MONROVIA: The usual raging controversies on the issue of the stewardship between the respective leaderships of the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) and the former ruling Unity Party (UP) as it relates to which of the political parties performed better than the other, looking at the perception of the public about the “Budget Shortfall” misnomer which is associated with the UP government and “Harmonization” appendage of the CDC came to focus yesterday, Thursday, November 9, 2023, when the former Minister of Finance and Development Planning, Amara Konneh said the series of budget shortfalls or budget deficits experienced under the leadership of former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was better and impactful in spurring developments in the country than the Harmonization policy of the CDC led government under the current president George Manneh weah.
Speaking in a “no hold barred” interview on the Punch Radio/TV show yesterday morning and monitored by The Analyst, Mr. Konneh first addressed the issue of drug abuse among the young people which according to him constitute a serious development challenge for the future of the country, stressing that under a Joseph Nyuma Boakai leadership a “national emergency on drugs will be declared where an executive order in keeping with the constitution of the country be issued” to enable Mr. Boakai who would have been elected to address the crucial issue.
“When Joseph Nyuma Boakai becomes President, he should declare a national emergency in the country through an executive order in the first 100 days. You don’t wait for the national legislature, and that is how you show national leadership and the reason is there is no one family in Liberia who does not have a member who is not addicted to drugs”.
Citing the case of former U.S. President Ronald Reagan who inherited a depressed economy that fueled joblessness and drug addiction, Mr. Konneh said unlike the Reagan administration that tackled America’s drug epidemic with sound policies and a popular “Just Say No” slogan that reverberated across America, the Weah failed to institute sound anti-drug policies in a drug-infested nation that is reeling from the effects of the administration’s bogus harmonization.
Konneh who was recently elected as a Senator in the just concluded general election for Gbarpolu said the drug issue in the country has eroded the country’s international image for the fact that the United States Government, Liberia’s traditional development partner has zero tolerance on drug use and abuse which according to him continues to confront the government with no clear roadmap on how to combat the scourge.
He said in terms of its foreign policy towards Liberia, the US government’s worry right now has to do with drug trafficking, human trafficking and Chinese influence in the country, stressing that those in government need to understand these things, and that is why today the country’s foreign image is at an all-time low. Konneh blamed the government for keeping Foreign Minister Ambassador Dee Maxwell Saah Kemayah on the job when other qualified Liberians are readily available to occupy such an exalted position in the country, most especially for a foreign minister who does not leave the country unless he travels with the president.
“This is the dean of the cabinet, the senior government official, this is the person who represents the country abroad. You don’t play with foreign policy; it is like economic policy. That is why the president has to go; that is why we need to vote against him, that is why I am advocating that there is a regime change through a democratic means, so that our country can get back on track, ” he said.
On his tenure as Minister of Finance and Development Planning, Konneh said he was proud of what he did despite Liberians referring to him as “Budget shortfall Minister” but at the end of the day, the budget shortfall or deficit spending brought meaningful impact on the development landscape of the country.
“We were trying to bring the country back to the prewar era where we left but these people inherited power and are taking us back to the 1980’s era.
“We started by laying out a plan to bring electricity so that we will stop using generators, rebuild and expand the hydro to increase our megawatts, bring electricity from Cote d’Ivoire to build the capacity for electricity to cover the entire country by making the right investment. We rebuilt roads that were destroyed during the war, and built new ones. Of course, 12 years were not enough to do that”, he said.
The Gbarpolu County Senator elect said he is a firm believer in democracy where government is seen as a continuous process such that a succeeding government builds on its predecessor but “not coming to just chakla everything”.
“Today in the government system, there is nothing like procurement, they just give contracts to their friends and then they get kickbacks and the project is not complete”, he said.
He emphatically defended the stewardship of the UP regime, especially his own tenure, explaining how he was able to manage the economy to produce the desired results favorable to civil servants and the citizenry.
“Yes, we ran a budget deficit but deliberately because we increased the amount of money we put in capital investment and we made sure people got their pay on time without borrowing. But today they are borrowing to pay salaries. If you have a surplus, why are you borrowing to pay salaries?
“I never borrowed to pay salaries; salaries were not delayed. The county development funds were paid on time, the social development funds that companies paid into consolidated accounts were moved to county accounts on time”, he said.
Contrary to the position of the present government that it has been squeezing scarce resources from the internally generating revenue without depending on external sources, Konneh said the government was being economical with the truth because “every project they did in this country are the ones whose finances were already mobilized by UP regime except the RIA though partially mobilized by the UP government, adding “it is a good project , don’t get me wrong but the method to get it started was flawed”.
Speaking on the harmonization policy of the current CDC led government, Konneh said it was never a good policy as it unrealistically and unreasonably cut the salaries of civil servants and plunged them into poverty.
“So, you come to power and meet a civil servant who is earning good pay, you have the average household size of 4 people and the civil servant size of 75,000 people, multiplied by 4, you get 300k which is about half of a million people.
“Some civil servants took loans to pay for their cars but due to cut in the salaries they can no longer pay for their loans. The loan goes to default, that is why the default rate is high in the country at 4%”, he said.
He contended that the default on loan payment in any economy affects business because lending is affected just as the purchasing power of the people is decreased which puts the foreigners doing business in the country in an advantageous position because they can access funds from their external sources.
“When you reduce the people’s pay, you are disabling the people from buying what the business people sell. They don’t have money to pay for the loans they used to buy their cars. There is something called the circular flow of income where the Government pays the money to households in the form of salaries, the household uses the money to buy from businesses to consume, and businesses pay taxes to the government,” he said.
He lamented that the only business that flourishes in the country currently is the entertainment business and drugs because people are underemployed, saying, “the frustration takes them to drinks and drugs to take away their worry, this is unproductive and sadly this is what the government has given the Liberian people”.
The former Minister during the course of the interview also spoke about the recent feat of the government to pass the Millennium Challenge Corporation scorecard but wondered, “what did their pass bring the country for which they are celebrating?”
Describing himself as the “pioneer of the MCC” in Liberia, Konneh said he initiated the process to bring the MCC into the country and called it the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) to enable the government work with the drivers of the initiative from Washington DC so as to ensure that the desired results are achieved.
“I brought the MCC into this country, I had just been appointed as Minister of Planning. Two weeks later, President Sirleaf called a cabinet retreat in Kakata, I got there and her economic advisor, a Harvard Professor, sent her MCC scorecard that year. So, the former President kept it until dinner time. During dinner she threw me under the bus. I was humiliated, got in my car after the meeting, came home and the next day, I went to the American Embassy where I had a crash course for 3 hours on what the MCC was all about from our partners”, he said.
He said from the funding received, the MCC was able to rebuild and expand the hydro project in White Plains to boost the electricity supply in the country as seen from the exercise.