The ambition of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf when her Unity Party led government launched the Vision 2030 development agenda on January 26 2016, was to create a Liberian middle class in at least 14 years—but with the high level anxieties and enthusiasm that greeted that national aspiration (the vision) at the time, it is unfortunate that its fate now seems to be in the middle of nowhere. Practically nothing seems to be heard or seen about the vision nowadays.
In the truest sense, Liberia does have middle class people, but unfortunately these are not Liberians. These are the Lebanese, Indians and other foreigners who are practically controlling the country’s economy. However, it would be incumbent on the next administration to find ways for Liberians, who continue to struggle in abject poverty and deprivation, to create wealth.
It was against this backdrop that the Standard Bearer of the Alternative National Congress, Alexander B. Cummings, in an exclusive interview, outlined few policy measures that an ANC government would implement if elected at the polls on October 10.
“We can create a Liberian middle class by getting Liberians to own the economy. I always talk about Liberians being spectators to their country’s economy and so there are multiple things that we need to do.”
Among the many measures named, Mr. Cummings noted that the importation business is one that an ANC government would ensure that Liberian entrepreneurs would control as it is very profitable, if managed well.
“You know Liberian businesses don’t really get involved in the importation area, and unfortunately we are an import based country today though it will take a while for this to change. Liberian businesses should be the people importing most of these things,” he said, “this is because importation is just basic arithmetic. You import something for US$5, US$6 or US$10, you will sell for US$8, US$9 and US$15 or whatever.”
Cummings, a retired global executive of the Coca-Cola Company, said his administration will get Liberians engaged in the importation business by providing them the money and the technical skills to get involved in this sector. “We will introduce Liberians to international suppliers, so that they can actively partake in their economy. With these, we will begin to create the middle class. In a small way, but this is meaningful,” he said.
Upon his hopeful election, Mr. Cummings promised to make sure his administration is empowering, engaging and uplifting Liberian businesses. He also said that the Liberianization policy, which sets aside specific businesses exclusive for Liberians, needs to be enforced—“but not just enforcing, we need to facilitate and enable Liberian businesses to grow. Some reasons why Liberian businesses don’t take advantage of the Liberianization policy is because they don’t have the money, the resources,” he said.
“So we need to provide credit facilities to all business, but particularly Liberian businesses,” he added.
The ANC standard bearer also mentioned reducing the salaries of top government officials and diverting that money to paying teachers, police officers, healthcare workers and others who need it more. “This will stimulate the economy and will begin to help build the middle class. Take the money out of the hands of a few and put it in the hands of the people and this will help us grow the middle class. Creating jobs—helping our people find jobs; growing the economy,” he said.
He indicated that these measures will all help grow the middle class that Liberians are craving. “Liberians cannot continue to be spectators to their economy; they have to be a part; they have to drive it and they’ve got to disproportionately benefit,” he said.
He indicated that these measures are in no way a threat or being against foreign investors. “We need both and it is not a win-lose situation here. It is not Liberian people win, foreign people lose or foreign people win, Liberian people lose. If we manage our economy differently; if we change our rules and regulations and we support Liberian business, everybody can win,” he said.
“But like I said, I make no apology that Liberians have got to disproportionately benefit from the growth we are create in our economy—because today Liberians are at a disadvantage,” he said.
Mr. Cummings added that Liberians need to be paid fair living wages. “If you look at Western countries, parts of the big driver of growth in the middle classes were actually labor unions. This is because labor unions demand that their workers are paid fairly and they got benefits. And that contributed to the growth of not just the economies but the middle class of these countries. So those are the kinds of things we will encourage to grow the Liberian middle class,” he said.