“Real State of Nation is the Govt’s Failure” -UP Rips Weah’s SONA

MONROVIA – Despite President George Manneh Weah using a good portion of his State of the Nation Address to flaunt his achievements for the past five years in office, the former ruling Unity Party has urged the citizens to disregard the speech and consider the failure of the government to deliver on its promises as the real state of the nation where majority of the citizens have been driven into abject poverty.

The position of the party arose as its reaction against President Weah’s speech delivered before the joint session of the National Legislature in line with Article 58 of the 1986 constitution which mandates the President to address the nation through the National Legislature on the Third Monday of January each year on the current status of the state.

In a press statement read to media by Mrs. Daba Vapilah, UP National Vice Chair for Administration, at its national headquarters on Broad Street, the party said right from the beginning of 2017, it warned against electing Mr. Weah who at the time was one of the leading candidates challenging the Unity Party for the presidency which he later on won during the second round.

“We warned Liberians that this would’ve happened. As UP, we know what it takes to lead this country. We spent 12 years fighting some of the most pressing challenges including: food security, roads, education, health care and electricity. It takes tenacity, attention to detail, hard work and integrity to provide the sustainable and much needed development Liberians yearn.

“Weah has none of these. He has refused to learn the job. The president failed on salary harmonization. They lied about their intent. The president failed to fight corruption. They openly promote corruption.

“This has been the story of the last five years. Stories of dashed hopes, broken dreams and failed promises”, she said.

The party’s statement dwelled largely on the economy, the sector the President had reported in his SONA witnessed tremendous improvement where the national budget leapfrogged to USD785.6m, the first time in the history of the country.

“The president’s address fell short of showing the transformative effects by making specific reference to the changes in the budget execution. It is quite interesting that the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning (MFDP) has not published fiscal outturn or budget performance reports  since the 2020 publication.

“There is no indication that the government generated $640.5 million United States Dollars as 81.5 percent of the revenue component as proposed in the 2022 National Budget. The budget performance report should provide a detailed explanation as regards revenue receipts and expenditures during the period under review. Without the President clearly reporting on these indicators and his claim that his government introduced the largest National Budget in the history of Liberia remains unrealistic”.

Madam Vapilah said while delivering his 2022 SONA, President Weah emphasized that strong revenue measures would have been taken to rigorously increase domestic resource mobilization through the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA) resource mobilization strategy to give back 50 percent of all real estate taxes collected to the counties, districts and cities where the real estate taxes are collected. She said the President did not mention any progress in his 2023 Annual Message and “we have no evidence of this program being successfully implemented nor have we seen evidence that the local government and or communities are receiving a percentage of the real estate taxes collected. The revenue sharing law was passed in 2022 but it has not taken effect. All we saw was wastage of public resources through workshops and seminars,” Mrs. Varpilah emphasized.

She noted that of striking significance is the government’s inability to remit Social Development Funds (SDF) collected from concessional multinational firms operating in Liberia to the local county authorities. She said this clearly exhibits a high degree of insincerity and unwillingness on the part of the Executive branch of government to uphold the Local Government Act and the MDAs as laws.

“For example, the Executive received 7.5 Million United States Dollars for Nimba County, 3 Million United States Dollars for Bong Country, 5 Million United States Dollars for Grand Bassa County as Social Development Funds. The government has callously not remitted those amounts to the respective counties thereby depriving the counties of the needed development. What have the people of Nimba, Bong and Grand Bassa done to you Mr. President for which you and your government are depriving them of money from their own natural resources?

“The president also allocated County Development Funds to himself for the Presidential County Tour for the sole purpose of gaining praise. Interestingly, recently Senator Prince Johnson of Nimba county had to threaten President Weah and his administration that his county will withhold support to his presidential bid if the 7.5 million USD is not remitted to the county. We find this to be disingenuous on the part of this government to keep our counties stagnated from their legal revenues only to be traded for votes. This, for us, is a blatant abuse of power”, she said.

Madam Vapillah also spoke on the Western Cluster saga where she stated that recently, the Government announced to the public that the Western Cluster Concession agreement ratified in 2011 was being activated through an arrangement which she referred to as “an illegal memorandum of understanding (MOU). She said there were several breaches in the MDA which only qualify it for renegotiation.

“Western Cluster owed the three counties US$24 million, didn’t meet the exploration deadlines, didn’t established any production sites and have not commenced the development of the agreed infrastructures (the construction of a road from Bomi Hill to Mano River, the construction of a rail and the construction of a port). The government used an illegal MoU and waived 14 million of the SDF and allowed Western Cluster to lift the Direct Shipping Ore for shipping on the illegal MoU. This is Stealing!!!!!!”

“Liberians expected to have heard the President speak about his government’s approach to avoid the progressive abuse of over $300 million U.S. dollars in duty-free privileges granted prior to the delivery of his 2022 Annual Message. The President deliberately and callously decided not to speak about this very important issue as he had committed to do in the last State of the Nation Address. We believe President Weah and his government didn’t mention anything about stop gap measures taken to prevent this linkage in the system. He and his government continue to abuse the granting of duty-free privileges which would have amounted to more than 300 million as we speak”, she said.

Varpilah further stated that the President mentioned less about the progress of restructuring the country’s domestic debt, saying that according to the President’s 2022 SONA, all legacy debts owed the Central Bank of Liberia were restructured totaling $487.5 million U.S. dollars and that the total public debt stock stood at $1.69 billion U.S. dollars on January 1, 2022, being an increment of the public debt stock since 2018.

“Yesterday, the president told the nation that his government has increased our total debt stock to almost TWO BILLION United States Dollars just under SIX years while for 12 years the Unity Party total debt stock was about 900 million US Dollars having secured an unprecedented waiver of over 4.7 Billion US Dollars historical debt.

“The President’s report on our current total debt stock has shown a growth of 7.9 percent as compared to 6.29 percent in the previous year. Majority of this growth accounts for the disbursement of external loans. The government argues that the majority of its capital investments are financed from its domestic resource mobilization. This policy statement is not factual because the 2022 budget appropriated over 75 percent for only recurrent expenditures which leaves a smaller fiscal space to invest in both social and economic infrastructure development. Most of our major capital investments are funded by bilateral and multilateral agents”, she said.

 Specific about audits of the public account of the government, Madam Vapillah said President Weah refused to mention whether the audit report of the consolidated account was completed as promised in his last Annual Address. She said the public has  seen a publication of the consolidated account audit as far back as 2015/2016 and 2016/2017 national budgets and the completion of the Fiscal Year 2019/2020.

 “He also informed the public last year that The General Auditing Commission was conducting an independent payroll audit funded by the World Bank. But he did not provide a report on the outcome of the audit. This speaks to the President’s inability to live up to commitments made in his Annual Messages over the past five years.

Speaking further on the economy, she said the President reported last year in his 2022 SONA that the positive review from the IMF was immediately followed by a disbursement of $23.64 million U.S. dollars to the Central Bank to add to the nation’s reserve stock and that additionally Liberia received USD345.3 million in August 2021 under the general Special Drawing Rights allocation from the IMF as a member due to the unstable condition of the country’s financial situation.

“What the President didn’t report was that this disbursement of SDR was as a result of the recapitalization of the Central Bank after the CDC Government uncontrollably and carelessly depleted the national reserve by the first quarter of 2019 upon taking office. He also reported that despite the challenges of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, the economy grew by 3.6 percent from negative 3 percent in 2020, and growth was expected in 2022 to be 4.7 percent. The President didn’t mention the actual growth rate due to a decline by 0.7 percent. Though inflation rhetorically reduced, commodity prices including everyday household need continue to skyrocket thereby posing serious hardship to Liberians as they struggle to look for their daily meal”, she said.

Mrs. Varpilah also intoned that on the monetary policy front, the President reported that in 2022 the Central Bank of Liberia printed 48 Billion Liberian Dollars without inflation but the party disagreed with his statement because it was far from reality. She said the records show that the CBL brought in the first consignment of banknotes totaling L$4.0 billion Liberian dollars out of the approved L$48.734 billion Liberian dollars in November 2021 and the second consignment was expected in January 2022.

“The President failed to report on the current status of the second consignment to include the coins which we already see in circulation. The Mandate given the Central Bank by the National Legislature was to print a whole new family of currency; instead, the Executive through the Central Bank of Liberia printed the same “conflicted currency”. This situation has opened up a new front for the duplication of the currency. Several cases have been reported about citizens being arrested with thousands and millions of Liberian dollars at different border points. This decision to continue printing such a conflicted currency speaks to a larger extent of something that Liberians need to know”, she said.

On the fight against corruption, Madam Varpillah said since the President’s ascendancy to power, he has indicated on numerous occasions that he is committed to fighting corruption, however, “it appears that he is the Commander of Corruption-in-Chief”.

“In his 2022 SONA, he pledged to have sustained the fight against corruption, money laundering and illicit financial flows and promised to have strengthened and empowered the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission. In this year’s Annual Message, the President provided a lip-service update to these fights.  The President has weakened the Liberia Anti-corruption Law making the LACC a lame duck. 

 “The Weah-led government has conspicuously refused to fight corruption with cases related to important institutions such as Agriculture, National Elections Commission, Liberia Water & Sewer Corporation all going down the drain with no form of accountability. The President also committed to spare no effort in bringing to Liberia international compliance platforms in the fight against corruption and illicit financial flows. On the contrary, just last year, three Liberian government officials were sanctioned for acts related to corruption and illicit financial flows of money. President Weah loudly promised to commission an investigation into the sanctioned officials; the former Minister of State Nathaniel McGill, former Managing Director of the National Port Authority Bill Tweahway and former Solicitor-General Saymah Cyrenus Cephas. Liberians are left wondering what has happened to the investigation. We only see public display of support to these officials by his political party and government some embark to run for office.

Furthermore, after an audit of the National Road Fund Account; it was reported that little over 6 Million United States Dollars was misapplied in 2018 and an additional 24 Million United States Dollars by the Government on payroll financing. This runs contrary to the established law which prohibits the use of the fund for anything other than road rehabilitation and construction. The President also refused to report on the 11 Million United States Dollars appropriated in the 2022 fiscal year budget as rice subsidy. Even with this subsidy and an additional 14 Million United States Dollars in the current 2023 fiscal year budget; rice price has been increased to US$17.50 per 25 Kg bag from US$13.5 per bag”, she said.

Speaking on Salaries and pension benefits, she said President Weah further reported  during his last year’s Annual Message that several reforms were taking place on the Central Government Payroll and pension schemes reporting the placement of Government workers on biometric ID; to reduce non-contributory pension scheme; expanded social security coverage and increase social security contribution by 300 percent in some instances.  She further said President Weah stated that at the end of the reform which is yet to be completed, those who retired should immediately start to get their benefits the next month.

“However, we have realized that President Weah did not provide any significant update on this during this year’s Annual Message delivery. The President ’s address did not report on any progress. Evidence has shown to date that many civil servants were retired and did not receive any benefits thereafter. The country continues to witness agitations from retired civil servants who are left to struggle for their survival”, she said.

Madam Varpillah criticized the President for making “empty political promises about increasing salaries of those civil servants earning below the minimum wage in the face of not fulfilling promises he made from the beginning of his Presidency. “What is even more appalling is for the President to tell the civil servants that for more than five years he had no idea that Fifteen Thousand civil servants were making salaries way below the minimum wage when it was his HARMONIZATION POLICY that actually reduced their salaries”, she said. 

Speaking on access to stable electricity, she said it remains a major challenge under this administration. She said the President had announced a reduction in electricity tariff, from 35 cents per kilowatt hour to around 24 cents per kilowatt hour for residential customers and 22 cents per kilowatt hour for businesses and the people were excited because of the essence of electricity.

“However, to date households and businesses are struggling to receive reliable and stable electricity. We expected the CDC-led Government to have increased the existing generation capacity, instead the capacity has been reduced while most households remain in darkness due to the incompetence of the CDC-led government to properly manage the LEC”.

She then went on to list several projects undertaken by the former UP government some of which, according to her, were being claimed by the CDC led government.

“During the delivery of his Annual Message yesterday, President Weah boasted of ongoing construction of about 400 kilometers of primary roads (including the Lofa Road) but shamelessly refused to give credits to the role played by the Unity Party-led government. Here is what the CDC-led government refused to tell you; we concluded the financing mechanism to pave a key remaining major economic corridor: Gbarnga – Salayea – Korneah -Voinjama – Foya – Manikorma; the Unity Party Government established the Arab Consortium (Kuwaiti Fund, Saudi Fund, Abu Dhabi, OPEC, BADEA) to provide concessional loans.

“President Weah also refused to tell the Liberian people that the road project in Maryland commenced in 2015; Harper-Ivorian Border, Harper Junction-Pleebo-Karloken-Fish Town, River Gee County was constructed by the Unity Party-Led government. Additionally, as the result of our domestic resource mobilization we left in place financing infrastructure, the Road Fund which was established through legislation in 2015.

“We also negotiated the South Eastern Corridor Road Access Management Project (SECRAMP) with the World Bank providing guarantee for the financing arrangement to pave from Ganta to Zwedru using the Road Fund Mechanism. Also, as part of completing the Trans West African Highway Project, we secured 50% grant from the European Union and a concessional loan from the African Development Bank to finance the pavement from Luogatuo to Sanniquellie,  Ganta – Yekepa which commenced in 2015 and financed by the GoL. The Coca Cola Factory – ELWA Junction road expansion project financed by the World Bank.

“These are the same roads President Weah referred to yesterday when he boasted of ongoing 388 kilometers for which the CDC-led government will be only too willing to take credit. Pavement of major roads completed under the UP-led Government include the 90 mile Monrovia-Buchanan Road; 200 mile Monrovia-Gbarnga-Ganta Highway now named Suakoko; Fish Town-Harper Road; the SKD Boulevard and Kakata-Bong Mines Road. We completed the pavement from Harper to the Ivorian Border and up to Karloken and extensive work up to Fish Town, Rivergee county. The UP-led government secured funding for Sanniquellie-Yekepa Road which commenced five years ago; Freeport-Red-light was funded by the people of Japan”.

Speaking on Food security and the agriculture sector, she said these areas suffered lack of innovation under President Weah despite bragging that agricultural productivity has been a key priority of his administration during his last SONA.

She said President Weah had highlighted that the private sector interest and investment in agriculture has grown and that they expressed interest in investment. “Of course, they pointed out the opportunities but as we speak, Liberia under the regime of President Weah has not recorded any major investment in the agriculture sector”, she said.

On the health sector, she said the health condition of the citizens is sharply declining due to the incompetence and inability of the Weah-led administration to prioritize substantive investment and to focus on the quality of health services and personnel. This government has largely used resources to build structures and equipping the existing facilities with the needed materials and personnel to make them functional. 

“While we appreciate the construction of a 100-bedroom structure for the people of Gbarpolu and Liberia by the Emirates, that structure is not yet a hospital until it can become fully equipped and functional. There are complaints from across the country about hospitals going without fuel to provide electricity, surgical gloves for nurses and doctors and general logistics and equipment for the operations of those hospitals. Scores of primary health care facilities have incessantly complained about the lack of drugs while nurses are constantly protesting for salaries”, she said.

For the education sector, she said it  remains in dire need of resuscitation as t”he Weah-led administration has only played lip service since their ascendancy. “The sector remains underfunded, less prioritized  but with rash  and knee jerk pronouncements that not only rolled back progress but have put burden and weakened on public tertiary institution’s progress”, she said.

“The President said his government spent nearly $38.9 million US dollars on tuition-free policy; renovation of public universities; WASSCE and Junior High School examinations; the “Support to Closing Teachers Salary Gaps” project; and support to the Engineering College. Unfortunately, facilities at the public schools are some of the most challenging. As I speak to you fellow Liberians, our public schools across the country are filled with incompetent and unqualified teachers, most of whom are volunteers who are yet to receive any form of remuneration and or training. The output of our secondary school students remains very low. President Weah’s knee jerk education policy of primary education has overburdened the system so much that the quantity of students outweighs the capability of the quality it was meant to provide”, she said.

Towards the end of her speech, she made some jeers out of the government, especially President Weah, for failing to show them the real state of the nation.

“Today we heard about the State of a Nation. President George Weah’s nation is a nation where the president and his party have done no wrong, where most people are doing well, where the war on corruption has been won, and where the future is bright.

 “But we know the State of the Nation. The people’s nation—our nation— is a nation where women are not protected. Garbage is not collected. Children are not educated. People are not earning enough to live in comfort and dignity. Health centers are not equipped. The youth are losing their lives to drugs.

“In our Nation, the President and his party failed to conduct a credible census that results could be used for your development trajectory. They failed to pay enumerators, young people looking to serve their country. They did not complete the census on time. The census showed not only that they are corrupt, but also that they just cannot do anything right.

“In Liberia today, salary harmonization leads to an increase in poverty rather than relieving the people of the very poverty. The president said that he has only realized that some people are making below the minimum wage”, she said.

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