Assessing President Weah’s State Of The Nation Address

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For a nation and people hard-pressed by extremely difficult economic conditions, President Weah’s long awaited State of the Nation Address, it was expected, would have provided some glimmer of hope to suffering Liberians that relief was in sight. But most Liberians spoken seem to agree that little or nothing was accomplished by this government over the last year. And therefore has little to boast about.

And moreover, according to them, there is no budget performance report by which the public can judge whether or not the budget was wisely spent. For example, the President revealed that the budget was first recast from US$525.9 million to US$505 million and a subsequent recast increased the budget to US$518 million.

The President then declared that GoL spent the entire amount for Fiscal Year 2019/2020 but yet carried forward the amount of US$7 million for enactment in the 2021/2022 National Budget which, according to him, the Legislature has passed at US$570 million. This has left  many Liberians confused as to what the actual budget situation is.

Further, the lack of a budget performance report has led to wild public speculations that the truth was actually being concealed beneath layers of lies and half-truths. Moreover, according to analysts, the ostentatious display of wealth by many GoL functionaries who, just a little over three (3) years ago, were impoverished – dirt poor but who have now seen a sudden rise to fame and riches, reinforces the widely held public impression that official commitment to transparency and accountability is in serious deficit.

But there are a few exceptions. The International Monetary Fund (IMF), a major lender to Liberia and other countries believes that the current leadership has a commitment to transparency and accountability, which nearly everyone knows is not true according to South-South Consultant, Yanqui Zaza, a retired 33-year veteran Certified Public Accountant (CPA) of the New York City Audit Department.

But according to the IMF, “The Liberian authorities are committed to fiscal discipline and further improvements in cash management, transparency and accountability in spending, and domestic revenue mobilization to finance their development agenda. The monetary policy stance is appropriately aligned with the inflation objective, and significant progress has been made in strengthening central bank independence.”

But according to Mr. Zaza, the IMF had in 2019 reported that the GoL was indebted to the CBL to the tone of US$219 million.  The IMF is aware or should be fully aware that the CBL does not have any money of its own to lend to government and the IMF is fully aware that the CBL is heavily indebted to local commercial banks as it is their reserves into which the CBL has been illegally dipping to finance GoL operations.

This has created a situation wherein local commercial banks routinely refuse to honor GoL’s financial instruments such as government checks and overdrafts. To the best of publicly available information, the commercial banks were neither consulted prior to CBL’s unauthorized dipping into their reserves. Also, GoL unauthorizedly/illegally dipped into donor funds held at the CBL allegedly to either fund GoL operations or capital projects.

This prompted foreign Diplomatic missions accredited to Monrovia, in an unprecedented move,  to write an open letter to the GoL demanding restitution of the project funds illegally withdrawn by the GoL. In view of this situation, by what measure therefore can the IMF justifiably claim that GoL authorities are “committed to fiscal discipline and further improvements in cash management, transparency and accountability in spending, and domestic revenue mobilization to finance their development agenda”?

If such does not constitute gross deception intended to mislead the Liberian public and international opinion into believing that this government is committed to fiscal discipline, transparency and accountability, then for heavens sake what does? Is the US$25 million liquidity mop-up infusion exercise which was corruptly managed by Finance Minister Tweah of the alleged missing L$16 billion, for which there were no convictions, although there were criminal indictments, reflective of the kind of commitment the IMF refers to?

According to Mr. Zaza, the IMF is fully aware of the facts but is concealing it to encourage GoL to source more loans, incurring deeper debts on which exacting interest payments must be made, nearly forever. Just imagine that in a few years after having acquired debt relief, the country’s debt is almost at where it was prior to debt relief.

As if to make matters worse for Liberia, thanks to President Ellen Sirleaf, nearly half of the land area of Liberia has been concessioned out to predatory investors under arrangements that failed to meet tests of transparency. That includes viable public corporations like the NPA now contending with the albatross (APM Terminals) hung on its neck and virtually strangulating it to death. Where are the benefits promised to Liberia by APM Terminals? They are nowhere to be seen.

Truth be told, President Weah inherited much of the economic problems he faces today. He has to, for instance, deal with the realities of 64 flawed concession agreements. However, under his watch, the problems have worsened. He started off on a huge misstep by refusing to conduct an audit of what he met on hand.  His lieutenants, all having refused to declare their assets, it appears have been more on a quest for wealth than attending to the problems of state.

President Weah spoke glowingly about his achievements over the past year during his address to the nation. However, most people spoken to say the President did not address their concerns, meaning the difficult economic conditions they face daily, occasioned by rising prices, falling real income and high unemployment. Reacting to the President’s address, opposition leader Alex Cummings said the address shows how far the President is from reality, noting that he failed to address the burning concerns of the people. But in the view of President Weah’s supporters, he has done very well. Whatever the case, final judgment awaits at the polls in 2023.

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