After being molested in a spate of secret recordings, in which fellow government officials took a private and personal spite at him, Liberia’s treasury boss Amara Konneh’s efforts and commitment in mending the nation’s broken fiscal policy have received a clear, implicit endorsement. Amidst public bashing and banter for his robust administrative and professional style, Konneh has stuck to his brand and does not seem wrong.
His brand, uncommon in Liberia and Africa, has not gone unnoticed. A horde of financial analysts and scholars of the London-based Magazine-the Bankers – which project expert’s opinion on global financial prudence have awarded its 2013 Africa Minister of Finance of the Year to Liberia’s Amara Konneh. The Magazine credits Konneh for wide-ranging economic reforms that are being carried out to develop Liberia's institutions, infrastructure and financial system.
The news that Minister Konneh is Africa’s Finance Minister of the year among five dozens colleagues on the continent with some of the world’s emerging economies, has already triggered heated debates on various social networks, where Liberians have their presence. Opponents of the Government and Konneh are indicating that the award has less novelty for the country and its many slum dwellers scratching bare subsistence.
For a wrecked West African country, only a couple of years ago with hardly a beacon of hope on the horizons for financial palpability, often portrayed by cynics as a poster child for corruption, the approbation from the magazine is a sign that amidst all the odds, the Ministry of Finance is tightening the screw in a bid to curb graft.
The Bankers, a subsidiary of the Financial Times, divulged that Liberian fiscal manager's award represents a vote of confidence by the markets in the role played by the Liberian Minister of Finance over the past year.
Walking through his script of civic duty to enumerate the state of Liberia’s economy, Konneh told Frontpage Africa last year, “The economy is moving in the right direction, especially looking at where we were saying five years ago. The problem is the growth we have seen has not created opportunities for employment. And the reason is we do not have the necessary investment activities that can absorb a good portion of the labor we have in supply, mainly cheap labor. The vast majority of young people looking for work simply want to make ends meet and feed their families. They need cash-based jobs. All the concession operations combined at this stage of their development cannot even absorb 5% of this job supply, as much more work is required to ensure they develop and expand, creating a job demand potential. The government itself cannot even address this problem through our bureaucracy. So, we need to create the enabling environment to stimulate growth in the economy that would in turn create job opportunities. By providing cheap electricity, access to roads and expanding our ports, we remove critical constraints to grow and provide the incentive for industries to invest in the country. Until these constraints are removed, we are not going to attract these kinds of investments.”
We agree with the Minister that sorting out the issue of power; road networks will definitely spurs the economy to a double digits growth and create job opportunities. However, quick impact measures that will arrest the current high level of youth unemployment should be of paramount concern to the Liberian government.
We understand that Liberia is operating on a thin budget which cannot cater to the country huge needs after years of war. However, most of the meager resources are expended on government salaries and perhaps some of these fat salaries should be chiseled away and directed to pro-poor programs.
In most nations, young people are feeling the pinch of the economy downturns. Jobs are in short or no supply as the economic gravitates from labor intensive to capital intensive. Young people in Liberia have little interest in rocking the boat evidence of the growing trade in drugs, robbery, and the rampant commotion for the president to step-down is eloquent of their despairs.
Putting these people to work should be the utmost priority of the Government. And that leads me to the rehearsal of my recommendation couple of years ago. Smart governments around the world have crafted novel ways and means to deal with such pressing economy issues — youth unemployment.
Governments are partnering with private institutions in setting up Venture Capital. These financial resources in various forms of assistance are provided to early-stage, high-potential, high risk, growth startup companies. The venture capital fund makes money by owning equity in the companies it invests in, which usually have a novel technology or business model.
Every year, these governments running the capital host program wherein young people pitch their project teasers. These project teasers are then evaluated and the ones with high potentials to succeed are selected and awarded seed funding.
This is a novel way in which the Liberian government and private sectors – especially those multi-million dollars companies operating in Liberia can construct an institution that systematically creates networks for the new firms and industries, put young people to work.
This institution helps in identifying and combining pieces of ingenuities on finance, technical expertise, know-hows of marketing and business models. Once integrated, these enterprises succeed by becoming nodes in the search networks for designing and building products in their domain.
With a sail in his wings, we are calling on the Finance Minister to set aside a budget for such initiative in 2014. Don’t say, Liberians don’t have brains, – the nation is a virgin paradise for start-ups and there are many industrious and inventive Liberians born into abject poverty but who may yet birth grand, ground-breaking ideas. What this requires is an ignition, a little push-up from the government to tap into these untapped potentials.
Konneh has established his and it now has peer endorsement. I urge him to turn the energy on working for and with Liberia’s next generation of technocrats. Replicate your brand among Liberia’s young people, touch and torch more young lives. I challenge you in 2014 to begin a program that identifies smart universities and college students, determine high school graduates and innovative ordinary people who seek to thrive and deserve a thrust. Don’t rest on your laurels, for to who much is given, much is expected. It is my hope this is the start and not the end.