Monrovia, Liberia – December 21, 2018: Liberians are playing the “waiting game” with the expectation of a grand national economic redemption by the United States and the international community.
However, the stark reality is that the unfortunate elements of donor fatigue, the country’s non-strategic posture, lack of credible national and economic support systems and poor fiscal management make for an unattractive courting by the international community.
The attempt at not projecting a “doom and gloom” characterization of the West African country is a real struggle because the truth can be “inconvenient and harsh”.
The bold face truth is that the Government is really struggling to meet expectations.
The general sentiment among most Liberians is to remain hopeful and resilient because the alternative is depressing. But the bare facts are that it will take more than hope and wishful thinking to wrest the country from the downward spiral and economic depravity that are impacting the country in these modern times.
The George Weah’s government which is clocking one year at the helm of governance is struggling to project its best face but the head-winds of lack of technical capacity and qualified personnel coupled with inexperience are a drag on national progress.
Pro-Poor Pillars For Prosperity and Development (PAPD)
The Government has laid out an ambitious roadmap to guide its march to prosperity and development with a timeline of achievement by 2023.
In Pillar 1 , the Liberia Government states that it is, “To empower Liberians with the tools to gain control of their lives thru more equitable provision of opportunities in education, health, youth development, and social protection”. But the challenge is the successful application of proven systems, criteria, trained human capacity and measurable results to this goal. This will pre-suppose that existing national health infrastructures, educational programs and curriculum, and youth engagement and programs are reviewed for quick impact returns.
Pillar 2 projects the goal of “A stable macroeconomic environment enabling private sector-led economic growth, greater competitiveness, and diversification of the economy.”
To government’s credit, a macro loan scheme with oversight management by the Liberia Bank for Development and Investment (LBDI) was launched recently. But like most fiscal systems in Liberia, the management, eligibility criteria and promotion of awareness effort for small businesses who are expected to benefit are unclear. How is such a loan facility system structured to accommodate repayment? Will this loan facility be extended to small businesses in leeward counties? How much non- repayment tolerance is built into this scheme? What does success looks like from implementation of this macro finance scheme?
In April, 2018, a local paper the Daily Observer reported that the President of the Bankers Association In Liberia and President of the Liberia Bank for Development and Investment (LBDI) Mr. John B.S. Davies passionately spoke up against the enactment and enforcement of a law which makes the Liberian dollar the sole currency of the country and legal tender.
“…Mr. Davies believes that the use of the Liberian dollar as sole currency will cause local banking institutions to lose relationships with foreign correspondent banks to maintain their offshore accounts (accounts held in foreign banks), which transactions are traded with United States dollars. Local banks will not be able to pay depositors in the event of a run on the bank for huge United States deposit, owing to the depreciation that dollar deposited may be nationalized,” Mr. Davies said, according to the paper.
It is quite evident now that in spite of that grave warning then, the Government proceeded to advance Pillar 2 of its “Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development; the result of which points to a total disconnect from Government’s public policy and stated goals. Today, the non-availability of local Liberia dollars in commercial banks is reaching crisis proportions.
Pillar 3 states its goal as, “A more peaceful, unified society that enables economic transformation and sustainable development. The crux of this pillar is ending fragility and the root causes of conflict. But the achievement of this goal is a non-starter because Government has ignored local and international calls for addressing past incidences of gross human rights abuses and impunity. The roadmap to address the ugly history demands that leaders rise above personal and partisan interests and boldly commit to implementing recommendations contained in the Final Report of the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) which completed its work since June 2012.
The installation and respect of a culture of rule of law remains elusive and contributes to the “fragile peace” posture of Liberia even after three democratic elections. There is a reason why the erosion in state institutions and governance and lack of trust in government is pervasive; the “Liberian way” of doing things dominates to the detriment of the people and Republic.
Pillar 4 offers that, “An inclusive and accountable public sector for shared prosperity and sustainable development”. The gulf between ordinary civil servants salaries and senior government officials is astonishingly incomprehensible. Part of the solution to set up accountability for public officials is the lawful system of “Asset Declaration”.
In spite of a pronouncement by the country’s Chief Executive President Weah to his Ministers and officials to comply with the law, they have deliberately ignored compliance and in some instances offered incomplete asset disclosures. Even President Weah’s Declaration is sealed. Accountability and transparency in such matters are the first seeds of building and gaining the trust and confidence of citizens. Worst is that the National Legislature sees itself as above the law, refuse to be audited and refuse to hold public officials accountable through credible hearings.
Additionally, investor confidence is very seriously impacted by the almost daily disclosure of scandals in government; namely, the questionable infusion by Government of $25 million USD in the local economy to shore up the local currency using un-named money changers, the bribery and extortion attempt by officials at the National Housing Authority (NHA), the construction of massive real estates by President Weah within one year of his ascension to the Presidency, the near catastrophic loss of millions of dollars from Government’s account to a fraudster, the confusing explanation from Government of the whereabouts of about $16 million Liberian dollars, etc.
The Liberian Government is totally convinced that its Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development can be achieved through designated Development Corridors, Economic Zones and Roads through northern-central, south and south-eastern parts of the country which are comprised of heavy population centers.
The argument can be advanced by Government that it inherited a very difficult economy and infrastructures; However, the Congress For Democratic Change (CDC) led Government has been seeking state power since 2005 and should be held acutely accountable for providing solutions. Liberians voted for solutions and it is time to deliver for them or show them a credible and implementable plan that they can subscribe to and believe in because they believe it will begin to transform their lives.
The “Economic Calvary” from the US and the international community is not coming anytime soon because the strategic importance of Liberia is not that attractive these days. International economic aid humanitarian assistance are now defined and designed around lessons learned from past experiences and adaptation to the “complex Liberian development agenda and programs”; no longer just a blank check.
The Liberian Government must sincerely engage and utilize the experience and services of members of the opposition in order to appear united, broad-based and credible to its own citizens and the international community, if the country is to move beyond its notorious designation as a “problem state”.
The opposition is not an enemy but represents other Liberians who hold different political and economic philosophies.
By Emmanuel Abalo
West African Journal Magazine