The attention of the Daily Observer is drawn to the article carried in its May 9, 2019 edition headlined, “U.S. Challenges Weah to Tackle Graft, Social Vices”. According to Daily Observer reporter, Joaquin Sendolo, United States Ambassador Christine Elder, speaking at a program commemorating the 243rd anniversary of the United States independence, observed that unlike before when the country had resilient institutions that could enable it to confront difficult challenges, the country now faces more challenges than before.
Among those challenges she singled out was corruption. She said, “the time is now to reverse corruption and its contagious and corrosive effects.” Amongst other things, she called on the Liberian government to remain loyal to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to lay the groundwork for economic productivity and prosperity.
The Ambassador’s comments have come at a time when the nation is gripped with tension emanating from pronouncements by a group of citizens (Council of Patriots) and political parties declaring their intent to hold a mass public protest against the Government of Liberia on June 7, 2019.
For a time, it had appeared as though the nation was headed for a showdown between proponents of the planned June 7 protest and supporters of the Weah government — a showdown which by all accounts promised to be a violent encounter between both groups. Not even calls from civil society for calm and restraint as well as engagements between President Weah and former President Sirleaf and former Vice President Joseph Boakai appeared to have made any difference.
But in a rather unusual twist and unprecedented move, Ambassador Christine Elder spoke out raising concerns about vitriolic and inflammatory comments, made on radio and social media by Deputy Information Minister Eugene Fahngon, calling in effect for a war between natives and Congos. And before the nation could digest the full import of Fahngon’s inciting remarks, President Weah made the move to suspend him.
This newspaper is indeed gratified by the timely and positive intervention of the US government in this matter and commends Ambassador Elder on her stance which has led to President Weah’s apparent pull back from the brink.
However, it (Daily Observer) is troubled by Ambassador Elder’s call for the Liberian government to remain loyal to IMF policy diktat. This is naturally because empirical studies have shown that there is a causal link between poverty and IMF prescriptions which have had the effect of deepening poverty levels particularly on health systems in sub-Saharan Africa.
According to researchers Thomas Stubbs and Alexander E. Kentikelenis of the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge respectively, “the IMF has deprived West African nations of the policy space to adopt to local exigencies,” noting that “domestic governments are equipped with local knowledge and are better informed on how crises are unfolding on the ground.”
Their research show that the IMF does provide financial assistance to countries facing economic difficulties but, as available facts suggest, spending on public health is discouraged at the IMF’s insistence and resources are diverted instead to repay money owed to creditor western banks.
And because IMF policy reforms (Structural Adjustment) which are a matter of policy, demanded in exchange for loans, the ability of national governments to address historical problems of underdevelopment and inequality which, in turn, have negatively impacted the lives of millions of people, is severely undermined.
Moreover, 13 countries in West Africa with a combined population of more than 330 million have been adversely impacted by IMF policy diktat particularly through its practice of “conditionality”. The IMF, according to the researchers, usually insist that in exchange for loans, African governments are required, as a condition for granting the loan, to adopt policy prescriptions that places emphasis on short term economic objectives over long term investments in health.
The Daily Observer notes that it was largely through the resilience and creative energies of the Liberian people that the deadly Ebola virus disease was halted in its tracks in Liberia, although the Liberian health system was inadequate, largely dysfunctional and severely underfunded, thanks of course to IMF policy prescriptions.
The Daily Observer further notes that, there is little debate over whether the “Trickle Down” development paradigm, a mainstay of IMF policy prescriptions, has wrought any benefit for Liberia despite its bounteous endowment with a wide range of natural resources including gold, iron ore, diamonds, timber, rubber, etc.
That the US Ambassador, while lambasting the ineptitude and corrupt behavior of officials of the Weah government claiming such are undermining productivity but, yet urging slavish adherence to IMF policy prescriptions, which have only served to deepen poverty, increase inequality, particularly income inequality, it leaves one with an unsettling feeling and sense of loss that the future of the nation is indeed imperiled.
The Daily Observer, once again commends Ambassador Elder for her strong stance against the divisive and inciting comments from government officials but is constrained to politely inform that her urging for continued loyalty to IMF diktat holds no promise for Liberia. Once again: thanks, Madame Ambassador, for your stance but no to slavish adherence to IMF diktat.