Johannesburg, South Africa – “All politics aside, Liberians should be genuinely concerned about the direction of the country.” The statement was made recently in an exclusive interview on a number of national issues by Mr. Alexander B. Cummings Jr. of Liberia’s opposition Alternative National Congress (ANC) political party.
The statement was a response to the current trajectory of the West African country under the administration of former soccer legend-turned-politician President George M. Weah since his inauguration in January.
Mr. Cummings said since its incumbency, the Weah Administration has not told Liberians where they want to take the country and how they will get there. “There are no plans for infrastructures in education, healthcare or agriculture; no milestones, goals or plans for the various sectors, except road building,” Cummings said.
The opposition leader who has been gaining strong ratings as a credible voice among citizens cited the unwillingness, inability and lack of competence in government as obstacles to moving the country forward.
Regarding the “resource swap” that the Weah Administration is pursuing with some international partners, Cummings offered that there are different ways of securing funding for the country. “But not knowing the value of our own resources hampers our negotiating ability with the international community. There has been no due diligence done by the Government.”
The statement is an apparent reference to a disclosure following the return of President Weah from China, that government was interested in offering major national resources to China and other countries in return for much needed loans and grants to regenerate the economy and build infrastructures.
EBOMAF AND ETON LOANS
Cummings heavily criticized the EBOMAF and ETON private loans which were being pursued by the Liberian Government, saying, they have apparently failed because “this government conducted no due diligence on the lenders or analysis on how the loans would be paid back. We need to own our destiny.”
Since disclosure of negotiations for the EBOMAF and ETON loans shortly after assuming the leadership, the Weah Administration has so far failed to explain the conditions, process and its due diligence in pursuing such loans outside of conventional lenders and why, to date, the loans have not materialized.
Cummings referenced the issue of senior Administration officials acquiring huge assets in a relatively short period of time since joining government. He observed that if this is true, it is highly questionable. Although, he said, he had no proof that some government officials had acquired huge assets so quickly, these problems and a combination of others have led to the growing frustration Liberians are experiencing with the Weah government and that led to the recent anti-government protest on Monday, September 24, 2018.
Admitting that he did not have a lot of information on the “missing container” of billions of dollars in local currency, the ANC leader reiterated his call for an independent investigation to get the truth. In early September, local media disclosed that billions in Liberian currency which were printed by the former Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Administration were imported into the country, beginning last November through March of this year. It is alleged that the containers and bags of money have gone “missing”. The Liberian government has instituted an investigation into the matter and barred nearly 35 persons associated with the scandal from leaving the country, including the former Bank Governor Milton Weeks and Deputy Bank executive Charles Sirleaf.
“Liberians cannot trust government to investigate itself. These are legitimate concerns. Government officials are giving conflicting accounts,” Cummings said about utterances from the country’s Finance and Planning Minister Samuel Tweah that no money is missing, while the chief government’s spokesman Eugene Nagbe confirmed that President Weah had instituted an investigation team to determine the exact amount of the missing money.
The Minister of Justice of Liberia Counselor Frank Musa Dean issued a press statement on September 17, 2018 in which he disclosed that a Presidential investigating team to include the Liberia National Police (LNP), the National Security Agency (NSA), and the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) had been set up to investigate the matter. The Liberian Government later confirmed that it had requested international investigation assistance from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Treasury Department and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), ECOWAS and the African Union (AU). The Government late last week reconfigured the investigative team and elevated the country’s anti-corruption agency as the lead entity.
Former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has angrily denied that anything improper was done by her administration saying she was shocked by rumors of stolen funds which she dismissed as a fabrication.
CIVIL SOCIETY PROTEST
Asked if he is funding any anti-government protest as alleged by the Chairman of the ruling Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) political party Mr. Mulbah Morlu, Cummings emphatically stated, “I am not,” adding, “although I support the right of Liberians to peacefully protest and petition their government on legitimate concerns, it is untrue.”
Cummings who has taken on the role as leader and spokesperson of the opposition bloc in the small West African country, further denied that he has met protest organizers adding, “Government is insulting the intelligence of Liberians by accusing me of supporting the protest. The protest was organic and spontaneous; and it was due to the incompetence on the part of the Government,” Cummings said.
On September 24, a coalition of over 26 civil society groups, under the banner, Coalition of Citizens United To Bring Our Money Back (COCUBOMB), spurred by disclosure of “missing billions”, equivalent to an estimated $104 million USD, staged a peaceful protest to demand accountability and return of the money. The missing money scandal has somewhat paralyzed the Weah Administration.
In a stunning disclosure, Cummings said while officials of the CDC were accusing him of funding the last protest, there was intelligence that the CDC and supporters were planning to foment violence and attack the peaceful protesters and then blame him. The protest was peaceful.
Asked why the ruling CDC was accusing opposition parties of not offering suggestions and advice to the current Administration, Cummings batted down the charge saying, “nowhere in the world is the opposition obligated to help government. However, given the direction of the country, circumstances are such that it will take all of us to help or Liberian will suffer.”
The former Coca Cola executive and highly successful international business mind Cummings who joined national politics in 2016 said, “since the inauguration of the new government in January, he and his political party the ANC have tried to be helpful by offering suggestions and recommendations on how to move the country forward. He pushed back strongly on suggestions that the opposition’s only aim was to paralyze the new Administration.
Cummings offered proof of attempts to be helpful partners as the opposition and referred to a document issued in July by a coalition of political parties including the Alternative National Congress (ANC), the former ruling Unity Party (UP) and the Liberty Party (LP).
Entitled Response of the Collaborating Parties (ANC, UP & LP) To President Weah’s Statement On The Economy, the Liberian opposition bloc listed “…several policy options that can produce immediate policy results while simultaneously and more importantly at the same time address the long term structural impediments to growth and development…”
They include, maintaining sound fiscal discipline, adopting smart growth inducing tax policies, eliminating monopolies and implementing land reform.
The opposition political parties also advanced to government the policy recommendation of enhancing environment for export/imports substitution and reforms to make it easy to move goods in and out of the ports.
The three political parties at the time said, “…Harnessing our collective strengths to advance Liberia’s development should be our focus as we work to devise and implement a detailed road map for spurring sustained, market driven, private sector led growth that creates jobs and lift living standards for all Liberians.”
While declining any formal advisory role to Government, Cummings said, “There is an ANC blueprint out there. I am happy to give advice to government. I’ve even encouraged qualified ANC supporters to take jobs in this government, if offered. But the CDC led government only wants CDcians in government as you’ve heard the Vice President say.”
It can be recalled that in May, Vice President Jewel Howard-Taylor told a CDC political gathering in Bong County, central Liberia that, “…The fact that some of you who sitting here, are not members of the Coalition, but we have nothing in our hearts against you because I would have removed everybody, replaced you with people I trust and believe would work with us, because you would have done same to me had you been in power” adding, “this is my time, because I served as opposition for 12 year…”
At that meeting, the Liberian Vice President, a former spouse of ex-President Charles G. Taylor, warned local chiefs to join the ruling CDC or be replaced by party loyalists. Her statement was met with criticisms by some Liberians.
The ANC leader criticized the “arrogance of government, lip service and know it all” attitude and charged that the August meeting between President Weah and the opposition was a “charade.”
According to him, “…They, the government, came to the meeting with no agenda, and had no plan in mind, outcome expectations or follow-up plan in mind. They were pressured to engage the opposition; but they do not want help,” Cummings observed.
WAR CRIMES COURT
On the issue of the establishment of a War and Economic Crimes Court for Liberia, Cummings theorized that the country was evenly split. “Those who are in favor of the Court are very vocal and emotional about this issue. But those against are the ones who want to avoid any potential national issues and just want to move ahead,” he said.
Pressed on his position, Cummings of the ANC said, for him there are three core issues to address war and economic crimes in Liberia. He named them as justice, ending the culture of impunity and facilitating reconciliation among Liberians.
He, however, held that economic crimes have done the most harm to Liberians over the years.
President George M. Weah
According to Cummings, Liberians want to hear from President Weah on the issue of the establishment of a War and Economic Crimes Court. “It is very important that the President take the lead and state his position on the issue,” Cummings observed.
The Liberian leader President Weah has signaled that the prosecution of alleged war criminals in Liberia is not a priority for his government inspite of local and international pressure to bring them to book for their past actions during the war.
The ANC emerged fourth in the Presidential election with 7.2% of the total votes cast in October, 2017.
By Emmanuel Abalo
West African Journal Magazine