President George Manneh Weah is requesting the Legislature to re-appropriate US$25 million for the remainder of the 2019/2020 budget year in support of the government’s stimulus package to facilitate food distribution for designated households for 60 days, as Liberians remain under lockdown due to increasing coronavirus cases.
In the proposed stimulus package, President Weah wants the government to have the World Food Program implement this program, and for the government to fully pay loans owed by vulnerable market people, take up the electricity bill of households in the affected counties, as he proposes similar support for the Liberia Water and Sewer Corporation.
“The full costing to cover this period in affected and other areas may add up to around $40 million. The World Bank has agreed to finance this gap off-budget to the tune of US$10 million, using resources reallocated from existing projects,” he says in a communication dated 13 April.
He notes that this program will further help the banks to increase lending to new borrowers, reminding lawmakers that the Liberian government holds a large stock of domestic debt spanning more than a decade and servicing the debt has always been a challenge for the government.
It comes after Mr. Weah declared a state of emergency last week which began taking effect Saturday, 11 April, applying lockdown measures to help reduce the spread of the virus. This week Liberia has reported 59 coronavirus cases with six deaths.
President Weah details that the government intends to have the World Food Program implement this program in collaboration with the government.
“To ensure this, I am setting up a COVID-19 Food Support National Steering Committee comprising relevant Government entities and the international development community to provide oversight over this process,” he explains.
President Weah further tells the Legislature that a few days ago, the Liberia Electricity Corporation (LEC) received a check of US$4 million dollars, representing a significant settlement of government arrears to the entity, representing one of the largest single payments on government electric bill in years.
He proposes to the Legislature that the government takes up the electricity bill of households in the affected counties for the duration of the STAY-AT-HOME order.
Further, President Weah notes that the government is working with lenders to show some understanding to vulnerable borrowers, as it is clear that several market women and small informal petty traders, who have loans with commercial banks and other creditors, will suffer significantly from the loss of number of selling and trading days occasioned by the Stay-At-Home order.
“In this direction, I propose to the Honorable Legislature that the Government fully pays the loans owed by market women, and petty and small traders in affected counties as part of the requested budgetary reallocation,” he adds.
“We have a full package of food support to our people pending your consideration and approval of this proposal,” he says.
He recalls that prior to declaring the states of emergency, the government had engaged with relevant partners to address this situation, knowing it would be difficult to achieve the aims of any pronounced stay home order without a concomitant support for the livelihood of Liberians remaining at home in affected areas.
According to him, this setup is in keeping with the All-of -government and All-of-Society approach which the government is adopting in this stage of Liberia’s management of COVID-19.
He continues that the steering committee will have an oversight role, will prescribe rules and address challenges, while the WFP will implement the program.–Edited by Winston W. Parley