A group of experienced economists led by former minister of planning and economic affairs and economic professor, Dr. Togba Nah Tipoteh under the banner, Liberian Economy Group or LEG, advanced series of recommendations to the government of President George Manneh Weah recently, aimed at strengthening the Liberian dollar and resuscitating the entire economy.
The LEG firstly identified endemic corruption in the public sector that had been described by former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as a vampire, sucking national resources and leaving the citizenry in abject poverty, illiteracy and disease. It notes that widespread poverty has become a societal problem with two-thirds of Liberian children out of school.
It also blames the tailoring of national decisions on the basis of American cultural values rather than Liberian values, which has led the population to prefer western products over ‘Made in Liberia’ goods, and is even exacerbated by export of raw products (rubber, timber, ore, among others) abroad where values are added than manufacturing our raw materials here before export, which could add greater value and earn the country more foreign currency.
But perhaps the fundamental issue confronting Liberians since independence is the Dollarization of the economy, where taxes are levied and paid in United States Dollars and officials here receive salaries in U.S. currency rather than the Liberian Dollar. This practice has not just weakened the local currency, but sent prices sky-rocketing, making life very unbearable for the common man in the street.
After identifying the problems, LEG recommends several austerity measures, which we strongly believe, if this administration took into consideration, would stabilize the economy and strengthen the Liberian Dollar.
They include, among others, encouraging both government and ordinary citizens to purchasing more locally-made products rather than importing everything we eat and use; engaging in more savings generation both publicly and privately – down at family, community and Civil Society levels which could generate about US$100,000,000 (one hundred million United States Dollar) annually and be reinvested. Additionally, it suggests that salaries for top officials, including the President, Vice President, Speaker and Deputy Speaker, President Pro-Tempore, Chief Justice, Associate Justices and the Legislature should be paid in Liberian Dollars, and that official travels of the President or a designate, such as the Vice President and the Minister of Foreign Affairs should include an entourage of seven and two, respectively, while the Minister of Finance and Development Planning and the Executive Governor for the Central Bank of Liberia should make official travels with two entourages each, among others.
LEG also recommends that the national budget should be drafted in Liberian Dollars, as the Constitution of Liberia requires, and that allowances, vehicles credit cards for officials except those offices named above, be abolished, while donations from Public Corporations and Autono0mous Agencies of government should be directed to the national coffer. Finally, it estimates that if faithfully adhere to, these austerity measures could enable government to save about US$345 million that could be used in various sectors of the economy to bring about development and growth.
We welcome these ideas and seriously encourage the Weah administration to put aside pride, politics and personal interest and immediately begin to put in action, some of these austerity measures that would not only revive the economy, but emancipate the vast majority of the population from grinding poverty.
Indeed, it is time for radical changes and to swallow some bitter pills, if the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change and President Weah himself would leave behind a legacy that posterity will benefit from.