As the end of George Weah’s presidency come to an end, the review of his administration performance was celebrated with much pomp and pageantry. Appearing on the Liberia Broadcasting Service’s (LBS) Bumper show, Minister Samuel D. Tweah and the Commissioner General of the Liberia Maritime Authority celebrated with much pomp and pageantry. To an onlooker or a visitor to the country, the review of the Weah administration’s performance by these government officials 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 Weah’s administration celebration of success, the grand economic figures that were reeled out mean nothing to the ordinary person. The President, proudly sending Minister Tweah and Commissioner Nagbe into the LBS studio has asked they score him and that we score him as well. That is what exactly will be covered by this article; 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 Mr Weah came to office in 2018.
Considering the macro-economic issues which have been celebrated by the current government, the fact is several notable aspects of the economy that the government claims to have improved only impacted a few beneficiaries. The government claims credit for GDP growth of about 4.2%. It also beats its chest on the renovation of roads, and hospitals. The government also touts its award of several infrastructure contracts, especially roads. Finally, the Weah government is very smugly proud of its so-called claim of getting 27,000 Liberians out of poverty in Mr. Weah’s first year in office.
In the area of providing safety and security for citizens, Minister Tweah and Commissioner Nagbe made a conscious decision to ignore that aspect of the discussion. The Weah government had all, but capitulated to all manners of security challenges in all parts of the country, from the ritualistic killings to Liberia being the hub of illegal drug trafficking, inter-ethnic clashes, explosive land disputes all over the country, armed robbery, to all other strains of dissidence. And, of course, the government’s pretense at, and overlooking serial human rights violations and repeated extra judicial killings of innocent citizens, rape, and sexual abuse by government agents.
In the five years since the election of President George Weah, despite poverty declining from 64 percent to 42 percent between 2007 and 2014, poverty in Liberia remains widespread. According to World Bank’s third edition of the annual Liberia Economic Update with the theme: “Investing in Human Capital for Inclusive and Sustainable Growth and the World Bank’s Poverty & Equity Brief, more than half of the population of Liberia (51% or 2.3 million) lives below the national poverty line, and the driving forces were the Ebola outbreak, the collapse of iron ore and rubber prices, the drawdown of United Nations (UN) peacekeeping forces, and the COVID-19 pandemic. While 44% of the population lived under the extreme international poverty line of $1.90 per day.
Minister Tweah has cited the World Bank’s report on Liberia to pinpoint the challenges Weah’s administration government encountered when he ascended to the presidency, and joyfully boasted of GDP growth of about 4.8 percent. Worthy of note is the fact that a GDP growth rate of 4.8% is insufficient to reduce poverty in the country. On the LBS Bumper show, Minister Tweah declared President Weah took 27,000. How did Mr. Weah take 27, 000 Liberians out of poverty in the first year of his administration? Tweah’s statement seems to be wrong – especially about how poverty is measured.
The first is income or monetary measure of poverty, which economists refer to as the ‘headcount index‘. It measures the proportion of the poor population based on a minimum personal income – for example, $1.90 per day. This minimum amount is deemed adequate to maintain an acceptable living standard, given the cost of living in a given country. Based on this measure, did the Weah administration transfer cash to 27,000 Liberians during that period? How did 27,000 Liberians exceed the income threshold and escape poverty?
The other measure of poverty is known as the multidimensional poverty measure. It measures poverty by income, and by the access people have to health, education, and living standard indicators. These include sanitation, drinking water, electricity, and housing. This is the measure the World Bank appears to be applying. By this measure, 51%, or 2.3 million people, live in multidimensional poverty. Most of them are located in rural Liberia.
One reason for the World Bank’s assertion that 2.3 million Liberians have been driven into poverty is the increasing price of food. According to the World Bank, Liberians are highly vulnerable to rising food prices. Rising food prices exacerbate poverty because it reduces the real purchasing power of households, and shifts expenditures away from essential items such as health, education, and housing. An average Liberian household spends about 67% of its income on food, one of the highest in the world. Countries like US, UK, Canada, and Australia spend 6.4%, 8.2%, 9.1%, and 9.8%. The Global Hunger Index (GHI) classifies Liberia’s level of hunger as “serious” with a score of 32.4 in 2022 indicating a further worsening from 2021. This exacerbates poverty for many households at risk of food insecurity.
As previously stated, food prices have been rising in Liberia and pushing more people into poverty for a few reasons. First, the depreciation in the value of Liberia has resulted in steep increases in the prices of imported food items, such as rice, sugar, milk, beverages, and frozen food. The Liberia dollar has depreciated during the past year.
Second, because of Liberia’s rapid population growth, the food supply in the country may be lagging in demand. Liberia’s population has been growing by about 2.1 per annum, while agriculture value added has been growing at 1.8%. This means that agricultural output is barely keeping pace with consumption. Supply shortfalls have been exacerbated by insecurity and poor infrastructure. and climate change.
The truth is Liberia’s poverty profile is grim and embarrassing for a country endowed with humongous human and natural resources. Liberia is a nation rich with natural resources including iron ore, gold, diamonds, natural rubber, vast forest for logging and timber harvesting, and vast agricultural land for ensuring food security, 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 according to Transparency International.
Inequality is on the rise as attested to by a survey conducted by the Ministry and partners that revealed over 366,584 children across the country are living in the streets in dehumanizing Conditions which is a recipe for s agitations and unrest in Liberia until the system guarantees economic justice and equality to the people. Poverty amid plenty was unacceptable in Liberia.
Sadly, Liberia, as at the end of 2022 ranked 142nd out of 180 countries in the world. Ridiculously, Liberia remains further down the table, joining the list of countries significantly declining on Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI) 2022. 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 and has currently doubled what it was in 2017. According to the annual public debt and management 2022 report on the Ministry of Finance and development planning website, the public debt grew by 21.56 percent to US$2.03 billion at the end of December 2022, compared to US$1.67 billion at the end of June 2021. The external component of the total debt stock constituted about US$1.13 billion(55.85 %) while domestic debt constituted about US$896.68 million (44.15%).
What must the Liberian government show for its massive external and internal borrowings? Is it the erratic power supply or deplorably roads, hospitals, high salaries, and incentives for top government officials, an insignificant fraction of the population? Government borrowing ought to inject needed cash into the social sector of government by funding critical priority areas such as health, basic education, water, and roads. Can we proudly say we have seen considerable improvement in these sectors?
Incidentally, after boasting about Weah’s achievements– Minister Tweah acknowledged the government’s failure to considerably reduce poverty as envisioned in the administration’s Pro-poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development. This indicates that either Mr. Tweah is not reading from the same script 27, 000 Liberians were taken out of poverty or Tweah and others that authored Weah’s brandished ‘achievements’ live on another planet. It may also be that the government has been caught up in its web of lies because however, carefully managed a lie is a truth that will always come out in the end.
Under Mr. Weah, unemployment in Liberia has grown. Most of the youth simply have no hope in what the future holds for them. The truth is that most of the crimes being experienced in the country in its various form including armed robbery to stealing phones is a direct offshoot of idleness and unemployment among restless youths.
What is clear though is that not only is President Weah and his officials determined that Mr. Weah has passed his five years in office with flying colors, but they have also declared that Weah is the most successful president in the history of Liberia and he will win his second term whether we like it or not. His surrogate voices like Samuel Tweah and Eugee Nagbe have already announced the results of the next presidential elections that we all hope will take place in 2023! In light of all these, it is clear that when Weah loses the 2023 presidential elections, he will pull a Laurent Gbagbo stunt, dig in and declare that he has not lost, with his surrogates unleashing violence on anyone perceived to be in disagreement. The next four months 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 foregoing litany of failures and underperformance f the Weah-led government in social, political, and economic spheres will fill more pages than this column can take and he and his cronies won’t want to exit power easily.
Things have never been as bad as we have it now and no rhetoric from the president and his top officials can mask the frustration of the Liberian 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 (security, electric power, healthcare, employment, and education) are being toyed with for political gains.
We keep hearing Weah’s officials’ and his supporters saying the president is trying and doing his best. It is not the President’s duty to ‘try’. After all, he made promises during his campaign that 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 genuinely shameful spectacle for Mr. Tweah and Mr. Nagbe to sing and dance around in the LBS studio and utter lies and deceptions that do not have a basis in reality to the Liberian people and claim achievements that few people can see or even feel. Weah tenure as president depicts a massive failure. Are you better off now than you were five years ago? Are you more secure than you were five 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 Mr. Weah’s election’? Do you even feed better than you did five years ago? The verdict is up to you. I rest my case