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Another US$25m may go in thin air

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The Government of Liberia seems to be struggling to expend or justify the expending of the US$25 million stimulus package approved thru a Joint Resolution by the 54th Legislature to ease economic burdens of citizens in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Joint Resolution partly reads, “That the initial request for US$25 million is hereby approved for the Food Support Program with the modification that all of the 15 counties within the Republic shall be covered as affected counties for food support and additional amounts needed shall be submitted for re-appropriation. Procurement under this program must first accommodate locally produced food. That the Food Distribution Program must prioritize the vulnerable population and the first responder population to wit: the disadvantaged youth, the homeless, orphanages, senior citizens, people with disabilities, health workers and security personnel deployed in the frontline of the enforcement of the State of Emergency and that all restrictions imposed by the President pertaining to the movement of persons and hours applicable is hereby approved and modified only to the extent that all persons appearing in public streets and buildings must wear a protective device that covers at least the nose and mouth.”

This took effect on April 9, 2020. But two months after, the Food Distribution Program is yet to visibly impact even the most vulnerable residents of Monrovia, let alone Montserrado and Margibi Counties dubbed as “most affected counties” in the pandemic.

The chairman of the food distribution steering committee, Commerce Minister Wilson Tarpeh disclosed recently that the International Monetary Fund provided a grant of US$5 million to augment the stimulus package to US$30 million. However, the actual distribution seems largely elusive, for lack of better choice of words.

What is even more worrisome is that the State of Emergency has ended and President George Manneh Weah has emphatically said it will not be renewed. The Executive Mansion quotes the President as saying that given Liberia’s level of experience from the coronavirus and its mode of transmission, including strides being made in its containment, coupled with developments in other countries, there is no need for extension of the SOE.

Hence, the government is about to re-open the country, beginning with resumption of normal flights at the Roberts International Airport effective 21st June including activities of hotels, guest houses, gaming centers and schools. Meanwhile, there is no food as was budgeted, despite continuous assurance by Chairman Tarpeh to the public.

Liberians are now becoming apprehensive, and rightly so, that this US$25 million stimulus package would not face the same fate of the US$25 million mop up of excess liquidity in the economy, which this administration has failed to account for in spite of public pressure.

Sadly, we are seeing packages of food being taken to selective communities by the Tarpeh-led committee in a spring frog style amid outcry from residents that food is not reaching them amid speculations that health workers are preparing to protest for lack of incentive.

Sooner or later, we are going to see the government coming out with report, whatever it may be, on how the distribution was carried out even with the glaring knowledge or reality that nothing much is being done with this allotment.

Our honest advice to the government is not to take the Liberian people for granted by taking money from the national coffers under the pretext of wanting to give them food when the process is shrouded with uncertainty and sheer farce.

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