Liberian Bankers and the Currency

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Monday began Bankers’ Week in Liberia and the Liberia Bankers Association (LBA) president, John Davies, used the occasion to address the future of the Liberian currency.

This has been a hot issue in recent months, as the Liberian dollar has suffered a significant downturn against the United States dollar.

President Davies welcomed Finance Minister Amara Konneh’s indication, quoting the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL), that the decision to establish one Liberian currency would take three years.  Mr. Konneh said the government did not want to “shock” the economy.

President Davies concurred with Minister Konneh that a definitive switch to the Liberian dollar would have to be backed by a substantial increase in the nation’s export earnings, which would bring more foreign currency into our economy.

Mr. Davies described the Liberian economy as being currently “import-dependent.”  He is right.  We annually spend hundreds of millions of US   dollars importing our staple, rice; as well as other foods including, shamefully, pepper  and tomatoes.  In the 1970s and even earlier, until he was brutally murdered during the 1980 coup d’etat, Liberia’s soil chemist, James T. Phillips, grew pepper on a very large scale at his Careysburg farm.   Market women flocked there daily to buy pepper and other veggies wholesale to supply their customers. 

But we in this country are good at destroying the little we have—good, talented, achievement-oriented people; and persistently misusing or underusing that which we have in abundance, such as our rainfall.  With all this rainfall God has given us, why are we importing food?  Why are we importing meat—beef, chicken, lamb, sussages?  And this bothers NO ONE—not even those whose job it is to ensure that this does not happen, that Liberia should be, on a massive scale, a food producing country.

It bothers NO ONE to see taxi, pick-up and truckloads of not vegetables, fruits and rice  making their way to the city—NO! Not edibles (food) but CHARCOAL!  But in other parts of West and East Africa, it is the reverse.  There on any given day, a visitor can see truckloads of banana, cassava, plantain, potato, rice, vegetables and yams  supplying the marketplaces.

By shameful and unfortunate contrast, what we see in Liberia are truckloads of charcoal and timber.  God has given us so much but we have taken a back seat: instead of producing, we are extracting.  No wonder Liberians are so poor. 

We have failed to organize  agriculture, something so many other African countries have successfully done—Ghana, Guinea, La Cote d’Ivoire, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda.  And this bothers NO ONE!  As we have so often asked editorially, WHAT KIND OF PEOPLE ARE WE LIBERIANS?

In his Monday statement, Banking President Davies   reassured the public that the banks in Liberia are willing to lend to serious borrowers, people with good ideas, plans and the integrity and determination to implement them.  Maybe the banks can go one step further—travel around the country and find the few farmers who are serious and offer them soft loans to produce more.

But then the government must do its part by getting on the backs of the road contractors and forcing them make rapid progress, so that our farmers will easier get their produce to the markets.

What is the Ministry of Commerce and Industry doing?  Is it a ministry in name only?  Where is the commerce they are encouraging Liberians to enter?  But for our hardworking market-women, the only commerce we see is in the hands of Lebanese, Indians and Fulas.  Does the Commerce Ministry care that Liberians are missing in action and have been for a very long time; and because of that Liberians remain poor and powerless in their own country?

These issues, President Davies, we are sure will agree, are germane (connected, relevant) to the issue of CURRENCY because the more we produce, the less we will import, the bigger our foreign currency reserves.

But there’s something else.  The Daily Observer has reliably learnt that the foreign businesspeople are not putting their US dollars in the banks, but in their homes and secretly  shipping them out. 

This must be of serious concern to the banking industry, warranting an urgent, serious investigation.      

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