Reviving a Failing Dream? Ellen Calls for Radical Approaches to Achieve AfT

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President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s Annual Message clearly indicates that government’s ambitious medium-term development strategy, the Agenda for Transformation (AfT), is far from being achieved in its allotted timeframe, 2012-2017, when her tenure will come to an end.

The AfT sets out precise goals and objectives that Liberia will achieve in the next five years in order to take the necessary steps toward its long-term goals, which are to become a more prosperous and inclusive society.

Addressing a joint session of the Legislature Monday, the Liberian leader noted that if government is to achieve goals of the AfT, radical changes are required in the structure of the Liberian economy and in the governance structure of the country.

“If we are to achieve development goals outlined in the Agenda for Transformation, and reach the long-term average growth rate of 8 percent, radical changes will be required in the structure of our economy for increased investments in the productive sector and in our governance structure and processes.

According to government, the AfT is an important step towards fulfilling its commitment to lift Liberians out of poverty to prosperity, terming it as a major paradigm shift in the history of Liberia's development. But everything seems not to be on course as envisioned and planned.

This, according to critics of the government, is as a result of insincere officials, especially sector heads who have failed to think harder, develop new ideas, and take deliberate actions as the AfT requires. The situation has been exacerbated by the outbreak of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD), which shattered the country, bringng it to a standstill.

Though the AfT, which has an execution budget of US$5 Billion, appears unachievable, the President is still standing firm to ensure that a tangible legacy is left behind.

There appears to be some weariness within President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf herself,  but she has thought it wise to add some vigour to ensure that something is done before she finally leaves in January  2018.

The AfT intended to initiate a number of development projects, including cheap electricity, road networks, and improved sea and airport facilities, among others.

Another aim was to extend the impact to ordinary citizens in the towns and villages and around the country on the path of economic transformation and inclusive growth.  Whether this is achievable in the next three years, however, is a question that doesn’t seem very optimistic to many.

To answer this question in the affirmative, President Sirleaf, during her Annual Message on Monday, called for radical approaches, renewing of purpose, change of direction and commitment from her officials to ensure this.

Though launched in 2012, Liberian government thought it prudent to assess its progress and challenges in the execution of the AfT in early 2014 when it convened its first AfT review meeting in the Port City of Buchanan, Grand Bassa County.

Finance Minister Amara Konneh also used the occasion to brag about the ten years of sustained peace in the country rather than progress made under the infrastructure and economic components of the AfT.

He noted that despite grappling with a huge infrastructure deficit, and serious institutional challenges caused by 14 years of civil war and prior decades of bad governance, the country can today boast of peace and stability, something that has been sustained for the past ten years.

Providing an update on the status of the economy in her 2015 Annual Message, the President said since 2006, Liberia’s growth rate increased, reaching a level of 8.9 percent in 2012 with the potential for double-digit growth thereafter.

“In 2013, growth rate fell to 8.3 percent on account of the global economic downturn and its effect on global prices of primary commodities.”

She noted that in 2014, the Ebola virus struck, negatively impacting not only Liberia’s health and social systems, but also its economy. Sharp declines in domestic food production, mining activities, cross border trade, transport services and hospitality led to a dramatic decline in our growth rate: from a projected 5.9 percent to an initial -0.4 percent.

“Although later revised to 1 percent, the future of economic growth is still severely challenged,” she added.

The decline in economic activities resulted in reduction in domestic revenue collection and a sharp increase in Government expenditure. Original revenue was revised downwards by US$86 million (from US$559 million to US$473 million) while expenditure demand increased by US$152 million.

“We introduced tight fiscal measures with expenditure cuts in discretionary activities thereby reducing the fiscal gap by US$33 million.

“We also introduced mitigating measures to lessen the impact of the downturn. These included foreign exchange rate stabilization; payment of salaries and wages of civil servants on time; ensuring commercial banks’ liquidity by settling payments to road contractors and other service providers; and ensuring availability of essential commodities such as rice and petroleum,” the President said.

In spite of the numerous challenges, revenues of US$517.2 million were collected representing 4 percent increase in Tax Revenue and 14 percent increase in Non-Tax Revenue. This included US$12.8 million from State-owned enterprises.

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