Following successful World Bank IMF Spring Meetings in Washington, DC. Finance and Development Planning Minister Amara M. Konneh convened a town hall meeting in Philadelphia, USA on Sunday April 26th to apprise Liberians in the diaspora of happenings in the country.
Held at the Faith-Immanuel Lutheran Church on Penn Blvd under the auspices of the Liberian Association of Pennsylvania (LAP), the meeting focused on Liberia’s battle against Ebola and the Post Ebola socio-economic toll.
Minister Konneh said the Government of Liberia under the leadership of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf prevented a near economic collapse due to the swift exodus of investors, airlines and businesses from Liberia when the deadly Ebola virus disease struck the nation.
He said, if the government had not taken steps to ensure the availability of major commodities with affordable prices on the Liberian market during the crisis, there might have been another demonstration similar to the April 14, 1979 rice riots.
Narrating the experiences of the worst Ebola disease outbreak in history that claimed many Liberian lives and exposed the population to imminent danger, Konneh said “The outbreak seriously affected economic activities throughout the country and negatively impacted domestic food production and mining activities.
Services such as hospitality and transport, following the scaling down of activities by concession companies and the departure of expatriates” resulted in lost revenue, jobs and businesses, Konneh told the meeting.
He said the combined consequences of the sudden economic shock was the rapid decline in projected Growth Domestic Product (GDP) from 5.9 to 1 percent resulting in lower than projected revenue and increased expenditure demand.
As a means of mitigating the crisis, he said the Economic Management Team chaired by President Sirleaf took extraordinary measures to prevent a shortage of essential commodities by keeping trade channels open and engaged key stakeholders to reduce import costs.
He said the three key factors that also contributed to the containment of Ebola in Liberia included the strong collaboration and coordination exhibited by “our national leaders who went beyond the boundaries of separation of power; the overwhelming resilience and collective efforts of the citizens and their communities and the international response from Liberia’s development partners”.
On the government’s spending, Konneh said during the crisis the government instituted measures to control spending non-Ebola expenditures thereby saving resources for needed investment in health , particularly the containment of the Ebola crisis.
This was done by disbursing 100 percent of the health sector budget and freezing of disbursements on all non-essentials such as vehicles, furniture, fixtures and office supplies.
Further to these measures, there was a 40% reduction in foreign travel across GoL and a 25% decrease in fuel and lubricant costs for all spending entities not directly involved in the Ebola response.
He maintained that government will continue to focus on improving the health, education and agriculture sectors, construction of roads and infrastructure development, the provision of water and electricity and other essential needs of the people.
He said the government was aggressively pursuing its post-Ebola recovery strategy with the focus on “revitalizing and diversifying growth and addressing vulnerable employment, strengthening resilience and reducing vulnerability in health, education and other social services. Strengthening public finances and ensuring service delivery are among the focal points of the recovery.”