Protecting Liberia’s Revenue or Squeezing Water from Rock?

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Count 2 of Senate Resolution #001/2020 on the recast of FY-2019/2020 National Budget reads thus: “That in order to protect the revenue of Liberia, there shall be the imposition of excise tax of Thirty United States Cents per gallon of petroleum products sold on the Liberian market and which shall become effective immediately”. With Liberians struggling to cope with the economic shocks of the COVID-19, it appears our legislators have decided that they must yet brace themselves for even stronger shocks.

One of such shocks Liberians will have to suffer will come from the imposition of an additional excise tax of thirty (US$0.30) per gallon to be imposed immediately. This means, in addition to a host of others, that transport prices will increase. Correspondingly, the prices of locally produced food will increase as costs of transporting it to markets will increase. This will also affect the prices of imported commodities as well.

According to GlobalPetrolPrices.com, “All countries have access to the same petroleum prices of international markets but then decide to impose different taxes. As a result, the retail price of gasoline is different. The differences in prices across countries are due to the various taxes and subsidies for gasoline. As a general rule, richer countries have higher prices while poorer countries and the countries that produce and export oil have significantly lower prices.

In view of this, Senate Resolution #001/2020 on the recast budget needs to be examined how indeed the proposed increase in the pump price of petroleum products will protect government revenue. Moreover, why was no public debate on the matter entertained by both Houses as would be expected? Did legislators fear that they would have stoked public anger had the public debate on the merits and demerits of an increase in excise tax?

From what it appears, this is just another scheme to ensure that privileges and perks enjoyed by top officials shall continue without let while the people are being squeezed through higher taxes to bear the cost. Is this part and parcel of IMF/World Bank austerity measures? Is it not enough that most people in need of medical attention and care cannot access same at public health institutions, especially the John F. Kennedy Hospital owing to their lack of money to pay for such services?

Currently, news is rife on social media about GoL’s plan to impose additional surcharges on voice calls and data is being seen as just another attempt by this government to literally “squeeze water from rock”. Can policy makers not see that the immeasurable economic harm that will be visited on the people is more likely than not to provoke riots, strikes and general public unrest and can they not see that such a development will not augur well for this government’s own political survival?

Of course, the lap dogs and opportunists, as usual and true to form and character, will hound after those expressing concerns for the future of this nation given the current trend of things. Their instinctive reaction is always framed around claims that such expressions of concern stems from the inability of defeated election foes to stomach and digest the fact they lost elections and accept the reality of a Weah presidency.

And by so doing they expect recognition, acknowledgement, money and even plum jobs from President Weah. And should he not give what they expect, they become his bitterest foes. This is the game the political class plays and it is not specific to the Weah Presidency. President Tubman was similarly hailed. History recalls how public marches to pledge loyalty was all part and parcel of the game. But in the end his own inner circle grew tired of him and ditched him, fingering him in a London clinic following a “successful” prostrate operation.

President Tolbert was likewise hailed as “Go Getter, Pace Setter, Architect of the new Liberia.” In the end, his own inner circle conspired to have him assassinated followed by the bloody execution of his brother and sixteen other officials days after. And what happened to the game players? They simply moved on to greener pastures tended by the very one who participated in the assassination of Tolbert, Samuel “Kanyon Doe (Kanyan Pepper).

He was likewise hailed as the “great redeemer of the people”. Emmanuel Shaw and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, though she served a brief stint before falling out of favor, were amongst the notables of the old order that flocked to him. At the end of the day, he lost the support of the people and not even his mighty army could help him when he needed help most as a Prince Johnson captive.

And so was the story with Charles Taylor who is reported to have once boasted that his walking stick was carved from a tree under which no other plant grew, signifying some mystical power. But that did not help him and, at the end, he was hounded out of office and exiled in Nigeria and eventually landed at the Special Court of Sierra Leone where he was handed a 50-year sentence.

As for his immediate successor, Transitional leader Gyude Bryant, he was unfairly hounded by his successor and made to face trial on corruption by his former political party mate. For 12 long years she held sway, virtually emasculating every political foe and landing major laurels, never mind her disastrous economic policies.

Her choice of a successor and her going all out, even if it meant breaching the law to ensure victory, clearly suggests that she cannot divorce herself from the plethora of corruption charges hovering over this government. Unfortunately, President Weah’s solemn pledge to protect her interests and displayed unbridled greed of self-seeking officials including members of the Legislature have not helped him.

Their passage of the recast budget without public debate is a case in point which has left the public with a general feeling that this Government is rather actually and in reality, “squeezing water from rock”. History tells us that repercussions are sure to follow.

1 COMMENT

  1. The tone here sounds shrilly, but, truth be told, some remember those days when WB or IMF would suggest that broke countries raise revenues even on the backs of poor populations with anticipated stability consequences – Trojan Horse advice. Let’s be careful.

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