This year’s presidential tours across 14 counties, which is actually the first since his election in 2017, not only witnessed increased interactions between the countryside populace and President George Manneh Weah and by extension the entire government, it also saw the delivery of instant social services to communities and the people, some actually pledged. There were those who might have thought that the pledges of litany of heartfelt projects and initiatives by the President were yet another usual political demagoguery by a typical Liberian leader. But barely two months following the last visit which targeted the northwestern province of Lofa, the promised projects are beginning to come out of a mere wish-list into concrete tangibles. Late last week, the President dispatched no ordinary emissaries and errant persons but his Chief of Office and the Finance Minister of the Country to the first two counties he visited at the onset of his nationwide tours—Bong and Nimba County—and there are reports that smiles and celebrations have swept through the central-north provinces. The Analyst reports.
Beginning early this year and towards midyear, President George Manneh Weah undertook his maiden county tours to all counties this year where he cascaded a virtually non-ending wish-list in all the places he went. On top of it all is the huge infrastructural deficit and other social services that have long challenged the growth and development of the country.
In response to the requests from the people, the President promised to change the trajectory and do those projects amid thunderous cheers anytime he made the promises. As time ticks away and people wondering if the President would prove to be the “Talk-and-Do” leaders he says he is, the Liberian Chief Executive commissioned a high power delegation to Bong and Nimba counties which he first visited as he started his nationwide tour in February.
The delegation which comprised the Minister of State for Presidential Affairs who is Chief of Office Staff of the President, and the Minister of Finance, touched down in Bong, where two schools were declared tuition and fees free for the next school year.
Several other schools, consistent with the President’s earlier pledge, would be assisted with a L$1 million each as tuition aid.
As celebrations over the delivery of the president’s pledges to the people of Bong rose sky high, the Presidential Chief of Office Staff Nathaniel F. McGill and Finance Minister Samuel D. Tweah took off for Ganta, the commercial city of Nimba County.
Others on the delegation which was headed by the Minister of State for Presidential Affairs, Nathaniel F. McGill also included Public Work Minister Mrs. Ruth Coker-Collins, Labor and Justice, Charles Gibson and Frank Musa Dean, respectively.
After meeting with the local county authority, the delegation held a press conference at a local radio station which was relayed live on other radio stations throughout the county and its environs.
Minister McGill who introduced the members on the team described the President as a grassroots leader who cares deeply about the living condition of the people and his ardent desire to develop every corner of the country.
He said the trip was indicative of the president’s concerns and thought it wise to include other ministers and heads of institutions of government that deal directly with the concerns of the people.
“So you have the Minister of Public Works who deals with one of the pillars of the government, the Minister of Finance and Development Planning who must make sure to find the money for the projects to be successful, the Labor Minister who deals with job creation and the Minister of Justice who is in charge of security.
McGill continued: “We are primarily here to follow up on the President’s county tour. When the president was here, he made some promises and he wants to make sure these promises are delivered,” Minister McGill said in his brief introductory statement.
He said the government has been working with Senators Prince Y. Johnson and Jeremiah Kpan Koon, the county legislative caucus and other county officials for the success of the projects and so far everything was moving smoothly.
Before turning over to the individual ministers to make their own presentations, he said the money for the construction of the Ganta City Hall has already been sourced and that a new design of the building which will now be the model of other city halls to be built throughout the country is also available.
The State for Presidential Minister further said funds for the renovation of the Sanniquellie City Hall have also been secured.
McGill also spoke of the massive electrification project for Nimba which he said will begin from Ganta and Sanniquellie and then extended to other major cities.
He said the government intends to electrify the whole county but it has to be on a gradual basis so as not to give the people a false impression that everything will be done at once.
The Minister who is also the Chief of Office State of the President made specific mention of Bahn, besides Ganta and Sanniquellie that will benefit from the electrification under the new electricity policy of the government where franchises will be issued to the private sector to provide sustainable power for districts and localities throughout the country.
He said Mr. Floyd Tomah has been hired to implement the project in Bahn through the franchise policy that will be under the auspices of the Liberia Electricity Corporation (LEC).
Also speaking at the press conference was Finance Minister Tweah who noted that he was in the county to tell the people that the country was headed towards the right direction under President Weah.
Minister Tweah took some time to explain about the initial challenges the government faced upon its ascendency in 2018 which necessitated it undertake some reforms whose positive impacts, according to him, are being experienced at present.
He said in the past 6 years, the country experienced three shocks, which he named as the Ebola crisis of 2014, the macroeconomic shock immediately after the Weah led government came to power and the current coronavirus epidemic.
Tweah went into specifics about the initial difficulties encountered by the present government stating that the government never had the instruments to start with which resulted in withdrawing from the country’s external reserve, bringing it down from $380 million to $176 million.
He said to reset the path to recovery, the government took some drastic policies, among which was to run a tight fiscal policy, stop borrowing from the Central Bank of Liberia, which was the order of the day in the past, fight to curtail inflation, embark upon salary harmonization policy that saved government $32 million out of an over bloated civil service etc.
He said some of the results of the policies have now reduced the rate of inflation from 32% to 8%, there is a massive ongoing cleanup of government wage bills and that salaries for government workers are now regular.
“We want to tell the people of Liberia that the macroeconomic indicators have improved and stabilized. That means the country can now think of moving for the big things. The President has ordered that financing of projects should be structured to favor the rural areas,” Tweah said.
He said that the government is seriously contemplating on adopting some policy options that will make service delivery to the people appealing such that some form of payment should be borne by the citizens so that these sectors can work.
He mentioned revising the drug revolving scheme where the citizens can pay some money towards drugs at the hospitals.
He said from what has been revealed, the problem is not the cost of drugs but the availability of drugs at the hospitals and health centers as the citizens are willing to pay for these drugs once they are available.
“We need about $12 million to have drugs throughout the country, but we are putting in $3 million, $4 million because of the size of the budget. We even need up to $20 million to close the teachers gap. So we need to adopt some measures to get the results we want”, Minister Tweah said.
He overemphasized the optimism about the economy doing well despite the pandemic.
Tweah said the present growth rate is put at 3.7% but there is every indication that it will rise to 4.0% eventually.
He said internal revenue mobilization has also been remarkable despite all the challenges and said things will even be better now that the global economy is opening up and the chances of it impacting down to Liberia are high.
He emphasized on the franchise rights given to Floyd Tomah to handle the electrification project in Bahn which he said is one of the measures taken to make electricity available to the Liberian people.
For her part, Acting Public Works Minister Mrs. Ruth Coker Collins said she was excited to be in Nimba County, where most of the major road construction projects of the government are located.
She updated the audience on the 39km Ganta- Saclepia Road which she said will be funded directly from government’s resources and expected to begin soon. She also mentioned that the 60 km Saclepia to Tappita Road project with funding from the World Bank will start simultaneously with the Ganta to Saclepia project and the implementation documents for the 40 km Tappita to Toe Town, in Grand Gedeh County have all been signed.
Minister Collins said the government has taken measures for counties to have equipment within their domains so as to be able to manage and maintain major highways and roads to ease the movement of people and goods from one place to another.
She added: “We have signed a procurement agreement for the supply of 42 pieces of equipment to be distributed to the various counties so as to manage and maintain the roads within their domains, with this the counties will be able to cope with the challenges they are facing. Nimba County will benefit from this scheme. This is in line with the decentralization of the government of President George Manneh Weah.”
According to her, besides the road construction programme, the Ministry is also in charge of infrastructure and therefore her presence in the county was to follow up on other infrastructural projects promised by the President which include schools, hospitals with the view of fast tracking them.
Labor Minister Charles Gibson, making his presentation said that there was a need for workers in the country to avoid going on strike when there are grievances arising from their places of work.
He said his ministry has embarked on processes to resolve labor related disputes and that workers must endeavor to seek redress through the ministry.
Minister Gibson disclosed that his ministry has been trying to find job opportunities for citizens and so far has been able to secure 500 jobs from which 50 slots will be given to Nimba.
“It is stressful and difficult seeing our people coming all the way from the rural areas or counties to come to Monrovia to look for job opportunities. So we have been able to get these opportunities for college graduates for now. There will be forms in labor offices in the county that you will just fill in and the process will begin”.
Minister Gibson spoke of the human trafficking going on in the country which he described as consisting of national and international dimensions.
He said his ministry is aware of the embarrassment the country is being subjected to with this kind of illicit crime going on around the country that is being promoted by both citizens and foreigners alike and lamented that this ugly game in most cases is being promoted by even close relatives and protected patrons of some of the victims.
He said the lack of resources has been the handicap to track down and prosecute perpetrators of this trade. He said the government through the ministry has been working with its development partners to combat the menace.
Justice Minister Frank Musa Dean who was also spoke at the press conference said that he was happy to be part of the team to have a firsthand information about the security situation in the county as the provision of security for both lives and properties is one of the key pillars of the Pro poor Agenda for Development and Prosperity (PADP) national development plan of the present government. He said he has so far seen and experienced the challenges being faced by law enforcement officers in the county.
“I am happy to be here and see for myself what the security situation is, the welfare and working conditions of the law enforcement officers in this county. We are taking notes of what needs to be done to improve the security situation in the county”, he said.
He said plans are underway to recruit more police men in the existing set up to beef up the strength and capacity of the force so as to be able to combat crimes, as well as protect lives and properties.
Minister Dean also talked about some of the reforms going on in the judicial system as it relates to battling crimes and cited the introduction of two courts one each in Bong and Nimba counties to address issues surrounding rape cases.