President George Manneh Weah’s newly appointed Rice Stabilization Taskforce is nothing but a clear publicity stunt, given that ministries and agencies that have failed the economy and the people are the ones the President thinks should address the rice crisis.
It is not only a miscalculation but highly incomprehensible that President Weah would expect that the Ministries of Agriculture and Commerce and Industry which are visibly far detached from the rice issue in the country would be the ones to provide solutions, neither to speak of the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning that is yet to fully account for over US$5 million approved by the 54th Legislature to subsidize rice importation in the country.
Not forgetting other members of the Taskforce such as the Ministry of State for Presidential Affairs and the Economic Advisor to the President that failed to advise or brief Mr. Weah on the rice crisis to the extent that upon his recent return from addressing the UN 77th General Assembly in New York, the Liberian leader dismissed news of scarcity of the nation’s staple as “news in the street” that Liberians should not pay attention to.
On the contrary, however, warehouses of major importers at the Freeport of Monrovia were virtually empty, while the Ministry of Justice that is also on the Taskforce stood by and watched, as few insatiable importers exploited and subjected Liberians to harsh constraints, forcing them to buy other commodities totally against their will, as precondition to purchasing a 25-kg bag of rice.
Yet, these are the institutions expected to solve the rice crisis by stabilizing prices, ensuring constant availability of supply, and advising President Weah on the way forward of our staple food that we have failed to grow ourselves.
Truth of the matter is, the President has commissioned round pegs in square holes that would wallop in a vicious circle and eventually end up where it started, without providing any sustainable alternative to addressing the issue of rice in Liberia. This would be the reality in coming months, especially as the nation prepares for elections, and the ruling establishment that is seeking reelection is expected to exploit the culture of rice politics in the country by bringing in huge consignment of so-called “Pro-Poor Rice” for free distribution to improvised, hungry and unsuspecting citizens in return to solicit their votes and create a false sense of sufficiency or short-term cosmetic solution.
The fact that over US$30 million allocated by government annually to subsidize rice importation has not addressed the rice problem besetting our nation, the government-dominated Rice Stabilization Taskforce is nothing but old choirs in new gowns, coming with the same chorus.
All previous Liberian presidents except Tolbert, Doe, Taylor and perhaps Madam Sirleaf, took any practical step to promote agriculture in Liberia, particularly food production. They kept the citizenry under the illusion that surviving on imported rice is better than investing in the country’s rich soil.
Five years into his administration, President Weah has failed to demonstrate leadership by personally cultivating a farm to take both his officials and the population along in making Liberia self-sufficient in food, like neighboring Ivory Coast, Guinea or Sierra Leone. Yet Mr. Weah wants Liberians to believe that a group of loyalists would make any significant difference in a problem that has kept the nation in poverty basically because of political interest.