Just as with the current health and medical crisis, caused by Ebola, is the very worst in the nation’s history, Liberia is also facing the most serious financial crisis of the past 10 years.
Finance Minister Amara Konneh told the media last Friday that the national economy had shrunk to 0.4%, down from an exciting and commendable growth rate of 6% just six months ago. With the increasing Ebola threat to the economy, he noted, GOL revised its draft fiscal budget downward to US$470 million from US$540 million.
These negative figures are not only serious but alarming. They point to almost economic collapse. Worse yet, the prices of the country’s primary export commodities, rubber and iron ore, have also drastically declined, by 30% and 81%, respectively. The average inflation rate has been projected at 11.4% for 2014, up from 7.6% for 2013; while the end of year inflation rate for 2014 is projected at 14.7%, up from 8.5% in 2013.
There are even more distressing figures—for example the public external debt, which for 2014/15 is projected at 14.4%, compared to 11.6% for 2013/14.
With the Ebola crisis thankfully showing signs of receding, what can we do to revive our economy?
Finance Minister Konneh last Friday outlined a number of measures aimed at economic recovery. This is indeed very important, helpful and hopeful because it demonstrates that he and the government are looking beyond the rocks and hills and valleys of economic despair. They are developing a plan for economic recovery, for which we highly commend them.
The government, with the possible cooperation of the International Finance Corporation ((IFC), a subsidiary of the World Bank, is aiming at a stimulus package of roughly US$174 million. This will take the form of spending on education, among others, to help get the school system ready for resumption in the post-Ebola era. This is good news for everyone—parents, students, teachers, school authorities and business and transport people.
The Stimulus Package is also aimed at beefing up the health sector, by hopefully improving facilities at the nation’s health centers and hospitals. We hope this will also take care of all the arrears owed health and medical workers.
A good chunk of the stimulus package is also aimed at investing in the energy sector, to push electrification throughout the country, including getting the West African Power Pool (WAPP) back on track.
We are exceedingly thankful that the money for the rehabilitation of the Mount Coffee Hydro Electric Plant is intact. Emmanuel Lawrence, Deputy Project Manager of the Hydro Team, told the Daily Observer yesterday that they are aiming, in the post-Ebola period, to recommence work on the project within 30 to 90 days—to assemble and put in place the necessary equipment and to have everyone on board and the works in full swing. He said the crane for heavy lifting is already at the Free Port of Monrovia, ready to be transported to Mount Coffee.
The resumption of the hydro works will give a big boost to labor and recreate the people’s hope that one day soon, the hydro will be up and running, generating long overdue electricity to the capital city and beyond, dare we say 24/7/365.
Residents and businesses can rekindle the vision of financial relief and freedom from the health and safety risks of generators which have become the dreadful but indispensable heartbeat of businesses and homes large and small.
GOL’s stimulus will also include resumption of roads projects. Hopefully all of the foreign engineers, contractors and technicians will soon be back to take advantage of the Dry Season and run full speed with the road from Paynesville Red Light to Ganta, on to Fish Town and Harper, as well as the Gbarnga-Lofa highway and all the feeder roads in between. The money for these projects, too, is available.
The Stimulus Package will also include agricultural works. Internal Affairs Minister Morris Dukuly excitedly announced recently that with most of the borders closed, Liberians have been feeding themselves with vegetables. We hope that money from the Stimulus Package will reach the FARMERS THEMSELVES, not some bureaucrats that will intercept the funds and frustrate the farmers, as has been persistently done in the recent past. This newspaper has long advocated for empowering Liberians to grow their own pepper, tomatoes and other vegetables and fruits. But WHO can make this happen when those appointed to do so over the past decade or so have failed?
We wish to make three last points: First, all of these plans to get our economy back on track depend on one thing: eradicating Ebola. ALL of us must do EVERYTHING NECESSARY to make this happen, for none of these plans will materialize if we don’t.
Second, every Liberian must seriously, honestly and patriotically tackle the work we are given the responsibility to do in order to ensure that we succeed in restoring our economy to full capacity.
Lastly, we hope that the international community will help us in the process, not with loans, but with grants, for Heaven knows we cannot afford any more debt.