The resignation letter of the comptroller of the Liberia Anti Corruption Commission (LACC), which has gone viral on social media, has again raised troubling questions about where the country appears headed to. This is because things appear to be falling apart under the assault of crippling economic forces. Moreover, these developments appear to foretell what may likely happen going forward. As noted in previous editorials, the adoption of IMF economic policies under a Structural Adjustment Policy requires enormous amounts of fiscal discipline.
This newspaper recalls that in an unusual and unprecedented fashion, western diplomats through their respective embassies accredited near this capital wrote the Government of Liberia a letter demanding restitution of development funds earmarked for support to projects mutually identified for support. It, is not known at this point, whether those funds have been restituted although there are suggestions to the contrary. As part of measures intended to stabilize the economy, the IMF recommended a drastic reduction in the national wage bill.
The wage bill had been grossly inflated by a mass hiring of party loyalists into government and the civil service with unrealistic salaries, emoluments and benefits. Realistically, the mass layoff of such individuals as recommended by the IMF proved too much a daunting prospect for the CDC led government and, to get around salary harmonization was chosen as a way out. But even then, the harmonization has since been unequally applied.
Worse still, the current non availability of adequate amounts of Liberian dollars to conduct what should be ordinary day to day business transactions is greatly undermining the legitimacy of the government. Should things continue along this path strikes and street protests may become a feature of daily life which could prove very testing for this government.
The authorization sought from the Legislature to print new banknotes has apparently run into hiccups and which appears likely to remain in the doldrums at least until after Legislators return from their agricultural break or until when called from recess for special session in January 2020.
What this suggests is that Christmas pay for civil servants may be in limbo given official Finance Ministry’s quid quo pro “no print no pay” policy. This is in view of the annoying fact that 16bn in Liberian dollar banknotes remains in the custody of the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL).
In view of the dire economic situation, the government has sought assistance from IMF to arrange borrowing terms that would enable access to credit. But this is a double edged sword that has to be handled with caution. Why” It is because IMF inspired Structural Adjustment Policies are known to have provoked riots and civil unrest in many countries around the world and Liberia, a mere appendage of international capital can by no means be considered different.
According to authors Michael Thompson, Alexander Kentikelenis and Thomas Stubbs “structural adjustment programmes have a detrimental impact on child and maternal health. In particular, these programmes undermine access to quality and affordable healthcare and adversely impact upon social determinants of health, such as income and food availability”.
Clearly, these are compelling reasons why this government needs to think out of the box and explore alternative means by which this vicious cycle of endemic mass poverty can be broken especially considering this country’s natural endowment of rich resources which from all indications are being exploited with little or no benefit to the people. Placed between a rock and a hard place, and rather than seeking creative solutions to address the harsh economic situation, officials of this government appear instead to be more inclined to relying on force and the use of violence to address popular stirrings for an end to the hardships being experienced.
This can explain why a nonentity and common criminal like the notorious General Power would rise as a star player in the state security apparatus. The belated but unsuccessful attempt by Presidential Press secretary, Smith Toby to shake off public concerns about the conduct of Power has tended to further engrain the impression that his (Toby) is but a coverup intended to shield the government, particularly President from public criticism. As November winds to a close heralding the advent of the Christmas and New Year holidays. Those are holiday celebrations along with July 26 which Liberians hold dear.
Therefore prospects of dampened Christmas and New Year holiday celebrations owing to the lack of money to put food on the table for the family will certainly prove much too hard to bear. And this government will do itself well by not provoking the people with the display of armed might and aggression towards December 30 protesters. There is and has been much talk in the air about violence and the threat of its use against protesters on December 30. This newspaper therefore cautions all sides particularly state security personnel to exercise the greatest restraint and refrain from violence.
The “Baghdad Bobs” cum ethnic nationalists will of course as expected continue to justify every misstep by this government. If the Baghdad Bobs proved unable to help or keep Doe in power, there is no reason whatever to expect that they can now do so for anyone else. But the tragedy is President Weah appears oblivious to what is unfolding or is he just feigning ignorance?
Will the “Baghdad Bobs” please stand!