What Can CBL Do to Empower Liberians in Business—and How?

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The Executive Governor of the Central Bank of Liberia, Mr. Milton Weeks, has announced what he called the Bank’s “overreaching goals of developing and supporting a vibrant domestic private sector, driven by Liberian-owned businesses.”

Addressing the Concerned Liberian International Business Organization (COLINBO), at whose Water Street head office he paid an “acquaintance visit” on Monday, Executive Governor Weeks said he and his team at the Bank were “currently reviewing some of our policies aimed at supporting Liberian-owned businesses” toward empowering them.

Supporting these businesses made sense, he said, “because we know that income generated by these businesses remains in the country.”

Having been born and bred in Liberia, of Liberian parentage, and having worked over so many years at senior levels in the Liberian and international banking sector, Milton Weeks most definitely knows what he is talking about.

So what does he mean by “developing and supporting a vibrant domestic private sector, driven by Liberian-owned businesses.” We do not think that his statement can be described as another case of “words, words, words.” But what we think everyone is wondering is, how does he intend to do this?

In making that statement, he noticeably acknowledged that he and the CBL cannot do it alone. He said the CBL, as “the monetary arm of government,” can achieve this goal working with the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning (MFDP), which he described as “the fiscal arm of government.”

These two most critical Agencies of government controlling the nation’s finances are indeed powerful enough to make a lot of good things happen in the country, because they have the clout (authority) to move other important and relevant Agencies and officials towards achieving desired goals.

In expressing his determination to help promote a “vibrant domestic private sector, driven by Liberian-owned businesses,” Governor Weeks must know of the uphill challenge this entails. For the Liberian economy is anything but one “driven by Liberian-owned businesses.”

Another question here is, where are the Liberian-owned businesses? Do we have any Liberian captains of commerce and industry? If yes, where are they? Mr. Weeks must realize that the Liberian economy is overwhelmingly and completely dominated by foreigners. We are sure the Executive Governor does not have to read this Editorial to understand that in undertaking the task to which he has assigned himself, he will be faced with fierce (angry, ferocious) opposition, not only from foreign businessmen themselves, but also from some of his own fellow Liberians.

Weeks must remember what Mills Jones went through, and is still going through, because as CBL Executive Governor, he reached out to poor Liberian market people and farmers throughout the country, empowering them with microfinance loans to help lift them out of poverty. Our very Legislators even passed a whole law called “Code of Conduct,” targeted at one man—Mills Jones!

One of the salient messages Governor Weeks received during his visit to COLINBO headquarters on Monday came from its spokesman, Ohato James, who appealed to the Governor to admit COLINBO into the CBL’s foreign exchange auction program. The aim is to give COLINBO members access to foreign exchange, especially United States dollars.

Why is this necessary? Because one of the sordid (disgusting, dependency-prone) realities of the Liberian business setting is the fact that most of the wholesale business is solidly in the hands of foreigners. And most of the time when Liberians go to buy from wholesalers, the wholesalers demand foreign exchange. And when the Liberians go to the banks or money changers for this foreign exchange, the rates are so high that they cut deeply into the poor Liberians’ profits. It is this dilemma that forced COLINBO to run to the CBL.

With these two intelligent and patriotic Liberians—CBL Executive Governor Weeks and Finance Minister Boima Kamara—at the helm of our national financial sector, Liberians should expect enlightened and effective leadership in creating the stage for serious empowerment of Liberians in business.

One of the most important things they can do is to promote a dynamic and sustained program to train Liberian entrepreneurs. To do this, Messrs. Weeks and Kamara should seriously engage all the educational institutions—elementary, secondary and tertiary—with the specific and determined aim of instilling into our people, boys and girls, men and women, the knowledge and habit of business, in order to help them build their entrepreneurial capacity.

That, we submit, is one of the fundamental ways this thing—our total dependency on others for all of our business—will change. Also, Liberians themselves and their government must learn to patronize and support their own businesspeople.

We pray that Messrs. Weeks, Kamara and all other stakeholders will take these suggestions seriously and find other creative and workable ways to help bring about the change, which most of us Liberians desire. We must all also realize that this change—empowering Liberians to control their own economy and, at long last enriching Liberians—is critical to our peace.

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