RESPONSE TO THE STATE OF THE NATION ADDRESS
January 26, 2021
My fellow Liberians:
Yesterday, President George Weah delivered his Fourth State of the Nation Address in keeping with the Constitution. By tradition, the opposition is expected to respond. On behalf of the Collaborating Political Parties, I respond with mixed emotions. On the one hand, I am honored by the opportunity to respond as Chair of the Collaborating Political Parties. On the other hand, like many ordinary Liberians, I am disappointed by how far removed the President and his administration are from the realities of the country, and the difficulties of many ordinary Liberians.
Permit me to summarize some of the updates provided by the President. The President in his address to the nation gave the impression that all is well. On the economy, the President reported to the Liberian people that GDP growth was revised downwards to negative 3.3 percent in 2020 from negative 2.5 percent in 2019, reflecting a decline but yet projected economic growth in 2021. Furthermore, the President claims the Liberian dollars has appreciated compared to other currencies, but that 40 percent of our banknotes are mutilated, hence seeking the approval of the legislature to print a new family of bank notes. President Weah also called for currency reforms, citing that the CBL does not have control over 90 percent of Liberian dollars outside the banking sector, thus recognizing the lack of confidence or low level of confidence in the banking sector. The President yet again failed to tell us what happened to new monies printed in the amount of 4 billion Liberian Dollars (LD) under his administration, and the missing 16 billion ld. This does not show an economy that is doing well by any measure or that is expected to do well according to his projection.
Still on the economy, the President pronounced that the cash carried forward from FY 2019/2020 to FY 2020/2021 is US$7 million, but according to the National Budget of Liberia 2020-2021, Section 1.5 Fiscal Table, the unspent cash carried forward from 2019-2020 fiscal year recast budget is US$10 million. The question is, what happened to the difference of US$3 million? Given that the surplus budget was US$10 million, why are civil servants not been paid on time; and why are government contractors including beach and waterway workers or govt employees including Liberia Water & Sewer Corporation (LWSC), Liberia Airport Authority (LAA) employees, etc are yet to get paid. In spite of a so-called budget surplus, President admitted that our public debt portfolio has increased by more than $300 million USD in just one year. Yet, we cannot see what was done with the $300 million USD, when international partners are sponsoring all road construction, our entire COVID-response was paid for by the international community, and government workers salaries have not been current. So, what was the money borrowed for?
Sadly, the President made zero mention of job creation in his Address. Under the ProPoor Agenda for Prosperity & Development (PAPD), the government promised to create 1 million jobs over a period of five years. Three years later, six hundred thousand jobs should have been created by now but not one job was created last year. Instead of a job creation strategy as promised in the PADP, the government has actually implemented a job destruction strategy through his administration’s poor governance, lack of accountability and transparency, judicial interference, and general insecurity which undermines investors’ confidence. The President made no mention of new investment, and confirmed that confidence in Liberia’s investment climate is poor.
Fellow Liberians, under the stimulus package COVID Relief fund, the President claimed that 40% food distribution has reached ten (10) counties benefitting 1 million Liberians. However, according to a 2020 Afro Barometer report, not more than 16% of any social demographic group in Liberia has received said package and 78% of Liberians say the benefits to support people during covid-19 were not fairly distributed. The President also said his government gave LWSC US$1.5 million. Yet, employees at Water and Sewer are on strike for their salaries, and water supply has been cut off to Monrovia and its environs indefinitely. The President further said under the stimulus package COVID relief fund, his government gave US$1 million to the Liberia Electricity Corporation for COVID electricity relief. However, many communities are without electricity, and President Weah failed to state the communities that are benefitting from that relief. According to President Weah, a total of US$26 million have been used on the COVID-response. What we cannot understand is why are health workers still protesting for salaries and hazard benefits?
Except for his mention of COVID Response, the president did not provide any update to the Liberian people on the status of the health sector. The reality is the health sector is still very weak and is still in need of major interventions. Similarly, there was no progress update on the Agriculture sector. Instead, three years since this President was inaugurated, he is still announcing aspirations about what he will do about agriculture. It appears the President has finally caught on the adage that if you have nothing good to say, do not say anything at all. It is a shame that two of the most important sectors, health and agriculture have seen no improvement to have been reported.
On Education, the President stated that his free tuition policy has increased enrollment at the University of Liberia from eight (8) thousand to eighteen (18) thousand. What the President thought Liberians do not remember is that before he came to power, enrollment at the University of Liberia had been between twenty (20) to thirty (30) thousand students. Additionally, the President expects us to celebrate the percentage increase of students passing one subject in WASSEC; what mediocrity! Education remains a crucial part of our development and until we are serious about fixing it, this President and his administration will continue to celebrate mediocre outcomes.
Additionally, the President failed to mention anything about the much-heralded National Referendum which he campaigned for. It was a deliberate omission by the President not to report the woeful, sloppy and incompetent handling of the referendum process, where because of the lack of civic education, invalid votes in some counties reached as high as seventy percent.
Most importantly, nowhere in his speech did the President mention the Millennium Challenge Compact (MCC). The reason the President shamefully refused to mention MCC is because the program ended a few days ago, without the possibility of renewal due to the same mediocre performance: The government failure to meet benchmark and performance indicators for the first time since 2009 and failure to heed to several warnings in 2019 led to a non-renewal of the MCC 2. Unlike Liberia, Ghana just got renewal of MCC2 and Sierre Leone just got enlisted in the MCC support. The poor leadership of President Weah has put Liberia at gross disadvantage of not receiving much needed funds. It was through the MCC1 that nearly 400 million was sourced in grants that went to the construction of the hydro and power generation and road construction.
While the President highlighted road projects, many of which were commenced and funding sourced by his predecessor, the President deliberately excluded any reference to the mismanagement of the National Road Fund which has created the loss of additional resources that would have supported the development of our National Road Network. The past government worked with the international partners and established by legislation in 2015 the National Road Fund with the sole objective of generating domestic resources to facilitate major investments in the maintenance and rehabilitation of the national road network across the country. The Road Fund remains a viable domestic financial vehicle but has been abused by this government to the contrary that partners in the sectors who committed to support the program through Matching Fund have reneged due to proven mismanagement and failure to adhere to agreed governance protocols.
Fellow Liberians, three years later, President Weah’s administration is still on ‘trial and error’ governance, and contrary to what the president told you, the state of our nation remains weak and unstable. You do not need President Weah, or me, to tell you that the cost of living is too high – that prices are rising continuously while incomes are falling; that too many are unemployed as you become spectators and bystanders in your own economy. A small business woman or government employee, does not need President Weah, or me, to tell them that we are still importing what we can produce, or that they cannot get what they deposited in the bank because there is “no money in the banks.” Liberians do not need President Weah, or me, to tell them that incompetence and mismanagement at the Central Bank have combined to create a devastating confidence crisis in the banking sector. Of course, Liberians are living this reality every day in the increasing costs of transportation, food, school fees, rent, and even the costs of government-provided services. Too many families are being overburdened with more than they can bear.
Sadly enough, neither President Weah nor me needs to tell you that the quality of our education is still very poor and left wanting, something the President himself publicly admitted when he openly chastised the Education Minister about the poor state of our education system.
Fellow citizens, as I speak to you today on behalf of the Collaborating Political Parties, I know that no Liberian, needs me, or President Weah, to tell them that the country’s international reputation is, again, being ruined, or that the international goodwill that Liberians had worked so hard to build for our country, is being squandered. We read or hear about it in one shameful scandal after the other. Still overhanging the country is the unresolved issue of the sale of Liberian diplomatic passports to drug dealers and terrorists, which compelled a foreign government to order its own actions in response to the inactions of the administration perhaps on account of alleged complicity in the criminal scheme.
From being regarded as a good example of a nation emerging out of conflict, in only three years, the Weah Administration has succeeded in reducing the country to not-so-funny jokes about how not to lead a country.
Liberians do not need President Weah, or me to tell them that the promise to fight corruption was really another in a long list of promises made only to be broken. In the middle of his term, it is reported that the President has fulfilled only 8% of his promises made. In repeated actions, or inactions, the government continues to show it does not have the political will needed to hold high public officials accountable for corruption, mismanagement or incompetence. Rather, the administration continues to trap itself in juvenile schemes intended to cover-up. We find this from the USD25M Mop-up Exercise to the mismanagement of the COVID-19 Funds. Even where the administration commissions investigations and audits, it has continued to demonstrate that it lacks the character of leadership and political will to implement recommendations in its own reports.
Established to aid the fight against corruption, integrity institutions are either dead or on life-support. The head of the Liberia Anti- Corruption Commission (LACC) one of the most important institutions in the fight against corruption has been condemned by the Ministry of Justice to be a “fraudster and criminal”. In spite of this public confession, Ndubuisi Nwabudike has continued to preside over the LACC, yet the President expects us to believe that this man is capable of undertaking the reforms he mentioned in his Address. Three years later, Liberians do not need President Weah, or me, to tell them that rather than a promise to fight against corruption, the administration has embraced the menace and surrendered to it.
Liberians should not be surprised that the President did not mention the sorry state of the rule of law in the country. This is despite the fact that the rule of law is the heartbeat and lifeblood of our Republic guaranteeing equality to all citizens despite our differences in tribes, religion, gender and economic condition. Our citizens continue to fear for their safety in light of numerous unexplained and suspicious death, crimes, insecurity and the lack of adherence to our laws at all level.
However, while the President could not speak to the declining state of the rule of law in the country, it has not stopped ECOWAS from doing so loudly, clearly and with embarrassing effect for the reputation of the country. For example, the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice recently ruled that the impeachment of Associate Justice Kabineh Ja’neh is illegal, and violates his rights and the constitution of Liberia.
And so, Liberians do not need President Weah, or me, to tell us what we already know, and are living every day. The truth is that our country is in a difficult place and Ma Teresa in Clara Town or Gabriel Johnson in Logan Town does not need the President or me to tell them that. Our people are suffering! Our streets and communities are becoming increasingly unsafe; the institutions of government, as well as the governance systems of check and balance, are being consumed by sycophancies and cronyism; standards for performance and accountability, including in the highest office of the land, are being lowered; misguided efforts and illegal schemes to silence and or deny critics the rights and privileges to which they are justly entitled are replacing sworn public and official duties to protect the most basic of human rights and freedoms. Yet these actions happen without the needed consequences to inspire good behavior;
Admittedly, President Weah did not create all the many problems of our country. But rather than attend to fixing the problems as he promised, he has spent the first three years of his administration creating some, worsening the one he met and has failed to act in the interest of the people but wants us to believe he was serious about warning his officials yesterday. This is not just a conclusion reached by the CPP, it is also in the recent judgment of the people on the performance of the government as seen in the Dec 8th December, 2020, Midterm Senatorial Elections, where you expressed your collective judgment on the midterm performance of the administration. In your collective verdict, you-the people historically repudiated the direction of the country under the leadership of President Weah. You massively rejected the continued mismanagement of the country’s resources to better the lives of a few over the interests of the many, and overwhelmingly denounced the policies and politics of disunity by voting majority CPP and independent candidates.
As an opposition community, the CPP could selfishly welcome the failure in the performance of this government. In democracies, the failure in the performance of one contender presents an opportunity for the other. Nevertheless, while we celebrate the many favorable results for the opposition in the just ended elections, we cannot celebrate the failing performances of the Liberian Government. This is because before we count ourselves as opposition, we first counted ourselves as Liberians. As Liberians, we know that when Liberia fails, it is Liberians who suffer.
And so rather than celebrate the victories, today, the CPP renews our appeal to the President, and his administration, to change course. We call on the various branches of the Government to preserve their constitutional independence and institutional integrity. Surrendering either, out of fear of political reprisals or the narrow interests of partisanship, is truly a disservice to the country and our people.
The CPP makes this call because we know that the defeat of the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) is not enough to suddenly inspire a new direction and change in their policies and attitudes as it should. Nothing in its recent actions can assure us that this administration intends to listen or demonstrate that they understand the difficulties Liberians are living through daily, and are willing to change course. How else are we to interpret the post-elections efforts by the Government to again stifle free speech and undermine the rule of law in the country? How else are we to interpret the knee-jerk political response to seek to print its way out of a confidence crisis in the banking sector?
On behalf of the CPP, I wish I could reassure you that the difficult days are behind us. I wish I could tell you that the road ahead will be easy, or that our government will be more caring and responsive. I really cannot. The truth is that the road ahead to 2023 will be long and difficult, but I can assure you of the commitment of the CPP to remain engaged on behalf of the Liberian people. Together, we will get through the difficulties. All we ask is that our government act honorably and behave accountably. Our hands remain open and extended to the government to help improve the conditions of our people and we hope they can begin to take our many recommendations on how to change course and improve the lives of the people.
Liberia belongs to all Liberians, and must be the safest place all Liberians can have equality in opportunity and citizenship. We do not promise to change the country overnight but a CPP-led administration will work every day to achieve the transformations we seek. When we fail we will own it, learn from it, and hold ourselves to higher standards to be and act better. We will prioritize the return of honor and trust in public service.
Of course, Liberians have earned the right to be skeptical. Our people have seen too many broken promises, and are disillusioned by too many false starts. But some of us have not come to politics to enrich ourselves. We have come to give back – to serve, to be different, and to positively impact the lives of many of our fellow citizens. Some of us are not trapped in the ways of the old. We come with different ideas believing that we cannot continue to do the same old things hoping to get a new and different result.
Finally, my fellow Liberians, although it seems hopeless, I urge you, not to lose hope – do not lose hope in the promises of democracy, or the guarantees of freedom, justice and equality; do not lose hope in the power of your participation and your votes to change the direction of our country; do not lose hope that our country can indeed rise, that our government can care, and that Liberians can be united, that you can enjoy your country; have good paying jobs and access to quality and affordable healthcare, education, and basic necessities; that you can raise your children and family free from hunger and harm; that you can feel safe in your own home and trust the judiciary in times of dispute; that you can once again, be proud of your country.
The night may be long, but joy cometh in the morning.
God Bless You and God Bless Liberia.