President George Manneh Weah faces a serious check here from members of the opposition with the four opposition Collaborating Political Parties or CPP dissecting his Annual Message delivered on Monday this week to the 54th Legislature and debunking several claims in the speech.
The Annual Message is a constitutional mandate to the President to comprehensively report on the State of the Republic for the year ended, and present his programs for the new year, which is done on the fourth working Monday in January of each year.
In his speech, President Weah asserted that the year 2019 was marked by global economic uncertainty, as recovery of global economic momentum remained slow, largely due to trade and geopolitical tensions, including country-specific effects, constraints he said, adversely impacted the performance of the domestic economy.
“The domestic macroeconomic environment was difficult in 2019. It was characterized by low economic growth of less than 1 percent, annual inflation of more than 20 percent and depreciation of the Liberian dollar by more than 20 percent”, President Weah reported.
But in a joint reaction to the address, the opposition Unity Party, the Liberty Party, the Alternative Congress and All Liberian Party, which make up the CPP, debunk the President’s attribution of the country’s economic woes on trade and geo-political factors, countering that if this were the case, Liberia’s neighbors and other countries in the region would have experienced similar, if not the same economic situations.
The opposition block argues that nations in the region are experiencing economic growth and projecting high growth for 2020 unlike President Weah, who is projecting 1.4 percent growth for 2022, roughly three years from now or five years into his administration, while neighboring Sierra Leone is projecting 4.20 percent, Guinea 6.10 percent and Ivory Coast 6.5 percent, respectively for the same period.
“What this means is that our country will continue lagging behind our neighbors while our people continue to suffer”, the CPP’s statement reads.
It further debunks that trade and geo-politics is not responsible for Liberia’s economic problems. The statement rather notes that massive corruption and outright stealing by government officials, mismanagement of government resources, incompetence to implement economic growth and job creation policies coupled with reckless spending by the president are among reasons for the economic hardship.
“Example of reckless spending is the President flying all overthe world on a private jet the country cannot afford while neglecting the cries for help for people struggling in the country.”
The Collaborating Political Parties took on the President’s economic policies one by one, dissecting the issues, beginning with an ongoing government salary harmonization scheme that has seen civil servants, including doctors and nurses, teachers and security pushed further down the income ladder amid inflation and rising prices.
They note that government is compounding the suffering of hardworking public and or civil servants by reducingsalaries, which they describe as unacceptable.
According to the CPP, reducing civil servants’ salaries that are not paid on time by 30-50 percent while basic commodity prices increase by 30 percent is not harmonization.
“This is a wicked and malicious attackon our people standard of living. Instead of harmonizing workers’ salaries, it is time for the Presidentto harmonize his frequent private jet travels, cutback on building more mansions for himself and
cutback on the corruption that has taken center-stage in his government.”
The statement says the President was not truthfulwhen he stated that he had met his promise of a 25 percent salary cut and was the first to have his salaryharmonized.
“Fellow Liberians, it will interest you to note that after reviewing the president’s budget,particularly the salary component of the president’s budget of 2018-2019 and 2019-2020, there hasbeen absolutely no reduction in the salary of President Weah. In fact, our research revealed that theCompensation portion of the budget of this current president which was $381,414.00 in 2018-2019was increased to $494,949.00 in 2019-2020.”
The statement continues that yet, the President in his message, thanked Liberians for their patience and understanding during this harmonization which he promises will continue, while hisbudget and wealth multiplies or shoots upward.
However, President Weah maintains that the harmonization exercise is necessary to ensure that his government lives within its means.
“During this process, we discovered that more than 25,000 public workers were being paid from a General Allowance that had no particular grading system. For example, a secretary in one ministry or agency could be paid $400 dollars while another secretary with the same level of skill or education in another ministry would be paid $1,500”, he explains.
He continues that with the exercise, government has now eliminated the General Allowance system and have ensured that all public workers have one standardized and harmonized pay, saying, “One of the outcomes of this process is that it increased the income of almost 15,000 public workers, among them teachers and security personnel.”
FISCAL AND MONETARY POLICY
The CPP accusesgovernment of grossly mismanaging the public finances which further weakens the economy.
It says fiscal irresponsibility is evident by the government owing workers salaries arrearsand unjustifiably increasing the public wage bill to about $320 million from $297 million by hiring unqualified and incompetent political cronies, increasing the wage bill or payroll.
“This fiscal irresponsibility has drawn the ire of development partners like the IMF who have insisted that the wage bill be reduced to 2018 level as a pre-condition to receiving budgetary support, as mentioned in the Annual Address.”
Notwithstanding, it commends the Presidentfor expressing his willingness to work with international partners in strengthening the country’s monetary policy framework and for steps towards making the Central Bank more autonomous, but frowns on report by Mr. Weah that Liberia’s debt portfolio has increased from 987.8miilon at end of 2018 to 1.27 BILLION at end of 2019, representing 282 MILLION increase in just a year, which it laments, is cause for concern especially, when the impact is not felt on the lives of the people.
However, President Weah says the increase in the debt stock was mainly driven by disbursements from the World Bank, the African Development Bank, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, the Saudi Development Fund, and other creditors which totaled One Hundred and Twenty-nine point Five Million United States dollars (US$129.5 million) as loans signed and ratified by the previous administration.
He notes that his government’s public debt has increased, largely because the country has had to finance major infrastructure projects over the last several years, adding that as of the close of 2019, total stock of public debt amounted to One point Twenty-Seven Billion United States Dollars (US$1.27 billion).
President Weah boasts of employing about 15,000 in just over two (2) years, but the CPP says government is not the place to grow jobs and reduce unemployment for political supporters and cronies.
Instead, it calls on the administration to create an enabling environment for the private sector to thrive and create jobs,noting, government has failed to enable the private sector in the last two years.
According to the opposition block, despite President Weaqh citing the participation of Liberian construction firms in the construction of feeder roads as keeping his inaugural promise that Liberians will no longer be spectators in their economy, the truth is Liberians continue to struggle to get financing to start a business or expand existing businesses and
fully compete and participate in their own economy.
“Under this Weah administration, Liberians are not even spectators to their own economy because they cannot afford to enter the stadium to watch the economy game but rather are stuck at home.”
President Weah describes his government’s human rights record as “pristine clean”, bragging that in two years, not a single bullet has been fired in anger by this administration at any citizen or deaths from street protests.
He continues that no persons have been arrested for exercising their constitutional rights of peaceable assembly, and above all, no Liberians jailed because of their political beliefs or associations.
But the CPP disagrees, pointing to the eroding of civil liberty under the government, as political opponents and critics face intimidation and threats regularly.
It says Mr. Weah was again untruthful when he reported that citizens have enjoyed theirrights under this administration and there has been no arrest nor guns shot in response to protests.
CPP notes that on the contrary, peaceful civil action, which is the bedrock of democracy, is being denied under the Weah administration, as recently demonstrated by the unjustifiable dispersal of peaceful citizens protesting current economic hardship and governmentalCorruption, which was confirmed by the Independent National Human Rights Commission.
The government subsequently chased the organizer of the protest and talk show host, Henry Costa out of the country, for allegedly falsifying his travel document. Mr. Coast fled to neighboring Sierra Leone, where the authorities here requested his extradition, but the request was denied.
“The CPP empathized and sympathized with those injured on January 6th, 2020 as the result of state-sponsored crackdown on peaceful Liberians. Contrary to what the president stated, 26 peaceful protesters were summarily arrested by the government during the Jan 6 protest held this month. Additionally, a peaceful protester was shot and killed in Kingsville, Number 7, Montserrado County along with two other juveniles that were injured by state security officers under this very administration.”
The statement also points that corruption and unaccountability are key features of the government, as confirmed by the 2019 Corruption Perception Index report
released last week, ranking Liberia as one of the worst decliners in the fight against corruptionworldwide.
“Evidence of that is the handling of the US$ 25 million in the Mopping Exercise and the LD$ 16 billion saga. A year on from these scandals, the government is yet to hold all those culpable as indicated in various reports.”
The opposition laments that President Weah has shown no intention of slowing the construction of mansions and apartment complexes especially, after failing to publish his asset declaration.
The parties therefore say they are left with no choice but to deem the President new found wealth as “questionable”.
They argue Mr. Weah wanst Liberians to believe he is serious about fighting corruption by promising legislation to give the LACC prosecutorial powers but yet appoints die-hard CDC partisans and supporters to the Commission, adding that the President claims to fight corruption but gave no rebuttal statement to the leaked audio of his National Chairman of the CDC making allegations of corruption against him as President.
This contradiction in what the president says and does is enough to let us know that it is all “mouth-talk”, CPP concludes in its response to the President’s speech.By Jonathan Browne