Weah Provokes Masses’ Joy Again -No More Graduation & Registration Fees, Volunteers To Get on Payroll, Cadet Program Back, Tuition Free for 1 to 6 Graders
MONROVIA: Political theorists and pundits who closely follow contemporary Liberian politics are of the view that the Congress for Democratic Change which now has metamorphosed into the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) brings populist orientation to the country’s political discourse. They contend that the CDC dogma and policies, in term of government priority pending, focus more heavily on the felt needs of the impoverished majority—something that distinguishes the party from the elitist politics of yesterdays which focused on conservatism and elite opulence. Though critics say President Weah and his administration are opting to creating a “welfare state”, their supporters counter-argue it is worth it in a country where the majority of people are at the bottom of world’s poverty index due to decades of deliberate socioeconomic and political marginalization. So the marks of the CDC populist policies, according to his supporters, have been free education, free housing, more paved roads to heretofore unreachable regions, and other programs that deliberately target the poor. Again at the crucial juncture of electioneering, even while the CDC is fighting with its breath to survive a huge democratic challenge in transition, incumbent George Manneh Weah has announced a big pro-poor package yet again, provoking smiles and tears of joy amongst the country’s young people and poor who are the direct beneficiaries. The Analyst reports.
President George Manneh Weah has continued to expand his administration’s novel policies etched in what is known as the Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development (PAPD) which is an intentional spending policy targeting the most needy segments of the population, the country’s remote regions and provinces.
Though the PAPD is to expire at the expiry of the President’s first term, which is now, the President just made a number of poor-centered policy pronouncements that appear to be heralding the successor of PADP when he wins the runoff slated for November 14.
In a statement Wednesday, October 25, 2023, at the Headquarters of the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) in Congo Town, where thousands of partisans gathered to celebrate the end of the first round of balloting in the 2023 elections, which the CDC leads slightly, and to thank the public for the free, fair and nonviolent conduct of the elections, President Weah used to occasion to lay out a few highlights of development policies and actions that will characterize his second term if he wins the pending runoff.
He made a number of pronouncements of development initiatives that his second term administration will undertake.
“As the government continues its policy of subsidizing public schools,” the President said, “we will also subsidize the payment of registration and graduation fees for all students”.
He continued: “We shall also ensure that the WASSCE FEES payment is made perpetual by pushing through with new legislations, and explore our Tuition-Free Policy for Grades 1-6 in all public schools.”
The President also reiterated his campaign promise of establishing a Nationwide Cadet Program for young graduates—a policy that is geared at establishing career paths for young Liberians and putting bread on the tables for many families.
He promised to double efforts of his government in the second term to address concerns about livelihood, employment conditions of civil servants, and youth empowerment.
“As a start, we will re-examine the Beach & Waterways Program and bring it back under the supervision of the Liberia Maritime Authority,” the President said about a very critical youth employment scheme.
“This is intended to abolish the ad hoc approach that has affected this crucial program, which is a source of income for thousands of young people,” he said.
The President also indicated that while it is true that at the inception of my government five years ago his administration increased the salary of medical doctors, that that due to budgetary challenges this did not extend to all of our public sector workers including clinical health workers, mainly nurses, midwives, physician assistants, lab technicians, the security sector and teachers among others, plans are that there will be improvements in the next term.
He said: “I pledge that we will effect appropriate increments that will be crosscutting in order to impact every public sector worker performing critical service, including those in the security, education, health as well all other sectors, with a view of ensuring improved working conditions so that salary/wages commensurate with prevailing economic conditions.”
He said his administration intends to accelerate efforts to ensure traditional leaders are all added to the government payroll.
The Liberian leader further asserted: “Today, I am also announcing the end of voluntary workers’ programs both in the health and education sectors. All health workers and teachers currently volunteering will be placed on the payroll beginning January 2024.”
He continued: “Since 2020, we have placed thousands of voluntary teachers on the payroll, and next year, my government commits to placing the remaining voluntary teachers on the public wage. Beyond 2024, my government further commits to hiring additional teachers to continue to close the teacher gap.”
According to the President, Liberians deserve better, stating, “This is what I was elected to provide and why I am seeking a second mandate to continue to deliver to you, the Liberian people.”
“This is a cause to which I remain fully dedicated,” Dr. Weah said.
In his first term, in addition to countless pro-poor development programs, including expanding electricity, solarizing homes and remote villages and streets, providing free housing units for the poor, amongst other things, the President maintained a policy whereby education is free in public colleges and universities throughout the country.
His government also underwrites the cost of WASSCE for both private and public high school students, and ended the nightmare of registration at the state-run University of Liberia by installing digital registration.
Perhaps preempting what his critics would say in response to his rather revolutionary pronouncements, the President said: “Some Liberians will begin asking the relevant question about how the government will pay for these policy changes. The simple answer to my fellow Liberians is that my government over the past 5 years has increased domestic revenue by more than 120 million US dollars.
“We used some of this increase to finance the 2023 elections, which cost the Government 53 million US dollars. Considering that we will NOT have another election until six years from now, we can use some of this increase to enhance the welfare of public sector workers in health, education, as well as the security sector with the aim of improving living conditions.”
The Joys and Celebrations
Spontaneous celebration swept across the nation as the President made the speech, laying out his plans for second term, perhaps more elated that even in the next time the masses or the majority poor people of the country will be his priority.
In street corners in Liberia and at market stalls in the various market places, reporters witnessed how Liberians, particularly young people and the parents, beamed with joys and celebrated on hearing the President’s pronouncements via various media channels.
Janet C. Kingson, a market women who claims to have four children in school said it will be a huge relief for her seeing that those of her children below six grade will no more pay tuition and her two senior children will not pay graduation fees in addition to WASSCE fees already in the offing.
“This is why we will not allow this man [Weah] to be defeated, and this is why many of us will die behind him,” she said. “Things that this boy thinks about and does in the country were not the priority of past leaders; not even those who are fighting him to come to power.”
The heavily electrified crowds at the CDC headquarters, upon hearing the President make the promises, got embroiled in uncontrollable, unending chanting of battle cries and praises for their leader.
Vow to Keep Working
President Weah used the occasion to assure Liberians that he will continue to work hard work for the people of the country consistent with the democratic mandate he has got from them.
He acknowledged that during the campaign period, “I had the privilege of visiting your towns and villages, listening to your concerns, and experiencing the challenges you face, despite the many developmental activities we have already undertaken.
“I want to assure you that I am fully aware that there is much more to be done. It is my responsibility to address these needs, and I pledge to continue working tirelessly to do so, if the privilege of another six-year mandate is granted me.”
With the runoff looming, the President urged his supporters to rally once again.
“Let this be a call to action for every CDC supporter, first-time voter, auxiliary, and every Liberian who believes in the people’s cause. Wake up, lace your boots, and let us together finish what we started,” he said. “I have heard you. I have heard your voices. My administration has worked tirelessly to improve your lives and develop our beloved country. While we acknowledge that there is more work to be done, let us not forget the progress we have made.”
He added: “I understand your desire for more, and I assure you that we are fully prepared to do better and greater things in our second term.”
He said in his next term his government will be dedicated to completing Liberia’s road infrastructure.
“We intend to fulfill the pledge of ensuring the country’s capital is connected to every nearby county through fully paved roads,” he continued. “We will continue to grow our economy in order to provide more jobs for Liberians, including creating jobs in the small and medium enterprises sectors and in key sectors like agriculture and manufacturing. We will expand the capacity of the Liberia Electricity Corporation to reach more homes while enhancing industrialization and the creation of jobs.”