The main opposition Collaborating Political Parties (CPP) has sharply dissected President George Manneh Weah’s Annual Message delivered this Monday before a joint session of the National Legislature, debunking some of the President’s assertions.
The CPP has made it a duty to analyze every major policy speech delivered by the President, debunking some of the claims and assertions and providing clarity to the public.
At a press conference here Tuesday, January 26, Mr. Alexander Benedict Cummings, who chairs the CPP, said President Weah, in his address to the nation, gave the impression that all is well.
On the economy, the President reported to the Liberian people that GDP growth was revised downwards to negative 3.3 percent in 2020 from negative 2.5 percent in 2019, reflecting a decline, but yet projected economic growth in 2021.
Cummings noted that the President claims the Liberian dollar has appreciated, compared to other currencies, but that 40 percent of the local banknotes are mutilated, hence seeking approval from the legislature to print a new family of bank notes.
President Weah also called for currency reforms, citing that the Central Bank of Liberia does not have control over 90 percent of Liberian dollars outside the banking sector, thus recognizing lack of confidence in the banking sector.
However, Mr. Cummings argues President Weah yet failed to tell the Liberian people what happened to 4billion Liberian Dollars (LD) printed by the government last year, and the alleged missing LRD16 billion.
“This does not show an economy that is doing well by any measure or that is expected to do well, according to his projection. Still on the economy, the President pronounced that the cash carried forward from FY 2019/2020 to FY 2020/2021 is US$7 million, but according to the National Budget of Liberia 2020-2021, Section 1.5 Fiscal Table, the unspent cash carried forward from 2019-2020 fiscal year recast budget is US$10 million. The question is: what happened to the difference of US$3 million? Given that the surplus budget was US$10 million, why are civil servants not being paid on time; and why are government contractors including beach and waterway workers or employees including Liberia Water & Sewer Corporation (LWSC), Liberia Airport Authority (LAA) employees, etc are yet to get paid? In spite of a so-called budget surplus, President Weah admitted that our public debt portfolio has increased by more than US$300 million in just one year,” the main opposition said.
Cummings, who also leads the Alternative National Congress (ANC)and contested for the Presidency in 2017, maintains that Liberians cannot see what was done with the US$300 million, when international partners are sponsoring roads construction; the nation’s entire COVID-response was paid for by the international community, and government workers’ salaries have not been current, asking, So, what was the money borrowed for?
He said sadly, President Weah made zero mention of job creation in his Address and that under his (Weah’s) Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity & Development (PAPD), the government promised to create one million jobs over a period of five years, and that in three years, 600,000 jobs should have been created by now but not one job was created in 2020.
He said instead of a job creation strategy, as promised in the PADP, the government has actually implemented a job destruction strategy through the administration’s poor governance, lack of accountability and transparency, judicial interference, and general insecurity which undermines investors’ confidence, adding,the President made no mention of new investment, and confirmed that confidence in Liberia’s investment climate is poor.
Turning to the government’s much publicized stimulus package, the CPP noted that the President claimed over 40percent food distribution has reached 10 counties, benefitting 1 million Liberians, but revealed that, according to a 2020 Afro Barometer report, not more than 16 percent of any social demographic group in Liberia has received said package and 78 percent of Liberians say the support during the peak of the Covid-19 was not fairly distributed.
Commenting on situation at the Liberia Water and Sewer Corporation, the opposition said President Weah claimed his government gave the LWSC US$1.5 million. Yet, employees of the corporation are on strike for salaries, and water supply has been cut off to Monrovia and its environs indefinitely.
It added that the President further said under the Covid-19 stimulus package, government gave US$1million to the Liberia Electricity Corporation for electricity relief. However, many communities are without electricity, and President Weah failed to state the communities that are benefitting from such relief.
According to President Weah, a total of US$26 million have been used on the COVID response. What the CPP cannot understand is why health workers are still protesting for salaries and hazard benefits?
Except for his mention of Covid Response, the President did not provide any update to the Liberian people on the status of the health sector. The reality is the health sector is still very weak and is still in need of major interventions. Similarly, there was no progress update on the Agriculture sector. Instead, three years since this President was inaugurated, he is still announcing aspirations about what he will do about agriculture, Mr. Cummings said.
On Education, he quotedthe President as saying his free tuition policy has increased enrollment at the University of Liberia from eight (8) thousand to eighteen (18) thousand. But the CPP counters what the President thought Liberians do not remember is that before he came to power, enrollment at the University of Liberia had been between twenty (20) to thirty (30) thousand students. “Additionally, he says the President expects Liberians to celebrate the percentage increase of students passing one subject in WASSCE; what mediocrity! Education remains a crucial part of the nation’s development and until Liberians are serious about fixing it, the president and his administration will continue to celebrate mediocre outcomes.”
Cummings also noted the President failed to mention anything about the much-heralded National Referendum which he campaigned for, saying, “It was a deliberate omission by the President not to report the woeful, sloppy and incompetent handling of the referendum process, where because of the lack of civic education, invalid votes in some counties reached as high as seventy percent.”
“Most importantly, nowhere in his speech did the President mention the Millennium Challenge Compact (MCC). The reason the President shamefully refused to mention MCC is because the program ended a few days ago, without the possibility of renewal due to the same mediocre performance: The government failure to meet benchmark and performance indicators for the first time since 2009 and failure to heed to several warnings in 2019 led to a non-renewal of the MCC 2. Unlike Liberia, Ghana just got renewal of MCC2 and Sierra Leone just got enlisted in the MCC support,” the CPP reflected.
According to the CPP, the poor leadership of President Weah has put Liberia at gross disadvantage of not receiving much needed funds. It was through the MCC1 that nearly 400 million was sourced in grants that went to the construction of the hydro and power generation and road construction.
“While the President highlighted road projects, many of which were commenced and funding sourced by his predecessor, the President deliberately excluded any reference to the mismanagement of the National Road Fund which has created the loss of additional resources that would have supported the development of our National Road Network. The past government worked with the international partners and established by legislation in 2015 the National Road Fund with the sole objective of generating domestic resources to facilitate major investments in the maintenance and rehabilitation of the national road network across the country,” the opposition noted.
It argued the Road Fund remains a viable domestic financial vehicle but has been abused by this government to the contrary that partners in the sectors who committed to support the program through Matching Fund have reneged due to proven mismanagement and failure to adhere to agreed governance protocols.
“Fellow Liberians, three years later, President Weah’s administration is still on ‘trial and error’ governance, and contrary to what the president told you, the state of our nation remains weak and unstable. You do not need President Weah, or me, to tell you that the cost of living is too high – that prices are raising continuously while incomes are falling; that too many are unemployed as you become spectators and bystanders in your own economy.
A small business woman or government employee does not need President Weah, or me, to tell them that we are still importing what we can produce, or that they cannot get what they deposited in the bank because there is “no money in the banks.” The CPP told the press conference.
Mr. Cummings, a former corporate executive, emphasized Liberians do not need President Weah or CPP to tell them that incompetence and mismanagement at the Central Bank have combined to create a devastating confidence crisis in the banking sector, but citizens are living this reality every day in the increasing costs of transportation, food, school fees, rent, and even the costs of government-provided services.
“Too many families are being overburdened with more than they can bear,” the opposition concluded its critique of the President’s Annual Message.
Article 58 of the 1986 Constitution of Liberia reads: The President shall, on the fourth working Monday in January of each year, present the administration’s legislative program for the ensuing session, and shall once a year report to the Legislature on the state of the Republic. In presenting the economic condition of the Republic, the report shall cover expenditure as well as income.
By E. J. Nathaniel Daygbor–Editing by Jonathan Browne