Finance Minister and Development Planning, Samuel D. Tweah, Jr has said the Liberian economy has overcome the huge setbacks experienced during the early days of the current administration which seriously affected the development path of the country. He said from all indications, “the economy is now sound, safe and secured.”
Speaking to a gathering at the Center for the Exchange of Intellectual Opinions (CEIO) on Carey Street, Monrovia on Wednesday, August 12, 2021 Minister Tweah traced the initial shocks experienced in early 2018 when the Weah’s government took over, to the poor foundation of the economy inherited from the previous administration. He said on a good note President George Manneh Weah had expected to have taken over a sound economy but it was never the case.
“In January 2018, there was no government policy in place or no decision had been taken but the exchange rate and inflation were rising up. The economy was declining because the fundamentals were not there, we never had the monetary policy instrument to deal with the situation at the time”, he said.
The Minister who spent most of the time laying the basis of difficulties encountered from the initial stage of the administration said in April 2017, few months before the elections, the government for the first time in many years went in the reserve at the Central Bank of Liberia, withdrew LD$9 billion and released the quantum of the money, signaling the beginning of the undermining of the economy.
“There was never a decision made by the President in January, 2018 to push up the inflation but an embarrassing economic decision made in the past”, Minister Tweah overemphasized his stand on why the economy experienced such a bad start immediately the government took over.
Giving further reasons why the present government inherited a struggling economy, Tweah blamed the past government for perpetually managing the economy through drawing down on the reserve which he said adversely affected the fortune of the country. He said from the figure of $345m as reserve in 2017, it drastically dropped down to about $100m in 2018, meaning about $200m was withdrawn to stabilize the economy.
He lamented the way the economy was poorly managed in the past where the country’s reserve was being depleted in the name of stabilizing it. He said if the government had had about $600m when it came to power, there would not have been any reason to seek for assistance from anywhere.
“In the case where there was no foundation and things were not forth coming, we have to construct a new paradigm and that was what brought us to this point today”, he said , referring to the stability according to him that has been achieved so far.
To buttress his position, the Minister indicated that there has been a significant decrease in commodity prices on the market, the assertion which he said can be supported by the data released by the Central Bank of Liberia.
When asked about the success story and impact of the harmonization policy on the economy, the Minister said though it was one of the toughest decisions taken by the administration but it was an unavoidable decision that saved the country from serious economic and political uncertainties.
He said the harmonization policy achieved three things, one being equity which ensures that government workers are paid justly across the board where workers with similar job titles are paid equitably to stop all the salary disparities among workers.
He also stated that on the second note the policy has restored orderliness in the payment system of government workers which is a sharp departure from the past where there were specified discretionary payments done for each and every government workers in the country.
On the third note he said as the result of the harmonization policy, the government was able to save money to pay for free tuition at tertiary institutions, free WASSCE and to bring electricity to the people, etc.
He thumbed up the policy as it saw 15,000 government workers got upward review of their salaries and 6,000 in the top earning bracket experienced decrease in their previous earnings which free up some money to address the disparities in the system.
The Minister who was at some point during his deliberations, received applauds, spoke of how the government increased the number of persons on its payroll, stating that the exercise was not deliberate but borne out of necessity to address issues of national concerns. He said in 2018, 2,000 health workers who were within the employ of some international NGOs were forced into the job market when those institutions closed down that year and the affected health workers started mounting pressure on the government to absorb them in the system.
He said the government was forced to employ them and search for about $11 m to take care of their salaries. He also said the government increased the monthly salary of medical doctors from $700 to $2,000 to give them a just pay package given the time it takes to go through the education and the importance of the profession to the country.
The Minister furthered that on its own, the government brought in other persons as it was normal when a new government comes to power thus bringing the total number of government workers from 68,000 it inherited to some 74,000 currently.
Responding to a question on transparency and graft in government, Tweah said the government is taking measures to allow more transparency in public service to be seen starting with strengthening the role of the Internal Audit Agency (IAA) to conduct periodic audits of government spending in Ministries and Agencies.
He said efforts are being made to establish a clearing house system at IAA to give approval for payment to ministries and agencies from the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning, stressing that without approval from the clearing house at IAA the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning under his auspices will not authorize any payment.
The Minister said with this, it makes tracking of government spending easier and to detect graft in public service.
He further stated that in the near future, government will deplore platforms where every financial transactions of the government will be made public to the citizens to know how much the government is generating and how much is being spent and on what project.
When asked about the wide allegations of corruption in government, especially the massive acquisition of properties by government officials in such a short time, Tweah said most of the allegations are mere fallacy put out there without any real facts. He said it was inconceivable for anyone to even think that he or the President does not have the financial capacity to build a decent house of their own.
He also addressed the issue about revenue mobilization, especially against the background of Mr. Alexander Cummings’ projection that he can push the national budget up to a billion dollars, Minister Tweah said if Mr. Cummings ever made the statement then he might have gotten the hint from sources from the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA) that there was a huge possibility of the national budget reaching $1 billion and beyond.
He said his optimism is borne out of the amazing revenue collection during the COVID-19 pandemic and believe that there is bright future in that direction.