Govt could save more than US$200 million by reducing its size
Due to his apparent displeasure over the superfluity if ministries and agencies “that add only dead weight” to the Liberian government and its struggling economy, Mr. Simeon Freeman, the political leader of the opposition party, Progressive Movement of Change (MPC), thinks it is time for the government to be reduced in size.
Truth be told, this has been a recurring theme of his since he made his debut as a politician in 2011.
Freeman’s remarks were contained in the keynote address he delivered on Friday, August 9, 2019 at program marking the 2019 Annual Awards and Dinner of the Press Union of Liberia (PUL).
Listening from the high table, President George M. Weah and senior cabinet officials including Finance Minister Samuel D. Tweah, Jr. and Information Minister Lenn Eugene Nagbe, as well as Monrovia City Mayor Jefferson T. Koijee, sat through what many in the audience thought was a speech of truth spoken to power.
Freeman, whose speech was punctuated by several rounds of applause from the audience, challenged the government of to se critics as assets to national development, instead of enemies of the state.
“Those who muster the courage and strength to criticise or challenge approaches to national development are not enemies of the state. They endorse and support national development but disagree with the approaches to national development. A strong opposition is an asset to national development,” Freeman advised.
So, from his perspective as an opposition politician and a successful business executive, he felt he had a number of issues to point out and suggestions to make.
According to Freeman, a manual count of public institutions exceeds 88 for about 5 million people and, therefore, it requires the urgent attention of policy makers.
By reviewing the size of our bureaucracy, according to Mr. Freeman, savings of more than US$200 million annually is possible, “therefore, we could go on celebrating the Gender Ministries of our time and several other bureaucratic institutions that add only dead weight to us. If we are serious about national development and equitable wealth distribution, an urgent review of the size of our bureaucracy is required.”
“The concept of a very large government has never worked and will never work. The actual work at a public institution with about 300 to 600 employees is done by about 15 to 30 persons or less,” he said.
He added that for example, the total allotment to the Ministry of Information, Culture Affairs and Tourism (MICAT) under the 2018/19 budget was US$1.756 million, while US$2.08 million has been allocated for 2019/2020.
“Should MICAT be merged with the office of the Press Secretary to the President to form a new office to be called – Liberia Information Services – and situated under the office of the President with not more than 15 employees; we would have saved US$1.461 million annually. The basic salary for the current MICAT’s workforce is US$618,327. We can pay all MICAT employees their basic salary, and invest the US$1.461 million annually in critically needed manufacturing sector.”
Over the years, he said large sums of monies are paid to private institutions, be it health or educational, as government subsidy. He said in the 2018/19 budget, we allocated for the Phebe Hospital in Bong County, privately-owned, but one of the largest referral hospitals in Central Liberia, US$1.79 million with a 2019/2020 allocation of US$1.592 million.
“What is the money used for? I am not standing against national allocations, but to enable and enhance development, such money must target specific outcomes, thereby enabling a measurable achievement year on year,” he suggested.
As for the National Social Security and Welfare Corporation (NASSCORP), Freeman said that government should invest in low cost housing for workers, rather than investing in luxury properties, “leaving the true beneficiaries of collected pension victims of the housing crisis in an overpopulated city.”
Meanwhile, Freeman has called for urgent attention by policy makers as to how the Social Security invests its resources.
In other countries, he said legislation have been passed to invest Social Security resources in low cost housing through locally owned banks, but in Liberia, he said the story is on the contrary.
“If we are serious about poverty eradication,” he said “the opportunity presents itself so clearly.”
As of the education sector, Mr. Freeman said that by 1961; the total national budget was US$8,730,200; of this amount, US$2,250,000 was allocated to the sector or about 26%.
Similarly, he said that 21% or US$1.8 million was spent on health and related services. “Today, out of the total anticipated budget of US$532,907 million, only about 15.6% or US$83 million spent on education.
Additionally, 14.2% or US$75 million spent on the health sector,” he noted.
To the economy, according to Mr. Freeman, the government spends about US$260 million annually on rice importation, this he said has been a perennial problem for the country, and yet throughout the years,
“We dwell more on attracting investments in the extractive industry, that are awarded huge tax breaks, and less on isolating pressing domestic commodity challenges that greatly impact our long term stability.”
He added: “The fundamentals of our economy are totally out of order.”
“While we seek not to question government’s priority public sector investments, we are constrained to warn that investments in market buildings and feeder community roads are non-bankable projects by all standards; economically or politically,” he added.