Contemporary Liberians, even including market women in Duala, have grown taste for, and attraction to, the country’s economic issues. Yesteryears, economic discussions, and ears for them, were left for the elites, mainly public officials and their political opponents, while the rest of the people simply shrugged away. But now, the economy even defines electoral decisions of almost every citizen than anything else. Understandably, this puts those who manage economy, specifically the Minister of Finance of the country, in unprecedented spotlight. The situation has reached its high point during the George Weah administration, which maintains a Finance Minister that is given to superb histrionics, eloquence and clarity. It was not a surprise, therefore, when the online Facebook Spoon TV, witnessed its highest viewers in years, for hosting Samuel D. Tweah two days ago on the state of the Liberian Economy. As The Analyst reports, the media encounter was spirited as it was reassuring in terms of the substantial fruits being born as dissected by Minister Tweah.
One of Liberia’s online televisions, the Spoon TV Live, was on Monday night awash by its highest views yet when its panelists hosted and pestered Mr. D. Samuel Tweah, the Minister of Finance and Development Planning, on the state of the economy.
National and international economists have some positive rating and projections about the performance of the Liberian economy in recent months, but the parity market which has not filtered down to impact the prices of essential goods and many other concerns have kept the populace on edge.
Many Liberians have been pondering how well the economy is doing, both in theory and in practice, waiting anxiously to hear from Government how the positive rating would translate into actual bread and butter on their tables.
Thus, when it was announced that Minister Tweah would be appearing on Spoon TV, thousands postponed their nocturnal outings and denied themselves a bit of sleep to hear him. But that was not the only reason over 6,000 viewers—the highest number that ever viewed a single Spoon TV broadcast in years if not in its history—got glued to the platform.
Students of literature and public speaking, who are fond of Tweah’s authority and substance in that area, turned onto Spoon TV also, and the night of Monday, November 8, was a fruitful moment for many who watched, according to some pundits.
During the over 3 hours of interview, viewers alternated between five thousand to over six thousand, as the Liberian Finance Minister leafed through a variety of fiscal and monetary issues ranging from macroeconomic outlook to the recent appreciation of the Liberian dollar against the US dollar, the high cost of prices on the market, the proposal to mint family of bank notes, the general state of the economy, etc.
He effectively kept his hosts and audience spellbound with his mastery in the field of economics as he navigated various policy intervention issues since the government administration took over state power. He spoke on the state of the economy when President Weah took over in 2018, the serious “macroeconomic imbalances” experienced before the advent of the President George Manneh Weah administration on January 22, 2018.
Addressing the initial question on the state of the economy, Minister Tweah said the economy was surging upwards having experienced shocks in the first two years of the administration.
“After what we have gone through since the last two years, this government has taken serious decisions so that the situation does not get worse for the Liberian people,” he said.
He responded to questions on the high cost of living, especially the rising cost of prices of goods and services in the country and what the government has been able to put in place to cushion the effect of the situation.
Minister Tweah indicated that before the advent of the COVID 19, many people did not know that President Weah has been able to keep the prices at the level where the price should not have even been in the face of the many other priority areas that needed government’s attention.
Minister Tweah said the situation became even worse when the COVID 19 hit the world and caused prices of goods and services to double worldwide.
He said through its proactive policy, Government has succeeded in holding down the prices and it has had the trickledown effect positively on the living condition of the people.
The tough talking Minister told the listening audience that because of the policies put into pace to take care of the hardship that would have befallen the citizens, the government is painfully losing up to $14 million in excise taxes to stabilize prices.
He said so far, the Liberian government is the only institution among others in the sub-region that has taken pro-citizen decisions to keep prices stabilized and at lower level as compared with her counterparts in the sub-region.
To further buttress his point, he said the price of a 25kg bag of rice that is sold for $13 dollars in Liberia is sold for $18-$19 dollars in Sierra Leone; it is around $25 dollars in Nigeria and much higher in Ghana.
“The same thing with gasoline in the sub-regions like Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, etc. I purposely paid for a gallon of gasoline in Ghana for $5 but the same gallon of gasoline is not sold in Liberia at $5,” Minister Tweah said.
He also took some time to discuss the appreciation of the Liberian dollar against the US currency and the impact it has had on the prices of goods and services as well as the eroding purchasing power of the citizens.
The Liberian Finance Minister said: “The appreciation of the Liberian dollar against the US dollar is a good thing for the economy on the other side because it is an indication that the local currency is doing well. However, people are feeling the immediate adverse impact because anytime the Liberian dollar appreciates, it comes with some short term uncertainties in the price stability because the market forces have to clear around it.”
He said the government is taking action through the Central Bank of Liberia and the Ministry of Commerce and Industry to make sure that the current situation is not being used by some business people and other individuals to exploit the Liberian people.
Minister Tweah said also that the government’s intervention or spending on free education and foregoing excise taxes which should have been used to beef up the revenue base so as to undertake meaningful development projects are another way it is suppressing the adverse effect of the price instability in the economy.
Among other things, he touched on what he called the misconception about promises made by the government in its national development plan, the Pro Poor Agenda for Development and Prosperity(PADP) and clarified on from a question in that respect, stating that the government did not ever promise creating 1 million jobs in the next 5 years. He said what was promised in the document was to take 1 million people out of poverty in the next 5 years.
He clarified: “We never said 1 million jobs. We said we were going to lift 1 million people out of poverty. Those two assertions are not the same. So let us correct what we said first.”
Mr. Tweah aid the projection was based on an assumption that the macroeconomic variables were strong enough to drive through the process and that though he had some skepticism when the consultants and technicians came up with the projections, they were able to convince him with numbers that could make the projection possible.
“When you set a plan to create jobs, you create some assumptions. They talked about stable macroeconomic variables, meaning when they were writing the report, they assumed that the macroeconomic variables we inherited were strong, that we were not going to be disrupted. Once the macroeconomic assumption becomes unsettled, then we have to recalibrate the model”, the Minister said.
Minister Tweah said that there was no way anyone could go back on the assumption that before 2018-19, inflation shot up to 30% and when inflation was moving towards 30% no serious government would be pursuing growth. He also attributed the impact of the COVID 19 pandemic on the world economy which he said also affected the Liberian economy and therefore the projection to lift the 1 million people out of poverty is not achievable right now.
On the proposal to print a new family of bank notes, Minister Tweah said that it lies within the purview of the Central Bank of Liberia since it has the statutory function to handle the monetary policy of the government. He said as Minister of Finance, though his signature will be on the bank notes, his only other involvement with the transaction is to make payment against what the national legislature approved and nothing more.