Senate Begins Confirmation of Boakai’s Nominees -As Finance Minister Designate vows to reposition economy

MONROVIA: After some delays with preparations, confirmation of key nominees named to various government positions by President Joseph Nyuma Boakai commenced yesterday at the Chambers of the Liberian Senate with four officials including designates Boima Kamara for the position of Minister of Finance and Development Planning, Sylvester Grisby, Minister of State for Presidential Affairs, Jarseo Jallah Saygbe, Minister of Education and Dorbor Jallah, Commissioner General, Liberia Revenue Authority making  appearances just as Mr. Kamara told the lawmakers that he will reposition the economy when confirmed to the position while also stating  that the report of the controversial USD40m said to be in the consolidated account balance of the government  as of January 19. 2024 is not supported by facts.

The Finance and Development Planning designate, who along with Commissioner-General designate Dorbor Jallah took center stage first during the confirmation hearing also indicated that  when confirmed as Minister of Finance and Development Planning, he will work hard with the collaboration and support of the Legislature to reposition the Liberian economy on a sustainable path of growth informed by the pending new national development plan that places more emphasis on agriculture, roads and education.

Addressing the Senate in a prepared text, Mr. Kamara said repositioning the economy will mean working to secure and sustain financing for critical investments with a sense of optimization of public resources where efficiency gains are clearly in the interest of all the people of Liberia.

“It is important to note that we will be taking over the nation’s finances at an extraordinarily challenging time,” he said, mentioning amongst other challenges as the effects of COVID-19, and the Ukraine-Russian war on the global economy stalemate, with invitation for global growth and demand of development export from Liberia.

He explained that there has been issues of low economic growth for the last six years with an average of 1.3 percent double digit inflationary pressure  on the back of exchange rate depreciation and frequent recasting of the national budget on account of underperforming revenue.

“The fiscal balance of the government that we are inheriting is in a bad state,” he said, and furthered, “The report of $40 million as the GOL consolidated account balance as of January 19, 2024 is not supported by the fact.”

He indicated that the balances reported by the CBL as of the same date,   January 19, 2024,  showed  20.5 million, stating that Liberian dollar balances converted and added to the US dollar balance are highly incumbent and are not $40 million.

“When it comes to the balances of the GOL consolidated account, there can be no coin mingling of balances of old fiscal year, i.e. FY 2023 and the new fiscal year 2024.  Consistent with Section 34 of the PFM Act of 2009, this means all encumbrances and commitments of funds of the existing old account which, in this case is the FY 22023 Consolidated balance, records show the MFDP borrowed 18 million from the CBL to fund payroll of November and December of 2023. He then promised to give clarity on this matter as the confirmation proceeded.

“As we are made aware, Liberia has been sanctioned due to lack of payment of dues to the African Union, the African Development Bank , in addition is default to the bank of USD160,000”, he said, giving additional historical accounts of the country’s indebtedness to other institutions by the past administration.

He told the Senate that he has come to call to service with over 22 years of work experience both at home and abroad dealing with monetary and fiscal development planning and innovativeness in addressing issues in regional, and continental levels.

He mentioned that he worked with the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNEC) West Africa Regional Office, where he helped to implement, monitor and evaluate reports on the agenda 2010, and African Union Transitory in West Africa, the system with the formulation of ECOWAS Vision 2050 framework drafting.

He said he also supported the Continental Africa Free Trade Area (CATA) in the West Africa Region, and further coordinated the impact assessment of COVID-19 and recovery response amongst others.

“Our part of the African Disease Control and prevention (Africa-CDC) included focusing on the facilitation of partnership between the Africa-CDC and finance and economic planning communities, developing strategies and identifying the best practices to engage relevant stakeholders, Mr. Kamara explained, adding that this was also to leverage financing to further support the health and economic program for the Financing Africa-CDC, to develop relevant program to boost investment in public health.

“As we seek to build a vibrant economy that is inclusive and where jobs are sustainable, it is now time for all Liberians to put the nation first.  “We must confront and meet the foe with valor unpretending,” he borrowed a line from the National Anthem.

The main reason for Liberia’s economic backwardness, he diagnosed,   is the old economic module which relies mainly with exportation of raw materials, especially rubber, iron ore and other minerals with limited emphasis on economic diversification which usually paves the way for industrialization of an economy.

But he suggested a shift in the paradigm of the economy when he emphasized, “We must be intentional about innovation and thinking outside the box. And outside the box thinking for example, should consider Liberia’s program with the IMF should go side by side with a robust coordinated and integrated framework that must have where resources have to be spent for auto-managers.”

Boima Kamara, President Boakai’s choice of Finance and Development Minister noted, “A newly coined word that should resonate with all Liberians, especially policymakers can be found in the slogan, ‘MADE IN LIBERIA’, a commitment by giving the private sector center stage in national decision making as the engine for growth and development.”

He exclaimed that the time has come for the government to move away from being the largest employers from the private sector as the outcome for sustainable job creation.  Government’s policy should be intentionally supported to encourage domestic value addition with Liberian entrepreneurs leading the charge.

In this charge, he explained that the government should work with our development partners to ensure development assistance be aligned with our national development plan. “A big thank you to our development partners for continued support to our people. Tangible investment largely in the agriculture value chain where small holders are supported smartly will be a good start.  This is the soft side from my perspective. ,” he added

Saying the change for Liberia’s structural transformation can only be guarantee when most of the borrowing goes towards the binding constraints which includes high cost of electricity, limited payrolls, especially along the growth corridor and strengthening the financial system for more support to development progress, Mr. Kamara pointed out that the absence of a capital market in Liberia is another problem which calls for raising needed capital for development,  something which he indicated requires more from the government. “We must know what we want, agree on what we want and just do it,” he asserted.

He then said his over 16 years of distinguished public experience dealing with monetary and fiscal matter of Liberia as deputy governor for economic policy and minister of finance and development planning amongst others, coupled with my experience outside Liberia as a consultant and delivering micro-finance and public finance issues makes him best suited to serve again as Minister of Finance,

He then thanked God first and President Boakai for his trust imposed on him by his nomination and assured that he will serve the country as a prudent servant enabler in the spirit of teamwork.

He also lauded the Senate for the opportunity given him to appear before the August body for confirmation hearing. “Our years of service has been and will continue to be characterized by the fear of God, unfettered love for the motherland and respect for all people marked by tolerance and humility,” he pointed out as he gave specially recognition to his family, including his wife and his children whom he said have been the source and of pillar of strength in everything he does.

Questioned on the rate of inflation in the country, Mr. Kamara told the Senate that the rate of inflation in the country is 10 percent, stating that he will inherit a task to bring new ideas on the table, that will take the Ministry and the country to a dimension, taking us from where we were to advancing the ministry – using the experience that he got from international financial and monetary partners during the five years he was out of government.

“Addition to what we will bring back to our fiscal space are more discipline, more transparency; moreover we will commit to deliver on what we have committed ourselves to when we serve,” he said.

On the LPRC factor, he concurred with the LRA Commissioner-General nominee, stating that the existing agreements need to be reviewed, so that policy makers will know what is not necessary about them or not so as to decide what will contribute to the national coffers most.

He indicated that to lower the cost of basic commodities, using a bag of rice which presently costs of a bag of rice which presently costs US$18 for instance, the ministry working with Commerce and other actors will need to know what are embedded in the cost of bag of rice so that they will, where take decision to lower cost. “This is not directly our area, we will have to work with the Ministry of Commerce to see how we can work it out,” he said

For his part, the Commissioner General, Dorbor Jallah who faced the Senate yesterday was asked on what he can do to introduce efficiency in the context of alleviating the delay in the clearing of goods from the Port which Senator Saah Joseph of Montserrado County said has been the source of taking the ordinary people back to poverty.

In his response, Jallah said “If I am confirmed, one of the things we are going to be looking at is how to increase efficiency. Understanding the question by Senator Joseph to be about  how we can lessen the burden on our people by increasing efficiency and in the port operations, he said  adding “We will go in there to identify what the bottlenecks are; we will work with MEDTECH and other stakeholders including the brokers’ Association and all parties to see how we can streamline those processes that are causing the delay, and  to ensure that people do not incur too much unnecessary charges on the account of the delay in clearing their goods.

He then committed himself to knowing and understanding the issues so as to be able to increase efficiency. “I will give myself three months in order to ensure that during the turn over time it will be much less,” he said amongst others, furthering that he will look at enforcing the LPRC Act  that authorizes Liberia Petroleum Corporation to be the sole government agency for the importation of petroleum.

By so doing he indicated that that the LRA can raise revenue from the LPRC than projected, adding however, that the importation of petroleum by private companies is due to concessions agreements signed with the importing companies.

He told the Senate that those agreements were signed at a time when the country was just from war, indicating that at the time the LPRC had no capacity to operate alone to supply the country. He therefore called for revision of these concessions agreement for deeper analysis of the prevailing situation to reach an informed decision on cancelling them or continuing with.

“My suggestion is that when the Legislature is reviewing concession agreements with the NIC and the concessionaires, the tax authority should be at the table and the fiscal policy authority should also be at the table so that we will do the analysis and look at the opportunity cost – meaning that we need to dive deeper into the cost analysis before we make commitments,” he advised.

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