Historically the closest link between most nations of the world and the World Bank, but most especially Liberia, is through the Finance Minister. It has been so as far back as Treasury Secretary Charles Dunbar Sherman, when Eugene Black was WB President, and with all of Sherman’s successors, beginning with J. Milton Weeks.
In recent memory we saw the critical role which Finance Minister Dr. Antoinette Sayeh, the first to hold that position under President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, played in setting the stage for the bonanza of foreign financial assistance which Liberia received, especially during Ellen’s first term of office. It was Dr. Sayeh that started the US$4 billion debt relief (HIPIC) from which we benefitted.
Her successor, Finance Minister Augustine Ngafuan, completed the process, freeing Liberia from that huge debt burden and enabling her to start borrowing money again. Today, at the onset of the administration of President George Manneh Weah, the man at the helm at Finance is Samuel Tweah. He has held several successful meetings with donor nations and with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Last week he attended his maiden Spring Meeting of the World Bank/IMF and did not come away empty-handed. On his return, he was able to announce early this week a renewed commitment from the World Bank to Liberia of US$210 million to support over the next three years the nation’s “pro-poor” development agenda.
A statement from the Finance Ministry said the Bank and other development partners “reasoned with Minister Tweah’s impressive presentation of the country’s medium-term macroeconomic prospects and short-term challenges and agreed on the importance of their roles in supporting Liberia’s development goals.”
The Minister and his delegation, which included Agriculture Minister Mogana Flomo and Liberian Bank for Development and Investment President John Davies, held over 25 meetings with multiple development partners, foreign government representatives and business leaders interested in investing in Liberia. Minister Tweah also traveled to Pennsylvania and Minnesota to undertake broad-based consultations with Liberians in the Diaspora in order to listen to their views on the government’s roadmap for the “Pro-poor Agenda for development and transformation.”
This is a good beginning, an indication that Minister Tweah is not assuming that he knows it all, but is open to inputs from a cross-section of Liberians on the government’s macroeconomic policies and programs. It is hoped that in addition to inviting the views of Liberians in the Diaspora, Minister Tweah will also engage the Liberian media and various groups among the nation’s students and Civil Society, in order to facilitate a free and frank exchange of ideas on Government’s “Pro-poor Agenda.”
We trust that this US$210 million loan from the World Bank will go beyond budgetary support, which can easily mean salaries and other staff support. Instead, we pray that the lion’s share of this loan will go toward making good the government’s pledge to develop the nation’s infrastructure, especially its roads and bridges.
Minister Tweah must also devote his energies, intellect and time toward securing GRANTS for infrastructural development. He must constantly be wary (suspicious) of loans, realizing that the same government (Ellen’s) that freed us from the US$4 billion debt also left us with many loans which, if we are not careful, could soon escalate to the extent of crippling us again.
According to the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL), the total external debt at the close of 2017 stood at US$608.3 million; while the total domestic debt registered US$266.1. The total debt, external and domestic, 2017 ending, therefore, stood at US$874.5. The new loan negotiated in Washington last week will put us over the US$1 billion mark.
This tells Finance and Development Planning Minister Tweah and the rest of us that we indeed should be wary of debt. The more grants we can negotiate, the better. – 30 –