“Weah Misled, Fooled Us” -LP X-rays Prexy’s SONA

MONROVIA – As reactions continue to trail the State of the Nation Address (SONA) delivered by President George Manneh Weah on Monday, January 30, 2023, the Liberty Party (LP) has said the President used the speech to mislead the world and fool the unsuspecting Liberians, asserting that it served as an eye opener to Liberians as to the intent and aspirations of the President that Liberians have lived with for the last five years, while urging the citizens to propel Liberia into the future by working and entrusting state power with prepared individuals who will rescue the nation from its current state of retrogression.

The party made its policy statement through political leader Nyonblee Karngar Lawrence when she spoke to the media at her office at the Capitol Building on Tuesday, January 31, 2023.

Senator Lawrence noted that the President spoke about a country that is different from the one Liberians know and live in and said he was not sincere to tell the citizens the true state of the nation. In a point by point analysis given to drive home the party’s response to the annual address, Senator Lawrence touched every sector the President spoke about and pointed out information that was not realistic to what is obtained in the country.

Beginning with Service Delivery, the Grand Bassa County Senator said the primary responsibility of Government is to ensure that the citizens access the minimum quality of public services that enhance their dignity, expand opportunities, and improve their standards of living; noting that accountable governments and responsible leaders around the world often focus on continuously improving the quality of public services especially in education, health, water, and sanitation.

She said the state of the health sector in the country is imperiled, stating she was taken aback when the president  displayed insincerity to the Liberian people by mesmerizing about the conditions prevailing in the sector when for the past five years there has been no strategic plan for the health sector to tackle the challenges, yet the president has boasted in his address of constructing two hospitals: the military hospital in Lower Margibi County and another hospital in Gbarpolu County built by the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

“While the construction of the two hospitals is laudable, it is equally important that the true state of the healthcare system must be told by our president. Today it is an open secret that hospitals and clinics across the country have no drugs, no electricity, no fuel for ambulances, no beds to cater to patients amid insufficient doctors, nurses, and healthcare staff to provide lifesaving care.  Compounded by this, there is incessant wave of protest actions by health workers over failed promises by the Weah Government to respond to their plight. 

“Despite pleas from some of us in the Senate to increase the budgetary allotment for healthcare, the majority vote in the legislature continuously outweighs our stance, while the insufficient amounts approved for operations are always delayed or never forthcoming. This is unacceptable”, she said.

For the education sector, Senator Lawrence said the regular payment of WAEC and WASSCE fees for students in 9th and 12th grades as indicated in the President’s address is commendable and also recognized the waiver of tuition for students in public universities. “We note with caution, however, that these interventions can boost our regional and global competitiveness if only the Government pays attention to the issues of quality, backed by increase in budgetary allocations to the Ministry of Education and the universities”, she said.

Speaking on the economy, the LP leader acknowledged the progress of the Government regarding efforts to decentralize tax administration, beginning with the real estate tax based on 50/50 tax revenue sharing with the local government administration. She noted that the tax reform measure, if administered and managed efficiently, will not only widen the tax revenue base but will also promote ownership and empowerment at the local level.

“However, unlike the president’s claim that the economy is in a better shape as he has made Liberians to believe, a proper diagnosis of the health of our economy will highlight the following ailments”, the senator said.

Still on the economy, she said inflation and high unemployment continue to hurt Liberians, stressing that many of the citizens cannot afford their basic needs, either because they have no jobs or because the little that they earn cannot sustain their needs. She further said after five years of failed promises, including the promise to create one million jobs, Liberians have become beggars in their own country.

“In his Message, our President appears to be boasting about reduction in inflation. According to him, inflation has been reduced to a single digit. The reality is, when there is reduction in inflation, it must benefit from price reduction. Contrarily, Liberia’s situation, as pronounced by the President, is on the reverse. No one living in Liberia will not understand that prices on the market remain very high, quite unaffordable by the average Liberian citizen, most of whom do not have any source of livelihood. Since the president came to power, we have experienced a 30 percent increase in the price of the 25kg bag of the nations’ stable food, rice (from $13.00 to $17.50) the price of gas is hovering around $3.00 to $3.50 while we are selling for over $5.00. these prices have a direct impact on every Liberian and ultimately impacts every other price.

“We should all understand, additionally, that what appears to be a reduction in inflation is basically attributable to the intervention of the IMF. In specific cases, the IMF has been bailing out Liberia since 2019 with loans because of the terrible state of the economy. For example, in 2020, Liberia received $200,000,000 and U$350,000,000 in 2021.

”Mr. President, as has become commonplace within your circle, you presented an appraisal of the state of the economy upon your ascendancy to the presidency. You went on to say that the economy before you took over was in a state of distress, the exchange rate was in free fall and inflation rate was skyrocketing. But here are the facts, before you assumed the presidency, domestic and international debts stood at U$900,000,000 after Madam Sirleaf’s twelve years. However, just within five years of your administration, Liberia has accrued a total debt burden of U$835 million in domestic debt and $1.1 billion in external debts. This represents an increment of $1billion and could be an impediment to the next administration’s economy recovery agenda.

“So, Mr. President, how much more stressful was the economy during the twelve years of the previous regime than it is now under your administration?”, Senator Lawrence wondered.

The tough talking female senator also took time to comment on corruption and patronage in the country, stressing that both vices continue to compound the nightmares of the Liberian economy, which accordingly have become a cancer because of the Government’s blind eye on corruption and the misuse of public funds.

She said during the State of the Nation Address to the 53rd Legislature, President Weah made a resounding declaration to combat corruption and other related matters including money laundering and illicit financial flows but unfortunately the government has failed miserably to match words with action.

“As evident over the last five years the Government has displayed reluctance to fight corruption. Ranging from the dubious Domestic Debt profile to the unexplained disappearance of U$13 million dollars which was approved by the Legislature to ameliorate the incidence of rice shortage, the government continues to swim deeper into the ocean of corruption.

“Fellow Liberians, do not be deceived because those who steal public funds and public assets are stealing from Liberian taxpayers who must endure surviving in a hostile economic environment. They are stealing the future of our children, and will not go with impunity.

As regards the President’s reference to audits being conducted in the country, she said it was an attempt to portray his administration as performing in the eyes of the Liberian People and the country’s international partners in ensuring probity in government.

“Liberty Party challenges the Weah Administration to prove itself worthy of the trust and confidence of the Liberian People by going beyond these rhetorical comments and face the real issue surrounding the question of audits. For instance, we would like to have an audit report about the U$13 million that was allotted in the budget to stabilize the price of rice. To date, the government has provided no explanation regarding the U$13 million. We are also interested in the President instituting an audit of the sanctioned officials. This would give substance to his vaunt about maintaining cordial relations with the Government of the United States of America”, she said.

Concerning government’s support to Liberian businesses, she maintained the Weah/CDC-led regime significantly failed over the last five years to empower Liberian owned businesses after the president promised that Liberians would no longer be spectators in their own economy

“With the dim state affecting Liberian businesses, the President, in his SONA, went on yet another wide promise spree to cajole the public about his government’s policy regarding the Legal Power of Attorney. He tended to elevate the national profile of his administration by projecting the positive impacts of the LPA scheme. The reality check is that the government has failed to meet up with its LPA obligation to businesses, thus suffocating the intended purpose of the policy. An available example is the ERA Corporation and other businesses”, she said.   

Senator Lawrence said the Weah-led regime failed on gender issues, especially justice for rape victims, adding, “so many of our mothers, sisters and daughters are molested and raped across this country and their cases go nowhere in the judicial system for so many different reasons, including the lack of support to the structures that are responsible for investigation and prosecution. The regime has not invested in an expedited judicial process for rape cases, thereby allowing rapists to go about their lives with impunity”.

In the critical areas of national security, justice and rule of law, the LP leader said as expected, President Weah fell short of addressing the question of national security and rule of law as issues of critical concern yet, National Security, Justice and the Rule of Law are indispensable to the building of a truly democratic culture and, by extension, a guarantor for increased sub-regional and international cooperation.

“A country like Liberia that is still in transition from a lawless state to re-entry amongst the community of civilized nations, must be deliberate about how it handles these matters. Our task as leaders of this country is to strengthen the foundation for sustainable peace and shared prosperity for today and in the future.

“Sadly, the Weah Administration doesn’t seem to care. To date, the nation and our international partners are yet to receive any closure on a series of investigations launched by this administration into the deaths of some of our compatriots. We recall the investigation launched, more than two years ago, into the deaths of four auditors whose deaths came in a mind-wrenching sequence; the obscure investigation commissioned into the death of Miss Princess Cooper; Miss Odell Sherman; the case of three young men who got missing while on contract with the St. Moses Funeral Home; the NEC Magistrate who went missing in Grand Gedeh and other incessant reports of citizens going missing in Montserrado County and parts of the country. We also request a speedy investigation into the gruesome murder of a two-year-old boy in Bomi County. These are real security problems that require unmitigated attention of a serious government. But certainly, these are problems that the President and his functionaries decide to place on the back burner.

“Alongside national security question is the country’s Justice and rule of law agenda. This government, since its inception, has been saddled with an image problem bordering on the poor administration of justice and the upholding of rule of law. Interest peddling within the corridors of the courts, intrusion into integrity institutions protected by tenure, such as in the case of the Liberia Extractive Industries Transparency Initiatives (LEITI), among others, are but a few of the miscarriage that are worth mentioning.

“It is also important to emphasize that the Government’s continued silence on the recent purported discovery of several arms and ammunition at the Freeport of Monrovia is worrisome to our peace building process. Yes, the President, as usual, mentioned in his SONA that the security apparatus is pursuing the case of arms seizure at the Port, he fell short of mentioning the case of U$100,000,000.00 drugs that were also reportedly arrested and confiscated”, she said.

On road construction in the country, Senator Lawrence discounted some of the claims made by President Weah on projects he did not do but mentioned the same in his SONA as part of his achievements. She cited the Harper to River Gee which was paved by the Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf administration and that since his ascendency, the President has not paved any road in the South Eastern part of the country.

“The president informed us in the SONA that the road from Harper to Rivergee was paved by his administration; this is misleading because it was paved by the Unity party government. This Weah government has not paved any roads in the south eastern part of Liberia.

“The Broad Street to Ganta Road, Lofa Road, Sanniquellie and Bassa Roads were all projects of the past Unity party Government. President Weah before his elections formed a part of the delegation to the ground-breaking ceremonies for some of these road projects including the Lofa Road. The Weah government has benefited from projects initiated by previous administration, whereas the president felt short of mentioning investment attracted to the country so far by his administration”, she said.

With respect to the increase in domestic Revenues, Senator Lawrence said President Weah boasted of raising the highest domestic revenue of USD740m as over the 2021 figure of USD646m “but the sad commentary is, however, that the distribution of the revenues across ministries and agencies and their application to critical areas of needs, leaves much to be desired. At most, these allocations usually end up not being applied to benefit projects for which they were set aside. And, tracking mechanism, basically, the budget performance reports are never forthcoming, amidst the saturation of partisan interest that overshadows the national interest”.

“Further to this, the President of Liberia is the recipient of more than U$10,000,000 in the budget for the County tour. In his 2022 Address to the Legislature, the president praised the House of Representatives for approving U$10,000,000 for his Presidential tour. He indicated that several projects were earmarked across the country out of that amount. Where is the report to show where those projects are and their status? This is a matter of serious concern, considering that even in the face of the increase in domestic revenues; his administration has not been able to disburse to the counties their deserved share of Social and County Development Funds,” Senator Nyonblee stated.

On the President’s promised commitment to ensuring the conduct of free and fair elections, she said Liberty Party takes keen interest in the President’s pronounced commitment to conducting free and fair elections and accepting the results and commended him for the decision, stating that the President will definitely be defeated in the October, 2023 general election.

“It is also noteworthy that the President challenged Political Leaders not to militarize the youthful population of the country to their political advantage. The President would certainly do well to redirect this statement to the political institution that he heads. It is no secret that President Weah’s political party has, since its ascendency, found it difficult to transition itself from something of a radical political movement to a national political party. We are reminded of the constant attacks on students on the main campus of the University of Liberia and the Fendell facility by groups operating under the banner of the CDC”, she said

Commenting on the promise to increase salaries of about 15,000 civil servants, she said she was aware that this is electioneering time and the President will play the card of deception to lure unsuspecting civil servants into believing that he cares for them.

“After all, where did you meet the salary structure upon becoming president? Wasn’t it your ill-advised harmonization exercise that brought about the reduction in salary? We are not averse to stepping up the salaries of civil servants, but such effort must be depoliticized.

“To stretch the point further, we would like to take you back to your campaign promise of creating 1,000,000 jobs. After five years and close to six years to the end of your administration, where are we with the creation of 1,000,000 jobs? This is yet another of your failed promises that cannot be redeemed on the backs of 15,000 civil servants”, she said.

In conclusion, she said LP has long been a party offering solutions to the many issues facing the country, adding that the founding father, Cllr. Charles Walker Brumskine, spoke in detail about the road to economic recovery, and made every effort to get the nation there.

“As Political Leader of this Party, I have spent a lot of time thinking about the problems of this nation and speaking with experts about possible solutions. As the only female Senator for a long period, I have also raised my voice in the Senate on the issues of healthcare, justice, and good governance, only to be ignored by our government”, she said.

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