President Weah’s road trip to visit the counties, it appears, has attracted much media attention and if glowing media reports of the visit are anything to go by, then President Weah appears poised to clinch victory at the 2023 polls.
However, on closer scrutiny diving beneath the surface of those reports, it appears things may not all be as rosy as being depicted.
As usual during presidential visits to the interior, dancing feet, clapping hands and sweet smooth talk pleasing to the ears of the leader is a given and is not unusual.
In many cases, locals turnout en masse to greet their leader and for many of them just seeing the leader close-up and seeing him wave back in response to those waving to him brings a great feeling of satisfaction.
For many of them, the presidential visit provides the opportunity to express to the leader their grievances held against the local leadership.
In the past, especially during the Tubman years, county tours provided the opportunity for local people to express their grievances directly to the President and have them addressed with quick dispatch.
Usually, such visits are well planned in advance and their details carried out meticulously with strict adherence to planned schedules.
In cases where such plans conflict with some other events adjustments are made and the results communicated to all.
During such visits, local leaders take great pride in showcasing their accomplishments evidenced by completed projects.
This was the case of previous presidents from William V.S. Tubman to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. A possible exception may be that of the presidency of Charles Taylor.
But going by reports from credible sources, this Presidential visit to the counties may be a far cry from previous times.
Sources have told this newspaper that President Weah’s visit appears to have been poorly planned and the results are showing.
They cite for instance the planned and much talked agricultural Fair held at the Central Agricultural Research Institute (CARI) in Bong County recently to which so many guests including foreign diplomats had been invited.
Sources further disclosed that rather than proceeding straightaway to Gbarnga to officially open the agricultural fair, President Weah instead opted to drive to Sanoyea, Bong county for purposes difficult to explain in view of the preplanned program to officially open the Fair.
Finally he did arrive at the program at least four (4) hours late, leaving invited guests including foreign diplomats completely exasperated and frustrated so to speak.
By then some guests had already left. And, according to sources, they left with a very poor impression of President Weah.
But in the wake of this development, questions are being asked just why did President Weah opt to go to Sanoyea when he had already been expected to grace the program at CARI where guests, foreign and local, had assembled to participate in the program.
Was it to spite his Vice President Jewel Howard Taylor whose maternal roots are from Sanoyea or was it to receive a petition from some locals to split Bong County and create a new county called Lower Bong County are the foremost questions being asked by the public.
Whatever may have been reasons for such an impromptu visit, President Weah has succeeded in creating a very poor image of himself according to political pundits, simply by this single act.
Moreover according to sources, locals have been comparing President Weah’s visit to those of his predecessors particularly President Samuel Doe.
Further according to them, they have observed that President Weah, being accompanied on this county tour by a coterie of young women riding an air conditioned minivan with drinks, food and music, has conveyed an impression rightly or wrongly that President Weah is simply on a pleasure trip, akin to that of the Beijing trip a little over two years ago.
Not a single government project so far has been dedicated during this visit and this has left the public wondering just what has happened to the County Development Funds which, since the Sirleaf government, has been a source of funding for such local development projects.
A local county official (name withheld) has confirmed to the Daily Observer that since the inception of President Weah’s government, the Ministry of Finance has either been very and unusually slow or remiss in releasing county development funds.
Reliable sources at that Ministry (names withheld) say that the practice began during the tenure of Former Finance Minister Amara Konneh, then commonly referred to as the “budget shortfall minister”.
And the trend has continued under Finance Minister Tweah who, according to sources, had worked closely with his predecessor, Amara Konneh at the Ministry of Finance prior to the ascendancy of George Weah as President.
Sadly and rather shamefully, county officials had nothing to show in terms of accomplishment — not even the Bong Community College.
Moreover, Bong County whose political support observers say may prove crucial to President Weah’s second-term quest, his (President Weah’s) late showing at the Agricultural Fair could prove costly.
This is because, according to some prominent figures from Bong County, the people of Bong County take great pride in being acknowledged as one of the three major breadbaskets of the country.
And that on such an auspicious occasion being held in their county and to which guests, both local and foreign had been invited President Weah would shun them by choosing that moment to pay a visit to Sanoyea which he could have done later or earlier, was a major slap in the face, according to some prominent citizens of the area.
According to them, Vice President Jewel Howard Taylor, though hailing from Bong County is not Bong County and, rather than his seeming obsession with her as a political rival will hurt more than help his cause.
And he needs to get the message sooner than later according to them. Afterall, the 2023 Polls are just around the corner, they say. It means he has to turn things around meaningfully before the 2023 Polls turn the corner.