MONROVIA – The Minister of Finance and Development Planning Samuel D. Tweah Jr says the fact that the Government of Liberia succeeded in passing the benchmarks of the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) Scorecard for the 2022 Fiscal Year portends a positive outlook of the economy and shows that the country is moving forward, not backward, evidenced by the strong data-supported narratives from international development partners about Liberia’s economic, that are quite positive and run contrary to what others are saying about the state of the Liberian economy.
Making the assertion Tuesday, November 8, 2022 when he granted a special media chat with some prominent media personalities via the State Broadcaster to address the nation in the aftermath of the publication of the MCC scorecard, Finance Minister Tweah also used the occasion to speak on other general issues surrounding the economy.
“The biggest thing on the scorecard to me which puts us on the second compact and even bigger thing for the government. Besides getting on the compact is the reputation of choice this pass has meant for the country.
“When I look at the scorecard, it is a different narrative. The narrative we are getting from people about Liberia going backward is not being supported by data. The data shows a consistent pattern of improvement,” Minister Tweah averred.
He further noted that the scorecard provided relief to the people in Washington DC , in Brussels and built confidence in the donor partners to provide more support to the government, that and these are signs of good things to come the way of the country.
The Minister who laid the premise of his discussion on the Scorecard said contrary to the insinuation that the government had lost the compact under this leadership, the fact remains that the country did not lose any compact, which only terminated after the required five years, noting that Liberia over the years has been making efforts to be listed though it had experienced some challenges in passing the scorecard.
He said since its enrollment in the compact, this is the first time Liberia has passed it, making it eligible to go through another compact. Minister Tweah said, with the first compact, Liberia qualified after making a presentation underlining the critical sectors that were constraints to the country’s recovery process after the brutal civil war. He added that he was part of the team hired by the government at the time as a lead economist and it identified roads and electricity as the major problems the country had at the time to lead to recovery.
He said the project was accepted, which led to the Millennium Challenge Corporation to fund the energy project in Mount Coffee, White Plains and some road projects in the country.
“The MCC is a wonderful development assistance program because it is targeting the private sector. It is one of the rarest in the world where they look at objective criteria they believe in and relax constraints on the private sector. They look at the biggest problem of the country to solve them and for Liberia it was roads and electricity,” Minister Tweah stated.
When asked what the scorecard meant for the government, especially the President whose administration has come under serious criticisms from the opposition community on performance, Mr. Tweah said it is a vindication of President Weah’s “reputational resilience” to provide a robust leadership that is responsive to the needs and aspiration of the people.
“The MCC has put Liberia on the global map. That is the biggest thing. It put the President’s “reputational resilience” on the globe. It means that this man has been enhancing governance and improving Liberia and the data can speak to that.
“Prior to this, we have had the IMF reports saying the same thing; we have seen consistent consolidation of the fiscal and monetary policy; we have seen inflation going down; we have also seen critical views, but they have not gone against the IMF report”, Tweah said.
The tough-talking Minister who said he believes in the MCC methodology because it tells the government where the binding constraints are and need to be addressed, said one of the problems the government had been encountering over the years to pass the scorecard was in the area of data collection because the government institutions were not coming out with the relevant areas where scores were collated; but since President Weah declared this year as Year of Governance all institutions of government were meticulous to come out with the data, and that was a defining moment to the impressive showing in this year MCC scorecard.
The Minister who said he would rather spend more time discussing the recent scorecard since it will represent a major shift on how people will see the government as well as the donor government using it as benchmark moving forward, averred that among the areas critical and very important was “Control of Corruption” parameter which measures government’s response to graft and misuse of resources and that every government must pass it no matter how many areas it passed.
He however said despite the success for this year, the government has to do more in areas that dwell on human development, stressing that even the World Bank has identified human capital development as centering around early child development, conducive infrastructure to schools, provision of textbooks, etc.
Responding to a question on what the government would do next for Liberia to be enlisted as a full beneficiary of the compact since the US Ambassador to Liberia Michael McCarthy said passing the scorecard does not automatically qualify any country for the compact, Tweah said the government was very aware of it and that President Weah will step his efforts to make a case to the United States Government through the Secretary of State who is also Chairman of the Board of MCC.
“The Board meets next month to make determination as who qualifies for the compact and the President is going to write the Secretary of State who is the Chair of the Board to make the case where he will cite the historical relationship between Liberia and the United States, that Liberia stands with the US on democracy and human rights, while he is going to the US in December to be part of the President Biden’s Democracy Summit, where only a few African leaders who have demonstrated respect for democracy and human rights will be in attendance.
“The communication will also outline efforts being made to fight corruption and efforts being made to keep the country on the compact and also document the LEC Board’s decision on power theft because the electricity project is a core investment of the MCC”, he said.
He called on every Liberian to stand behind the government on the MCC because it is a development issue and not political. He mentioned that the MCC has graduated Liberia’s access to energy from 4% which was among the lowest in the world to 25%, and the potential to grow up to 50% or more when the next compact takes off.
Speaking on other issues with respect to the economy, Tweah, responding to a question on how Liberia has been able to pull out of the economic quagmire other countries like Ghana have been experiencing in recent time, said that tough decisions undertaken by the government attributed to whatever achievements were recorded, despite the many challenges the government experienced at the onset of the administration in 2018, pointing specifically to the period from May, 2019 when government was experiencing difficulties to pay salaries of civil servants.
“The choice we made was to consolidate on decisions. We reduced expenditure and managed our scarce resources, we controlled expenditure.
“For example, the President made a speech and said we are not going to borrow from the Central Bank of Liberia anymore. In the past, salaries were paid by borrowing from the Central Bank.
“Also, Liberia is not monetizing debts, unlike other countries in the world, and that has also lowered inflation”, Tweah said.
He admitted to some shortfalls in the spending gap on critical sectors of the economy like education which he said, based on the new education plan of the government, governments needs roughly $589 M for the next five years to make it competitive, meaning an average of at least $100m per annum. He said due to an improvement in revenue generation for the past two years, the government was able to spend $125m on the education sector which represented a significant improvement on government’s support to the sector.
He said the small fiscal space has impeded government’s plan to spend on what he called “visible and tangible projects” that will positively impact on the people; and there is a constraint government has to go through while sacrificing some areas to support other national undertakings.
“In the next fiscal year, we are to spend $51m on elections, but if we have any donor now that will say we can spend the money on your behalf on the elections, the government can decide to put at least $31m to the education sector and the other $20m to another sector.
“There is another $65m to be spent on the CLSG project and like I told the Liberian people some time ago, it does not make sense to spend $40m for just two months when we can spend that money on putting in place infrastructure. I am happy the Liberian people listened to the government and today we have the CLSG project coming up in December.
Commenting on the recent rice scarcity and the plan of the government to find a lasting solution, Tweah said the choice also lies with the Liberian people to decide which path they want the government to take; but from the angle of the government to fully subsidize the availability of rice on the market especially in the wake of the global challenge, it would take the government some $60m. He said the government has been listening to the actors in the market, who include the importers, the consumers and others and from what has been gathered it is a sacrifice that they will have to make.
“What is happening has to be with arbitrage, that is the intent of making more money. We have been told that once the rice is brought in the country, it ends in other countries where it is expensive. The President, being a pro poor leader, had said that the rice should not be sold above $13 on the market and so over the years we have had it that way. But there are other challenges coming in from the global market that we don’t have control over yet are putting constraints on us. So, it is a sacrifice or decision that the Liberian people will have to make like how they did with the electricity”, he said.
He admitted to the delay to the payment of civil servants’ salaries for the month of October which he attributed to “technical glitches”, but however said everything had been sorted out for prompt payment of their salaries.