Konneh’s Arrogance: A Slap in the Face

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At a recent farewell dinner thrown in his honor by “Friends of Amara Konneh”, the outgoing Finance Minister told several hundred guests that he and the Sirleaf administration had nothing to apologize for.

“Madam President,… we have done well,” Konneh told his boss at the gathering, “and we owe no one an apology for our success.”

How arrogant. What a slap in the face for the Liberian people. What a kick in their butts even as they lie on the ground, beaten by foreigners in their own country.

How much better off is he leaving this country than he found it?

Konneh was on the team when in 2006, the Sirleaf administration promised electricity and pipe-borne water to Liberians by the end of her first term. He came on board as Minister of Planning, a ministry whose name was changed to Development Planning and then rolled into the Ministry of Finance to become the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning which he has since headed. This would imply that he was planning and financing the development of Liberia. Looking at the country’s landscape, can Konneh really say with any level of sincerity that he was “successful” in developing Liberia?

In January 2014, Minister Konneh associated the budget shortfall to, among other factors, the amount of domestic debt government owed contractors, particularly in the construction sector, to the tune of US$33 million. This, he said, was responsible for the delay in the completion of several road projects across the country. It was also responsible for the slow growth rate, and in some cases the failure, of many Liberian-owned businesses. Many families have struggled as government has failed to make good on the debts it owes them.

That notwithstanding, Konneh defended his economic policy, insisting that Liberia’s economy was stable and remained one of the best in the sub-region with inflation at 8.5% – an assertion many dismissed as failing to match the reality on the ground.

In the same sitting, Minister Konneh announced that Liberia had projected a necessary US$2 billion in order to stabilize the economy and provide basic social services to the Liberian people. How and when such projections would be achieved was not disclosed.

One of the mistakes public officials make is to measure their successes by the accolades they receive abroad – Finance Minister of the Year, Nobel Peace Prize, etc. But even U.S. President Barack Obama had the conscience to accept his Nobel Prize with a great deal of humility, often joking that he had yet to earn the award. It is no secret that this administration’s international profile stands in stark contrast to its image at home.

We wonder by what yardstick the Minister is measuring his “success.” By the same measure, perhaps, that the President measures hers – namely, by the international accolades showered upon her by those who cannot see how her citizens sleep and labor in squalor at the Red Light Market, Douala and elsewhere.

Even if Konneh had in fact been independently successful in his role(s), the reality is that an administration as a whole takes responsibility for the state of the nation. And to announce that “we have done well” given the gravity of the state of the nation; given the hundreds of millions that disappeared from the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL) account on Konneh’s watch with no demand for accountability, is insulting.

And now that he is moving on to a posh albeit less prestigious World Bank position, he throws the Liberian people a punch in the teeth.

At the very least, the humble and honorable thing to say would have been something along these lines:

“Surely we did not accomplish everything we set out to accomplish in these last ten years. It has been a tough economy the world over, and we acknowledge the difficulties Liberians are facing here at home. I thank the Liberian people for allowing me to serve first as their Planning Minister and then as their

Minister of Finance. While I serve at the World Bank in thus and such capacity, I will do everything in my power to put Liberia first.”

These are the sentiments we heard from Antoinette Sayeh, first Finance Minister under the Sirleaf administration, as she transitioned to the IMF. Her legacy? Having laid a masterful foundation for Liberia’s debt relief.

What will Konneh’s legacy be, having come to the party when that job was already done? With all of the money that passed through his hands, why are Liberians not better off?

The man on the street judges development by how much better off his life is today than it was yesterday. Not by World Bank/IMF statistics.

Surely, if this is the kind of man the World Bank wants serving in its ranks, then no wonder underdeveloped countries are stuck where they are. What that tells us is that they need someone ruthless; without a conscience to bother them at night as to whether people’s lives improve or not. A home-grown economic hit man, if you will.

But what was worse — as if Konneh’s statement was not bad enough — was the President’s response:

“I can back Amara and walk with him in the dark without missing a step. Amara,…you have done well. Thank you!”

The gall!

After one gets over the initial shock of their audacity or delusion, one then traces back those steps in the dark — two budget shortfalls, gross underdevelopment despite the billions in aid, domestic and external revenue resources and billions more in potential revenue untapped due to the incompetence of this administration – perhaps we did in fact miss quite a few steps on those walks in the dark, Madam President.

Konneh’s statement was reckless and heartless. Who hired him at the bank with this kind of record and attitude anyway? Let his new bosses not think for one second that having treated us like this, he will miraculously deliver as head of its Fragility, Conflict and Violence Center for nations with those tendencies!

Then again, we are not naïve. Perhaps this is exactly the kind of man they want.

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