5 million people were made homeless in the last two years, and more than 500,000 Liberians were forced into refugee camps in neighboring countries.

The country, nestled on the Atlantic Coast between Sierra Leone, Guinea and the Ivory Coast, has about as many people as the Baltimore metropolitan area. The country has fewer doctors, radios and televisions than the city. Its literacy rate is about 25 percent.

Carroll's decision to hold on to any surplus cars or equipment -- there isn't much anyway -- wasn't unusual. Korto said requests made to Baltimore, the Mass Transit Administration and Baltimore, Harford and Anne Arundel counties were also turned down.

He plans to make appeals of governments throughout Maryland and Virginia in the coming months.

"We're looking where we can. The sympathy I know is there, but the economic conditions here are what have made our requests unsuccessful," Korto said.

Carroll rarely has any surplus that it can readily part with, said Comptroller Eugene C. Curfman. "We normally run everything until it can't be repaired any more," he said. "When one department doesn't need, say, a computer or something, we usually can shift it around to another department."

All material no longer used is auctioned off by a private Westminster auctioneer, Curfman said. "We're always looking at wasting as little as we can."

"Wereally do sympathize with them," said Commissioner Vice President Elmer C. Lippy. "They do have problems that, obviously, are much worse than Carroll County's."

Had the economy been better, the commissioner said, he would welcome the chance to at least consider sending surplus materials to the Pennsylvania-sized nation founded in 1822 by descendants of American slaves.

"I really think it's important to overcome an attitude around here that if the people involved are black, that somehow it doesn't matter as much," he said.

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