The speech delivered by President George Weah on July 16 on the state of the economy did not generate the kind of euphoria akin to that which followed his inaugural address in last January. Hopes were at the time very high and there was not even the slightest inkling that the economic situation would have deteriorated so fast and imposed such sudden hardships that would leave so many clinging virtually on to straws for mere survival.
Thus when it was announced that President Weah was to deliver a statement on the current state of affairs, it was welcomed with great relief and renewed hopes that this time at last, the President would say or do something to arrest the rapid depreciation of the Liberian dollar against the US dollar which is causing so much hardship.
Many were hoping that President Weah would have announced sweeping measures to meaningfully address skyrocketing prices and ever increasing transport fares. In other words, they were expecting a quick fix to the biting economic problems they face daily.
But their moments of exhilaration preceding the speech waned almost abruptly as it peaked with President Weah’s announcement that Government was going to infuse 25 million US dollars into the economy in order to mop up excess liquidity.
Worse still was the realization that immediate answers to the general economic problems confronting everyone were instead deferred to a future date at which time strategies to revive the economy and fix things would be unveiled. Much to their distaste was President Weah’s appeal for patience as he seeks to provide solutions to the nation’s economic problems.
It can be recalled that former Central Bank Governor Joseph Mills Jones faced strong opposition, particularly from the Legislature when he announced that the Bank was going to print additional Liberian currency notes. Rather than contracting with Thomas de la Rue, the traditional printers of Liberian currency notes, the Central Bank went elsewhere and had the notes done.
And the amount printed, although not publicly disclosed since, was believed to have been well over 5 billion US dollars. Security features on the new notes were however not as stringent as compared to those printed by Thomas de la Rue. And this could be reasons why the new banknotes are easily counterfeited.
Moreover, the public still has not been informed just how many new banknotes were printed. And the vexing problem is the apparent reluctance of Central Bank authorities to withdraw from circulation, mutilated Liberian banknotes. Instead the mutilated notes are being recycled by the banks.
Rather than designating points at which the public can exchange their mutilated notes for good ones, Bank officials have itinerant agents(money teh teh) going from one community to the other in search of mutilated notes to exchange at a devalued rate. Clearly someon somewhere is profiting.
And so, what does the announcement to infuse US$25 million in the economy mean as concerns the current problem the country faces with the escalating rate of the US dollar? This rhetorical question is simply intended to caution President Weah about avoiding quick fixes that exacerbate rather than provide sustainable solutions to these vexing problems.
If there are reasons to infuse US$25 million in the economy to “Mop up” the excess Liberian dollars, the President should state clearly what the impact would be and how such amount will be managed. From experience, we remain the perennial doubting Thomases wondering whether this time around, unlike previously, the infused amount will not soon find its way into overseas accounts of foreign businessmen particularly Lebanese businessmen who dominate the local economy.
Like his state of the nation address in January this year, President Weah said yesterday that his government is taking over a “Broke” country with no money in the country’s coffers. This repeated concern raised by the President impels this newspaper to ask what happened to the over 100 million US dollars former President Sirleaf claims to have left in the national treasury, as well as from where the US$25 million will come.
The President has to proceed with caution as he seeks answers to the current problems. Riding roughshod over local money ex-changers and running them out of existence is certainly not the way out of the problem. If that be the case, then what will governments do to those businesses like supermarkets for example that sell commodities in US dollars? And how about the Liberia Revenue Agency(LRA) that requires the payment of taxes in US dollars?
Is such policy going to be reversed as part of relief measures? This newspaper strongly urges President Weah to take urgent measures to curb the counterfeiting of Liberian banknotes. Information gathered by this newspaper suggest that Liberians and other foreign nationals are producing counterfeit banknotes in some faraway places particularly in China and bringing them into the country stashed aboard containers.
This is where we believe Police Inspector-General Sudue should focus his attention rather rain threats against local money ex-changers and he should do so in close concert with INTERPOL For his part, Central Bank Governor Patray should do all he can to completely withdraw mutilated banknotes from circulation and put an end to the “money teh-teh” business from which bank officials are immensely benefitting to the disadvantage and detriment of the Liberian people.
For your part Mr. President, you have to be resolute in addressing corruption in public sector financial management which is a major contributory factor to the current economic malaise. And you have to do so urgently Mr. President. Always be reminded that you campaigned relentlessly and conveyed an ingrained impression that corruption will be a thing of the past under your administration.
You emphasized that a change was coming with hopes that our tomorrow will be better than our yesterday under a CDC government. Therefore, as hardship increases and complaints mount, we hope, Mr. President, that you will remember to restore the hope you promised to give your people.