According to the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning Debt Management Report for the first quarter of Fiscal Year (FY) 2017/18 July 1, 2017 – September 30, 2017, external debt accounted for US$602.2 million while domestic debt accounted for US$266.7 million. Further, according to the Ministry of Finance, external debt comprises multilateral and bilateral loans while domestic debt is made of CBL loans, Commercial bank loans and other Court debt.
Total debt stock also consisted of external debt and domestic debt. At end of the period, external debt accounted for US$602.2 million, while domestic debt accounted for US$266.7 million. Domestic debt comprises CBL loans, Commercial Banks loans and other Court Debt, while the former is made up of multilateral and bilateral creditors.
Public debt service, according to the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning, is made up of principal repayment and interest payments. “Total principal repayments accounted for US$0.13 million, while interest payments amounted to US$2.89 million. During the period under review (2017-2018) external debt service amounted to US$1.81 million (60 percent) while domestic debt service amounted to US$1.21 million, (40) percent.
The question is often asked whether domestic debt servicing refers only to foreign owned businesses and not to Liberian owned business as the case should rightly be. This question is particularly troubling especially given the very difficult and constricted economic environment in which media institutions have to operate.
The case of the National Savings Bond Scheme, under which working Liberians paid millions of dollars in exchange for virtually worthless paper, the National Savings Bond Certificate, is a case in point. The debt never repaid, has since been struck from the books and the Central Bank of Liberia has, till present, never explained how such legitimate debt was struck off the books.
But a cursory review of the actual domestic debt portfolio will certainly reveal that the immediate beneficiaries of these debt servicing arrangements are Lebanese and other foreign businessmen. Many Liberian owned businesses have complained to this newspaper that Government tax policies are killing their businesses. For instance, they have argued that, unlike Liberian owned businesses, foreign owned businesses are granted tax holidays including waivers on duty or duty free privileges and other perks.
The Liberian Business Association, a group comprising Liberian businessmen and women have also perennially complained that Liberian businesses are not being given contracts and, in the event where a contract is awarded and performed, payment for services rendered is usually hard to come by. They have also complained about tax policies which they have long since argued is unfair and retrogressive.
Other Liberian businesses have also complained about the difficulty of securing from Government, payment for their services. The media has been no exception to this situation. It can be recalled that media institutions at one point in time agreed to place a ban on the coverage of all Government of Liberia activities and programs in protest against overdue and non-payment of legitimate obligations by the Government of Liberia.
But aside from the non-payment of legitimate dues owed to media institutions, patronage is another concern. Much too often, government officials deny advert opportunities to media institutions considered unfriendly or not “towing the line”. For example, it is a known fact that media institutions have to depend almost exclusively on adverts in order to survive.
In view of this situation, it can be argued that media institutions do need the Government. On the other hand it can also be argued that Government also needs the media because it is through the media that Government can communicate its policies to the people. Corrupt governments the world over usually have a morbid dread of the media because of the inherent fear that the media could be used to foment trouble through critical reporting and interpretative analysis of developments and events.
In some instances, the media pays a high price for its existence. The ongoing case of the Saudi national and Washington Post correspondent, Jamal Khashoggi, who was murdered right in the Saudi Consulate by individuals suspected to have been sent from Saudi Arabia to carry out the operation. Liberian radio and TV journalist, Charles Gbenyon met his untimely end at the hands of individuals believed to have been ordered to slay the journalist.
The now defunct Sun Times and Footprints newspapers were all, at one point, shut down and its editors jailed. Even this newspaper, the Daily Observer, had its offices burnt and its editors and reporters jailed all on account of official dislike of their coverage of events.
Aside from the media, other Liberian organizations/institutions are also having their fair share of trials and tribulations. It can be recalled that President Weah made an inaugural pledge to end the situation wherein Liberians would no longer be allowed to sit as spectators in their own economy. Liberians have since eagerly awaited the actualization of this pledge.
Similar pledges made previously amounted to nothing more than mere words. Former Finance Minister, Amara Konneh had once boasted that the Government of Liberia would have purchased not less than 10 percent of all its wooden furniture requirements from local furniture producers. But the pledge was simply words not meant to be taken seriously because the Minister did not act on his pledge.
This newspaper however hopes that President Weah would make good his pledge to have Liberians meaningfully participate in their economy not as spectators but as responsible players. The Daily Observer wishes him well in this regard. the Daily Observer also hopes that the Government of Liberia would liquidate all arrears owed to media institutions as part of his pledge to have Liberians move from the status of spectators to active players in their economy.