A Timely Call for Senate Hearing on Liberia’s Fiscal Crisis

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Grand Bassa Senator Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence, in a letter to the plenary of the Liberian Senate last week, raised serious concerns about the nation’s fiscal crisis, owing to the partial downsizing of operations by some concessions, notably ArcelorMittal Liberia and Putu Mining Company.

Expressing serious concerns about these developments, which have grave implications not only for County Development Funds but more importantly for the Liberian economy as a whole, Senator Karnga-Lawrence recommended that the Senate convene a special hearing session with the Finance Ministry (MOFDP), the National Investment Commission (NIC) and the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA). The aim of the hearing, she said, is threefold: First, to do an assessment of the Liberian economy. In this connection, the Finance Ministry will be asked to report on the entire operations to date of the 2015/2016 National Budget. The hearing, secondly, will also assess the status of operations of the major concessions; and thirdly, it will look at the stability of the nation’s revenue envelope.

The key players in the exercise will be Finance Minister Amara Konneh, NIC Chair Etmonia Tarpeh and LRA Commissioner General Elfrieda Stewart-Tamba.

We welcome Senator Karnga-Lawrence’s call because we think it is highly significant. That is what Senators are for—not only to be concerned about developments and problems in their own counties, but to have a broad national vision. She senses the dramatic slowdown in the tri-county operations of ArcelorMittal Liberia—Nimba, Bong and Grand Bassa—and the virtual suspension of operations at Putu Mining Company and the major implications for the country’s entire southeastern region.

Putu, remember, had plans to build the highway and railway from Zwedru to Greenville; for it is from the Greenville Port that Putu plans to ship its iron ore to foreign markets. This would be a major development bundle for the southeast. It would significantly enhance transportation in that sub-region and promote agriculture, trade, commerce and even tourism. Note that the animal and plant-rich Sapo National Park is also in the center of the southeast, spanning Grand Gedeh through Sinoe counties.

But all of these plans are now on hold. Hopefully, the demand for iron ore will one day rebound on the world market and both Mittal and Putu will resume full operations.

But Senator Karnga’s aim is to achieve a precise assessment of these negative developments in the Liberian economy and determine their impact on revenue generation and the overall national economic outlook.

This information would be most valuable. It would tell us exactly where we are and where we are going economically. It is information like this that would help us to devise and plan strategies to combat these negatives and find ways to mitigate (ease) their impact on our economy.

The information garnered from these hearings would challenge each of the Agencies concerned: Finance, NIC and LRA. How? It would encourage Finance to quantify the economic and financial losses and devise means, bilateral and multilateral, hopefully, to make some necessary results-oriented adjustments.

The information from the hearings would also put pressure on NIC to explore new, non-traditional investment initiatives.

LRA would also richly benefit because Madam Stewart-Tamba would, in preparation for the hearings, most likely conceive, where possible, new revenue generating strategies that would enable the Authority to maintain its tax collecting momentum.

We encourage the three institutions to eagerly look forward to the Senate’s invitation and prepare creatively and concretely for the hearings.

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