Yesterday, September 4, 2019 marked an important event in the life of this government. It marked the launch of the first economic dialogue/conference to be held since the incipiency of this government. The theme of the Dialogue is “NATIONAL ECONOMIC REVIVAL AND GROWTH: CRITICAL ISSUES, CHALLENGES AND THE WAY FORWARD”. Nearly two years on since he assumed office, President Weah has found himself confronted with a magnitude of problems which, to some critics, appear well beyond the capacity of the government to handle.
In his attempt to fix the ailing economy, the President has invited in the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to help the country find its way out of the dire economic crisis which now threatens to snuff out the life of this government. More to that, he has commissioned a three-day economic dialogue/conference to as he put it in his opening address, “stimulate a broad-based conversation among all stakeholders within the Liberian economy, concerning the best and most feasible way forward to sustainable growth and development”.
According to reports, the meeting was attended by scores of government officials, many of who, according to reports, were actually there just to be seen and acknowledged. Whatever the case, this was an auspicious occasion and President Weah did not mince his words. He admitted that he inherited challenges which, according to him, would require major adjustments to ward of their negative impact on the economy. He singled out liquidity issues and what he called a persistent decline in the value of the national currency which he said was compounded by reduced inflows of foreign exchange and investments which placed upward pressure on inflation.
Well said but, if this nation is to experience a national economic revival as conceived by the organizers, then it must address itself to critical issues which are of prime concern to the people. One such issue of prime national concern is corruption which is having a corrosive effect on the economy and national life. Just why runaway public sector corruption is not listed as one of the critical issues confronting the Liberian people remains a mystery.
This newspaper is constrained to point out that the rapid fall in the value of the Liberian dollar against the US dollar can be traced to corruption. And this trail of corruption runs from the Sirleaf government which ordered the printing of billions worth of Liberian dollar banknotes some of which have remained unaccounted for to date despite findings by the Kroll and PITT reports pointing out to possible criminal behavior by officials.
Some former officials have been indicted and the matter is currently pending before Criminal Court. And then the case of the US$25 million mop-up exercise which, according to reports, was marred by fraud, is another example of runaway public sector corruption which is undermining growth and investment.
Another issue of contemporary and critical concern which the economic dialogue must address is that of chronic unemployment particularly amongst the youth, a demographic which accounts for more than half of the country’s 3.5 million population and to who the CDC leadership fed a consistent diet of hope and promises of a better tomorrow with jobs, affordable prices etc.
The newly introduced “Salary Harmonization Scheme” which, from all appearances, suggests it is but a poorly disguised attempt to fix the “mess” created by random mass hiring of individuals without having secured the required budgetary outlay support to support a highly non-sustainable political adventure.
The slashing of salaries of civil servants including doctors, nurses, allied medical workers and teachers, without recourse to law is having a crippling effect on the livelihood of most ordinary Liberians.
It appears they (ordinary Liberians) are being compelled to bear the costs of zany self-seeking economic decisions taken by individuals whose posh and ostentatious lifestyles clearly suggest they are out of touch with realities on the ground. It is important to note that this much publicized event coincided with the holding of a Press conference by members of the international secretariat of the Extractive Industries Transparent Initiative (EITI) to announce Liberia stands in grave danger and at risk of being delisted from the Transparency Index.
The EITI officials in their press statement noted “If Liberia were to be delisted, particularly at this point in time, it would deprive the government and all stakeholders an important instrument of transparency, accountability and reforms of the oil, gas, mining, forestry and agricultural sectors. More specifically EITI implementation should help the government improve domestic resources mobilization, attract FDI and support from international partners. EITI can also help improve revenue management and ensure that payments made to the various counties social development funds, for example reach their intended beneficiaries.”
Perhaps the message conveyed in the press statement was lost in the din and fanfare of the event held in the halls of the new Chinese-built Ministerial Complex. It can be recalled that Liberia was suspended from EITI membership in 2018 for lapses in reporting and for the lack of transparency. The country was also suspended when, contrary to established protocols, it arbitrarily removed the head of the Liberia Extractive Industries Transparent Initiative(LEITI) and replaced him with a Presidential appointee.
In this regard, the Daily Observer is constrained to remind organizers of the Dialogue that the world is watching and will take their cue from how the national leadership addresses itself to such issues and if this government desires to be taken seriously, it has to take urgent steps to address concerns of transparency. Should government fail in this regard, it should expect little sympathy and assistance from the international community.
And the Government should never lose sight of the fact that time is not on its side. The people will not wait indefinitely for answers to their seemingly worsening plight. They will demand and, if needs be, they will act. The lessons of Gambia’s Yahya Jammeh and Burkina Faso’s Blaise Compaore should not be lost on President Weah and his officials.
The Dialogue must not be a mere talkfest. It is time for concrete action!