-Says Finance Min. Tweah, wants govt. officials’, civil servants’ salaries cut
By Roland Perry
The Minister of Finance and Development Planning Samuel D. Tweah has disclosed that the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC)-led government does not have a ‘development agenda for the country,’ since the election of President George M. Weah.
Minister Tweah made the disclosure when he spoke on Sunday, April 15, at a town hall meeting in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in the United States of America.
Tweah said the “pro-poor agenda” of the CDC administration is a “proposal that is being formulated into a vision for the country.”
He added that the town hall meeting is part of a broad-based consultation to solicit the views and inputs of Liberians both home and abroad in crafting a new vision for the country, to replace the Agenda For Transformation (AFT) of the former Unity Party (UP) administration.
The delegation to the meeting included Deputy Minister for Economic Management Augustus J. Flomo, Agriculture Minister Mogana S. Flomo Jr., Minister of Information, Cultural Affairs and Tourism Lenn Eugene Nagbe, and Minister of State without Portfolio Trokon Kpui.
The team addressed a wide range of issues relating to economic, agriculture, youth and women empowerment, peace and security, education, roads and infrastructural development.
Minister Tweah said, “Following these consultations, the government will launch a new vision for Liberia, which will be on by June 30, at the beginning of the new budget year.”
He added that the “national budget should be about the poor people and not government officials,” suggesting that salaries of government officials and civil servants should be cut to target vulnerable Liberians, especially those in rural communities.
Information Minister Eugene Nagbe reaffirmed President George Weah’s commitment in protecting freedom of speech and of the media. He added that the president is reviewing, and will shortly resubmit to the legislature for repeal, all laws that criminalize speech offenses in the country.
Minister Nagbe noted that the government is working with the Press Union of Liberia (PUL), the Center for Media Studies and Peace Building and other media organizations in the country to achieve this goal.
However, Minister Samuel Tweah was very critical of the Liberian media during the town hall forum, pointing out that the media in Liberia publish stories that target Liberians living outside of the country and not those living in the country.
The Finance Minister said “many Liberians do not read news and information published by the Liberian media,” though he did not cite any studies or statistics but cautioned those in the Diaspora to counter-check the news that is being reported by the local media in order to make informed decisions.
Rationalizing public spending and budget cuts
In a power point presentation, Minister Tweah said, “strong revenue performance is key to sustaining the pro-poor agenda of the government.” He added that a minimum of US$300 million will have to be raised in addition to whatever revenue that is being generated today to support the pro-poor vision and to ensure Liberia remains on a debt-sustainable path.
He noted that ‘projection for the fiscal year 2018/19 budget is around US$515M and will focus on reducing the purchase of goods and services and on public sector investment in the administration of the government.
“The increase in revenue will support the aggressive implementation of a new domestic resource mobilization strategy, which aims to reduce tax exemptions, move toward value-added taxes as opposed to Goods and Services Tax (GST), and increase reliance on technology to minimize corruption in tax administration,” he said.
“But the biggest impact will come from increased investment and valued addition in oil palm, which has strong potential and recovery in rubber and iron ore prices, should provide some succor,” the Minister said.
Shedding some light on the 536 million Road Project
Minister Tweah outlined roads and electricity as a major component of the new vision for the country. He added that only 10 percent of 11,400 km of roads in the country are paved, while 60 percent of roads are in terrible conditions.
He added that the Ministry of Public Works has informed the government that many bridges in the country are on the verge of collapse if nothing is done to address the situation.
The minister maintained that “the Government of Liberia has entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Eton Finance Private Limited to fund the Buchanan – Cestos City – Greenville Barclayville Road Project, the Barclayville – Sasstown Road Project, the Barclayville – Pleebo Road Project, the Medina – Robertsport Road Project, the Tubmanburg – Bopolu Road Project and other associated projects.
“About 503 km of roads will be constructed in addition to five football stadiums. This gives per km cost of US$1.066 million per km of road, which is around the same cost as Ganta-Red Light, which was US$1 million per km road, but is better considering that Ganta-Red Light was already paved,” the Minister noted.
Minister Tweah further indicated that “The US$536M loan is highly concessional: seven-year grace period, no accrued interest and no interest payment during the grace period. Using the IMF Grant Element Calculator shows a grant element of 35 percent, which means about 35 percent of the loan can be considered a grant.
But grant element is higher than 35 percent because the IMF calculator assumes interest payments during the 7-year grace period. No interests are paid during the grace period under the terms of US$536M, he stated.
“Contrary to what has been reported in the media, this loan does not compromise Liberia’s debt sustainability. As a matter of fact, Liberia does not presently have an IMF program and is planning on entering a new program,” the Minister said.
Sustaining Investments in Power
Commenting on electricity, Minister Tweah said ‘the government has planned on optimizing the capacity at Mount Coffee Hydro Via River Reservoir Project from 88 MW to about 500 MW, construct mini hydros for rural areas to support economic growth clusters in the agriculture sector, and sustained support for energy sector organizations.
The Minister said the government is seeking more funding to increase the ongoing transmission and distribution of electricity across the country. “The government has begun the installation of 500 solar street lights from the ELWA Junction in Paynesville City to the Roberts International Airport in Margibi County,” he said.
He said President Weah will shortly appoint new members of the Energy Regulatory Commission, which will work to open the space for private investment in the energy sector and help in resolving some of the challenges.
Economic Diversification will be key to delivering pro-poor transformation
Speaking on the issue of economic diversification, Minister Tweah said, “We aim to add value to Liberia’s primary products such as the rubber, forestry, iron ore, Coffee, cocoa, oil palm etc.
“Valued addition in these sectors can create thousands of jobs for many Liberians. Defining local rice and cassava production and value addition from these crops as a major driver in transforming the economy and creating jobs.”
Minister Tweah stated that Liberia will face a national security risk if the government fails to create jobs for young people, especially vulnerable Liberians.
During the consultations, several Liberians were given the opportunity to express views on what they thought should be placed in the new vision for the country.
The participants called for the pavement of roads, construction of more schools and hospitals, the provision of basic social services across the country and the training of more teachers and doctors.
Others suggested the provision of loans for farmers to get involved in large-scale farming to help grow more food for the country, while some suggested that the government must do more to reduce charges on containers at the Freeport of Monrovia.