What Did Finance Minister Amara Konneh Really Say?

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Did Finance and Development Planning Minister Amara Konneh really say what Inprofile and The News newspapers said he did? This is the question on everyone’s mind today.

The problem is three-fold: first, what was said, which seems to be totally unbelievable; second, who said it, again completely surprising; and third, against whom it was said, which is equally unbelievable.

Let us deal with the first problem—what was it that Minister Konneh reportedly said?  Both Inprofile and The News quoted Minister Konneh as having said that since his incumbency in 2012, the government of Liberia (GOL) had generated US$3.1 billion in revenues, but most of it had been spent on administration, involving only 40,000 people, as against 4.1 million Liberians.

If President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s administration is not careful how it spends government money, Mr. Konneh is reported to have told a Liberian town hall meeting in Philadelphia, then “there may be a recurrence of April 14, 1979 Rice Riots.”    

The second problem is, who was talking?  Both newspapers clearly indicated that it was Finance Minister Konneh.   It may be recalled that the President in 2012 transferred him from the post of Minister of Economic Planning Affairs, to Minister of Finance. 

In appointing him to that far more important position, the President moved Finance Minister Augustine Ngafuan to Minister of Foreign Affairs, which was technically a promotion, since he then became Dean of the Cabinet.   But Foreign Affairs in purely technical terms may not be as powerful as Finance, for that is where the money is and from where most of the shots are called.

That is precisely why it was unbelievable that an official as high as Finance Minister Konneh would be so bold, and some may say inept (clumsy, careless) as to make the statements he uttered,   especially while he was abroad. So before publishing Defense Minister Brownie Samukai’s reaction, this newspaper took pains to contact the Finance boss to confirm the report.  But Minister Konneh did not respond.

In Minister Samukai’s clearly articulated reaction, unmistakably aimed at Minister Konneh— though Samukai denied the link—the Defense Minister confidently declared that there would be no repeat of April 14. 

Addressing prospective graduates of Stella Maris Polytechnic last Wednesday, he insisted that the state security was quite prepared to protect and defend the country after UNMIL leaves, as they are scheduled to do in 2016.

Minister Samukai went further.  Speaking as a veritable and wholly committed part of the President’s government, he declared, “If you are part of the team, accept the moral responsibility of that team.  Do not go out and castigate the team as though you are ‘Mr. Clean’ within the system.”

The two most important questions that arise are first, did Minister Konneh actually make those comments?  If he did, what led him to that?   Did he make them out of frustration or desperation?  Did this lead him to go for broke—meaning, I don’t care now?  If this is the case, what was the straw that broke the camel’s back?

There have indeed been many criticisms of the current government, not the least of them being corruption and the way money is spent.  On March 24 this newspaper said editorially that there was an apparent financial crisis in one of the most lucrative state enterprises—the National Oil Company (NOCAL).  And we wondered where had the money suddenly gone—to someone’s political campaign, or what?

If the Finance Minister himself—who signs most GOL checks—can be critical of the way government money is spent, then this is VERY SERIOUS.

The state security apparatus—as the Defense Minister has said—may be up to the task to arrest any sign of instability.  BUT! Our security is not nor will it ever be stronger than that of Egypt or Muammar Gaddafi—both in 2011, when we all know what happened.

We do not wish for an Arab Spring in Liberia.  Heaven knows we have had more than our share of troubles—political and otherwise.  We need no more! 

However, we cannot—MUST NOT—fail to learn from others’ mistakes.  Remember what our own Constitution says: “ALL POWER IS INHERENT IN THE PEOPLE.”

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