The maxim, “a bad deed travels mostly at home faster and wilder than good deeds”, seems to apply to George Manneh Weah’s administration, as it particularly relates to strides being made to contain COVID-19 in the country. At the onset of the fight, there were gloomy predictions that underdeveloped countries would face the deadliest shock of the pandemic. But following nearly 12 months of sensible and effective policy promulgation and enforcement, Liberia’s anti-COVID fight under President Weah stands out exemplarily amongst nations. But that COVID-19 deaths and infections and hospitalizations are kept at their bare minimum in Liberia compared to countless countries, including those with the most sophisticated and resourced healthcare systems, don’t seem to matter to most Liberians. Nevertheless, international news outlets and development partners see it differently and are trumpeting the gain and success story more provocatively, giving President Weah and the people of Liberia credit for the incredible job. Even the prestigious Wall Street Journalist lifted the good news for Liberia, as The Analyst reports.
A prestigious American newspaper, Wall Street Journal, has reported Liberia’s extraordinary strides in containing the deadly coronavirus disease otherwise known as COVID-19.
COVID-19, which was announced late 2019, has ravaged the world’s most prosperous economies and laid waste over a million lives across the world, particularly in countries with better health systems.
At the onset, ominous predictions had it that developing countries, including Liberia, would suffer the brunt of COVID’s devastating impact but so far this has not been the case. A few underdeveloped countries are said to have managed the pandemic more responsibly and expertly, leading to lower death rates.
Liberia, which lost over 4,000 lives to Ebola in 2014, is hailed amongst a few countries that are so far successfully managing the COVID-19.
The country’s current death rate is 83 persons and infection is under 2000 while recovery is 1,406—something extolled by international development organizations, such as the USA Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Liberia’s success story has been told by an international outlet, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), which noted in a report that the Government of Liberia “has worked hard to meet humanitarian needs during the COVID-19 pandemic”.
By taking lessons from the Ebola crisis, policy response was prompt, reports the WSJ, which recalled that on March 21, 2020, the government mandated a general lockdown and enforced severe social distancing which was costly in terms of economic slowdown, trade disruptions, and food insecurity.
The International Monetary Fund, along with other partners, provided emergency support during the height of the crisis, the most recent IMF assistance complementing those actions as Liberia accompanies the difficult reform agenda the authorities have been pushing through amid the COVID-19 crisis.
The newspaper also reported on the government’s decisive actions and reform efforts that have begun to bear fruit.
At its peak in FY2018/19, the civil service wage bill accounted for 10 percent of GDP (or 70 percent of domestic revenue), which was crowding out the government’s fiscal space for much needed development, infrastructure, health, and education spending.
The Government of President Weah took the difficult but necessary decision to cut the wage bill in all three branches of the government by 10 percent in the FY2019/20 budget, while still allowing the lowest-paid government employees to receive the minimum wage.
“The government also eliminated allowances that were not only costly but also adversely affected the morale of civil servants due to perceptions of unfairness,” the news outlet divulged, adding, “The action eliminated central bank financing of fiscal deficits.”
This eased inflation providing benefits to the poorest Liberians who mostly earn Liberian dollars in this dual currency economy.
How it happened
The COVID-19 pandemic hit Liberia at a time of pre-existing fragility. The country held elections in 2017, leading to the first democratic transition of power between different political parties since 1944.
Following the inauguration of the new administration in 2018, the United Nations Mission in Liberia, which had been in the country since the peace agreement of 2003, handed over its security responsibilities to the national police and military.
These transitions coincided with the winding down of increased foreign aid after the 2014-16 Ebola outbreak. These events caused a sharp decline in net foreign exchange inflows to the country. This in turn heightened pressure on the Liberian dollar exchange rate and on inflation. To stabilize the economy, the authorities had to make difficult adjustments to an economy with less foreign exchange inflows, which created significant hardship for the Liberian people. The COVID-19 pandemic hit Liberia during this difficult adjustment phase.
Reform efforts at the central bank have focused on rebuilding confidence in the banking sector. In October 2020, the National Legislature approved amendments to the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) Act. With this amendment, the CBL now has more operational autonomy in enhancing the quality and quantity of Liberian banknotes.
The CBL also has a formal mandate to ensure financial stability. With this new mandate, the CBL is committed to strengthening the financial supervisory and regulatory framework and in turn the banking sector that can support post-COVID recovery efforts.