The Executive Governor of the Central Bank of Liberia, Dr. J. Mills Jones, has declared that the path to Liberia’s economic transformation will depend on the right policies and the political will to act by the government.
Speaking at the second anniversary of the National Toiletries Incorporated in Bernard Farm, outside Monrovia on Friday, he said destiny did not bring Liberians “together as a nation simply to be hewers of wood and to keep our necks to the grinding stone.”
He reechoed a statement he made during the dedication of the new Central Bank of Liberia building, saying that out of the ashes of despair, “we can build a new nation, using that edifice as a symbol of what is possible.”
“Today I say again, come and see.” He was referring in part to Mr. Fomba Trawally, whose inspirational story of himself from a wheel barrow pusher to owner of the Liberian National Toiletries Incorporated as a chapter in the emergence of the new Liberian economy.
“I have always said that poverty is not our destiny. To those who have any doubt about this, I say see what this poor young man from Lofa, Fomba Trawally, has done,” Dr. Jones said.
As a nation, Liberia can do the same, he repeated. “Trawally’s story is a story of hope and my message to Liberia is to be hopeful. Out of the valley of poverty, we can lift ourselves to the mountain of prosperity,” Dr. Jones declared.
“Indeed, something good can come out of Liberia and therefore we must create the environment that will bring forth more Fomba Trawallys,” Dr. Jones urged.
Not only can it be done, it must be done and with faith in the Liberian people, it will be done, Dr. Jones said. “It will make Liberia a better place. This is about laying the cornerstone for the new Liberia that we must build; it is about unleashing the potential of our country,” he stated.
An empowered and vigorous Liberian private sector will be Liberians’ declaration of independence, “and in addition to the flag and the national anthem we will then be on the road to freedom from the claws of poverty,” Dr. Jones stated.
He made it clear that economic empowerment of Liberians will not just happen and argued that change at the margins, while certainly can be called progress, “will not be the impetus for transformative change.”
Dr. Jones emphasized that showcase meetings and talking about the private sector do not amount to a plan and making things up as the nation goes along is not a strategy.
“Simply calling the private sector the engine of growth will not make it so and a culture of national dependency can hardly be a rallying call for transformative economic empowerment,” he said.
Liberians, he said must come to a national consensus that building a Liberian middle class, based on a vibrant private sector, with Liberians playing a meaningful role, is a national priority.
“Then we need a holistic plan of action to be implemented by people who believe that the economic empowerment of Liberians is an idea whose time is long overdue; people who will not speak out of both sides of their mouths, pretending to be for change while using subterfuge to fight the agents of change,” Dr. Jones stated.
Liberia, he said, has lost the 20th century, and well meaning Liberians cannot sit back for “us to lose this century. So it is time to say what needs to be said, and do what needs to be done.”
Turning to the country’s microeconomic stability, Dr. Jones said good policies don’t come from the sky, “they come from people—their thinking, their competence, their commitment, and how they relate with their fellow citizens. Leadership must believe in something good; must believe in the people; must have a caring heart; must have the courage to act on the basis of conviction for the greater good.”
Dr. Jones argued that economic empowerment of Liberian entrepreneurs is key to macroeconomic stability and therefore policy makers must believe this to be the case.
He explained that access to finance at affordable rates coupled with other supportive measures for Liberian entrepreneurs, including nurturing a more friendly business environment, will be an important aspect for planning a more balanced approach for macroeconomic stability.
Dr. Jones explained that there are times when proactive economic policies are needed. “In some places they call it ‘affirmative action.’ The Liberian economy, to get on a path of greater relevance for the Liberian people, needs carefully crafted affirmative action, meaning we need more economic policies that reflect the context of the Liberian experience.”
Dr. Jones said the Central Bank of Liberia has demonstrated visionary thinking with encouraging results. “As of end of July 2015, 198 borrowers had benefitted, including 26 loans to gain home ownership from the National Housing Authority.
“Deposit with Afriland Bank has facilitated lending to 47 farmers in 10 counties, some being prominent personalities.”
On the Liberia Business Association initiative, Dr. Jones said banks involved have made 152 loans to businesses in 14 counties. “One of the Liberian entrepreneurs benefitting from the initiative is the owner of the National Toiletries Incorporated, providing jobs to 62 Liberians.
“Compare the impact of the U$5m deposit with the billion-dollar investments in the extractive industry. As in other countries, even highly developed economies, the major source of employment is small and medium-scale businesses.”
He concluded that with vision and commitment, “we can use the resources that we have, even if not much, to transform lives; that we do not have to wait for others to do what we can do for ourselves.
Mr. Trawally, president of the National Toiletries Incorporated recounted his journey where he was once pushing wheelbarrow and has now transformed into the owner of a company that manufactures an assortment of toilet tissues and paper towels that are presently being sold throughout the country.
He appealed to the Ministry of Commerce for another five years tax credit to enable the company stand on its feet and commended the ministry for its assistance since the company was established in 2011.
Present at the occasion were several officials, including Mr. Richard Tolbert, former chairman of the National Investment Commission, Rep. H. Boima Fahnbulleh, Paynesville Mayor Cyvette Gibson, a representative from the US Embassy, Mr. John Davis, president of LBDI, representatives from the Ministry of Commerce and LIBA, among others.