The leader of the opposition Alternative National Congress (ANC) Alexander B. Cummings shares his perspectives on possible ways to rescuing the falling Liberian economy under President George Manneh Weah, calling for a predictable environment to attract investors.
The ANC is one of four collaborating opposition political parties working to defeat President Weah in the next elections.
Mr. Cummings recommends that government should work on restoring lost confidence in the economy by addressing wave of violence across the country, properly account for financial improprieties under its watch and employ competent Liberians with integrity and experience.
His recommendations are contained in a five-page concept paper recently submitted to a National Economic Dialogue hosted by the Weah administration in September to solicit ideas from professional Liberians, including economists, entrepreneurs, bankers and business executives on how to salvage the economy that is in a free fall.
These recommendations were specifically addressed to the chairman of the National Economic Dialogue, Dr. Toga GayweaMcintosh, who had invited the opposition politician to serve as a panelist.
He calls on the Executive branch of government to avoid interference with the Judiciary to restore investors’ confidence in the legal system, while underscoring the need for other branches to respect and uphold the independence of the Judiciary, including its financial autonomy.Despite persistent non-payment of salaries for judicial employees, the government had recently sought to reduce salaries of judges, as part of ongoing austerity measures in the public sector.
But the former corporate executive specifically warns that delay or lack of payment of salaries of judges and judicial officers has the propensity to undermine the rule of law here.
Though a new comer to Liberian politics after spending most of his professional life abroad, working with Coca Cola Corporation, Mr. Cummings is a bitter critic of President Weah and his government, once describing the President as being inept.
He calls on President Weah and his officials to publicly declare their assets in the interest of transparency and accountability, something, he notes, would serve as strong indicator of government’s commitment to its fight against rampant corruption and abuse in the public sector.
He further recommends to the government to develop new economic growth sectors such as Cocoa, Cassava and Marine fisheries, explaining, “By doing so, we can expand production, processing and marketing of cocoa, cassava and fisheries for domestic trade and global export. This will create productive economic livelihood for over thousands of Liberians in 2 to 3 years. Liberia’s participation in the global cocoa, cassava and fishery trade will attract millions of dollars in foreign exchange.”
On the question of skyrocketing exchange rate and scarcity of foreign exchange, the ANC leader wants government to realign the national budget to increase allocation to Agriculture with focus on scaling up production of rice, vegetables, fruits and food processing for domestic market, adding, “In doing that, you will reduce the need for United States Dollars.
He cites tourism as a revenue and job creation outlet, calling on the government to invest in the huge and potentially viable sector, and support the National Investment Commission to develop and implement an investment and tourism promotion strategy.
“Tourism has contributed more than 5% of global Gross Domestic Product and has created more than 180 million jobs globally.”
He discloses that in 2018, contribution of travel to GDP for Sierra Leone was 2.4 percent, according to the World Bank and is expected to increase in 2019, but notes, “Liberia, on the other hand, has not harnessed the potential provided by this reliable frontier for job growth and budget allocations for the fiscal years 2018/2019 and 2019/2020 have not demonstrated real commitment to capturing this opportunity.”
Mr. Cummings observes that the lack of electricity has been identified as one of the binding constraints inhibiting economic growth in the country, noting that Liberia has one of the lowest electricity access rates in the world with many studies indicating that only about 8 percent of the households are connected to the national grid, while less than 7 percent of the population in Monrovia has regular access to power.
He points out that average tariff is about $0.35/kWh, which is one of the highest tariffs in the world; compared to other countries, Liberians pay over $0.25/kWh, which he describes as a disincentive to new investments and survival of existing ones.
“The Government of Liberia must deal with the transmission and distribution issues to migrate power from generation to homes and businesses. We cannot be producing a commodity that everyone wants but cannot supply because of government’s inefficiencies. We are losing out on millions”, he alarms.
Meanwhile, the former coca cola executive says reducing taxes is key to spurring further economic growth since its provides an outlet through which people have more after-tax income (increasing their spending power) and provides greater incentives for firms to invest more in the country.
“For many of our civil servants, lower taxes will provide the opportunity to take home more income and help offset the growing inflation rate. Additionally, because taxes are aligned to better collection in order to be effective, higher taxes encourage tax evasion and reduced tax revenue”, he concludes. Story by Jonathan Browne