Opinion: Why Leaders Should “Eat Last”

In a previous paper, I underlined possible trends impacting Liberia economy in 2019 and proposed series of recommendations which preceded the IMS report.

In this article, I focus on leadership and why it is important for leaders to “eat last”.

Political Subdivision Map of Liberia map
Political Subdivision Map of Liberia Map

This is important because the circumstances unfolding in Liberia is disquieting and shocking.  The  lack of leadership is why we have economically and socially fallen of the cliff. It is unfortunate, because it doesn’t have to be this way. For over a century, we have failed to educate and improve the standard of living for our people. That is why the ability to make decisions that benefit them or know right from wrong is limited.

We cannot blame our people for the lack of social insecurity and failure. It is because of this confusion and indecisiveness that Liberia is in a chaotic state and given rise to the Yekeh Kolubah, Abraham Darius Dillon and Henry Costa of the world. It is because most Liberians under 30 (majority of the voting age population) feel they have no future and these individuals feel their pain, even if they are in it for themselves. And so I predict that we are in it for a long haul.

To correct the gross social imbalances of the past, individuals who aspire to leadership must understand Liberia’s  lessons from a historical context and correct it. Neither this current government nor the previous ones have done anything to turn the tide; so history is destined for reappearance.

First, I’ll conceptualize leadership.

One can equate a leader to being a parent. He or she is the core of the family, who makes sacrifices to see that his or her child interests are advanced so that, later in life, they would follow the right path and become successful. So, in the process sacrifices are made by the parent; lot  of them.

It is this kind of leadership Liberia requires to move forward. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. The CDC lead government under President George Weah came with all the hope and aspiration that they had the magic wand to solve Liberia’s problem only to drop the ball, because they were not prepared and had no plan; all talk and no substance. So, they are stuck.

Here is  why I think that John C. Maxwell had a right when he said “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.”  Similarly, Dwight D. Eisenhower the 34the President of the United States once said “The supreme quality of leadership is unquestionably integrity.” The rationale is that without trust and honesty first to yourself and others, success isn’t possible. You cannot force it.

Leaders Eat Last Module By Simon SinekIn Simon Sinek’s book “Leaders Eat Last” he laid out evidently that leaders should create the environment that allow people to feel a sense of purpose, fulfillment and self-actualization from what they do and why leaders must build trust so that people can thrive. In order to build trust, a leader must be transparent and everything he or she does. When they have nothing to hide, they are challenged less because people are aware of what they do and there are no hidden skeleton in their closets. He or she is a teacher and a coach, not a dictator. They communicate what they want to do so the vision is clear.

A leader that eats last is selfless, self-sacrificing; not driven by honor and power with the single-mindedness upon making everyone better. Your success as a leader must come from the vision and accomplishment of your people. Put your people in the spotlight and you will shine. Surround yourself with the best and brightest and you will gleam and standout. A leader that east last is careful of abuse of public office for private gain, since it impacts economic growth and livelihood.

One writer sums it this way with respect to how leaders must eat last  “…Although leaders may not be asked to risk their lives or to save anybody else’s, they should be glad to share their glory and help those with whom they work, succeed. More importantly, in the right conditions, people with whom leaders engage with should choose to also share their glory and take risk. And when that happens, when those kinds of bonds are formed, a strong foundation is laid for the kind of success and fulfillment that no amount of money, fame or awards can buy.”

This is what it means to work in a place in which the leaders prioritize the well-being of their people and, in return, their people give everything they’ve got to protect and advance the happiness of one another; a kind of shared purpose.

This is why we all owe it the opposition in Liberia as well as well Yekeh Kolubah, Abraham Darius Dillon and Henry Costa  because leaders must be checked or you will breed monstrosity and gargantuan.

I have been fortunate to engage with many organizations and have determined that those that are exceptional, whether public (government) or the private (business), are ones in which leaders set clear visions and where people implement those visions. And so, they push harder and harder, take risks to achieve shared-objectives and better the lives of their people. You can only achieve this  if there are empathy and compassion for individuals; not self. People!.

Leaders that eat last see aggrandizement and braggadocio as obstacles to progress and not the other way around. This is fundamental to creating a culture in which folks effortlessly pull together to advance the public good; not  the good of an individual.

Leaders that eat last create a sense of belonging that limit stress and reduce threats.  Everyone feel a part of something bigger; a greater purpose. They give their all, more time, and energy to protect others from the constant dangers outside and seize the big opportunity to impact lives. Smart leaders can accomplish this because it is not about them. Unfortunately, most of our leaders don’t see it this way. They are mostly driven by tittle-tattle, scuttlebutt and gossip.

This is why we need leaders; good ones – Leaders who would look out for people on both sides of the political spectrum (ruling and opposition) and the willingness to sacrifice their comfort for others, even when they disagree with you; a kind of trusted leadership. Trust is not simply a matter of shared opinions. Trust is a biological reaction to the belief that someone has others well-being at heart. Trusted leaders are those who are willing to give up something of their own for others. Their time, their energy, their money, maybe even the food off their plate. When it matters, good leaders choose be the last to take from the plate; Not the first.

In addition, a leader that eats last encourage others to do the right thing even if it is popular. When human-beings feel that they have the control to do what’s right and supported, even if it sometimes means breaking the rules, they will more likely do what’s right. Audacity and courage comes from good leaders. Chaos and uncertainties exist from those that are unscrupulous and immoral. A person’s’ poise and timidity to do what’s right is determined by how a person trust his or her leader. A leader that eats last isn’t often fooled because he or she uses common sense and moral judgment.

It is often said that the environment has an impact on the individual. Sometimes if respectable and honest people work in a bad culture, one in which leaders do not relinquish control, lack respect for the law, immoral, shady and corrupt, then the odds of the good habits go down and bad habits go up. Individuals will be more likely than not,  to follow the bad rules out of fear of getting in trouble or getting in trouble with the boss, losing their jobs rather than doing what needs to be done.

Market in Liberia
Market in Liberia

The current global economy will continue to see stock market volatility, decline in commodity prices, trade wars, falling oil prices, hyper-inflation, and the depressing economic prospects for Sub-Saharan Africa. The challenges of reducing poverty and the impact of high inequality across the region will continue to dampened progress and economic activity. And so the challenges of poverty reduction can only be realized through robust economic growth and equitable distribution of the national pie which would require effective and efficiency leadership.

We have by our own nature created a country that is politically and economically out of balance for ourselves and generation to come. It has been so for over 170 years. It will soon self-destruct unless we are smart enough to correct it methodically and with a sense of urgency. Given our inclination for instant enjoyment, satisfaction, pleasure and the weaknesses in our organizations, nevertheless, our leaders may not have the poise or patience to do what needs to be done even if it is the right thing.

For some reasons, there’s this strong feeling that Liberian leaders don’t see their people as individuals but rather pawn in a chess game; a means to an end and why empty promises are often made and they often take the bit and fall for the trap from individuals who are only in it for their own concealed motives. Now more than ever, the Liberian people live daily in a society in which they are total strangers in their own land; in which they struggle to make ends meet.

Liberia is in an imbroglio. How the current government overcome the current entanglement needs to be seen, but leadership should be at the core because effective policies requires sound thinking and facts based on the data to inform policy and drive decision-making.

I have always argued that good governance and effective headship is essential for success in any organization and for implementing policies whether fiscal or monetary. In most instances, crafting effective policy option takes time and requires weighing the pros and cons so that prescriptions drive results and outcome.

So my recommendation for every Liberia leader is to do the following:

  1. Fight to bring people together
  2. Create balance between selfish pursuits versus selfless pursuits
  3. Encourage integrity
  4. Talk less and listen more
  5. There’s always two sides to a story. Listen, listen, listen
  6. Share struggle
  7. Get the job done

To sum, leadership is not about doing less. It is striving to do more. And that’s the dilemma. Leadership takes effort and work. It takes time, energy and a ‘get-up-and-go’ attitude. The effects are not always easily measured and they are not always immediate. Leadership is always a commitment to people to do the right thing.

This is the change Liberia yearns  for; – “A leader that eats last, not first.”

Dr. A. Joel King
Dr. A. Joel King has a doctorate in Management and a diploma in Public Policy Economics from Oxford and Executive Coaching from Cambridge.

Liberia: Massive Turnout To Welcome Protest Leader & TalkShow Host

Thousands of supporters, on Thursday, May 16, 2019 came out to welcome the man who is seen by many including the government of Liberia as the “instigator” of the much publicized June 7 protest. 

Supporters Of Liberian Talkshow Host Henry P. Costa

According to our correspondent in Monrovia, the Liberian popular talk show host and political commentator, Henry Pedro Costa returned to Liberia from the United States of America to join his colleagues to lead the June 7 protest in demand of change. Many supporters who spoke to West Africa Journal Magazine said, they came out in solidarity with the planned June 7 protest. 

Speaking to our Monrovia Correspondent, scores of supporters, mostly young men and women said, their courage to welcome Henry Costa is driven by what they term as the “unprecedented economic hardship” being experienced under the George Weah government. 

Banner Carrying Supporters of Henry P. Costa

A motorcyclist who identified himself as Nathaniel said he parked his commercial motorcycle only to come and welcome the man he called his hero. According to him, his motivation to stand in the hot sun for hours waiting for one man is based on the message that he (Costa) preaches on the radio about corruption. 

“I am motivated to stand in the Hot sun because Costa is the voice of the voiceless”, said Nathaniel. 

He told our reporter that he will be part of the June 7 protest, and called on other well-meaning Liberians to join what he termed a campaign for “emancipation of the poor people.”

Chelsea William, a lady who joined the welcoming crowd from the Monrovia suburb of Chocolate City told President Weah to see the momentum of Costa’s arrival as a clear message.

“George Weah must see this as a message for our desire for change”, she intoned. According to Ms. William, she was tired of the difficulties and would appreciate if President George Weah could see reason to resign if he is not capable of leading the country. 

Young Liberians Welcoming Henry P. Costa

Bystanders who trooped in from their various quarters were heard describing the crowd as a prelude to June 7 protest. The arrival of Costa was characterized by parade from just outside of the city center In Sinkor to Central Monrovia where he addressed crowds of supporters.

Political spectators described the euphoria surrounding the welcome of a “common” talk show host as a display of frustration by the young people who are said to be feeling the difficulties associated with the country’s economy. 

By Paul Kanneh In Monrovia

West African Journal Magazine

Editorial: Mr. President, Speak To Your People

Monrovia, Liberia- April 15, 2019: The worsening economic reality in Liberia needs no amplification.

President George M. Weah of Liberia

In the local parlance, “People are sucking air”.

In a recent video shared widely on Liberian social media sites, desperate marketers openly voiced frustration with the Weah Administration and its inability to curb the economic downward spiral; especially the declining Liberian dollar. The marketers are simple and good indicators of the local strength of supply and demand which drive the economy.

No one is “buying” because of the lackluster economic environment and the diminishing purchasing ability of the ordinary Liberian.

The sentiment of economic disappointment expressed by the marketers is a reliable representation of the view held across all sectors of the Liberian society that the hard time is too much.

It is reasonable to establish that Liberians are making the effort to speak to President Weah and his Government about their concerns; whether it is through angry marketers, the position of Coalition of Opposition Parties, peaceful marches and protests, mob violence or silence.

The fundamental question is whether Government is listening and, if so, what is its response.

What is baffling to Liberian citizens, and perhaps to the international community of economic observers is the “loud silence” from President Weah to the “status quo” of frustration, hard time and hopelessness ordinary citizens are enduring under his Administration.

In challenging times, citizens expect leaders to step up and inspire, motivate and lead. The President is not speaking nor is he motivating or leading.

This business of the Administration’s silence is clashing with confidence in Government. That confidence was the “Hope For Change” and blank check that some desperate Liberians, who, against their better judgment, as it is becoming evident, gave to the ruling Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) and President Weah when they elected him in December, 2017.

The blank check of “political capital” that the CDC led Government obtained from the people of Liberia, was, in the real sense, a “credit” which needed to translate to tangibles that will put food on the table, a job and escape from poverty.

The crises of confidence in Government are not just localized to the home theater. International business analysts and observers see a direct correlation between poor governance and Government’s inability to attract investments and infrastructures which are critical drivers of any economy; Liberia being no exception.

Liberia is identified by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as one of several sub Saharan countries with slower growing countries and where “there is a need to pursue reforms to facilitate economic diversification, and address remaining economic imbalances, many of these cases, private investments remain weak, and a strong focus is needed to address the constraints that are holding such investments back…”

A successful Liberian international business executive Mr. Sage Thomson, in an analysis of the Liberian situation, says, “…with our current inflation rate north of 30%, my goodness… why would any investor or bank want to do business with us? We don’t have a great story to tell the world. The President is jetting off without a serious business pitch. And that pitch starts with stability in your country. But guess what…food inflation is at 31% as of December 2018 and it is fair to say that it is very much higher currently in Q2 19.

Basically, government officials consume our GDP without understanding that you cannot run a nation or have any serious currency without productivity! Growth is driven by capital, labor and productivity… and productivity is 60% of what determines if a country is going to succeed or not.“

Thomson also cites the contributory challenge of uncontrollable “urbanization”. According to him, “another area of massive concern is urbanization.. Monrovia is tremendously overcrowded without any plans, for a secondary city for people to migrate to, for example, Ganta, Nimba County, Gbarnga, Bong County, Zorzor, Lofa County, etc…”

He attributes this uncontrollable factor to the frantic free -fall situation that Liberia is experiencing.

The series of anti-government protests in the last two years are indications that non- Administration supporters are effectively controlling the narrative to the disadvantage of Government. Control of the narrative that the Administration is corrupt and ineffective is winning over independents and some supporters of the Government who see confirmation everyday of some of the questionable actions or inaction by Government.

The once popular CDC is being openly challenged in debates in the public square and electoral contests for public office. Some Liberians are even accusing the Weah Administration of choosing to violate the Constitution rather than face the public embarrassment of losing by-elections due to its declining popularity; case in point being the delay in formally informing the National Elections Commission (NEC) about the vacancy in the Senatorial seat in Montserrado County in order to trigger preparation for and holding of a by election.

While it may be true that the Weah Administration may have simply forgotten to inform the NEC of the vacancy, equally, so, they’ve created room for opposition and independents to point to ineffective governance. This lapse contributes to sustained erosion of confidence and the desire to find an alternative leadership to the present Government.

It is no secret that political and social tensions and divisions are rising due to the economic malaise. And the creeping realization is that Liberians are slowly but surely reaching the point of no return when they would rightfully and peacefully call for a change in Government by invoking Articles 1 and 7 of the Constitution.

Article 1 says,  

“All power is inherent in the people. All free governments are instituted by their authority and for their benefit and they have the right to alter and reform the same when their safety and happiness so require. In order to ensure democratic government which responds to the wishes of the governed, the people shall have the right at such period, and in such manner as provided for under this Constitution, to cause their public servants to leave office and to fill vacancies by regular elections and appointments…”

Article 7 maintains that, “…freedom and social justice enshrined in this Constitution, manage the national economy and the natural resources of Liberia in such manner as shall ensure the maximum feasible participation of Liberian citizens under conditions of equality as to advance the general welfare of the Liberian people and the economic development of Liberia…”

The Weah Administration must “speak” credibly to citizens and begin to lead in all areas. It will require making some difficult choices which would include discarding some entrenched economic and political positions, realization that government critics are not “enemies of the state” but patriots; and even adopting some solutions offered by the opposition bloc.

If Liberia wins in the end, regardless of who is in the Executive Mansion, it will validate that Liberia is greater than any one person or political party.

Mr. President, citizens are trying to get your attention. They are suffering! Speak to them!

West African Journal Magazine

Government of Liberia Failing To Support Fight Against Corruption, LACC Says

Monrovia, Liberia – February 18, 2019: The fight against public corruption in the West African country of Liberia appears to be a losing exercise in addition to lackluster support from the George M. Weah Administration. 

Liberian President George M. Weah – File Photo
Since it’s inauguration over a year ago,  no public official has been prosecuted nor convicted of graft by the Administration.  The Liberian Government’s pronouncement of fighting corruption in public service has not been matched with concrete support and funding. 
Embarrassing National financial scandals including the alleged “missing 16 billion dollars” from the Central  Bank of Liberia (CBL) and the bribery and extortion saga at the National Housing Authority (NHA) involving the former head take top manifestations of pervasive graft which are yet to be checkmated by government. 
Transparency International (TI) defines corruption as, “…the abuse of entrusted power for private gain. It can be classified as grand, petty and political, depending on the amounts of money lost and the sector where it occurs.”
In spite of his call to his own underlings to comply with law and declare their personal assets, President Weah has yet to hold his officials accountable for their failure to do so.  Citizens of the poor West African country are yet to receive confirmation of public officials complying with the law.

LACC James Verdier

According to the country’s Anti Corruption Agency (LACC), “The government of Liberia printed into handbill on June 20, 2014, “An Act of Legislature Prescribing a National Code of Conduct for All Public Officials and Employees of the Government of The Republic of Liberia” in line with the 1986 constitutional requirement to curb certain vices which are inimical to the economic and social wellbeing of our common patrimony. Specifically, Article 90 a) & b) of the Constitution highlight those vices while article 90 c) quoted below echoes the antidote to eradicating them: Article 90 c) “The Legislature shall, in pursuance of the above provision, prescribe a Code of Conduct for all public officials and employees, stipulating the acts which constitutes conflict of interest or are against public policy, and the penalties for violation thereof.”  The legislation of a national code of conduct after twenty-eight years, since the coming into force of the Liberian constitution, finally created a legal framework through which the conducts of public officials could be monitored, examined and punished in relation to the use and management of public resources. In Part 10, of the Code of Conduct, it is required that every Public Official and Employee of government involved in making decisions affecting contracting, tendering or procurement, and issuance of licenses of various types sign performance or financial bonds and in addition declare his or her income, assets and liabilities prior to taking office and thereafter:

  1. At the end of every three years;
  2. On promotion or progression from one level to another;
  3. Upon transfer to another public office; and
  4. Upon retirement resignation.”
President Weah’s own asset declaration was held behind closed doors and sealed after; a clear failure to be a transparent example. Public officials have openly ignored the asset declaration law and the President. 
“Corruption corrodes the fabric of society. It undermines people’s trust in political and economic systems, institutions and leaders. It can cost people their freedom, health, money – and sometimes their lives,” TI says of the cost of corruption. 
The LACC’s Investigations of alleged acts of corruption  by public officials or recommendations to the Justice Ministry are oftentimes never started, aborted and abandoned; and where cases are prosecuted, lost in court. 
Recently, the head of Liberia’s anti graft agency James Verdier, in an interview with a Radio France International, and in a rather bold move, accused the Weah Administration of “undermining ” the fight against corruption. 
“ The experience we’ve had in the first half is a bit terrible because we’ve not had funding. We have actually struggled to actually have this Administration put its stamp behind the stamp of corruption and make some bold statements regarding transparency, accountability and ensuring that we can fight corruption.”
In less than a year and while there has been no public disclosure of his assets, President Weah is facing scrutiny and questions over his massive construction of houses in a poor country. 
The country which emerged in 2005 from back-to-back wars in the 1990s is struggling to attract and retain critically needed foreign investors and resources to jumpstart the flailing economy. 
 In 1980, a violent coup d’etat carried out by non-commissioned soldiers was sold as a radical solution to address “rampant” corruption. The civilian President William R. Tolbert was murdered by soldiers led by former junta head and former President Samuel K. Doe.
Flag of Liberia
Nine years later, another charge of runaway “corruption” was laid as the basis for a rebel insurgency against the Doe Government. The war which quickly devolved into an ethnic conflagration was prosecuted by former rebel turned former a President Charles G. Taylor who was eventually forced out of power by rebels opposed to his government and pressure from the international community. 
Taylor is a convicted war criminal serving out his fifty year sentence in prison in the UK.  
An estimated 250,000 people lost their lives and nearly 1 million others were displaced internally and externally. 
The NHA extortion scandal is still pending prosecution after the accused posted bond and were released. Unconfirmed reports, however, say the suspects have jumped bail and have either fled the country or cannot be found. 
During his State of the Nation Address to lawmakers and citizens on January 28, 2019, President Weah disclosed that the Investigation Report on the “missing billions” will be released by USAID by the end of February, 2019.
 “If it is established that there has been any willful act of criminality, negligence, or malfeasance by anyone implicated in the reports, the full weight of the law will be brought to bear”, President Weah warned.  
Transparency International
Just prior to the inauguration of the Weah Administration in January, 2018 Transparency International (TI), the global organization leading the fight against corruption, advanced several recommendations to the Congress For Democratic Change (CDC) led government to tackle endemic corruption and included the following:
1. Ensure the independence of the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) and give it direct prosecutorial power to quickly investigate and prosecute corruption cases.
2. Establish specialised anti-corruption courts for prosecuting corruption without delays.
3. Enact a Corrupt Offences Act to clearly define and provide sanctions for various forms of corruption.
4. Enact a Whistleblower Protection Law to encourage more Liberians to freely report acts of corruption and other integrity-related issues.
5. Require all public officials, including the president, to declare their assets, irrespective of their positions or connections to superiors in government. The government must independently verify and publish these declarations of assets.
5. Review and impartially implement reports and recommendations by integrity institutions in a timely manner, and establish dedicated committees and bodies for investigating fraud and other forms of corruption.
6. Audit the legislature just like any other branch of government or institution that receives public funds. The 52nd and 53rd legislatures in particular should be audited and any recommendations from the audit report fully implemented and
7. Increase financial support to integrity institutions and enable them to properly function.
A year later, the Weah Administration is still delinquent in the adoption and implementation of TI’s recommendations. 
IJG Principal Deputy Executive Director Luigi Spera
Last September, the International Justice Group (IJG) announced that it was putting in place a mechanism to ensure that all those in Liberia accused of war and economic crimes, money laundering etc. will be exposed to the international justice system for tough punitive actions, including asset tracking and confiscation, international arrests, trial, and imprisonment if prosecuted and found guilty.
By Our Economic Editor With Contribution From Our Justice Correspondent In Monrovia
West African Journal Magazine

Liberia: Looming Money Shortage At Banks Sparks Anxiety

Monrovia, 12 Dec 2018: Stern refusal  by commercial banks in the Liberian capital to fully honor withdrawal requests from customers in two consecutive days this week citing shortage of money supply at those banks is arousing arouses anxiety among Liberians during the ensuing festive holiday season.
Liberian Bank For Development and Investment
Liberian Bank For Development and Investment

Local media Wednesday quoted many customers who are complaining that commercial banks they visited failed to disburse the amounts the customers wanted to withdraw.

Customers complained that tellers just gave out 5000 Liberian dollars to some who wanted LD25,000, while many others returned home empty handed after embarrassed tellers remarked: “We, cannot give out what is not available.”
One frustrated customer said, “I walked home  Wednesday empty handed because I paid my last (money) to go  in town to the bank”
But Central Bank Executive Governor Nathaniel Patray denied liquidity shortage at the banks without citing explicit assurances. The parity rate between the US dollar to Liberian dollar is $1USD to $157 LD.
Commercial banks giving customers with this bad news when conclusive investigation into the reported “missing of LD15.5 billion” remains a pipe dream.
Local Monery Changer In Liberia
Local Monery Changer In Liberia

Accountability campaigners are also up in arms and demanding judicious explanation about what Finance Minister Samuel Tweah did with the US$25 million stimulus package that President George Weah announced was infused into the economy to stabilize the Liberian dollar against the rising US currency.

Minister Tweah reportedly said he directly exchanged $15 million of the amount with forex bureau operators outside of the official banking system. He has yet to identity, let alone, explain what happened to the balance $10 million USD.
Liberians on various social media platforms have been venting anger frustration at the deteriorating economic condition and hard times they are experiencing.
By Tepitapia Sannah
Bureau Chief
West Africa

ANC Leader Alex B. Cummings To Engage Liberians In The US In December

Silver Spring, Maryland November 9, 2018: The leader of the Alternative National Congress (ANC), a political party in Liberia, is launching a major effort to reach Liberians at home and in the diaspora about the future of the West African nation.

ANC Political Leader Alexander B. Cummings
ANC Political Leader Alexander B. Cummings

Mr. Alexander B. Cummings whose stature and favorability ratings have skyrocketed in national politics as a formidable alternative to the current leadership in Liberia, is celebrating “the establishment of the ANC as a viable and progressive political party” since his appearance on the political stage as leader of the ANC.

According to sources, Mr. Cummings is encouraged and responding to the huge enthusiasm  of party members and ordinary Liberians who are signaling their confidence in his leadership ability.

ANC - Liberia
ANC – Liberia

As part of outreach efforts, the ANC says a major retreat is scheduled to be held in Maryland, the United States in early December, at which time Mr. Cummings is expected to articulate his vision for the future of Liberia and Liberians. The  occasion billed as a “critical event” to engage Liberians from all political persuasions to dialogue and develop a roadmap for the attainment of a future of prosperity for the country, which is currently paralyzed by ineffective governance, will develop actionable strategies and plans to inform all Liberians in and out of the country about short, medium and long-term initiatives.

Mr. Cummings is focused on a new paradigm of broadening the political participation of all Liberians in governance and people-oriented public policies for the wellbeing of every citizen, irrespective of political leaning. A source close to the Cummings’ camp says, since March 2018, thousands of Liberians across the homeland, Europe and U.S. have contacted his office to express their desire to build local and international networks and relationships to tackle national issues facing the country and identify opportunities, strategies and financial resources  which are essential for sustaining his vision and programs to correct the current trajectory of the country.

There remains a sizeable number of Liberians at home and abroad who support Mr. Cummings.

ANC Leader Alexander B. Cummings Addressing Liberians During Campaign - File Photo
ANC Leader Alexander B. Cummings Addressing Liberians During Campaign – File Photo

The event featuring Mr. Cummings in December is the first of many citizenry engagements following  Presidential and General Elections in Liberia in November 2017. Plans are underway to have Mr. Cummings undertake social media engagements and personal visits with Liberians in and out of the country to promote a “Liberia First” agenda.

Meantime, in the lead up to the December event, reports say hundreds of ordinary Liberians from various parts of the U.S. have announced plans to travel to Maryland, USA for the engagement with the ANC leader.

Organizers say the special retreat will be held on December 7-8 in Silver Spring, Maryland, the United States and all Liberians are invited to attend.

By Emmanuel Abalo

West African Journal Magazine

 

Liberia: Text Of Statement Delivered By Protesters Delivered To Int’l Community

PETITION STATEMENT

September 24, 2018

The Coalition of Citizens United to Bring Our Money Back (COCUBOMB), a mass-based umbrella pro-democracy and pro-advocacy organization consisting of over 26 civil society organizations, youth/student groups and trade unions, have peacefully rallied and assembled conscious and patriotic Liberians from every sphere of our society to petition you in pursuit of L$16 billion (US$106 million) that mysteriously disappeared under the government of President George M. Weah.

With oneness of purpose and an unhindered allegiance to Liberia and posterity, we have come on this day to send this clarion message to our International Partners through you:

1 We call on you and all international partners of Liberia to launch an immediate independent international forensic investigation into this missing L$16 billion saga which has both economic, social and security implications. The nation remains terrified by this mystery.

1 We call on you to withhold all direct support (in terms of financial and non-financial aid) to our government until it can fully account and restitute this stolen L$16 billion. All those linked in this horrific economic plunder and mass looting against the State and its people must be prosecuted and made to fully restitute such amount.

1 We call on you to prevail upon the Weah-led government to immediately release the internal investigative report of the Central Bank of Liberia that former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf referenced in her latest interview on BCC. This report in our opinion could unravel a lot of hidden secrets and untold realities.

1 We call on you to assist Liberia in auditing all financial transactions done so far under President George M. Weah and former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. We are also concerned about the recent infusion of US$25 million in the Liberian economy by the Weah-led government. We are also interested in knowing the source of this US$ 25 million and how it was infused in the economy. This we believe must be thoroughly investigated as well.

2 COCUBOMB craves your indulgence most respectfully to launch an investigation into the giant-sized private properties being constructed and/or purchased by President George M. Weah and some high-profile members of his government in just six (6) months of his tenure. We are confident that such investigation could also dig out some hard truths about this missing L$16 billion.

3 We call on you to prevail upon the Weah-led government to ensure full asset declaration by all public officials especially the President either before or during the course of the Independent International Forensic Investigation.

1 We call on you to expedite the establishment of a War and Economic Crimes Court in Liberia. This we believe would end the longstanding culture of impunity and guarantee justice for Liberia and Liberians especially war victims. This approach would certainly serve as a deterrence for would be war and economic criminals.

1 We submit to you the urgency to fully overhaul/upgrade Liberia’s financial management system in order to maintain fiscal discipline, accountability, transparency and public integrity at all levels. The need to reinforce and rebrand anti-graft institutions such as LACC, GAC, FIU, PPCC, LEITI and IAA cannot be overemphasized. Corruption especially in the judiciary must also be dealt with.

1 We demand that all former and present heads of these institutions (NPA, MoFDP, CBL, MICAT and RIA) that had/have direct link to this missing container immediately recuse themselves and be brought in for investigation by an independent international forensic investigative panel.

The people of Liberia through COCUBOMB remain very concerned and disturbed about those missing billion (US$106 million) that vanished without any trace up to now. It is sad that the government has been dishonest and inconsistent in releasing the facts. Accounts surrounding this missing L$16 billion from the MoJ, MoFDP, MICAT and even the Office of the President remain contradictory and are compounded with fundamental flaws.

The government cannot be the accused, the defendant, and at the same time the jurist. The Liberian people need their money back. Those who viciously siphoned our resources MUST account and account now! THE PEOPLE are resolved about this and we will not rest until this L$16 billion is fully accounted for by those we describe as ‘vicious economic scavengers and plunderers of our State’.

In all of these, we assure the Liberian people and the International Community that we shall remain peaceful, civil and matured as we pursue this irreversible and patriotic path of bringing an end to systemic corruption in Liberia.

The people deserve better – they deserve to rise above poverty, misery and inequality. It cannot be business as usual. The International Community must ACT to help rescue Liberia from perishing. The popular call of our PEOPLE is “BRING BACK OUR MONEY”.

COCUBOMB calls for the full protection of Journalists Philibert Brown of Hot Pepper Newspaper and Rodney Sieh of FrontPage Africa. We also call on you to protect the rights of campaigners who are demanding the full restitution of this L$16 billion. As we jealously protect the sovereignty and heritage of our State by standing up to those barriers (corruption, nepotism, tribalism, cronyism and religious intolerance) that kept us down as a people, we call you to join us in this pursuit to ensure that President Weah and his government account for L$16 billion that disappeared in thin air.

Done and sealed on this 24th Day of September A.D. 2018 in the City of Monrovia by through COCUBOMB, a representation of the Liberian people.

Signed: ______________________________________

                                 Jeremiah S. Swen

                     Secretary General, COCUBOMB

 

Approved: ____________________________________

                                   Martin K. N. Kollie

                               Chairman, COCUBOMB

To: US Embassy, United Nations, European Union, African Union, ECOWAS, French Embassy

Reputable Organizations that have endorsed this statement:

1 Student Unification Party (SUP)

2 People Action Network (PAN-Liberia)

3 Economic Freedom Fighters of Liberia (EFFL)

4 Movement of Justice in Africa (MOJA)

5 Liberia Labor Congress (LLC)

6 Workers’ Union of Liberia (WUL)

7 Foundation for Human Rights and Democracy (FOHRD)

8 Alliance for Transitional Justice in Liberia (ATJL)

9 Teachers in Action for Concerns (TAC-Liberia)

10 Federation of Liberian Youth (FLY)

11 Patriotic Consciousness Association of Liberia (PACAL)

12 Patriotic Entrepreneurs of Liberia (PATEL)

13 Movement of Social Democratic Alliance (MOSODA)

14 Financial Communication Sector Union (FCSU)

15 National Cosmetology Union of Liberia (NCUL)

16 Association of Opposition Political Parties Youth League in Support of Weah (AOPPYL)

17 Concerned Liberians in the Diaspora (CLD)

18 Citizen Action for the Establishment of a War and Economic Crimes Courts (CAEWECC)

19 Zorzor and Salayea Muslim Development Association (ZSMDA)

20 Forum for Democracy and Civic Education (FODCE)

21 Liberia National Student Union (LINSU)

22 TAG – Liberia

23 Concerned University and College Students (CUCS)

24 Conscious High School Students of Liberia (CHSL)

25 S. K. Doe Community Youth Association (SAKDOCYA)

26 Masses Against Poverty (MAP)

27  Federation of Sinkor Youth Association (FESYA)

28 Liberian Youth for Democracy

29 Agenda for Peace and Democracy

30 National Youth Against Violence (NYAV)

 

Liberia: Protesters Set To March For “Missing Billions” On Monday

It now appears it is all but certain that a peaceful protest of Liberians will take place on Monday, September 24 in the capital Monrovia.

Liberia’s Justice Minister Frank Musa Dean

Organizers say that they have held meetings with representatives of the Government to finalize details of the peaceful march to demand accountability for the “missing billions” from the country’s central bank.

A Press Statement from the Ministry of Justice all but confirmed the protest march by citizens and asked residents to go about their normal business on Monday.

The Government, in its release, also advised protesters to “…comport themselves within the confines of the law.”

March organizers say their protest will be peaceful and that they intend to deliver their petition to the local offices of the UN, the EU and the US diplomatic mission in Monrovia.

A former bank Governor Milton Weeks last week denied any knowledge of the missing local currency and says he’s committed to cooperating with Liberian authorities in the investigation of the matter.

The Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) has, meanwhile, confirmed that certain documents have been requested by the investigation team and include, Financial Audited Statements dated December 31, 2016, December 31, 2017 and January 1, 2018 from the Bank’s Ghana based external auditors KPMG, Bank vault local and foreign currency cash balances from January 1, 2018 to present and Liberian Government’s foreign reserve balance held with the Federal Reserve Band of New York since January 1, 2018 to present.

The Central Bank, in a recent undated Press Statement signed by its Governor Nathaniel R. Patray III, said it is fulfilling responsibilities by working with the Investigation team with verification of accounts.

President George M. Weah of Liberia

Shortly before departing Liberia on last Friday to attend the UN General Assembly in New York, he said in a statement, “I asked all citizens to be patient and those involved in the investigation to be corporative. I am confident that in the end, we will come to a logical conclusion into the circumstances surrounding this money and if anyone is caught in any financial malfeasance they will be held accountable to the full extent. I can assure you, my fellow Liberians, proper accountability of the money in question is vital to my government’s ability to improve your lives.

As we accelerate our investigation to which I have invited international partners to join in advising us to ensure transparency. Let’s us remain calm and have faith in the process.

I believe that the mandate I received from you is a mandate to end corruption in public service and I remain fully committed to this task. I promise to deliver on this mandate and I will not let you down.”

The President’s statement did little to assuage angry citizens who say their peaceful protest on Monday is intended to send a “loud message” to demand full accountability for the missing money.

Meantime, President Weah is scheduled to address the UN General Assembly on Wednesday, his first since becoming President of the small West African country in January.

By Emmanuel Abalo

West African Journal Magazine

Liberia: An Analysis of $25M USD Emergency Cash Infusion Into The Economy; What’s In it For Liberians?

President George M. Weah
President George M. Weah

The recent pronouncement by President George Weah that his administration will embark on several emergency measures to stabilize the free fall of the Liberian economy needs some intrusive review so that the lay person can grasp some understanding of how this approach will directly impact them.

The pending $25 million USD infusion into the Liberian economy through the Central Bank to buy back the excess Liberia dollar circulating will impact the availability of hard currency on the market. The presumption is that the ordinary Liberian person will now change their preference in the way they split their money between holding cash or making a deposit in any of the commercial banks with the expectation that they can withdraw as much USD as they would like at any given time. As it stands now, the economy is flushed with depressed Liberia dollars including counterfeited currency.

This also pre-supposes that there is a sudden elevation in the confidence of the public in banking institutions. Comparatively, when there is an increase in USD deposits deposits, there will be an increase in the quantity available to banks to service various requests from the ordinary person and businesses. Again it is a presumptuous and naive stance to think along these lines.

The Central Bank of Liberia (CBL), by statute, is the highest monetary monitor of the West African country and plays a pivotal role in money regulation to maintain stability of the currencies value. However, stability of value of currencies, especially the Liberian dollar, is not just the only motive or goal which underlie the monetary policy framed and managed by the CBL. There are various factors like inflationary pressures, status of Liberia’s exports and overall economic development which drive policy measures.

So, to what benefit is the infusion of $25 million USD in a struggling economy? Is government prepared to fully bail out the economy with additional hard currency infusion without a plan, investments or long term positive returns?

Why has there not been a stress test undertaken to test the financial viability of the Central Bank, commercial banks and insurance institutions – all who undertake major financial interactions that impact the ordinary Liberian?

According to Trading Economic  website, “Liberia recorded a government debt equivalent to 28.80 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product in 2017. Government Debt to GDP in Liberia averaged 224.79 percent from 2004 until 2017, reaching an all time high of 720.73 percent in 2004 and a record low of 17.80 percent in 2014.”

It is evident that the Liberia dollar depreciation is based on local and international supply and demand and a preference for the stable US dollar which is used for imports. The Extractive industry which generates hard currency is under pressure from global factors and Liberia has not re-positioned its expectations and resources to absorb the shock of this loss of much needed hard currency.
There is no national economic innovation or vision from the Executive branch down to the ordinary person  and who, by the way, is dependent on effective government policies.

Money Changers

In a capitalist society as Liberia, the goal is to make a profit off any business endeavor. Money changers play a vital role in foreign exchange monetary transactions.

Money Changer
Money Changer in Liberia

Since the ordinary person or business cannot confidently go to the CBL or most commercial banks and have their requests for foreign exchange adequately serviced, they resort to the informal sector or un-regulated money changers. The risk of investment in the foreign exchange business by individuals means that they see themselves as serving a need that a weak government and Central Bank cannot adequately service; the provision of hard currency. The attending pressure on the Liberian dollar and its free fall against the US dollar is one consequence of the un-regulated regime of doing business as a money changer.

Because of the scarcity of USD, the petty trader and medium-to-big business “buy” US dollars or the equivalent in Liberian dollar for the purchase of goods and services internally and outside the country from the un-regulated money changers and are forced to increase the price of goods in order to recoup their capital and make a small profit for subsistence in the economic theater.

A lot of currencies float outside of the banking system and the domino effect is that “everyone” suffers from the high prices of commodities all around. Since the monetary black market is alive and well, there are suggestions that Government institute some verifiable and licensing for authorized money changers, hotels, RIA, the National Port, etc like they do for Western Union, Money Gram and commercial banks. But the efficacy of licensing money changers is only as good as implementation, incentives to the public and  enforcement and credibility of the CBL and government.

If it is convenient to go to a money changer hidden in the dark economy or black market, then the public will do so; the money changers will thrive and the high rate of the currencies disparity will persist.

Map of Liberia
Map of Liberia

If the Liberian government doesn’t understand the pinch and bind of the ordinary person, it means that they are un-prepared to address the declining state of the economy. and there will be consequences.

What the Liberian government has not fully explained is how the “buy back” of the depressed Liberian dollars will occur. Will the ordinary Liberian or businesses be able to walk into a commercial bank and exchange their Liberian dollars for US Dollars and at what rate? What policies and systems are there to discourage the external and physical flight of US Dollars once they  leave the vaults of the commercial banks and the CBL?

Economic Pressures

In a report issued November, 2017 by the <em>International Monetary Fund (IMF) entitled, Seventh and Eight Reviews Under The Extended Credit Facility Arrangement , And Request for Waiver of Non-Observance Criteria – Debt Sustainability Analysis, the organization concluded that “…Continued debt vulnerabilities call for a prudent debt management policy, a credible path of revenue mobilization and fiscal consolidation, and structural reforms to promote growth and economic diversification. The DSA shows that Liberia’s risk of debt distress remains moderate. The authorities agreed with staff’s assessment and share staff’s concerns about debt vulnerabilities. The authorities emphasize the importance of strengthening much-needed infrastructure while respecting the debt limits under the ECF. To keep the debt distress risk at moderate, they intend to continue prioritizing grants and concessional loans for pro-growth projects. Moreover, to enhance debt management capacity, (i) information flows between thelegislature, the President’s office, and the DMU of MFDP need to improve; and (ii) DMU needs to build capacity to do their own debt sustainability analysis and to update a medium-term debt strategy (MTDS) as needed. As Liberia remains vulnerable to external shocks (e.g., commodity price shocks) as a commodity exporter, the authorities need to be committed to a prudent borrowing strategy, the prioritization of pro-growth projects, and the diversification of the economy to make it more resilient to external shocks. Creating much needed fiscal space to meet social and development needs (one of the main pillars of the ECF-supported program) remains important and efforts on fiscal consolidation and revenue mobilization need to continue. While fiscal consolidation will be needed to keep a sustainable debt trajectory, the nature of the fiscal adjustment should not jeopardize critical spending for poverty reduction and productivity.”

MicroFinance Unit -CBL
MicroFinance Unit -CBL

The IMF’s signal to Liberia in that report, and in effect to the Weah Administration, is that no new loans would be forthcoming due to the risk of some potential debt distress. Liberia needs a serious approach to international borrowing and management of its resources.

Credit Rating Impact

Major investors, credit rating agencies and sovereign wealth funds, as part of their best practices and due diligence, undertake the review and use of credit ratings; Liberia being no exception. The credit rating of the country has a huge impact on its borrowing facilities and costs. Sadly, Liberia’s credit rating as cited by Standard & Poor, Moody’s, Fitch and DBRS is at 15; between 100 (riskless) and 0 (likely to default).

The rating is described as “speculative”. This designation is a red flag for investors and international borrowing facilities. The direct impact of a “speculative” designation is impacting the cost of food in Liberia.

According to website Trading Economics, “the cost of food in Liberia increased 20.10 percent in April of 2018 over the same month in the previous year. Food Inflation in Liberia averaged 10.97 percent from 2007 until 2018, reaching an all time high of 39.24 percent in August of 2008 and a record low of -4.24 percent in August of 2009”.

The CBL in its 2017 Annual Report admitted that “…the accompanying increase in the prices of petroleum products and food (rice) are likely to increase payments towards imports, possibly outweighing the increase in export prices, and inducing biflationary pressure…”

Gov. Weeks welcoming new Acting CBL Board Governor, Nathaniel Patray as Deputy Governor Sirleaf looks on
Former Gov. Weeks welcoming new Acting CBL Board Governor Nathaniel Patray

Other factors which impact the ability of Liberia to attract serious notice include the prevalence of graft in all sectors of society, a weak judiciary system, lack of major and reliable economic infrastructures, lack of technical and human capacity and poor financial structures and policies.

These complex and relative issues discussed mean little for the ordinary Liberian except what he/she wants change to happen quickly; economic change that puts food on the table and supports thrivability in tough economic times.

But The “Weah Economic Team” has not successfully communicated in lay terms what these challenges are nor do they have a rough blue-print on how the lay person will make it through the end of this week.

By Emmanuel Abalo

West African Journal Magazine

Commentary – Liberia: How We Forget To Vote On The Issues

Monrovia, Liberia June 20, 2018- Day after day it is becoming abundantly clear that most Liberians lack the political culture and know-how of voting on the basis of national issues presented by candidates.

A woman casts her ballot during presidential elections at a polling station in Monrovia
A woman casts her ballot during presidential elections at a polling station in Monrovia

Perhaps long-held mindset controls how Liberian voters choose their leaders on election day and only to regret soon afterwards for having chosen the wrong personalities.
On election day, voters appear oblivious about the countless vexing national problems that have been heaped on top of one another during several decades without complete solution to any by past leaders.

More often than not they begin to cry saying they chose the wrong leaders, but again fail to correct themselves during subsequent elections.

The chickens are coming home to roost.

Barely six months after populist votes brought to power a government run by the coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) which promised to bring “change for hope” , critics accuse  President George M.  Weah led- government of violating  the constitution with impunity.
The government failed to appropriate funding in the recast budget for the timely holding of by-elections following the election of Mr. Weah and Jewel H. Taylor from the Senate as President and Vice President respectively.
President Weah and his officials, after six months in office, are yet to declare their assets in violation of the code of conduct aimed to ensure transparency and accountability in government.
Despite criticisms against two loan agreements amounting nearly $1 billion for road construction, legislators swiftly sealed the pacts without sufficient scrutiny.

Lawmakers Listening To Address
Some Liberian Lawmakers At Capitol Building

The government and blind party loyalists constantly rebuke  journalists and civil society members for seeking sufficient information on the projects including  total estimated costs, credibility of givers the loans and companies the creditors choose to do the work without involving the PPCC to ensure transparency and accountability. Environmental impact studies are nowhere mentioned.

Now, the National Legislature, in clear disregard for public concerns about national issues, recently gave president Weah a “blank check” when it comes to construction of roads; a major priority.

They further passed a joint resolution authorizing the President to seek more loans from wherever to construct dozens of “critical road corridors” linking all county capitals with trunk highways. Some loyalists even tell radio talkshow hosts that the President should negotiate loans “even from the belly of the devil.”

Political Subdivision Map of Liberia map
Political Subdivision Map of Liberia

Perhaps, buoyed by this overwhelming legislative support, President Weah was tempted while inspecting roads in central Liberia to label critics of his government as  “enemies of the state”.

Though Mr. Weah often promises free speech and press freedom leading him to resubmit a draft bill seeking to decriminalise  media offences, the enemy label on critics who use the media as messengers has  created mixed feelings whether this thin-skinned legislature will pass this guarantee for freedom of expression  that is cardinal in any democratic society.
West African Journal Magazine