The opposition bloc under the canopy of the Collaborative Political Parties (CPP) has strongly responded to President George Manneh Weah’s State of the nation Address last Monday, saying that the president failed to address the reality of situations in the country. Read by the political leader and standard bearer of the Alternative National Congress (ANC), Mr. Alexander Cummings, the CPP comprising All Liberia Party of (ALP) of businessman Benoni Urey, Liberty Party (LP) of Grand bassa County Senator Nyonblee Karngar Lawrence, ANC, and the former Vice President Joseph Boakai’s Unity Party (UP) criticized the government for the poor state of the economy, the government’s harmonization policy. The opposition bloc, having criticized the president’s state of the Nation Address, said it is time to act and therefore made a nine-count recommendation to the government; The Analyst reports.
Saying that it is time to act, Mr. Cummings said the President’s message has heightened fears and deepen whatever tinge of any hope that was left as the nation waited to hear practical policy prescription on how to revamp the economy, return to good governance and avert further financial disasters that still lie ahead. “We must act with some urgency to prevent the situation from degenerating into benevolent devastation,” he further asserted.
The opposition then made a nine-point recommendation in which they said amongst others, they call for focus on Domestic Revenue Generation by staffing the LRA with competent people and provide them with adequate operational funding and ensuring the receiving of fair value share from our natural resources like iron ore, rubber, gold, diamonds, etc; the revision of all resources and tax policies with regards to ease of doing business as a means of making it easy to start new businesses and creating employment opportunities; the removal or substantial lowering of tariffs and other import cost at the Freeport.
This, the opposition said, will lower the cost of imports thus lowering the cost of goods and services sold to Liberians and the removal of all monopolistic and import restrictions in the economy, particularly on key import commodities like rice. Under this current government, Liberians are still restricted to the percentage of rice they can import in their own country. Enough is enough. Stop restricting Liberians in their own country and let them freely and fully participate in their economy.
The opposition also recommended the setting up of a special Agriculture Investment Fund to provide financing to small and medium size farmers and agro-businesses to encourage and boost local rice production. With one of the most fertile lands in Africa and the World for growing rice and other commodities, it is unacceptable for Liberians to continue to rely on consuming imported rice; the resumption of funding to and staff governance and integrity institutions with competent people of integrity. Review acts establishing various ant-graft institutions to give more power to fight corruption in government; the investment in the Health and Legal Systems to address the issue of Sexual and Gender Based Violence. It is not a women issue but rather a national issue; declaration of RAPE a national emergency and instituting immediate reforms to address its prevalence.
Lastly the opposition recommended reduction in government wage bill and increase in Public Investments. Last year this government invested only US$27M in the economy. This amount is far below the estimated US$150M annual investments needed to stimulate this economy. Cutting back on lavish foreign trips and riding private jet, high wage bill, and ending the stealing will leave more funds for increased public investment, saying that if these recommendations and others are considered and fully implemented, we assure you that Liberians will move from being spectators to starting players in their own economy and that the state of our nation will become STRONGER
Commencing the response to the President’s annual message, Mr. Alexander Cummings who read the statement for the CPP said, “The President has shown no intention of slowing the construction of mansions and apartment complexes especially after failing to publish his asset declaration. We are left with no choice but to deem the President new found wealth as ‘questionable,’” the CPP said in its statement, noting that yet “the President wants us to believe that he is serious about the fight against corruption.”
The opposition bloc indicated that President Weah promises legislation to give the LACC prosecutorial powers but yet appoints die-hard CDC partisans and supporters to the LACC. “The President claims to fight corruption but gave no rebuttal statement to the leaked audio of his National Chairman of the CDC making allegations of corruption against him as President. This contradiction in what the president says and does is enough to let us know that it is all “mouth-talk’”, the CPP noted.
“The overall message from the President was that the state of our nation is stable. Contrary to what the President said, the state of our nation is WEAK. Our economy is in a terrible shape. Prices on goods and services, from rice to transportation are increasing daily. Unemployment, particularly youth unemployment continues to increase.
“Teachers, nurses, doctors and civil servants are not being paid on time. Liberians have to stand in long queues at banks to withdraw Liberian Dollars like we are a bankrupt country and now we are in longer queues to get petroleum products due to shortage on our market. The crime rate to include incidence of rape, armed robbery, etc has increased,” Mr. Cummings said on behalf of his colleagues.
Cummings said “our country is further divided along several lines, but, sadly, our president did not offer any immediate or long-term actions aimed at helping unite our people. Reconciliation was not mentioned even though he recognized the need for peace in Liberia, forgetting that peace is not the silence of guns; and there cannot be true peace without reconciliation”
Commenting on the national economy on behalf of the CPP, Mr. Cummings asserted, “In 2019, the economy contracted by 1.4%. Inflation increased to 31%, forex exchange went at high as 209 and the fiscal deficit hit $200 million. Businesses, Liberian-owned and foreign, are losing money and laying off workers.”
He said market-women are forced to sell without profit. Last year, Sime Darby laid off hundreds of workers and closed its operations. Firestone also laid off 800 workers. Liberians are finding it more difficulty to provide for their families today than they did before this government came to power.
“Take the story of Dominic Kpadeh. He is a father of four children and a rock-crusher from Montserrado. He and his co-workers used to earn US$1000 monthly. Over the past 2 years, 75% of their income has disappeared. They are lucky to earn even US$250 per month,” he said, adding that “Stories like Dominic’s are common all over Liberia.”
The Opposition bloc said it has interacted with teachers, healthcare workers and civil servants who used to earn salaries regularly for 12 years now are going months without salaries to support their families. Many civil servants now live on “sell-pay” and by “digging hole and covering hole”.
Market-women, street vendors and small business people who depend on their daily hustles to feed and send their children to school are struggling to provide food for their families or pay school fees because businesses are doing poorly, the ANC political leader added.
Her said Liberians are hardworking and resilient people with enormous potential. We see our mothers, sisters, fathers and brothers working hard daily to earn a decent living. So, the people are not responsible for the current economic hardship in Liberia. \
“The President in his speech yesterday blamed our economic woes on trade and geo-political factors and projected 1.4% growth in 2022. If this was the case, our neighbors and other countries in the region would be experiencing similar if not the same economic situations. However, all of our neighbors are experiencing economic growth and projecting high growth for this year alone, 2020. For example, Sierra Leone is projecting 4.20%, Guinea 6.10% and Ivory Coast 6.5%. What this means is that our country will continue lagging behind our neighbors while our people continue to suffer,” the opposition’s statement read by the ANC leader recounted.
The statement said the trade and geo-politics is not responsible for our economic problems; that rather, massive corruption and outright stealing by government officials, mismanagement of government resources, incompetence to implement economic growth and job creation policies and reckless spending by the president are among the reasons for economic hardship. Example of reckless spending is the President flying all over the world on a private jet the country cannot afford while neglecting the cries for help for people struggling in the country.
Commenting on the harmonization policy of the government, the opposition bloc indicated that the Weah regime is compounding the suffering of hardworking public and/or civil servants by reducing their salaries through its so-called Harmonization policy.
“It is unacceptable to be reducing civil servants’ salaries that are not paid on time by 30-50% while prices of everything- rice, oil, chicken, transportation, – are increasing by 30%. This is not harmonization. This is a wicked and malicious attack on our people standard of living. Instead of harmonizing workers’ salaries, it is time for the President to harmonize his frequent private jet travels, cutback on building more mansions for himself and cutback on the corruption that has taken center-stage in his government.
“Rather, he was not truthful when he stated that he had met his promise of a 25% salary cut and was the first to have his salary harmonized. Fellow Liberians, it will interest you to note that after reviewing the president’s budget, particularly the salary component of the president’s budget of 2018-2019 and 2019-2020, there has been absolutely no reduction in the salary of President Weah. In fact, our research revealed that the Compensation portion of the budget of this current president which was $381,414.00 in 2018-2019 was increased to $494,949.00 in 2019-2020.
“Yet, the President in his message, thanked you for your patience and understanding during this harmonization which he promises will continue, while his budget and wealth undergoes multiplication,” the opposition’s statement said.
Regarding the government’s fiscal and monetary policy, the opposition indicated that
the regime is grossly mismanaging the public finances which further weakens the economy. “That fiscal irresponsibility is evident by the government owing workers’ salaries arrears and unjustifiably increasing the public wage bill to about $320 million from $297 million by putting unqualified and incompetent political cronies on government payroll,” Mr. Cummings said for the opposition bloc.
“This fiscal irresponsibility has drawn the ire of development partners like the IMF who have insisted that the wage bill be reduced to 2018 level as a pre-condition to receiving budgetary support, as mentioned in the Annual Address. While we join the President to thank our partners for their support to our fiscal and monetary discipline programs, we call on the government to refrain from diverting donor funds as was done during the course of the year,” the opposition bloc asserted, commending the
President for expressing his willingness to work with our partners in strengthening our monetary policy framework and for steps towards making the Central Bank more autonomous
Concerning employment, Mr. Cummings pointed out, “On employment, attempts by this administration to fix unemployment through public sector hiring shows how incompetent their handling of economic governance has been over the last 2 years. The President admits to employing about 15,000 in just over 2 years.”
He said government is not the place to grow jobs and reduce unemployment for political supporters and cronies. Instead, this government needs to create an enabling environment for the private sector to thrive and create jobs, but this government has failed to enable the private sector in the last two years.