During his third annual message delivered January 27, 2020, President George Manneh spoke somehow optimistically of gains made by his government, with support from the international community, in salvaging the dire straits economic situation faced by his government. But according to the Council of Patriots (COP), President Weah’s third annual message deliberately and unashamedly painted a rosy picture of the dire circumstance facing the Liberian people, The Analyst reports.
Responding Thursday to the President’s Annual Message, the COP in a statement read by its Vice Chairperson for Administration, Manikpakei Dumuoe said, going into the third year of the Weah administration, the country’s economic condition has worsened, “with no credible plan of action to restore macro-economic stability and ensure improvements in the livelihoods of our people by creating an enabling business environment to grow the private sector.”
According to COP, the World Bank Doing Business Survey shows Liberia as the 16th worst place to do business on the planet, ranking in comparison below neighboring Sierra Leone, Guinea and Ivory Coast.
“The President’s annual message failed to put forward any credible economic recovery strategy along with coherent policy prescriptions to improve the business environment in order to increase domestic capital formation or to attract foreign direct investments. Over the two-year reign of this government, we are instead witnessing the closure of businesses and the scaling down of operations by both foreign and local companies. For example, Sime Darby has sold its stake to a local company and is leaving the country; Firestone laid off 800 employees while USTC shut down its bottling plant and laid off employees. Hotel occupancy rates are low and the country’s service sector has declined, especially the telecommunications industry due to reduction in demand and bad regulatory policies leading to higher call and data tariffs on our already struggling masses. All of these are a result of two years of bad economic/political governance and an unstable political environment,” the COP stated.
The Council of Patriots, a self-proclaimed pressure group that has of late squeezed the Weah government’s feet to fire against claims of bad governance, specifically noted in its reaction, that the Liberian economy continues to contract with disastrous consequence for the people.
“Economic growth rate projected by the IMF in their June 2019 Article IV Consultation to be 4.7% percent in 2019 was revised to 0.4 percent. The contraction of the economy is exacerbated by continuously unprecedented high level of corruption, lack of transparency and accountability and a total lack of confidence in our banking sector. In 2019, nine ambassadors from our powerful international partners wrote an unflattering letter to the Government of Liberia complaining about the use of donor funds to pay recurrent expenditure. Additionally, the IMF demanded that the Government of Liberia tighten its loosened fiscal stance, including the transgression of borrowing money from the Central Bank in overdrafts to pay recurrent expenditure.,” the COP noted.
Continuing, the Council of Patriots said Liberia’s failing economy poses critical challenges to the consolidation of the country’s fragile peace and the well-being of the Liberian people.
“There is no money in banks, no gas at filling stations and everywhere you turn the anger and frustration of our people stares you in the face. Inflation is in double digits with a projection of more than 30 percent in 2019 and the attendant decline in purchasing power that has mostly negatively affected the country’s poverty ridden population. More than 80 percent of people live under the international poverty line of 1.25 a day according to the United Nation’s Development Report of 2019.
In the face of low economic growth, Liberia’s public debt burden continues to increase and now stands at 1.27 billion dollars, representing an increase of 28.5 percent from 2018. The COP finds this troubling. The IMF and other multilateral agencies are concerned, so too should the Liberian people be with an increase in the debt stock from 987.8 million US dollars to 1.27 billion dollars. Thus inducing more pressures on government revenues and reducing fiscal space for public sector investments in critical areas such as infrastructure, health, education and agriculture,” said the COP.
The group furthered that, given the Weah-led government’s history of fiscal indiscipline, its strongly doubts and questions the government’s capacity to carry out reforms required to attain even the moderate growth rate of around 4% projected in recent IMF articles.
“Under these circumstances, it is clear that poverty will subsists in Liberia, with all of its ugly manifestations, including hunger, poor health and an unstable political climate. With the high inflation of 30 percent, the Liberian economy must grow by double digits and that growth must be broad based and inclusive for citizens to feel any improvements in their livelihoods. Sadly, the Weah Administration seems totally incapable of improving the country’s dire circumstances,” the COP stated.
Infrastructure False Claims
Regarding infrastructure, the COP said President Weah boasts about political road projects (constructed basically in communities where the political elites have connection) that have little or no economic rates of return, but are merely intended to bamboozle an unsuspecting public.
“A road must be designed to provide economic benefits to citizens, with increases in businesses and jobs. The COP wants to ask in this public manner: How many new businesses and jobs have been created by the construction of the road projects under the administration of President Weah? Additionally, most of the major road projects the president presented as achievements are road projects whose funding were negotiated and secured by the past government. Works on some of those roads had already commenced before the expiration of the UP-led government,” stated the COP.
Liberians outside the Economic Stadium
Regarding full implementation of the Liberianization Policy, the COP noted that President Weah reiterated the pledge made at his inauguration that Liberians will not be spectators in the economy. The group further noted that during his third annual message, President Weah pointed out the construction of roads where Liberian contractors are participants, but failed to indicate any other sector.
In this regard, the COP said the President is misleading the public on two scores. “Firstly, most construction contracts in the country are granted to his foreign allies, mainly Zidani and Bittar. The only Liberian contractors involved are his political cronies. Secondly, the President cannot state which other sector, in government procurement where Liberian participation has been prioritized, COP noted.
On the issue of employment, the COP noted that the Weah government has been in power for two years but yet cannot give a close to accurate statistics on the number of jobs it has created, except for the bloating of government ministries and agencies with unqualified partisans and praise singers.
“Our young people continue to lavish in wanton unemployment. This is hugely contributing to the increase in disadvantaged youths or what some refer to as “zogos”, the COP stated.
Touching on the sensitive issue of wage harmonization, the COP said the Weah government shamelessly boasts about wage harmonization which included a painful reduction in salaries for many civil servants as achievement.
“The COP must be quick to remind the Government of Liberia, that it was this administration that increased the wage bill from just under 300 million US dollars in 2017 to more than 323 million in its first year, hiring a horde of unqualified members of the President’s party. Even the Central Bank of Liberia was populated with unqualified members of the CDC forcing the IMF to demand a drastic reduction in the bank’s workforce.
Even with the so-called harmonization of the wage bill, the government is still not able to service civil servant salaries resulting in months of salary delays, further contracting the economy. The government seems to believe that making timely salary payments, a routine function of any government is an achievement in itself. Civil servants should not be denied their just earned wages and be asked to celebrate when they are paid months later,” stated the COP.
Agriculture sans road map
As it relates to the agriculture sector which now seems the life-saver for the revenue-strapped economy, the COP noted in its rejoinder that, although President Weah indicated his government’s emphasis on agriculture due to what he referred to as our fertile soil and supposed comparative advantage, yet he failed to indicate how much resources, including capital and manpower would be required to boost the sector.
“What kind of agriculture development strategy would be employed taking into consideration the failure of past programs funded by donors such as the Liberia Agriculture Sector Investment Plan (LASIP)? The government has thus far shown very low capacity to drive expansion of the agricultural sector. Growing Agricultural sector would require real political will, significant capital and technical inputs. For example, the banking system in Liberia only provides 4 percent of credits to agriculture. Thus, how would agriculture, which requires long term funding be scaled up to increase production and add value? The President did not mention the creation of a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) such as an agriculture funding bank or improvement in the technical capacity for Liberian banks to create products tailor-made for the sector. Clearly the Government has a wish list, but no credible actionable economic strategy to increase private sector investments and job creation,” the COP said.
Global Health Crisis
As the world currently grappling with the outbreak of the Coronavirus, the COP said it had thought that with the president leading a country with a very weak or non-existent health sector, he would have reported to the Liberian people measures that his government has taken to prevent or decisively deal with the very real threat of such virus should we experience an outbreak.
“In fact, our health sector is left to the mercy of God and donors. Our hospitals, health centers and clinics do not have medicines and labs are non-existent. Health care workers are poorly paid. Yet in the face of all this, government officials including the president are continuously increasing their private property acquisition, receiving fat per-diems on useless foreign travels and more,” the COP noted seriously.
A Failed Presidency
The COP said it was particularly baffled by the false sentiments expressed in the Annual Message intended to appeal to the Liberian people, wherein the President shamelessly referred to himself as having earned the trust and confidence of the Liberian people, and accordingly he is viewed as an agent of change by the international community.
“If the thoughts expressed weren’t the expressions of a man living in the low lands (not grandeur) of delusion, with potential tragic consequences for the country, the COP would have ignored these faux emotions from self-centered leader, who lives to dress, drink and fly around in a private jet while his people live in abject poverty.
President Weah, you are no change agent. You do not have the confidence of the Liberian people. You are only tolerated as a democratically elected leader, with great regrets and sorrows from the Liberian people. You have failed your people. You need to get out of your bubble and travel incognito to the slums in the urban areas and in the rural villages to see the level of hardship your government is imposing upon the people. Most Liberians have lost hope in you. The Liberian Diaspora is fully disgusted at your self-seeking leadership.
Mr. President, look at your international image. Google Liberia and your government. The government is widely considered failed or failing and you as a centerpiece of the decay that is enveloping the Liberian political economy,” lamented the COP, while calling on government to meticulously implement the recommendations made by the Collaborating Political Parties in their response to the Annual Address and also implement the demands of the COP.