Today, President George Manneh Weah addressed the people of Liberia as required by Article 58 of the Constitution of the Republic. Below are my initial reflections on this address: I. Things promised in 2020 SONA but not achieved or reported on
- In his 2020 SONA, the President promised to conduct a national referendum to amend some parts of the Liberian Constitution. However, in his 2021 SONA, he failed to provide any information on the referendum process and its outcome.
- In his 2020 SONA, he said ‘these loans and grants are allocated as follows: One Hundred and Twenty-Five point One Million United States dollars (US$125.1 million) for road construction linking Barclayville to Sasstown, Voinjama to Konia, and Sanniquellie to Loguatuo; Forty-Seven Million United States dollars (US$47 million) for improving results in secondary education; Twenty-Eight point Ninety-five Million United States dollars (US$28.95 million) for improving urban water supply in Monrovia; Seventy-One point Eight Million United States dollars (US$71.8 million) for improving agriculture; and Six point Five Million United States dollars (US$6.5 million) for youth empowerment and employment’. In his 2021 SONA, instead informing the State that the Government failed to implement these, the President made new promises to implement these projects. Astonishingly, the legislators were clapping for failed promises being remade.
- Last year, the President also said ‘pavement of the Fifty kilometer (50 km) highway between Kanweaken in River Gee County and Harper in Maryland County as well as the Sixteen kilometer (16 km) corridor between Harper Junction and the Cavalla border with the Republic of Cote D’Ivoire has been completed. These projects will be dedicated during my nation-wide tour which begins next month. He repeated this report in 2021 SONA, indicating that the double reported things that were reported in 2020 SONA.
- He stated in 2020 that ‘paving works on the Eighty kilometers (80 km) highway between Karloken and Fish Town in River Gee County are over 50% completed. Still in the South East, we are pleased to report that Twenty kilometers (20 km) of the Highway between Fish Town and KellipoKanweaken in River Gee towards Grand Gedeh County, have been approved for construction, and pavement works will begin this year’. The President failed to provide status update on this in the 2021 SONA. He needed to give an update on these.
- In 2020, the President state that ‘in the central northern region of our country, construction works on the Eighty-one kilometer (81 km) Gbarnga to Salayea road, are proceeding according to schedule, and asphalt pavement will begin this year. This project is funded by our Arab partners including the Saudi Fund for Development, the Kuwaiti Fund for Arab Economic Development, the Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa (BADEA), and the OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID)’. The President failed to provide status update on this. Has the project been completed?
- President Weah, in 2020 said ‘our Government has therefore identified the expansion and pavement of the Forty-five kilometer (45 km) RIA highway, complete with appropriate safety and lighting facilities, as a project of national significance. Towards this end, preparations are being concluded to commence construction works on this corridor by March 2020’. In his 2021 SONA, he says construction will begin this year. This shows that this was a failed promise.
- In 2020, the Head of State said ‘the World Bank has been very exemplary in lending support to our road sector and is now playing a lead role in our engagement with the private sector for the financing and construction of the Two Hundred and Twenty-five kilometers (225 km) Ganta to Tappitta to Zwedru highway. Consequently, the process of hiring a Contractor for the first phase of this project (Ganta – Tappitta) is ongoing. According to the project implementation schedule, construction works will begin by the second half of this year’. This is another failed promise. In the 2021 SONA, the president has promised to undertake this same project that was never begun as promised in the 2020 SONA.
- In 2020, President Weah also said ‘my Fellow Liberians, I am pleased to announce to you today, that the Government of Liberia, through the Liberia Petroleum Regulatory Authority (LPRA), will open up the entire Harper Basin during the next Licensing Round beginning in April. Nine (9) offshore blocks will be put up, allowing competent and reputable international oil and gas companies to bid with the hope of recommencing exploration programs, following years of inactivity. Details of the Licensing Round will be made available in the coming weeks through a partnership between LPRA and NOCAL’. In the 2021 SONA, he failed to provide update on what he promised.
- Equally, the President asserted in 2020 that ‘with the program to connect the various communities and counties through quality paved road networks now fully mobilized, funded and underway, the next big push by my administration this year will be to reorganize the agriculture sector and put it at the front burner of our national development initiatives. Liberia’s comparative advantage lies in its fertile soil, vast quantity of arable land, and suitable climatic conditions. We must therefore make the best of what we are gifted with. I therefore invite everyone, particularly the youths, to join us as we overhaul the agriculture sector’. President Weah did not provide update on what has happened thus far. However, in the 2021 SONA, he says ‘everyone must get back to the soil.. Does the President have a farm? If yes, where? While we agree that Agriculture remains the bedrock of economic growth in Liberia, we think the Government need to provide substantial support to this sector going forward.
- Last year, President Weah said ‘the Special Economic Zone is a vehicle that will create job opportunities, increase personal incomes and add value to unprocessed raw materials for export. Thanks to our partners, feasibility studies have already begun for the development of a Special Economic Zone in Buchanan, Grand Bassa County. In the meantime, we intend to test a pilot project in the Free Zone Area located within the vicinity of the National Port Authority in Monrovia’. President Weah failed to provide information on what was done in the Free Zone area. In his 2021 SONA, he restated Grand Bassa being the area for ‘Special Economic Zone’, meaning that this was another failed promise.
- IN 2020, the President said, ‘an assessment of traffic lights in the city of Monrovia has been concluded, a contractor has been hired, and our traffic lights will soon be on again’. In 2021, the traffic lights are still off, and the President failed to provide an explanation.
- In 2020, President Weah said ‘as you are aware, the Executive Mansion, which is the home to the Presidency of our Country, has been under renovation since an unfortunate fire incident about 14 years ago. My Administration is determined to bring to an end this protracted period of renovation, by ensuring the full restoration of the Executive Mansion by the end of this year. Towards this end, we are providing the needed resources required to complete the Executive Mansion renovation works’. Has the renovation of the Executive Mansion been completed as promised?
II. Things reported with links to the National Legislature and Judiciary
- The President said that ‘26 laws passed, and 25 signed by him and that most laws promised last year did not pass’ (ex. An Act to Endorse the National Youth Policy of Liberia: An Agenda for Action; An Act Prohibiting the Tenure of Public Officials within the Executive Branch of Government; The Revised and Restated Charter of the University of Liberia; The Whistle-Blower and Witness Protection Bill; The International Solar Alliance Framework Agreement; The Presidential Transition Act; The Money Laundering, Terrorist Financing, Preventive Measures, and Proceeds of Crime Act, 2019). I think, the President was right for reporting this. The Legislature should not sit on proposed laws that the Executive submits. They must be robust in doing their and work and clear laws in Committees rooms. They need to act swiftly.
- The President promised to propose a Bill on Extended terms of court. This is a very good move. I hope such bill will call for courts to operate from Monday to Fridays and work full time to improve the justice system.
- The President informed that the Government is conducting several anti-corruption processes. He wants the creation of Criminal Court F, prosecutorial powers and assets declaration control by the LACC. This is good, but keeping the current Chairman, when the Senate has declared a Vote of No Confidence in him, is unproductive..
- In the 2020 SONA he said ‘there will be no sacred cows as we take stronger measures to end this societal menace. We will therefore introduce new legislation to amend the law creating the Liberia Anti-corruption Commission, in order to give it more prosecutorial powers, and we are working to improve our anti-money-laundering framework. To help spur the business climate this year, we will support and re-launch the National Judiciary Conference under the leadership of His Honor the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. The aim of this conference is to allow the judiciary to play a significant role in business climate reforms. The Government needs to take concrete steps on this promised made last year.
III. The Liberian Economic Standing
- On the economy, the President informed that ‘Public debt is 1.580 billion’. This means that Liberia’s debt is increasing. This is a bad sign. Domestic debt has increase thereby shrinking national economic activities. In 2020, the President said ‘the Government’s public debt has increased, largely because the country has had to finance major infrastructure projects over the last several years. As at end-December 2019, the total stock of public debt amounted to One point Twenty-Seven Billion United States Dollars (US$1.27 billion)’. Clearly, the 2021 SONA tells Liberians that our debt is increasing annually rather than decreasing. We must manage our public debt; else, it might block opportunities for future borrowing for national investment and development.
- The President says ‘Liberia’s economy is projected to grow at 3.2 percent growth rate in 2021. SMART efforts must be come to bear on our economic policy so that we can invest in more economic growth corridors with emphasis on Agriculture. Thanks to the IMF for its 48.8 million; however, accountability and transparency must become the order of the day in managing these resources because they are not grants. Even if they were grants, we must use them for the economic growth of Liberia’s economy. By the way, we need to increase domestic revenues rather than relying on Official Development Assistance..
- Reduction of inflation from 30 percent to about 12 is good but there are adverse consequences. The government forced the inflation rate down; this is unsustainable. Market forces must be the fundamental determinant for controlling inflation.
- How can you ask the Legislature to approve printing of cash when the government cannot account for what’s already on the market? ‘Requesting the Legislative approval for the printing of an additional in addition to the previous 4 billion Liberian dollar banknotes printed to help mitigate the current Liberian dollar liquidity constraints facing the economy is a wrong way of addressing the liquidity problem. Therefore, the National Legislature should not accept this request. The First Branch of Government must demand accountability for Liberian Dollars in the economy. The President says that the ‘CBL does not have control over about 90 percent of Liberian dollars on the market. Why and how come? The CBL must take leadership in solving this problem, but not through the printing of additional banknotes.
IV. COVID-19: The Blame Taker
- On Covid-19, Liberia is doing well, but he did not speak on the corruption surrounding the entire Covid-19 handling of donor and domestic resources for COVID-19. The 87 million direct contribution to COVID-19 and the so called 6 million directly spent must be fully accounted for. The President says ‘for food distribution for Covid-19, about $25 million was transferred to WFP and more than 1 million Liberians got food thus far. The no cost extension signed with WFP to end distribution in March 2021 is welcoming. However, the WFP must publish the statistics of who all received these food items. In fact, there is a need to audit the entire process to establish accountability and transparency standards around the food distribution process. The Government also needs to provide detailed information and report on LEC Covid-19 token. This could have been one of the ways nationally resources could have been corrupted..
- The president reported that 2 million to market women is in the CBL. Doing what there? News about USAID’s 10 million cash transfer is welcoming. I urge the government to ready my peer reviewed publication on how cash transfer helps to reduce poverty (see Kaydor T. (2021) Cash Transfer: A Strategic Determinant for Poverty Reduction. In: Leal Filho W., Azul A.M., Brandli L., Lange Salvia A., Özuyar P.G., Wall T. (eds) No Poverty. Encyclopedia of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-69625-6_107-1).
V. On Education Reforms
- The President’s report on education focused on Tuition free policy at the University of Liberia and other government tertiary institutions is welcoming. Payment of National Exams fees is good. However, these actions have become a recitation. The President just made visits to some public schools in Monrovia recently and found dismal results with the public-school system. In fact, how can we reconcile the statement that student’s passing of exam is directly related to national exams fee payment? This is a faulty claim. There must be quantum evidence to arrive at such claim. Equally, I think the President’s claim that Tuition Free process at the University increased attendance from 8 thousand students to 18 thousand is an error. It would have been better were those in charge of the speech writing process to contact the University authorities to provide a more evidence-based input to the speech. This SONA needed to focus on what policy reforms are being initiated to address the inadequacies found in our education system. More must be done in this direction.
VI. Good Governance and democracy governance
- Although the President praised the recent elections as democratic, good governance and democratic governance far exceeds the holding of elections. It involves a whole lot more including but not limited to human rights, transparency and accountability, access to justice and rule of law, freed of the press and freedom of speech, et al. Threats to the media, barring of media institutions like the Costa Show, PUNCH FM, et al. from doing business; political intimidations and arbitrary arrests, manhandling of demonstrators, operation of criminal gangs and mysterious deaths undermine the governments democratic governance records. Some hard decisions must be made to curb these excesses.
- The President failed to report on the State of Human Rights in the country. This a fundamental component of good governance democratic governance.
- The president’s SONA did not report on the State of National Security. The security sector is underperforming. He must always report on the state of the National Security.
VII. Foreign Policy and Diplomacy
- Unfortunately, the President’s SONA had nothing substantial about Liberia’s Foreign Policy. He named the number of diplomatic missions Liberia has abroad and those near Monrovia. This clearly posits that the Foreign Ministry is underperforming. There is a lot more that should have been discussed about the current situation of Liberia’s Foreign Policy and what is being done to reposition Monrovia’s interest in the international system as we proceed to ending COVID-19 in lieu of the introduction of vaccines. Liberians at home and abroad need to know their country’s international positioning in post-covid-19. We need to know what our government is doing to act within bilateral and multilateral environments. What are our plans to further engage with the MRU, ECOWAS, AU, UN, et al. Apparently, the Foreign Ministry has limited or no plans to reshaping Liberia’s Foreign Policy positioning. Conversely, the Ministry might lack the appropriate expertise to support the Head of State in the Foreign Policy formulation and implementation processes. Sad Times!
VIII. Peace and Reconciliation/National Unity?
- Arguably, Liberians are divided in this era of peace than ever before. It is therefore important for the Head of State to put forth plans on peace, reconciliation and national unity. Unfortunately, today’s SONA did not address this urgent matter of National Interest. It is only my hope that the issue of Peace, Reconciliation and National Unity will take center stage; else, all that we are fighting to build might crumble one day. Our history can clearly inform us about what should be done about peace and reconciliation. We Need the Government to request and support the constitution of the long-awaited War and Economic Crimes Court.
IX. Entertainment and Others
- Interestingly, why H.E President George Manneh Weah serves as our Head of State, he engages in the production of music. He writes songs and sings them. How could he forget to inform the Liberian people about his other role as a musician and how many songs he has produced in 2021? His anti-COVID song was cute. He needs to report on such other jobs he is doing as our President. Hope we can get such updates in the next SONA.
- The president reported on other issues including housing units’ construction, et al. For all such positive actions, we can only congratulate him and urge him to do more to support Liberia’s National Interest.
- President Weah has admitted that the Government has not addressed the ‘bread and butter’ issues of the majority poor Liberians. This admission is commendable. However, conscious, honest and concerted efforts must be made, and concrete steps taken to help Liberians get out of poverty by growing the economy to provide the deaired fiscal space for wealth creation.. The Pro-poor agenda promised to lift about two million Liberians out of poverty. Next time (in the next SONA), we look forward to seeing evidence of how many Liberians have been lifted out of poverty. We need the numbers and evidence. Lifting the poor out of poverty is my interest and the crux of my life, work and advocacy. We can all help Liberia achieve some of the Sustainable Development Goals that are yet to fully be domesticated by the Government and people.
Congratulations Mr. President…..God bless Liberia!