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 GeorgeWeahgovernment.
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.
“Iam 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 crowdfrom the Monrovia suburb of ChocolateCity told PresidentWeahto see the momentum of Costa’s arrival as a clear message.
“GeorgeWeahmust see thisasa message for our desire for change”, she intoned. According to Ms. William, she was tired of the difficulties and would appreciate if President GeorgeWeahcould 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 fromjust outside of the city center In Sinkorto Central Monrovia where he addressed crowds of supporters.
Political spectators described the euphoriasurrounding 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.
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:
At the end of every three years;
On promotion or progression from one level to another;
Upon transfer to another public office; and
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.
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
Monrovia, 27 Oct 2018: “Bible for Prosperity” in Liberia is how president George Weah Saturday duped his government’s five-year national development blueprint–pro-poor agenda for prosperity and development.
Adopted nine months into the Weah’s administration, the national development agenda promises attention to all major areas including roads and communication, health. education, agriculture, peace and security, human rights, good governance, accountability and transparency. It also proposes adherence to the rule of law as well as zero tolerance against corruption.
Map of Liberia
At a gatherings of government officials and development partners, President Weah launched the development blueprint, also called PADP and spanning January 2019-January 2023.
The Liberian Leader President Weah called for the involvement of “all Liberians and development partners in the implementation of every line in this book”, which the president passionately said he cherishes as ” Bible for prosperity ” in Liberia.
It is unclear if opposition political parties were invited to have a stake in implementation of the pro poor agenda since it also impacts their partisans and supporters.
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.
Jeremiah S. Swen
Secretary General, COCUBOMB
Martin K. N. Kollie
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)
The international justice noose continues to tighten around former alleged war actors in the Liberian conflict.
France Crimes Against Humanity And Genocide Agency
Latest news from France received by West African Journal Magazine say French authorities have picked up a suspected former factional commander for investigation into his alleged atrocities committed during the West African country’s civil war in the 1990s.
According to France 24 news website, a Liberian national who now holds Dutch citizenship and identified as Kunti K, a former ULIMO commander now living in the French suburb of Bobigny, outside of Paris was arrested by authorities on Tuesday, September 4, 2018. The apprehension of the Liberian war actor was based on a complaint filed with the French government by the victims rights advocacy group Civitas Maxima which is based in Europe. The group also played a key role in raising international awareness about the prosecution case of now convicted former “Defense Minister and Chief spokesperson” of the former rebel NPFL Mr. Jucontee Thomas Woweiyu in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania USA.
File Photo – Liberian Rebel Fighters
According to the report, ” Kunti K., born in 1974, was detained in a joint operation by the elite GIGN police and officers from France’s OCLCH agency, which investigates war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity. He arrived in France in 2016, after leaving the Netherlands and passing through Belgium, said Colonel Eric Emereaux, head of OCLCH.”
French authorites had been investigating the accused Kunti K. The ULIMO rebel faction was named in Liberia’s TRC as committing over 11,500 various forms of abuses and atrocities including forced displacement, killing rape, property destruction and torture among aother alleged criminal actions. ULIMO was allegedly responsible for committing about 7% of overall atrocities in the TRC Final Report and its leaders recommended for prosecution for human rights and international humanitarian law violations and war crimes.
No one in Liberia has been prosecuted for alleged atrocities committed during the war.
Former Rebel NPFL Commander Martina Johnson
Other Liberians who have been booked by foreign countries include a former NPFL commander, Martina Johnson. She was arrested in Belgium on September 17, 2014 and is facing investigation and prosecution for her alleged role in atrocities committed in Liberia. Agnes Reeves Taylor
She was a former personal bodyguard to former rebel leader turned former President Charles Taylor who is serving a 50 year prison sentence in the UK for his role in the Liberia civil war.
The ex-wife of former President Taylor, Agnes Reeves-Taylor, was arrested in the London on June 1, 2017 and is facing prosecution over four charges for offences she allegedly committed in Liberia.
The son of former President Taylor, Charles “Chuckie’ Taylor Jr., a US citizen, was prosecuted in America for his role in the war. In October, 2008, he was convicted by a U.S. Court on six charges of committing act of torture and conspiracy to commit torture in Liberia and firearms violations. He is serving a 97 year jail sentence in the U.S.
Former Warlord of the Rebel LPC Dr. George Boley
Another warlord who was residing in NY, Dr George Boley of the Liberia Peace Council (LPC) rebel faction was picked by by U.S. authorities in January 2010 on immigration violation charges and extra judicial killings in the Liberian war.
He was deported to Liberia in March 2012. A witness in Dr. Boley’s case, one Isaac Kannah of Philadelphia, who U.S. Immigration authorities say lied to federal authorities to help Dr. Boley admitted to perjury and obstruction of justice on July 26, 2018 and agreed to voluntarily leave the U.S. He was facing a 5 year jail sentence and $250,000 fine, if convicted It is unclear if Kannah, has left the U.S.
Mohammed “Jungle Jabbah”: Jabateh, a commander in the rebel ULIMO faction was prosecuted in the U.S. on immigration fraud charges, found guilty and is serving a 30 year jail sentence. He is said to have lied to U.S. immigration authorities about his past association with ULIMO rebel faction in order to gain immigration benefits.
In July, 2018, a former bodyguard to President Charles Taylor was removed from the U.S. to Liberia. The former Staten Island resident is Charles Cooper. According to U.S. Immigration authorities, “…An ICE investigation revealed that prior to coming to the United States, Cooper, while a member of the SSS and the National Patriotic Front of Liberia, was directly involved in the persecution of civilians in Liberia. Cooper was also identified as a member of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia, a rebel group founded by Charles Taylor that committed numerous human rights violations…”
Former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
Former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a Nobel laureate has been sued in a civil matter in a US. District Court Boston, Massachusetts by a Liberia national for her alleged role in the war.
A former Presidential guard commander during the early stages of the war in Liberia, one Colonel Moses Thomas, is facing a civil suit in Philadelphia for his alleged role in the Lutheran Church massacre by government troops under his command. Colonel Thomas has denied any involvement.
Local and international pressure is building on the Weah Administration to establish a war crimes court to prosecute those accused of committing human rights violations and atrocities during the war. But the Liberian President, at a recent meeting with opposition political parties purportedly stated that because Liberians are inter-related and since some of the accused are current “decision makers” in government, he could not implement recommendations to hold those individuals accountable nor could he take on a full frontal assault on “endemic” corruption in government. President Weah has been roundly criticized by Liberians in and out of the country for his unwillingness to implement recommendations of the country’s TRC.
Map of Liberia
A mass peaceful protest is planned by Liberians in the U.S. to greet President George Weah who is expected to attend the UN General Assembly in New York later in September. Organizers say their protest is to call for President Weah to establish a war crimes court and fight corruption in the small West African country.
Former Rebel Commander Turned Senator Prince Y. Johnson
A major war actor and former rebel commander now turned Senator Prince Y. Johnson who is named in TRC report as a “perpetrator” and recommended for prosecution has in recent days been threatening a return to conflict if there is an attempt to arrest him for prosecution.
Some supporters of President Weah say attempts to prosecute alleged war and economic criminals could destabilize the fragile peace while others say justice and accountability are the best remedies for reconciling Liberians.
Liberian President George M. Weah
Recently, a newly formed rights advocacy organization the International Justice Group (IJG) based in Europe and the U.S. disclosed that its investigators have uncovered individuals listed in the West African country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Final Report living under different disguises and names to avoid detection and apprehension by authorities for the roles in the Liberian civil war.
“Under international justice, President Weah’s clear refusal poses serious consequences for Liberia’s prosperity in many ways. From international sanction to other activities such as travel ban of officials and others in government and the country, the pressure will be brought by the International Justice Group as well as the 76 Group and others…” the IJG said.
The group also clearly stated that, ” …under international justice, President Weah’s clear refusal poses a serious consequences for Liberia’s prosperity in many ways. From international sanctions to other activities such as travel ban of officials and others in government and the country, the pressure will be brought to bear by the International Justice Group as well as the 76 group and others…”
Flag of Liberia
Liberia was wracked by back-to-back war starting in 1979 in which nearly and estimated 250,000 people were killed and about 1 million others were internally and externally displaced by roving bands of rebels. The conflict spilled over into neighboring Sierra Leone where rebels reportedly hacked off limbs of victims and killed thousands others.
International war crime investigators say they will pursue alleged war criminals for full prosecution in and out of Liberia.
A one time close associate of former Liberian rebel leader turned President Charles Taylor is facing federal prosecutors in a court room in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania USA beginning Monday, July 11th.
Jucontee Thomas Woewiyu
Jucontee Thomas Woewiyu, a former Defense Minster of the now disbanded rebel National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) goes on trial on immigration fraud charges and for failing to disclose his involvement in one of the most brutal civil conflagration in Liberia, West Africa in the 1990s.
Woewiyu allegedly hid critical information from U.S. Immigration authorities when he applied for citizenship in 2006. He traveled regularly to Liberia from the U.S.
Court documents quote federal prosecutors as saying, ““Perhaps no other member of the NPFL save for Charles Taylor was more prominent in the public sphere…”
Woewiyu, a resident of Collingdale since the 1970’s, was a major actor in the rebel invasion which was launched on Christmas eve 1989 in northern Liberia. He is remembered to prosecuting the advance of the war towards the Liberian capital as spokesperson for the NPFL in daily interviews he gave to the BBC Focus on Africa program with Robin White.
Terrified residents across Liberia cowering in fear during curfew hours listened to the BBC for accounts of the rebel advance. Major human rights organizations have recounted thousands of rebel and government troops atrocities in areas under their control.
Former Rebel NPFL Leader Charles Taylor
Five American Catholic missionaries were killed by rebel forces during the rebel invasion in Gardnersville on the outskirts of the capital Monrovia. An estimated 250,000 people were killed and another 1 million others displaced internally and externally, making the conflict one of the worst in human history. Thousands of Liberians and Sierra Leonens were maimed by marauding rebels.
On October 15, 1992, Taylor’s NPFL launched a vicious attack on the Liberian capital and West African peacekeepers with the aim of capturing it and installing himself as President. The sustained attack was beaten back by the peacekeepers with assistance from the a small but highly trained militia group known as the Black Berets who were loyal to the then Interim Government of National Unuty (IGNU) led by Professor Dr. Amos Sawyer.
In their retreat, NPFL forces kidnapped civilians who were taken to their bases in Kakata and Gbarnga. Casualties of the Octopus assault are still unknown.
Map of Liberia
West African countries whose citizens were targeted by the NPFL intervened with the insertion of peacekeeping forces in Liberia to stem the bloodletting and humanitarian disaster in 1990. A number of peace conferences involving the various warring factions ultimately led to a Comprehensive Peace Agreement and the establishment of an interim mechanism to lead the country to national elections which Charles Taylor won in 1997.
However, more instability ensued and Taylor was forced out of power in August, 2003 under pressure from advancing rebels and the international community. Taylor was indicted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL).
In 2006 the Sirleaf administration formally requested Taylor’s extradition from Nigeria.
Taylor was arrested as he fled Nigeria, transferred to the Hague and prosecuted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL). He was found guilty on 11 charges including terror, rape, war crimes and crimes against humanity in April, 2012 and sentenced to fifty years in jail. He is currently serving his sentence in a UK jail.
Liberia underwent 14 years of bloody back-to-back conflicts between 1989 – 2003, with spill over of the conflict over into neighboring Sierra Leone.
A UN Mission took over security and provided humanitarian support for Liberia beginning 2003 and successfully completed its mission on March 30, 2018 following the democratic elections.
Another war actor who was residing in the suburb of Philadelphia Mohammed Jabbateh known by the non-de-guerre “Jungle Jabbah” was picked by US Immigration and prosecuted by federal authorities also for immigration fraud charges.
He was convicted and is serving a 30 year jail sentence after which he will be deported to Liberia.
Flag of Liberia
Meantime, the new Weah Administration in Liberia is facing growing calls for fully implementing recommendations of the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) including the establishment of a local war crimes court to prosecute individuals named as bearing the most responsibility for atrocities committed during the civil wars.
At a program on March 30th marking the closing of the UN Mission in Liberia, the Deputy UN Secretary General told the Liberian government to handle “unfinished business” of national reconciliation and the constitution including the establishment of a war crimes court.
But the current Liberian government and its supporters have signaled that the establishment of a war crimes court is not a priority, citing risk to the fragile “peace” in the country.
Woewiyu has denied the US government allegations against him.
Liberia is one of the poorest countries in the world with 64 percent of its citizens living on less than a $1 per day. Latest available Human Development Index (HDI) rates Liberia at 0.427. Comparatively, Norway which has the world’s highest HDI ranking is rated at 0.949. According to the Atlas method in (current US$), Liberia’s GNI per capita is recorded at $370 annually. (World Development Report, Liberia At A Glance – Economic Growth Data, 2015 -2017).
As the country forges ahead in a post-Ellen Johnson Sirleaf era, the challenges of economic recovery will require adopting both short and long-term reform measures. This dissertation outlines some of these crucial challenges and offers structural reform alternatives that are worth considering.
According to the United Nation Development Program (UNDP), the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), referred to, in short, as the “2030 Agenda”, is a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that the citizens of the world enjoy peace and prosperity.
Building on the successes of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the 17 goals of the SDGs seek to address the issues of poverty; hunger; health and well-being; quality education; gender equality; clean water and sanitation; affordable and clean energy; decent work and economic growth; industry, innovation, and infrastructure; reduced inequalities; sustainable cities and communities; responsible consumption and production; climate change; life below water; life on land; peace, justice, and strong institutions; and partnerships for the goals. (UNDP – Sustainable Development Goals; 2015). The possibilities of success in tackling these goals are based on the adherence to good governance and building strong economic systems.
Liberia, being a fragile post-conflict nation is facing a plethora of these challenges and would do well in achieving successes in each of these categories.
The Liberian economy like those of many developing countries in Sub-Saharan Africa is dualistic. It is characterized by a formal and an informal economy. Beyond this dichotomy, the Liberian economy is largely controlled by foreigners. Multinational companies and foreign wholesale and retail businesses are the major importers and exporters.
As a consequence, they contribute the largest share of taxes to the government. The informal economy comprises of a mix of rudimentary economic activities and transactions. They include menial labor and other forms of subsistence livelihood including village farming, hunting, and petty trading. These economic activities are neither taxed nor regulated by the government. For the most part, activities in the informal economy are not included in the Gross National Product (GNP) or the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
According to World Bank data, Liberia recorded a GDP of 2.101 billion (US$ dollars) as of 2016. The real GDP of Liberia contracted by -1.64 percent in 2016 and grew at approximately 2.1 percent in 2017. Reports by the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL 2017 Annual Report), reveal that the projected expansion in real GDP is attributed to significant increase in output in the mining and panning sectors as a result of anticipated rise in industrial gold production and manufacturing. (CBL 2017 Annual Report)
Based on data from the Liberia Labor Force Survey and Trading Economics, Liberia’s national workforce is recorded at 1.6 million and comprises of workers between the ages of 16-65. Of this amount, 195,000 or 12.18 percent represents the wage-earning employment workforce and 87.82 constitutes the vulnerable unemployed.
The formal economy is characterized by a heavy reliance on the extraction of non-renewable natural resources such as iron ore and gold; as well as renewable natural resources such as rubber and oil palm. Such a resource dependent economy or otherwise referred to as an “enclave economy” that depends on the extractive sector produces fewer jobs. The mining sector in particular doesn’t induce much employment growth.
The recessionary trends in the economy came about as a backdrop to the 2014-2015 Ebola epidemic and came closely on the heels of the precipitous decline in global prices for iron ore and rubber; Liberia’s two primary exports.
By the end of June 2016, the Ebola outbreak had further decimated an already fragile economy. The Sirleaf administration had admittedly failed to diversify the country’s productive output through the introduction of labor-intensive industries that would have expanded the domestic production of goods and services.
As a result, we have witnessed an increase in inflationary pressures. The annual average headline inflation in 2017 was 12.4 percent from 8.8 percent at period ended 2016, mainly underpinned by a 24.5 percent depreciation of the Liberian dollar. Reflectively, there was an exchange rate decline of
L$125.50/US$1.00 in December, 2017 compared with L$100.80/US$1.00 in December, 2016. These economic trends have led to an increase in the cost of living. (CBL 2017 Annual Report)
According to Trading Economics, Liberia recorded a current account deficit of 25.10 percent of the country’s GDP in 2016. Then latest reports by the Central Bank of Liberia,reveal that the current account balance deteriorated by 6.5 percent to a deficit of US$346.5 million during 2017, from US$325.4 million deficit reported in 2016. It is stated that the deterioration in Liberia’s current account deficit in 2017 was due to a sharp deterioration in net secondary income owing to a 43.6 percent projected reduction in receipts.
However, the latest current account deficit when compared to the US$852.3 million deficit recorded in 2015, did register an improvement of 59.
The need for a robust economic stimulus program
While the recent election of 2017 brought with it opportunities for a newly elected government to infuse dynamism into the affairs of government, it has also brought to the forefront some of the intractable challenges that the Liberian economy has been faced with in recent years.
As such, I’m of the opinion that the economy will require major reforms in the real and financial services sectors along with an ambitious infrastructural development program. The broad goals of economic diversification, inclusiveness, and sustainability should form the primary goals of structural reforms.
Although the government’s much heralded Pro Poor Agenda has garnered a high degree of anticipation, it has yet to be comprehensively adopted. Such an agenda will need to be well-crafted. In addition, it must provide specific core policy objectives, targeted capacity building programs, and a set of well-defined outcomes.
By all indications, the Liberian economy is not producing adequately to meet current budget demands or to support a 4.02 percent growth in real GDP that has been forecasted for 2018. Many of the earlier forecasts however did not account for a deteriorating terms of trade condition and the accompanied liquidity crisis that we have recently witnessed. According to recent reports, amidst the need for rigid austerity measures, the government released its recast national budget for FY 2017/2018.
According to the release, the recast budget is registered at US$536.2 million, a decline of US$27 million from the original budget that had been signed by the former president Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of US$563.5 million. (Henry Karmo, FrontPage Africa, “Executive Presents Revised Budget to Legislature with Major Austerity”, March 9, 2017)
Austerity measures and the current recast budget
The government recently announced a set of austerity measures. While an important initial step, US$27 million doesn’t seem to go far enough. Much of this amount is already captured based on the sluggish budget performance witnessed in the last two quarters of 2017. Hence, it appears that at minimum, there is a need for 30 percent of additional cuts in wasteful spending particularly of recurrent expenditures. With a downturn in business activities, it is further expected that the government will experience a major challenge to raise the tax revenues of US$401.4 million which represents 71.2 percent of the recast budget.
If appropriate measures aren’t taken in the short-term to go beyond the existing cuts earmarked in the recast budget to further strengthen fiscal management and curtail waste and abuse, the government may find itself running an intractable budget deficit by the close of FY 2017/2018.
Import Substitution and Export Diversification
Along with drastic austerity measures, the government will need to institute a robust short-term stimulus program. These measures should revolve around monetary and fiscal policy adjustments that are aimed at jump-starting growth within the economy.
In my dialogue with colleagues, I have laid emphasis on the broad goals of instituting import substitution measures alongside a gradual diversification of exports. We’ve already noticed that the options available in an already tight liquidity situation will require adherence to a well targeted set of initiatives that would include the streamlining of trade barriers and expansion in capital formation. In addition, authorities would need to seek external support to recapitalize a select number of banks with the aim of financing growth in agriculture and agro-based industries.
Additional capital will also be required to enhance growth in labor-intensive low-cost manufacturing.
Expanding agriculture and agro-based industries with an emphasis on mechanized rice production
Discussions and actions taken so far around an attempt to reduce the price of imported rice have been gravely inadequate. Observably, with the economy spending on average of approximately $US240 million per year on rice imports, this is one area where import substitution policies could work. The Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) reports that the international price of rice has witnessed a rising trend from the beginning of 2017. At end-2017, the international price of rice was projected to rise by 3.5 percent to US$401.9 per metric ton, from US$388.3 per metric ton recorded at end-2016 and by 5.7 percent when compared with the value per metric ton recorded in 2015.
The estimated rise in the price of the commodity during 2017 was significantly occasioned by scarcity amid increased demand mainly from the Asian region. (CBL 2017 Annual Report)
Agriculture as a major sector of the Liberian economy is worth 38 percent of GDP and employs 70 percent of the population. Unfortunately, much of this production is at subsistence level and provides very little contribution in the way of tax revenues to the government. Liberia has a climate that is favorable to farming with vast forested land and abundance of water. Notwithstanding, the low yield from food production including rice has precipitated the importation of 60 percent of the food that the population consumes. This has led to a significant loss of foreign exchange.
As such, any actions taken to introduce mechanize farming to increase food production and expand agricultural exports will not only markedly reduce the country’s high import bill but also lead to growth in tax revenues through a boost in trade and employment activities.
Liberia’s reliance on foreign imports has placed a burden on our foreign exchange position. Thus, the government should work along with the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) which is the fiscal agent of government to institute an expenditure-switching macroeconomic policy. The aim of the policy would be to balance the country’s current account by altering the composition of expenditures on foreign and domestic goods.
Consequently, the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning needs to develop some revenue-and-expenditure-switching policies in order to expand the revenue base and reduce expenditures on activities that provide limited socio-economic returns. This will also include controlling corruption and waste of financial resources.
The main challenge to this undertaking is that Liberia’s current financial system is still very underdeveloped despite the expansion of the banking system within the last 12 years. There is still a lot of room for the legitimate application of capital and portfolio investment that could be harnessed to spur home-grown economic development.
To start, the CBL will have to get more involved in open market operations which is supposed to be one of its cardinal roles; the buying and selling of government issued bonds. We are learning that there is movement toward that endeavor but more transparency is required to promote participation and bring about positive results. Such a move would cause adjustments to short term interest rates and impact money supply levels.
Without such capacity, the CBL will have limited influence over adverse pricing conditions or to expand and contract money in circulation. It is also evident that the Liberian financial sector needs to undergo a major policy shift by instituting structural reforms that would enable the central bank to operate as a full-fledged monetary authority. Without such reforms of the financial system, the goal of achieving long-term price stability in Liberia will continue to be elusive.
Liberia’s ongoing development paradigm has led to a huge import bill to meet the needs of heavy-duty capital equipment that was required to jump-start the operations of many large multinationals that started to operate in the country during the Sirleaf administration. Also, the drive to construct new roads, rebuild the energy grid, and meet the demands for housing expansion etc. has placed pressures on demand for hard currency. This is going to be a trend for some time to come if expenditure-switching along with import substitution policies are not embarked upon.
Therefore, the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning along with other government stakeholders need to analyze imports to evaluate where out-flows of US dollars to pay for non-essentials can be curtailed or taxed upward and where through the switching of tax rates, government can generate more revenue of hard currency from certain types of for-profit foreign-emanated services i.e. bank transfers, insurance etc.).
In short, we need to be smarter in managing the demand for foreign consumption and expand access to domestic production.
Monetary policy and banking reform
The primary role of a central bank is to manage a nation’s financial system and promote long-term conducive pricing conditions. There are several instruments that should be at the disposal of a central bank in order to achieve these goals. In Liberia’s case, due to the uniqueness of its monetary system, the central bank has never operated as a “bank of issue “. This happens to be an important role of a full-fledged monetary authority. Owing to the fact that Liberia decided many years ago to adopt the use of the US dollar as a legal tender, the country’s monetary system has depended to a large extent on its political and economic relationship with the United States.
This also meant that the domestic economy has been traditionally subjected to the negative impact of exogenous currency shocks.
During the period before the global oil crises of the mid-1970s when Liberia experienced relative stability and good relations with the United States, the country did benefit from what I would call a pseudo sense of economic and financial stability by its use of the US dollar as a national currency. The very sustenance of the economy was driven by foreigners mainly the United States for which Liberia promoted by adopting an Open-Door Policy during the Tubman Administration. Unfortunately, this policy arrangement kept the economic base unrealistically small and placed a heavy fiscal reliance on foreign multinationals (i.e. Firestone, LAMCO, LMC, Bong Mines, etc.).
The ruling class did not capitalize on our special political and economic relationship with the United States in order to expand and diversify the domestic economy, strengthen the productive base, or harness the adoption of a national currency backed by strong external reserves.
I call this period a very lazy approach toward national economic management. In essence, the structural and managerial deficiencies of the Liberian economy was being covered up by us using the world’s most convertible currency. As such, the US dollar stood as a type of guarantor of Liberia’s monetary and financial system. (William Ponder, “The Macroeconomic Challenges of Adopting a Realistic Exchange Rate Regime for Liberia”; Liberia Studies Journal, XXII, 2 (1997).
Reports however suggest that after the spiraling events of the 1970 oil-crises, the Tolbert Administration had begun to hold talks with authorities at the United States Federal Reserve and with the IMF to gradually institute a national currency regime for Liberia that would’ve been backed by a strong US dollar external reserve position. Unfortunately, that was short-lived as the 1980 coup derailed those possibilities. Everyone knows that the political and economic conditions in Liberia which prevailed between 1943 and 1980 did not last.
Since 1982 when Liberia first found it necessary to introduce the Liberian five-dollar coin as a solution to addressing the devastating deflationary effects of capital flight; the drawbacks from a de-facto application of the US dollar as national currency has become evident. I once stated in a paper that proponents of what I then referred as the “dollar myth concept” view the US dollar as a panacea to all of Liberia’s monetary and trade problems.
I also recommended at the time that Liberia needed to adopt an official national currency within a framework and a timetable that would allow for the strengthening of the domestic currency by building strong external reserves. Unfortunately, that was in 1997, and everyone knows what was politically pertaining in Liberia during that time.
Whereas I wouldn’t blame the current financial sector administrators for the structural limitations of the relatively weak monetary system which they’ve inherited, I would believe that immediate attention should be made toward adopting a comprehensive set of new policies. These policies should be geared toward curtailing the impact of a currency system that is vulnerable to external shocks. We must come to the realization that we can’t and will never again return to the days when Liberia depended solely on the United States and its currency as a guarantor of domestic economic stability.
And even today, to place a heavy reliance on foreign direct investment driven by the new wave of multinationals like China Union and Accelor Mittal as an approach toward alleviating the employment crisis; is just sheer policy laziness in my opinion. This indicates that even today there are some Liberian economic managers who are relying on approaches and policies of the past which had kept the economy small and under-productive and largely driven by external factors.
Lastly, I would like to state that several central banks particularly those going through financial crisis have adopted “inflation-targeting policies” as a pragmatic response to the failure of other types of monetary policy regimes. To be brief, “inflation targeting” is an economic policy in which a central bank estimates and publishes a projected, or “target” inflation rate and then attempts to steer the actual inflation level toward the targeted inflation rate. The Liberian central bank should consider inflation-targeting as a significant policy objective in controlling inflation.
Again, it would go back to my earlier statement of operating as a full-fledged central bank. But I remain convinced that inflation-targeting measures are necessary for the Liberian economy which continues to exhibit a heavy demand for imported goods and services.
Mobilizing domestic savings through the introduction of mobile banking has taken-off on the continent of Africa. In the last decade, mobile money services have expanded in several African countries with particular diversification of activities in Kenya and Tanzania. The mobile money has proven to be an accessible tool for payments. Moreover, other financial services, such as credit, insurance and savings have been rolled out in a number of markets, allowing people to better manage financial risks and household shocks. Credit services enabled by mobile money, in particular, have proliferated in the region: from six services in Kenya in 2011 to 39 services in 11 other countries in 2016.
The inclusion of mobile money has led to expansion and growth of formal economies and has introduced new ways of tracking transactions and markets to promote the growth of banking and insurance. Utility companies have also been able to introduce mobile money in their attempts to institute digital billing and payment arrangements with clients in remotest regions of these countries.
I would thus recommend that Liberia expands its drive to institutionalize mobile money platforms in the country. The critical tasks of safeguarding the telecommunications infrastructure and setting up the regulatory and legal framework to protect consumers and users, would be the major challenge. Moreover, the government should seek external training for those involved in this emerging industry.
External Debt Sustainability and Re-basing of GDP
The World Bank and IMF establishes that a country can be said to achieve external debt sustainability if it can meet its current and future external debt service obligations in full, without recourse to debt rescheduling or the accumulation of arrears and without compromising growth.
A Debt Sustainability Analysis (DSA) conducted by the IMF in November 2017 revealed that Liberia’s external debt stocks have been increasing rapidly due to a scale-up of infrastructure spending and to deal with multiple adverse shocks. The report however concluded that the country’s risk of debt distress is moderate. Concomitantly, since September 2016 to June 2017, the total debt stock has increased from US$597 million to US$736 million comprising mostly of multilateral loans.
Meanwhile, the 2017 GDP projections deteriorated as a result of a lower-than-expected impact from the draw down of UNMIL and the continuing effects of a sluggish performance of exports. (Liberia: Debt Sustainability Analysis: IMF Country Report 17/348, November 1, 2017).
Given these underlying economic trends, there can be only limited reasons for which the government would try to justify exponentially acquiring new loans at higher than concessional terms at this time.
During the 2018 Spring Meetings of the IMF and the World Bank Group, I heard the Minister of Finance and Development Planning, Mr. Samuel D. Tweah Jr through a podcast, reveal that the government is anticipating the re-basing of GDP. Re-basing of GDP occurs when a country that has long neglected to undertake the statistical work required to maintain accurate GDP figures finally awakens to the task and comes out with numbers that are completely out of line with its previous estimates.
It can lead to marked distortion of historical data and trend analysis. This has remained largely an African problem. In 2014 alone, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia all completed rebasing exercises. (Amadou Sy, “Are African Countries Rebasing GDP in 2014 Finding Evidence of Structural Transformation?”: Brookings Institute; March 3, 2015)
Minister Tweah alluded to the goal that Liberia will seek to rebase GDP so it will provide additional fiscal space to accommodate new debt and other financial obligations in order to grow the economy. GDP rebasing also provides a clearer look at the economy, and in particular it should capture from which sectors most of the growth in the economy is coming from. While rebasing might be necessary, it doesn’t tell the full story.
Liberia will require more than GDP rebasing to stimulate the economy. While it is important to have up to date statistics, rebasing GDP will not of its own lead to economic prosperity or change the reality concerning the high levels of poverty. The revised GDP statistics may have changed but the reality of poverty and income inequality remains the same. Therefore, if the economy doesn’t grow in real terms, the upward adjustment in GDP will not lead to better economic outcomes.
The need for targeted reforms to achieve growth cannot be overemphasized. Once the implementation of policies is geared toward expanding and redistributing income such that the lowest percentile of income earners is lifted out of poverty, the aim of a pro poor agenda would become achievable. Furthermore, if growth can be accompanied by the bridging of the gap between the formal and informal economies and adding of more wage-earning jobs, Liberia’s path to promoting sustainable economic recovery would be guaranteed.
However, these goals cannot be achieved by mere happenstance. It will require the political will and fiscal discipline to substantially reduce waste and corruption. Concomitantly, the government will need to target a robust set of short-to-medium-term policies several of which I’ve enumerated on in this paper.
Amadou Sy, “Are African Countries Rebasing GDP in 2014 Finding Evidence of Structural Transformation?”: Brookings Institute; March 3, 2015
Central Bank of Liberia, (CBL) Annual Report, 2017, CBL (Highlights and Statistical References), January 23, 2018
Karmo, H. FrontPage Africa, “Executive Presents Revised Budget to Legislature with Major Austerity”, March 9, 2017
Liberia: Debt Sustainability Analysis: IMF Country Report 17/348, November 1, 2017
Ponder W. “Macroeconomic Stabilization and the Budgetary Implication for Liberia in Post 2017”. Published in the Global News Network (GNN) online magazine – August 27, 2017
Ponder W. “The Macroeconomic Challenges of Adopting a Realistic Exchange Rate Regime for Liberia”; Lead Article – Liberia Studies Journal, XXII, 2 (1997) – Published by the Liberia Studies Association
Ponder W. “My Response to Developing an Inclusive Financial Sector: By – William F. Ponder, Liberia’s Case Study”, Presenter – African Studies Program, 2001 , Association Lecture, Series, Boston University African Studies Lecture Series
Report on the Liberia Labor Force Survey 2010, Liberia Institute of Statistics and Geo‐Information Services (LISGIS)
World Development Report, Liberia At A Glance – Economic Growth Data, 2015 -2017, the World Bank Group
About the author:
Mr. William Ponder is a graduate of the University of Liberia where he earned a BSc in Economics and from Boston University where he earned an MBA in Public Management.
Mr. Ponder has over 30 years of work experience as a public policy specialist and banker. He once served as an economic researcher with the National Bank of Liberia (NBL), the precursor to what is today, the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL). More recently he worked for several years in private banking and investor services with the Brown Brothers Harriman and Company, the oldest private banking firm in the United States headquartered in Boston, Massachusetts, USA.
The author is an avid researcher and has published several articles major among which includes, “The Macroeconomic Challenges of Adopting a Realistic Exchange Rate Regime for Liberia” a 38-page leading article published in the Liberia Studies Journal, XXII 2, 1997.
Mr. Ponder’s research interests are centered around structural reform and economic diversification, achieving debt sustainability, and adopting an inclusive environment for the growth of small and medium-sized businesses.