The 7th Convention of the Association of Liberian Journalists (ALJA) has been anything but lackluster, given the volumes of criticisms and countercriticisms that emanated from guests who graced the occasion to speak on critical issues affecting their common patrimony. Reacting sharply to remarks from the keynote speaker who lambasted the Weah-led for egregious bad governance, as well as the Liberian media’s alleged tacit role in playing blind eye to bad governance, Liberia’s Information Minister Ledgerhood Rennie seized the occasion to pick bones with comments from the People’s Liberation Party vision bearer and political leader Dr. Daniel E. Cassell, terming his statements as political grandstanding that doesn’t tell the truth about Liberia, but rather to undercut the gains of the Weah administration despite inheriting deficits from his predecessor.
Making his case at the gathering of Liberian journalists based in the Americas, Minister Rennie said he knows most of the ALJA members because they all worked to ensure peace during the turbulent days in Liberia; to ensure that the poor of the poorest got something to eat, given the humanitarian catastrophe of our country at the time; and that they worked to ensure that the politics of the country remained above the kinds of petty and innuendos issues.
“So, I’d like to applaud, especially the Liberian media, who have gone through the brunt to provide quality media services daily for the people of Liberia. To speak so disparagingly about them, that they are bought, that they are partisans, is a disservice to people who have laid down their lives for the very politicians who created the mess that our country now faces.
“When we talk about the politics of our country, what is the intrusion that stands out in the institution of the media? We must be careful what we say about these people. They are young men and women, they are family people working to provide quality public information, and I am sure that our honorable guest speaker is a beneficiary of the very media he stood here to denigrate.
“I’ve been away from home for the last two weeks, but I’ve seen every day in the papers all of the good stories. I am not sure that stories were paid for. But we are all entitled to our views about Liberia.
“But before I even delve into all of this, let me say that our country Liberia has a unique history deeply rooted in the foundation of all of us being one way or the other tied to each other. And we tell the story of our country, we should tell it in a way that respects the truth, because truth is the underlying principle of any given society,” Minister Rennie stated.
Touching on the gains of the Weah administration, Minister Rennie acknowledged that while it is true about some issues that were raised by Dr. Cassell in his keynote address; and while it is true that the country still faces challenges, the public must contextualize what the issues are in Liberia, especially as they relate to the new administration of President George Manneh Weah.
“If there are bad schools in Liberia, it didn’t start in 2018. If there are bad clinics in Liberia, it didn’t start in 2018. If there were derelict roads, it didn’t start in 2018. There is a context in which we must speak. And let me provide some context here.
“When this administration came to power in 2018, the world was about to leave Liberia, if not leaving Liberia. We had 16,000 men and women from across the globe serving in the United Nations in Liberia, keeping the peace, helping to nurture our democracy.
“That UN umbrella organization in Liberia brought some economic windfall for the country; at least through US$200 million spent every year, infused into our economy. That money helped in bolstering the local economy. But little did we know, and there was a sense of déjà vu by the international system that Liberia could carry its own. And I remember, there were fleets of journalists sitting at the United Nations and pleading that the UN should remain in Liberia for 2 to 3 years after the 2017 elections, to enable the new government stay the course. But our international partners were dead serious about Liberia; and they said no. That US$200 million dragged out. A country just recovering from an economic slump because of the Ebola. By 2014 we had already reached almost 9% GDP growth. Because of the déjà vu that we talked about, the current money that being pumped into the economy because of the presence of the international system dried out. And then there was big slump – a 30% inflation rate, with few US dollars in the bank. $US9 billion Liberian dollars printed not by this administration and infused into the economy. Inflation went up.
“We had to take over a country in such condition, engaged in serious macroeconomic reforms, working with the international systems, the IMF and the World Bank, to salvage the garbage that was left. Liberians don’t know this story, but I will tell this story tonight: to salvage the garbage that was left.
“In three years’ time, from a GDP deficit of almost -1%, today we can safely boast that by the end of the year, the IMF and World Bank are projecting a 4% growth in our GDP. This is the first time a decade, we’ve increased our domestic revenue tax bases. I am a journalist. I am not a politician. I am quoting statistics. You can go find it out. If you want the truth about Liberia, sometimes go for the statistics.
“When we took over, 2000 health workers that were benefiting from a $12 million pool fund from the international health system dried out. They had no jobs. But we had to put them on the payroll. We salvaged a $22 million decrease in wages that caused a political backlash for the midterm elections.
“Before we took over, there was disparity in public service salaries. Some ministers were making as high as $15,000. Some bureaucrats in the public corporations were making as high as $20,000. You all know the story. Today, it’s the contrary. There is a baseline salary for ministers, deputy ministers, everybody. What are we talking about here? Are we forgetting statistics? I am not sure whether we want to say the truth here. Let’s talk about the truth.
“When we took over, students were running amok because they couldn’t pay their WAEC fees. We had to bear the brunt as a government, to say, despite all the challenges, you just go and study, and leave the fees payment with us as a government. Today, the passage rate of the Liberian children taking the WAEC has quadrupled from the whooping 20% to 60% passage. That’s the truth. Go to the Ministry of Education. Talk to WAEC. You will find it there.
“When I sit here and hear about no direct foreign investment to Liberia, just before we came on this official trip, there was a $800 million foreign direct investment signed between Liberia and Arcelor Mittal for the extension of the railroad and the port to ship ores and other products through the port of Buchanan for export. That is creating at least 1,200 direct jobs immediately. By indirect jobs, we’re talking about close to 4,000. What are we talking about here?” Minister Rennie wondered.
Regarding the issue of institutional reforms, Minister Rennie cited the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) as a classic example where the Weah administration is serious about clamping down on corruption.
“We met an LACC that was a toothless bulldog; had no prosecutorial powers. Their role was to wait and be told to investigate and send their findings to the Justice Ministry, and if the Justice Ministry saw it fit, upon the investigation from the LACC, they will then proceed to court.
“As I speak, the House of Representatives has just passed a new law promulgated by the Weah administration, giving prosecutorial powers to the LACC, a new LACC that has been ratified, given the mandate to not just wait for an audit report from the GAC, but to call on officials be investigated if there is any probable cause to do so. We also under the law have the right to protect whistleblowers, people who know those who are putting their hands in the public coffers. We say, let the law protect them. We’re also saying that witnesses who come up and testify be protected. These are demonstrable steps.
“The road to Liberia’s recovery is steady and progressive. Yes, there are challenges, but I also not saying that nothing is being done, because progress has been made.
“I didn’t come here to grandstand. I came here to say the truth to them. We are talking about a country that we say we love, but which we talk about as if we don’t love it. Liberia’s problems are not today’s problems. They were not created by this present administration. Yes, this administration has had its own fault, which we will admit. Are we not working on it? Are we not taking giant steps? Yes, we are taking giant steps to deal with these things. We are calling public officials to account. Some of them are supposed to be dragged to court,” Minister Rennie averred, among other issues.