MONROVIA – In fulfilling his constitutional duty that binds him to report on the State of the Nation each year, President George Manneh Weah on Monday spoke glowingly of the gains made by his administration during its five years of governance, stating in no uncertain terms that when he took office in 2018, the country’s economic and fiscal outlook was so dire and bleak, it would have taken a miracle to turn the worsening situation around. But five years after the launch of painstaking reforms, President Weah boasted proudly on Monday that the results are out there for the world to see – results which he says his critics and the opposition have tried to repress over the last several years; noting however, that “truth crushed to the ground, shall rise again.”
Delivering the last State of the Nation Address (SONA) of his constitutional six-year term, President Weah chose the occasion to recap on the hurdles that his administration faced when he took over in 2018, yet overcame those seemingly insurmountable hurdles through sound policy reform, to become a model economy praised by the country’s development partners.
Recapping, President Weah stated that when he took the oath of office in January of 2018, the Liberian economy was in a state of major distress; the macroeconomic foundations were weak; and the country’s net international reserve, which had been used by the previous Government to stabilize the exchange rate, was very low.
“The exchange rate had plunged into free fall, and the then Government did not seem to have the tools to deal effectively with stabilizing the currency at that time. As a consequence, inflation was increasing at an alarming rate, while domestic revenue and development assistance were in decline.
“Our development partners met with me during my first week in office and informed me that the Health Pool Fund, which had been paying the salaries of some 2,000 health workers, had dried up. They asked us to take these workers on to the Government’s payroll, at a cost of about $12 million U.S. dollars a year. The United Nations Mission, which had been spending some $115 million US dollars annually in Liberia, was also leaving, thereby depriving the economy of these resources. By 2018, all of these inflows were gone.
“The Government’s credit rating with commercial banks was at its lowest because the Government could not settle its domestic obligations to lenders. The total Government obligation to the Central Bank of Liberia was not even known because some Government debt to the Central Bank was not officially recognized. This was the bleak nature of our economy when we assumed responsibility for the leadership of the Government at the beginning of 2018.
“What we did not realize at the time is that the recipe for economic disaster had already been set. We had assumed that our economy was sitting on a strong foundation, but we were in for a rude awakening when the decline in the exchange rate began to accelerate. We had to get to work quickly, to re-think, to re-work and to re-establish the principles of macroeconomic fundamentalism as they are known around the world,” Weah averred.
He furthered that by 2019, he delivered an Economic Address to the Nation, in which he announced an end to Government borrowing from the Central Bank of Liberia, thus forcing the Government to depend on its own resources and to live within the means of the national budget.
“This was a policy to help contain inflation and to reduce the Government deficit. In 2019, we also set out to fix the broken and unfair wage system in which Government workers were paid without any set rules or pay grades. To end this unfairness, we had to abolish a general allowance system that was allowing this to happen. Although we were faced with revenue challenges, we were determined to keep all civil servants on the payroll. And so, we adjusted the wage system and gave every Government worker a salary which is based on a standard and consistent pay-grade. As a result of this exercise, 15,000 civil servants received higher salaries, while some 7,000 were adjusted downward.
“Also, in 2019, we entered an IMF-supported program, and began a series of fiscal, monetary and governance reforms. Under this program, the Central Bank of Liberia developed a new monetary framework that worked to stabilize the exchange rate without drawing down excessively on net international reserves, as had been done by the previous Government. We set out to improve our fiscal balances, domestic debt management, and strengthen the fight against corruption.
“As a means of restoring the Government’s credit rating, which was at its lowest in 2018, my Administration formally and officially acknowledged all of its debt owed to the Central Bank of Liberia, and issued bonds to commercial banks to settle the legacy debt that we met on the books.
“Five years after the launch of these painstaking reforms, the results are out there for the world to see. Today, Liberia is a macroeconomic exception in the West African region. We have brought inflation down from a high of thirty (30%) percent to a single-digit rate that is now under seven percent. We accomplished this in just under two years, making it one of the fastest rates of inflation collapse in recorded economic history.
“We also stabilized the exchange rate for one of the longest periods, and we grew net international reserves to their highest level in decades. We increased domestic revenue to the highest level in Liberian history, and took our national budget to its highest level as well.
“We established credibility to the Government’s finances; and reformed the banking sector, which had been exposed to excessive risk-taking and a high level of non-performing loans. With the increased domestic revenue generated, we undertook a series of development programs in roads, electricity, education and health.
“These results were obtained despite the outbreak of COVID-19. What this means is that if the pandemic had not happened, Liberia would have been on a faster growth trajectory than it is today. But we give Almighty God the glory and we thank our international partners for standing with us and for the confidence they continue to repose in our judgement and in our leadership.
“These are the broad lines of the story that will define our Administration as we face national elections in 2023. These are the macroeconomic and development narratives that the world is now beginning to learn about Liberia, but which our critics and opposition have tried to repress over the last several years. But as it is often said: “truth crushed to the ground, shall rise again.”
“The truths of the difficult decisions and courageous corrections we have made during our tenure, concerning the pro-poor investments in education, health, roads and electricity, are out there for all Liberians to see and experience. It is on these truths that we stand, as we continue to face existing challenges to deliver a more prosperous future for all Liberians,” President Weah boasted.
Maintaining the Peace through Democratic Elections
President Weah also used the occasion to remind Liberians about the need to maintain the hard won peace for which many sacrificed and died, noting that it is only through the democratic process that peace can be maintained.
”As your President, I have made it my overarching purpose and duty to work towards preserving the peace of this Nation, ensuring always that we do not slide back into conflict. This has been the fundamental underpinning of all development and policy initiatives of my Administration. The record will show that we have achieved undeniable success in this endeavor, while at the same time always ensuring that there is strict adherence to the rule of law, and protection for the constitutional rights of our citizens, as we consolidate our democracy and develop our Nation.
“Our well-earned credentials as a nation of peace and democracy in West Africa will be put to the test in about nine months from today, when we head to the polls for General and Presidential elections. These will be the fourth elections since the end of the war in 2003, and they will be an important benchmark for judging the extent of the consolidation of peace in our country,” the Liberian leader stated.
While addressing the citizens on the essence of maintaining peace, especially as the country moves towards holding a general election in the post-UNMIL era, President Weah spoke of the recent discovery of arms at the Freeport of Monrovia, saying the development was a major cause for concern for both the government and citizens alike.
“We were all recently in shock when we awakened to news of the discovery of a large cache of arms in a container at the Freeport of Monrovia. We applaud the vigilance of all national security agencies for their collaborative efforts in effecting this bust. Coming on the heels of the October elections, this development is a major cause for concern”, he said, adding that he was informed that the National Police Force continues to pursue every possible lead in their investigation of this illegal act, including diplomatic measures to have the alleged perpetrators face justice,” Weah said.
Cataloguing the number of legislations passed during his tenure among which include the Land Rights and the Local Government Acts in the first session in 2018, and the Revenue Sharing Law in 2022, which according to him will enable revenue-sharing between central and local governments in Liberia and was designed with the main objective of promoting domestic resource mobilization through fiscal decentralization for local empowerment, President Weah said in 2019, during the second session, approximately 54 pieces of legislation were passed, amounting to the second highest number of bills passed during a single session under this Administration.
“Additionally, I want to commend you for passing the Power Theft Law, the Domestic Violence Act, and the Kamara A. Kamara Press Freedom Act of 2019. The Power Theft Law seeks to address the increasing theft of electricity through illegal connections, tampering with meters and with transmission and distribution lines, as well as theft of LEC’s assets, including light poles, wires, and transformers. It establishes a system of prohibitions and penalties to deal with electricity theft, for which Government intervention and protection is appropriate”, he said.
“President Weah also thanked the lawmakers for the passage of the Domestic Violence Act, which according to him is expected to promote gender equality and protect women and children from domestic violence. “This law is intended to reduce the entrenched gender inequality practices which were on the increase in our country. Let me assure you that these laws will continue to be fully and appropriately enforced under my Administration”, he said.
“Let me also congratulate you for the enactment into law of the Kamara Abdullah Kamara Act of Press Freedom, which is a very historic piece of legislation that codifies and decriminalizes free speech, as enshrined in our 1986 Constitution. With the passage of this new law, we have cast into the dustbin of history all outdated criminal statutes that once restricted freedom of speech. Today, we are proud to see that dozens of newspapers exist, unhampered and unrestricted, along with numerous radio and TV stations that are now flooding our airwaves”, the president said.
Touching on bills that have bearing on the fight against corruption and financial crimes, he applauded the lawmakers for passage of bills seeking to strengthen the country’s integrity institutions, such as the Amended Central Bank of Liberia Act, the Financial Intelligence Agency Act, the Anti-money Laundering Terrorist Financing, Preventive Measures, And Proceeds of Crime Act, 2021, the new Internal Audit Agency Act, and the Amended and Restated Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission Act.
“One of the most significant achievements in support of our call for national unity was the passage of the Dual Citizenship Bill last year, which was the year of our Bicentennial. The moral significance of restoring citizenship rights to our brothers and sisters in diaspora cannot be overemphasized. We now call on our families from the diaspora to come home and join us in the noble and patriotic task of nation-building, so that we can all continue to enjoy our Sweet and Glorious Land of Liberty, which was given to Liberians by God’s command”, he also said, while once again thanking the lawmakers for codifying the 23rd of December 2019 Opinion of the Honorable Supreme Court, making more true the saying that: “Once a Liberian – Always a Liberian.”
“While we applaud you for the record-breaking passage of these various bills, we would like to remind you, however, of some important bills that are still pending before you, including the following: Agreement Establishing the African Continental Free Trade Area; An Act to Establish the West African Police Information System; The Statute of the International Renewable Energy Agency; The Legal Aid Act of 2022; The Liberia Corrections Service Act; An Act to Establish the Civil Service Commission; A Revised Public Health Law of Liberia; The Revised and Restated Charter of the University of Liberia; and the International Solar Alliance (ISA) Framework Agreement; just to name a few”, the president said, speaking about additional interventions from the lawmakers.
President Weah also mentioned the promulgation of eight executive orders during the period under review, among which were Executive Order #107 Suspending Tariffs on Off-Grid Solar Renewable Energy Products; Executive Order #108 Supporting Integration and Access to Social Services and Safety Nets for Refugees and other Vulnerable Populations in Liberia; Executive Order #109 Extending Executive Order #100 Exempting the Liberia Water and Sewer Corporation (LWSC) from Customs Duties on Selected Items.
Other Executive Orders issued during the period under review included, Executive Order #110 Extending Executive Order #101 Repositioning the National Food Assistance Agency; Executive Order #111 Exempting the Liberia Electricity Corporation from Customs Duty and GST on Generation, Transmission and Distribution Equipment, Materials & Fuel; Executive Order #112 Establishment of the National Railway Authority; Executive Order #113 Suspending Tariff on Rice; and Executive Order #114 Establishing the West African Police Information System.
The National Budget
President Weah, making a presentation on the 2023 National Budget, said the instrument of $777.9 million US dollars has been submitted to the House of Representatives for review, which is consistent with the total resource forecast for the period. He said the estimated domestic revenue is $667.9 million US dollars, or 85.9% percent, while external resources are projected at $110 million US dollars, or 14.1% percent
He said as domestic revenue improves, the government will remain committed to enhancing the welfare of Government workers and urged the lawmakers to look into the situation of some 15,000 government workers, who according to him still make below the minimum wage of $150 US dollars, as mandated by the Decent Work Act.
President Weah also found time in his speech to comment on the recent 2022 National Population and Housing Census and said as regards the process, it is about to be concluded and that the provisional results are being finalized.
As regards one of his signature projects, which is road connectivity, the President said with the support of the development partners, the government made significant gains in the pavement of primary roads for all ongoing projects.
“To date, a total of 45 km has been paved on the Gbarnga to Salayea road corridor, 20 km has been paved on the Ganta to Saclepea road, and 31 km of the Sanniquellie to Loguatuo road corridor has been paved”, he said.
“I am also pleased to inform you that we have paved 30 km of the Ganta to Yekepa road corridor, and continue to make progress on the Robertsport to Medina road and the RIA road corridor; both of which are funded exclusively by the Government of Liberia. All of these road works are still ongoing.
“In addition to these gains on our primary road construction projects, the 40 km Tappitta to Toe’s Town road construction project is ongoing, while we have commenced the payment of project-affected persons along this corridor to facilitate early commencement of works when the project is contracted and signed in the first quarter of this year”, he said.
The president, who was keen not to leave any single item out of his speech, said as a part of government’s strategic plan to ensure reliable and affordable energy, it embarked on several initiatives, among which are the purchase of power through the CLSG transmission line from Cote d’Ivoire; the implementation of a 20 megawatt solar power plant; the expansion of Mt. Coffee by two additional turbines; and 4 undertaking feasibility studies for further development of the St. Paul River with the view of developing another hydro and a reservoir.
“I am pleased to report that the Liberia Electricity Corporation has signed a power purchase agreement with CI Energies of Cote d’Ivoire for the initial purchase of 27 megawatts, which will be scaled-up to 50 megawatts, based on increases in our energy demand. The supply of power commenced on December 1, 2022, and our national grid now enjoys stable electricity from the CLSG line”, he said.