Grand Cape Mount Senator Varney Sherman has reechoed his prediction that the country’s economy will face very serious challenges with the downsizing or closure of concession companies and reports that oil companies in the country are yet to find a single bottle of marketable oil, and with Anadarko shutting down operations.
Cllr. Sherman spoke at a day-long discussion on the state of the Liberian economy in the Chambers of the Senate last Thursday.
According to him, “Too many Liberians” do not know that Putu Iron Ore Mining Company has effectively closed down and ArcelorMittal Liberia has reduced its workforce, the intention being to reduce expenses. China Union is doing the same and every iron ore company is doing just that.
Declared Cllr. Sherman, who chairs the Senate Committee on Judiciary, “Every oil company in the country is doing absolutely nothing. I know that to be a fact because some of them were represented by me in their negotiations before I became a Senator. Anadarko has closed down, Chevron is doing nothing and ExxonMobil, nothing. They have not found a single bottle of marketable oil. Prices of our cash crop products, coffee and cocoa, have all gone down. There are reports that a barrel of oil is now less than US$27. Three years ago a barrel was US$103.”
He warned his colleagues saying, “If we don’t discuss these things in the Senate and let the Liberian people know that we are aware and that the government will take the necessary remedial actions, when the mess hits the fan, they will say we were in complicity with these companies, and you know that we are not.”
The lawmakers’ discussion was necessitated by a letter dated January 13, 2016 sent to the Senate plenary by Grand Bassa Senator Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence in which she alluded to the closure and downsizing of operations by some concessions like ArcelorMittal Liberia and Putu Mining, the difficulties and delays in disbursement of budgetary allotments to ministries and agencies, and several months’ delay in releasing the Social and County Development Funds, as some of the reasons for concern and fear of an imminent deficit in the National Budget.
She called on her colleagues to start the 5th Session of the 53rd Legislature with a special hearing session with the Ministry of Finance, the National Investment Commission, and the Liberia Revenue Authority to make an assessment of the Liberian economy.
At that hearing last Thursday, Senator Sherman indicated the need to pay serious attention to the situation and call in the relevant agencies such as Finance and Development Planning, Liberia Revenue Authority, and even the Ministry of Commerce, stating, “Because with our limited knowledge, these companies are importing less today than they imported last year. We need to discuss it and let our people know that we are aware about the impending problem.”
“If at the end of the day all turns out well, thank God. But suppose it doesn’t end well and we never informed our people, never told them that we were doing something about their situation, and then we will be guilty of the charge of complicity. That is why I talk here and I talked before at the graduation of the United Methodist University that it will not be easy in 2016 and it might even be worse in 2017. But if our people know and they anticipate the problem and know that the government is working very hard to ameliorate the problems, they will appreciate us. But if we ignore it and things get bad, they will charge us of complicity with these institutions.”
Cllr. Sherman, who is one of the country’s leading corporate lawyers, said those who listen to the world news regularly know that things are bad, not only in Liberia, but all over the world and that the only country that seems to be surviving is the United States of America. “Russia is feeling it, China is feeling it. China does not import our raw materials and any other raw materials like it did last year. Its export is down to six percent, and this was a country that was growing at 10 percent GDP. This is serious!
“And these people (ordinary citizens) who we think are not listening to the news or watching the news, they are listening and watching. But they are waiting to send us an ultimatum like they have done in the case of Victoria Zayzay, which means they are waiting for the last moment and then they will come and we will give them flimsy excuses.”
Admonishing his colleagues, Sen. Sherman advised, “We need to handle this matter and let our people know beforehand that we know that there is a problem coming and we are working to ameliorate the difficulty that will occur, and I think if they know that difficulty is ahead they will appreciate it better. But for us to ignore it, you would have misinformed them and misrepresented them.”
Most of the Senators suggested some austerity measures such as a reduction of their salaries and benefits, prohibiting luxurious lifestyles of flying first class and riding very expensive cars.