MONROVIA: Before scoring political victory in 2017 over nearly 20 other candidates, President George Manneh Weah’s opponents had heavily propagandized that as a “mere footballer” he would not govern well and that one chief sign of his inability would come in the woeful mishandling of the already crises-ridden Liberian economy. While the first one or two years of his incumbency almost justified that prediction and criticism, the rest of his term has unarguably seen not only a giant leapfrogging of the economy, but also the implementation and achievement of scores of verifiable development initiatives, some historically rare, across the country. Some call it Weahnomics. A key ideologue of this new dispensation is Finance Minister Samuel D. Tweah, Jr., who in a nearly 4-hour simulcast national interview Monday, divulged details of the magic wand that has beat critics’ doomsday politics and set the country of solid macroeconomic trajectory under President Weah. The Analyst reports.
The state of the Liberian economy under the administration of President George Manneh Weah got an upward description yesterday when the Minister of Finance and Development Planning, Samuel D. Tweah, Jr said it has been very resilient against turbulences and very impactful to addressing burning issues such as poverty alleviation, unemployment, price instability, and poor infrastructure despite the many challenges.
Tweah said a shaky macroeconomic foundation which was inherited by President Weah, underpinned by the advent of the COVID 19, the rising price of commodities on the global stage occasioned by the Russia-Ukrainian war, among others, constituted some of the key turbulences survived and conquered by the Weah administration.
Speaking on a Special live interview on the ELBC/LNTV morning show, and relayed on dozens number of media outlets throughout the country, Minister Tweah said President Weah who braved the storm on the soccer field to become the greatest footballer from Africa, was able to replicate daring feat on the football pitch onto the political governance arena where he has been able to tackle head-on some of the major obstacles the previous government under former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf could not confront.
Tweah said the Weah administration was therefore able to lay a solid foundation where the needs of the citizens are being catered to.
“I can tell you there were challenges here and there because we inherited an economy that had no solid foundation but over time this President [Weah] has been able to address the bread and butter issues of the country.
The Finance Minister said the Weah administration has been able to reduce poverty, increase the salaries of civil servants, provided free education at the highest level of education in this country, constructed more roads, provide employment, amongst other things.
Responding to a question to give account of what the administration inherited from the previous administration, Minister Tweah lamented that the government inherited a poor macroeconomic foundation, some structural issues including a high number of people in extreme poverty which he put at 2 million people.
He said President inherited 2 million people in 2018 when he ascended to the Presidency according to the World Bank record. The report talked about the profile of poverty from 2014 to 2022.
According to him George Weah in his PAPD pledged to lift 1 million people out of poverty and that he did not create 2 million poor people in the country which the previous administration did despite the incredible flow of investment in billions of dollars.
Expanding on the report, Tweah said in the last three years of the previous administration, from 2014-2017, there was a steady rise in the poverty rate in the country as compared to 2023, few months to another election where graphs in the report indicate that the government has been able to reduce substantially.
The tough talking Minister also noted that while the acute poverty rate was a major concern, the government was finding ways to address the macroeconomic crisis hit the country which had far reaching consequences on the economy.
“So the President walked into the presidency on the assumption of a strong macroeconomic foundation. No. It was a quicksand. You stand on what you thought is a solid rock, instead it was a mud, and so you went down,” he said of the economy inherited from the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf administration.
“Inflation went up to 30% because we did not have the macroeconomic foundation to deal with the challenge we were not prepared for it”, he said.
Minister Tweah said more shocking news continued to hit the government in its face when some development partners who were paying the salaries of 2,000 health workers approached President Weah few days after his inauguration that they were no longer in the position to pay the salaries of the health workers since they (the donors) were pulling out of the country.
He said the option was either for the government to lay the 200 workers off or find extra money in the budget to employ them.
Reflecting on the difficult situation, Mr. Tweah said: “Few days after the inauguration, the delegation from the development partners met the President and said ‘Mr. President, congratulations but the news is not good. We are sorry that we are not in the position to continue paying the salaries of 2,000 health workers at US$12m annually. You have the option to lay them off or you find another means of employment’.
He continued: “This was coming at the time of poor domestic revenue mobilization and an anticipated recession but the President, being used to facing challenges and overcoming them, told the delegation that he will employ them and find the resources to pay their salaries.
“Now I will begin to wonder what the previous government did with saving $72m. George Weah did not have the opportunity of saving $72m, perhaps if so, the Lofa road would have been finished by now and the roads in the Southeast would have been looked at”.
As if it was not enough, Tweah said the exchange rate started rising around the same period, sending the price of goods and services skyrocketing, thereby affecting the purchasing power of the citizens.
“Then the exchange rate started going up because about LD$9bn was introduced in the system around April 2017, at the time the US rate was leaving the economy. UNMIL was spending $150m-$200m annually and all of the sudden this amount was leaving the economy”, Tweah said.
Minister Tweah also mentioned how the COVID 19 negatively impacted the implementation of the PAPD program of the government as it contributed to a worldwide shock that also affected the domestic economy. He said world statistics has it that the pandemic sent about 97 million people in poverty while the sub-Saharan figure was 55m.
“From the local scene, the COVID also added about 248,000 people into poverty but latest statistics has it that it has reduced to 48,000 people meaning that this government has not done something to put its citizens into poverty.
He said President Weah assembled his economic team to find a way out and at the end of the day the government resolved two major policies: one to stop the government from borrowing from the Central Bank of Liberia; and the second was the harmonization program to streamline government salary structure to reflect the reality of the budget performance and to pay workers on a standard scale.
He said regarding the policy on borrowing from the CBL, it was a radical departure from the previous administration where the government depended on the apex bank during bad times, turning it into a cash cow in the process.
Tweah reflected further: “President Weah ordered that the government should stop borrowing from the CBL, which is the traditional way of the previous government to pay salaries, to pay debts, and when they cannot refund the bank, they withdrew from the reserve. And that was how they depleted the reserve,” he said.
Tweah also said the harmonization which was actually to save the government from an unsustainable position is a success story but had a painful outcome on the part of the government when it was politicized and the government lost some crucial elections in the process.
“Before then people were paid according to what they negotiated; so a driver got $150 at a government office and another one got $1500. In fact it was so bad that a doctor who treats a patient gets $700 and a driver who drives the patient to the hospital gets $1500. This was not sustainable.”
On the reserve inherited, Tweah said the government inherited around $85m to $100m from its previous figure of about $400m after the government on several occasions did drawdown to stabilize the local currency and to pay debts and salaries.
“This was not sustainable as it also further depreciated the Liberian dollar. It was around 55 to 1 in 2006 and by the time the government left power in 2018, it was around LD135 to $1.”
Tweah further said that the Weah led government was able to push the reserve back to around $500 million and it has since been stable for a long time as the government has got no reason to deplete it unlike the previous administration.
“And this is the big news. Our current GDP is about $3.5bn which represents our real value of what we have here unlike in the past. What we have then were not ours; they were things hanging in the air like the funds from UNMIL and other external interventions,” he stressed.
Given the debt profile of the country, he said President Weah was able to exhibit transparency in cataloguing the total domestic debt which he put at around $600m and the external debt around $1.1bn.
He said in 2010, Liberia’s external debts were waived but at the end of the administration of former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the external debt was $900m and the current government added $200m totaling $1.1bn.
Responding to a question on the bread and butter issue which he described as ‘Bread and Butter Weahnomics”, Tweah said that the government has done a lot to make lives conducive for all its citizens that “even the critics of the government will find difficult to disprove”.
He noted that the government for a long time kept the price of rice at 13 dollars, which was a reduction of 3 dollars for close to 3 to 4 years. It was during the COVID era that there was an increase which was still manageable for our people.
He also mentioned access to electricity, as a success story of the Weah administration.
During the Ellen/Boakai administration, Minister Tweah said, electricity was 35 cents per kilowatts for homes but it is now 21 cents per kilowatts, meaning that Liberians can have more lights in their houses and communities than before. This represents about 42% reduction, he said.
Another big Weahnomics mentioned by him is the free college tuition policy which has caused the explosion of student enrolment at universities and colleges, meaning there are students now in post high schools.
Tweah added: “In addition to saving the poor market women from the burden of finding money to pay the fees of their children, President Weah has also built market structures for them to sell their markets without being hindered by the rain.”
Mr. Eugene Nagbe’s Interventions
Former Information Minister and now Commissioner General of the Liberia Maritime Authority (LIMA), Lenn Eugene Nagbe who shared the platform with Mr. Tweah praised the administration of President Weah for enormous developments undertaken across all sectors including the Maritime program.
He said the maritime sector has contributed an average $30m to the national budget and there are efforts underway to increase its contribution to the national budget
He said one of the mandates given him by the President on assuming office was that he should take Liberia back to the number one in world ranking in the maritime sector from its current position at number 2 in the world.
Nagbe who also buttressed some of the major points discussed by Tweah on the forum said a number of Chinese vessels have been registered under the Liberia registry recently as well as offices have been opened in Asia and parts of the Middle East.