By S. Karweaye (contributor)
The recent appearance of Liberia’s Minister of Finance and Development Planning Minister of Finance Samuel Tweah at The Center for the Exchange of Intellectual Opinion (CEIO) on August 11, 2021 where he defended the Weah’s government fiscal policies as well as the Pro–Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development (PAPD) has prompted me to write this article.
At the CEIO), Minister Tweah celebrated with much pomp and pageantry. To an onlooker or a visitor to the country, the review of the administration’s performance was right on course and almost believable. The paradox is that the same people who set the examinations sat for them and graded themselves. Sadly, contrary to the current administration’s celebration of success, the grand ‘economic’ figures that were reeled out by Minister Tweah mean nothing to the ordinary person. President Weah through his Minister of Finance has asked that we score him. That is what exactly will be covered by this concluding piece of mid-term assessment; not from the perspective of the government, but from the angle of the perceived ‘beneficiaries’ of the various schemes and policies that have been enacted since 2018.
Considering the macro-economic issues which have been celebrated by the current government, the fact is several notable aspects of the economy which the government claims to have improved, only impacted a few beneficiaries. The government claims credit in a GDP growth of about 3.2%. It also beats its chest on the 14th Military Hospital, the President Pro-Poor housing unit projects in Grand Gedeh, Grand Kru, Grand Gedeh, and others, the 14th Gobachup International Market including other markets in Montserrado and Nimba Counties & the construction of the headquarters of the National Port Authority. The government also touts its award of several contracts for infrastructure, especially roads. Finally, the Weah’s government is very smugly proud of its free tuition for all public Universities and Colleges and digital registration process at the state-run University of Liberia, as well as the Payment of the West African Examination Council (WAEC now WASSCE) fees for all 12th and 9th graders.
In the area of providing safety and security for citizens, the government had all but capitulated to all manners of security challenges in all parts of the country, from the kidnappings to ritualistic killing, communal and inter-ethnic land disputes clashes, armed robbery, to all other strains of dissidence. And, of course, the government’s own pretense at, and overlooking serial human rights violations and repeated extrajudicial killings of innocent citizens by the security forces including deaths involved Emmanuel BartenNyeswua, director-general, Liberia Internal Audit Agency and Albert Peters, Gifty Lama, and George F. Fanbutu, all with the Liberia Revenue Authority. All four reportedly were conducting audits of Liberia government accounts over allegations of misappropriation of funds.
In the three years since the election of President George Weah, poverty has reportedly increased by 12.5 percent (52.7% to 65.2%) according to the World Bank’s updated report on the country’s economy in 2020. Worthy of note is the fact that it was also mentioned by the World Bank that real GDP contracted by 2.6 percent in 2020, down 3.2 percentage points from the pre-COVID baseline projection in January 2020 is insufficient to reduce poverty in the country. In practical terms, 12.5 percent increase in poverty is an alarming (65.2% of the Liberia population is poor). What does this increment in poverty mean to the urban and rural dwellers who cannot afford the minimum of two-dollar (about 340 Liberian dollars) to cater to their daily needs of feeding, transportation, and other human engagements? Beyond all the trumpets being blown by the current administration for its performance, poverty still abounds greatly in the country which by all standards and measures should not be, given Liberia’s vast natural and human resource endowments. According to the Revenue Watch Institute, Liberia has partial revenue transparency and because these revenues are not properly accounted for and managed terribly, they benefit only a few who have access to the funds at the detriment of the citizenry.
Inequality is on the rise as attested to by Nobel Laureate LeymahGbowee as who was invited to serve as Liberia’s Independence Day orator on July 26, 2019. She mentioned: “How can we be stronger together when individuals who were poor yesterday are now living in mansions and driving cars that cost enough to fund good schools for our children? How can we be stronger together when women are still dying in the hundreds during the process of giving birth? How can we be stronger together when there is a serious war on the bodies of women without any legal recourse in many instances? How can we be stronger together when there is a prevalence of selective justice? How can we be stronger together when a political appointment is based not on competence but party affiliation? How can we be stronger together when our educational system is a huge challenge? How can we be stronger together when we can’t feed ourselves? How can we be stronger together when interests are never national but individual?” Her analysis of the Liberian situation, however, grim, is so true. Poverty amid plenty is unacceptable.
In June of 2021, President told the United Nations General Assembly he reconstituted the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) in 2019 to assess the framework of Liberia’s fight against corruption. According to him, he recently submitted several legal instruments to the National Legislature to grant vast direct prosecution powers for acts of corruption solely in the LACC with defined duties and responsibilities to investigate and prosecute cases of corruption. Sadly, Liberia, sat at the end of 2020 ranked as the 28th most corrupt country in the world and 5th most corrupt country in Africa according to the 2020 Transparency International (TI) report. At this pace, the only thing obvious is the fact that the nation is nowhere close to being taken off the corruption list.
The debt stock of the nation keeps soaring even after 4.6 billion in Debt relief from Internal Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank in 2010 which reduces Liberia’s external debt stock by more than 90% . In his annual message to members of the Liberian Legislature in 2021, President Weah revealed Liberia’s total stock of public debt at the end of 2020 was US$1.580 Billion. The President said domestic debt amounts to US$643.39 million, while external debt amounts to US$940.93 million. He explained that at the end of December 2019, the total stock of public debt stood at $1.28 Billion US dollars, of which domestic debt amounted to $419.8 Million US dollars, while external debt amounted to $862.87 Million US dollars. What does the Liberian government have to show for its massive external borrowing? Government borrowing ought to inject needed cash into the social sector of government by funding critical priority areas such as health, basic education, road, agriculture, water, and electricity. Can we proudly say we have seen considerable improvement in these sectors?
Those brandishing figures to say that unemployment in Liberia is on the decrease probably live in another country. Unemployment in Liberia has grown. According to the World Bank 2020 Unemployment, total (% of the total labor force) (modeled ILO estimate), Liberia unemployment has increased by 3.3%. It was 2.94% in 2018. Many youths beg to differ with these figures stating that these are more likely to represent the employment rate rather than unemployment. While You-Win and Sure-P may be conceptual steps in the right direction, they have remained meaningless slogans as it will take a lot more than them to get the teeming unemployed population off the streets. Most of the youth simply have no hope in what the future holds for them in Liberia.
What is clear though is that not only is President Weah determined that he has passed his mid-term exams with flying colors, his supporters think he is the best president ever and will get elected or promote himself to a second term whether we like it or not. His surrogate voices like Samuel Tweah are already calling for the Liberia people to make President George MannehWeah a “Benevolent Dictator,” These voices have made it clear that mayhem will be visited on the rest of Liberia if Weah does not win the next presidential election. In the light of all these, it is clear that when Weah loses the 2023 presidential elections, he will pull a YahyaJammeh stunt, dig in and declare that he has not lost, with his surrogates unleashing violence on anyone perceived to be in disagreement.
The next two years will be therefore a period of great challenge to Liberia during which round-the-clock vigilance must be the watchword of all those that care for our nation and its people. We all need to be proactive in insisting that the next elections be free, fair, and credible. The National Election Commission (NEC) along with several key partners, cam provided a satellite broadband solution that enabled secure digital transmission of the electoral results. To ensure this, the National Elections Commission (NEC) must eliminate human intervention and manipulation of election results by ensuring that polling unit-level results go to a computerized collation center via encrypted technology and the nationwide public telecommunications network, thus eliminating paper-based, as well as the collation centers of electoral fraud, manipulation and corruption.
In conclusion, the foregoing litany of failures and underperformance of government in social, political and economic spheres will fill more pages than this column can take. Things have never been as bad as we have it now and no gloss-paper document can mask the frustration of the people. The few people who praise the performance of this government or the direction it is headed are those who have benefitted inordinately from the skewed opportunities at the expense of the majority. Some of the major sectors of the country’s economy which would make a difference now and for future generations (education, security, healthcare, employment and agriculture) are being toyed with for political gains. It is not the President’s duty to ‘try’. After all he made promises during his campaign which he ought to fulfill. It is his constitutional duty to protect the lives and property of the citizens and it is our right as citizens to hold our leaders accountable. Rather than engage in petty arguments and gloating over marginal improvements in figures as compared to previous administrations, this administration needs to demonstrate its plans to not only halt the slide, but leave a secure future for the next generation. Instead of taking all criticisms in bad faith, a government that genuinely has the interest of the people at heart should prove critics wrong by improving performance and being accountable to citizens. In the end, it was a truly shameful spectacle for Samuel Tweah sing and dance around with achievements that does not have a basis in reality and claim achievements that few people can see or even feel. Judging the mid-term (lack of) progress of President Weah, Tweah and others ruling elites does not require any kind of extra-ordinary skills or gifts. Are you better off now than you were three years ago? Are you more secure than you were a few years ago? Can you pay school fees without breaking the bank? Are more people in jobs than they were a few years ago? Are Liberians better united today than before Weah’s ‘election’? Do you even feed better than you did two years ago? The verdict is up to you.
About the Author: Karweaye is a Liberian residing in the United States of America and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org