Our fellow Liberians and members of the Fourth Estate, we are compelled to respond to declarations contained in a wishful thinking statement to enable a better understanding for decision making for our people.
The Bus Scenario
“Our continued post-conflict recovery process is of such that we must continue do everything at the same time. We have likened this challenge to driving a bus while at the same time repairing its many deficient and dysfunctional parts. As we know, for past years, our bus has been parked, some of the parts have gotten rusty, some are unusable, and many of our people were left stranded and abandoned on the sides of the road. From opportunity to morality, our children, and in many respects ourselves, have fallen too far behind”.
Any mechanic repairing an old bus for nine months – if a year can be equated to a month – has a capacity problem. How the bus functions depends largely on the capacity, commitment and leverage of the mechanic. The sad truth is the mechanic has been paid in full to ensure the bus operates. After nine years of repairs, we have seen the bus engine performed worse than it did in the past.
Today, Liberia, like the late 80s, is a place of huge capital flight, huge trade deficit, extremely low employment and especially high youth unemployment, non-performing educational institutions, very poor infrastructure and non-existent health delivery structure.
Outlook of the Liberian Economy
Madam Sirleaf said:“It means that more Liberians must not just wait for a government job but be empowered to own their own businesses and employ others. It means more Liberians must be able to pay their bills, send their children to school, care for their families, travel, if they desire, retire with dignity, and treat themselves to some of the nicer things that life has to offer. It means that our society must become one in which all Liberians – males and females, young and old, Christians and Muslims, abled and disabled – can all make it, if they are willing to try. Yes, this is possible”.
The structure of the current economy deprives any well-meaning Liberian of the possibilities outlined above. The Liberian educational system replicates similar trends of yester-years when the largest employer was government. The maintenance of the same system guarantees that government will be the largest employer. The largest colleges at our universities are mainly political or arts related courses while national support to university education is extremely dismal. A good quality education in Liberia should cost a minimum of $2000 per annum. This cost automatically discounts the $10 million GOL support to the University of Liberia. When support to education is dismal and the educational focus is non-technical, Government will certainly remain the largest employer.
The civil service agency was established to enable the population of government ministries and agencies with technicians over politicians who would get the job done. Unfortunately, the method of hiring currently in place repeats past approaches that can only mean those who get hired will be those known by those who are known by the powers that be.
When the known hires their known, loyalty to the hirer replaces technical competence. Existence in a job is measure not by performance but loyalty, which compromises the interest of the people over the interest of the knowns that are known. Until this trend is broken, government will remain a weak vehicle unable to climb the hills that must be surmounted to enable the dreams of millions of its people consumed by hopelessness.
Lack of Affirmative Action Programs
To date and in the recent past, there have been no known publicly backed affirmative action programs. This approach alone is a significant inducement to young and talented progressive Liberians with entrepreneurial aspirations. The only previous attempt was the setting aside of certain low class businesses for Liberians that have never been implemented and if they had been, assess to financing remains a key challenge.
Lending rates in ranges around 15 to 25 percent; while access to lending is extremely rigorous; caused in large part to the huge loan defaults and the loan defaults are due in extremely large part to the high interest rates. The banks say, the high interest rate is caused by the Central Bank of Liberia high non-interest bearing reserve requirement of 22%; that severely strains their resources and the huge infrastructure deficit that increases their operational cost. A product – they say – must be sold by its cost of generation.
Any serious government, wishing the realization of the declarations contained in Madam Sirleaf’s aspirations above, would drastically reduce interest rate. A low interest rate enables the degree of entrepreneurial drive anticipated. Central banks generally use high reserve requirement as a de-risking tool but there are many other associated tools that can be deployed if the government is well meaning for its people.
Liberians have never competed with Asian and Middle Eastern Businesses for several reasons:
1. Foreigners have lower access to interest rate
2. The lack of a government of Liberia public resources to initiate, develop and prosper a non-existent Liberian private sector
3. Government jobs have historically being a means of employment and wealth creation caused solely by the approach to wealth creation under a system that sought to isolate the rest of us from the wealth creation chain. As a means of preserving wealth within the Americo-Liberian establishment and maintaining poverty in the largely indigenous population, wealth was created solely through governmental employment.
4. Influential public servants favour doing business with non-Liberian businesses for privacy reasons and this creates an absolute advantage for foreigners over Liberian businesses vying for huge public contractsNew and functional approaches can be deployed to isolate the inhibitions to entrepreneurial explosion and it must be driven by the public sector. Globally, entrepreneurial explosions and prosperity were guaranteed by public policies, whether it was a South Korea, United States of America, Brazil, China, Singapore or Rwanda, the government both initiated and drove entrepreneurial explosion to avoid its opposite.
Purchasing Power and Labour
The lack of technical education and a functional Liberian driven private sector; greatly undermines the ability and availability of Liberians to both exploit existing opportunities and create new ones. This significantly obstruct purchasing power; a huge requirement for economic growth and real economic development.
It is no secret that large firms dislike the hiring of Liberians due to ethical challenges. It behoves the government, through the labour sector, to establish a security database of employable Liberians and Liberians dismissed from firms for ethical or criminal reasons. This would enable the hiring of talented Liberians and rejection of problematic ones.
Aspiration versus Action
Gone are the days of rhetorical declarations. There is a profession of goodwill, on the one hand and the lack of associated actions on the other. The Liberia in which opportunities abound for us does not exist because the fundamentals of the economy are in full disarray. How we did, what we did yesterday, led us to war and we are certainly encroaching on similar ends under a mechanic that clearly lacks the capacity and ability to repair the bus.
Liberia is being governed the same way it was before the war.
Sirleaf’s goals and Aspirations for Liberia
“You will recall that one of our primary focuses, upon taking office in 2006, was to improve the image of our country – to Lift Liberia – so that we become a destination not just for international assistance and support but also for private capital investment and external trade. We are grateful for all the help and support we continue to receive from the international community, and for the over US$16 billion in Foreign Direct Investments which we have attracted to our country”.
There is a clear misunderstanding here. The image of Liberia; as we know it, have greatly deteriorated:
I. Liberian students have a long history of massive failures in WAEC exams and that have worsened under Ellen.
II. Liberia has a history of extremely poor health delivery system and that has worsened under Ellen.
III. Liberia has historically been a source of huge Foreign Direct Investment with little or no benefit to its people; huge benefit to public servants and poor FDI corporate tax payment history. It is worse under Ellen because every natural resource of Liberia has been mortgaged for peanuts to the detriment of the country and in many instances to very shady companies.
IV. Liberia has long been a place of growth without development. That indication has worsened under Ellen. While shady investments appeared to have propped up growth, the resultant impact of growth on development is not forthcoming.
V. Liberia has historically been one of the poorest economies in the world. Today, it has one of the lowest GDPs and increased its poverty ranking.
VI. Liberia’s export far less than it imports. Today, the difference between what we import and export per annum have risen to almost a billion dollars though this was only about $300 million around 2006
VII. Liberia has a long history of huge public recurrent expenditure. Today, that curve has risen to more than 78%.
VIII. Liberia has been a major aid destination and that have increased tenfold in the last few years. Any country whose aid budget overtakes its national budget is in serious trouble.
It is therefore clear from all indications that our image as a country has worsened. A country’s image is not dependent on the number of awards influenced by a conniving and pretentious ruler. The image of a country lies in the ability of – local businesses within the state’s ability – to trade with other businesses within other states; create jobs for its people; increase international competitiveness by leveraging educational competence; comparison of its infrastructure with other similar nations; the effectiveness of public institutions and the delivery capacity of its service delivery facilities. No amount of lies and rhetoric can change the obvious.
Foreign Direct Investment
No country anywhere was developed with Foreign direct investment. Historically, Liberia has relied heavily on FDI and yet the corresponding impact on economic growth has been dismal. Large companies get huge tax holidays; taxes that should increase government’s access to resources and correspondingly, government’s expectation of increased dividend payments get strangulated in complicated accountancy reporting. The anticipated jobs never get realized and compliance with agreed terms has never been truly aligned.
Despite the challenges identified above, very shady companies, with no technical and financial performance history, became beneficiaries of major oil or mining concessions, further limiting the possibility of any kind of realization and in many instances, some of these concessions were sold by the beneficiaries without any objection from the state. While previous governments indulge similar practices, we could guess they were done out of ignorance but for Ellen to have spoken against the very practice and embrace them herself is extremely shameful – shameful that an older woman will be so corrupt and disruptive.
Sadly though, the reaction of the population to shady concessions is blamed for hindrances to national development. The people of Liberia were evacuated from their lands to accommodate the Liberia Agricultural Company, COCOPA, SALALA RUBBER COMPANY and so on. The much promised self-aspirational realization remains in the belly of the sea. Recently, Buchanan Renewables did not renew anything but the exportation of rubber trees and permission by the government to export their machineries from Liberia. Golden Verulium and Samy Derby each have 1 million acres of land for about 60 years. The people know all too well that they will be employees of a company that will under pay them. They prefer to own and expand their farms. They believe that capacitation will increase their competitiveness and strengthen their leverage. They have served those same masters before with no real return. They are not responding to their fears but what have been lived. They are real people with real lives. They have aspirations too of living the good life, travelling, accessing electricity, piped water and exploring their full potentials. They know all too well that when they are misused and abused, their government will side with the so-called investor and harm them. Ellen, what you called, obstructions to a phase deployment, they know as repetitions of a previous history lived by their forefathers. They are unwilling to repeat yesterday in glaring daylight. Listen to the people who enable the barrage of awards you influenced. Because they made you Africa’s first female ruler, you gained global recognition and traction. Do not pay evil for good.
Lastly, Ellen’s focus from the beginning was flawed. FDI cannot develop Liberia. FDI partnership is extremely important but not the key to economic liberation. She got it wrong from the very beginning. In anticipation of increased financial inflow from FDI activities, she increased the size of government – though she promised a small and efficient government.
The whole show of downsizing and rightsizing was a ploy to input families, friends and lieutenants. Our focus should have been overall recurrent expenditure reduction and redeployment of resources in agriculture and industrialization efforts. This singular approach would have generated more jobs, reduce our trade deficit, guaranteed consistent government revenue generation and sustain growth and economic development.
The sad truth is, even if there had been no shady deals in awarding concessions; inflows from concession activities would have never benefited the people. Consistent increase in government revenue leads to an increase in government expenditure. Liberia has no history of increasing expenditure on the possible revenue generating sources. Under Ellen, it is even worse.
Growth Without Development
Liberia has historically recorded growth without development. While there has been high growth from investing activities, there has been a correspondingly low or zero local capacitation approach thereby distancing the people from the over economic growth. It is therefore not surprising that economists are suggesting that measuring national GDP is deceptive and that a people of a nation purchasing power better reflects how that GDP is distributed. Sadly, using that method puts Liberia among the least 10 countries in the world.
Secondly, a medium term budget framework is nothing to learn. It is only a projection that can be understated or overstated, but the performance of a succeeding budget will be largely influence by the expenditure priorities of the current one.
The real reason for underperformance is the government’s unwillingness to invest in local revenue sources. For example, the mobile phone sector is the largest tax paying sector in Liberia, yet this sector is the most taxed sector. Today, 59 out of every 100 Liberians have access to a mobile phone, a significant growth over the last two years when only 49 out of 100 access the device.
There have been no tax waivers for the sector; similarly, the importation of goods and services generated consistently around $143 to $163 million dollars over the last three years, yet it remains the most taxed sector though the country is heavily dependent on importation. This automatically increases the price of goods and services while similarly undermining purchasing power. This is a recipe for poor revenue collection the succeeding year.
Thirdly, we are paying no price for high economic growth but the price of exploitation by Ellen and her cohorts.
i. Very bad concessional negotiations
ii. Selection of shady companies over more ethically run and internationally known ones
iii. The awarding of huge tax breaks to shady concession deals. For example, the Buchanan Renewables tax break is still valid and is being used by other companies though the company folded up, left the country but the multi-million waiver is still valid.
iv. A very incapable mechanic that have selected the wrong spare parts and spent less hours working on the bus than travelling around the world
v. A very pretentious and ethically challenged mechanic who spent more time diverting resources intended to repair the bus on her personal agenda than on the agenda of the bus owners. LISCR, for example, has generated more than $540 million dollars in the last 9 years but only about $162 million of that money made it back to Liberia.
Thirdly, Liberians have no expectation about the passage of the budget. It has nothing in it for them. The beneficiaries are Ellen and her vampires at the Legislature, whose continuous aiding and abating of the systematic exploitation of Liberia will, if not sooner than later, compelled Liberians to demand an interim government rather than the resignation of Ellen. People respond to exploitation in very unkind ways around here.
The Legislature has numerous reasons why it must impeach Ellen. For example, every presidential departure from this country must be permitted by the Legislature and upon return, the President must, by law, report the reason for the travel. Similarly, the LISCR fiasco, the over borrowing, mismanagement of the economy and may reasons abound for the action but sadly, our legislators have other ideas; the $15,000 a month salary is grossly insufficient, they need $1 million each. This need is more important to correcting the huge mess associated with concession agreements and correcting obsolete laws or correcting the massive recurrent expenditure.
The people of Liberia have had enough of your promises and stories. While our continuous talking may appear meaningless and weak, we have had enough. You of all people, Ellen, owe Liberia so much. Your education was funded by Liberia. Your first and last jobs were provided by Liberia. The country enabled your global recognition. At our expense, your family has become so very wealthy. You proved to have practiced more nepotism and sectionalism than Tolbert, Doe and Taylor combined. Your acts of corruption are beyond measure. No President, since Liberia’s inception, has exposed the people to so much misery like you have. You have proven to be a complete disaster.
You must do the right thing. First begin by going to the grave of President Tolbert. Tell him Sorry for your loud talking and undermining his administration because you have done worst than he did.
Secondly, go the grave of President Doe, say Sorry Sammy for sponsoring war on your government and the Liberian people.
Thirdly, go to President Charles Taylor in London. Say SORRY for bringing war on his government.
Fourthly, say a big SORRY to the women of Liberia, who believed wholeheartedly that a woman leadership would transform Liberia by believing your – Papa na come – agenda.
Fifthly, say a big SORRY to your admirers and supporters, many of whom dare to speak about you today, though they work in the government but have no belief in your capacity. You have shamed them in their communities.
Lastly, say SORRY to the people of Liberia. Your pretentious ways have caught up with you. 9 days for rogue, one day for the master. There are no more stories to be told. When you shall have done this, RESIGN immediately. We are a forgiving people. We will close the Ellen chapter of our history and list it on our history books as the greatest Ponzi scheme in Liberia’s history and moved on as a people.