By Harris Kerkula
President George Weah and his merry band of hustlers currently running the show in Liberia are a band in a hurry: hurry to bring overnight development to Liberia; at least that’s the official line. They’ve been crisscrossing the globe, from Brussels to Beirut, from Singapore to Beijing, in search of easy and fast cash. Liberians already know a thing or two about what happens when George Weah gets hold of easy cash. That’s why they are now singing a new song. No more “country giant coming again” song; they are now singing: Forky Klon, this kind of stealing, we’ve never seen it here before. Of course, “Country Giant” and Forky Klon” are both local references to George Weah as candidate and as President. The former is a reference to his political prowess as candidate; while the latter (and current nickname) is a reference to his capacity and penchant for looting the public treasury as President.
But public derision, discontent and protest mean nothing to George Weah and Company. Having endured the depravation associated with opposition politics in Africa, their zest for quick cash has led to some pretty disastrous crash landings already, like the “Shaw-inspired” ETON and EBOMAF loans, or even the minerals-for-cash swap with China that was derided in Monrovia as being pretty close treason. After the few initial setbacks and crashes, a dose of reality set in for Weah and Company. As they reckon, “perhaps, there are no easy or fast money”. Maybe we have to go “old school”. Yeah,“Old school”,… as in going to the IMF and World Bank. So, quite to the dismay of shadowy wingmen like Shaw and Archibald, President Weah and his merry band of hustlers decided to go mainstream, to go to the IMF and World Bank. After all didn’t Samuel K. Doe do the similar thing in the eighties and milked hundreds of millions of dollars from Washington, in exchange for empty promises? It’s simply a matter of pretending to be financially disciplined for a while until the “mad” (money) drops.
Right now the chatter in Liberia is that the IMF is coming, coming to assist the Liberian government get out the economic dungeon it finds itself in. But the whole idea of a CDC-led government going, cap-in-hand, to the IMF and the WorldBank is an enigma in itself. After all, this was the same people that campaigned on the slogan “you know book”/”you na know book” we will vote for you – a Liberian parlance, meaning education is not a relevant factor in running a country. After selling that scam to Liberians for twelve (12) years running, President Weah and his minions are now, on the contrary, subscribing to the doctor degree holders from the IMF and the WorldBank, in a desperate attempt to ward off Liberia’s ominous slide into the economic abyss. Perhaps, George Weah, the man with the country at-heart, should now search his “heart” for solutions to Liberia’s economic problem. For 12 years, we were told this man “has the country at heart”, and that… that was all that is needed to run Liberia well. It‘s time for George Weah’s “heart” to deliver for the Liberian people. Or doesn’t he have a heart anymore? And if President Weah is having some difficulty in this venture, he should call upon George Werner, the “Da-book-we-will-eat?” former minister of education, to help in the process. Surely, with the kind of heart George Weah has, there’s got to be some solutions in there, especially in regards to Liberia’s prescient downward economic spiral.
Is Liberia’s economic problem that bad?
We are told inflation is now upwards of 30% and economic growth, once put at 4.7%, is now revised to 0.4%. Liberia’s currency has devalued at least 40% over the 18-month period President Weah has been in office, and along with that devaluation in the currency is the steep rise in the price of basic commodities and services as quoted in Liberian dollars. Key among the prices of commodities that Liberians are finding increasingly difficult to fathom are the prices of rice (the nation’s staple), general food supplies, petrol, transportation fares and school fees. Even civil servants’ salaries, once paid on the dot at month end, is now routinely in arrears, while cuts are a sure bet for the next fiscal year. Liberia government does not keep statistics on unemployment. If it did, the figures would be sorrowful and scary, as unemployment is now an ever-present and stark reality in Liberia. In essence, Liberia’s economic situation is that bad, really bad. What’s more annoying is that Mr. President is busy beating “sangbah” (drums), dancing and playing soccer, even as Liberians are crying from the economic pinch.
Can the IMF work wonders in aura of bad governance?
After mounting public protests, ranging from “bring back our money”, to protest for “war crimes court”, to more lately “save the state”protest, Mr. President has called for dialogue on the economy; though not on the corruption that is causing the economy to retrogress. But, what dialogue? Some actions that can alleviate the disgruntlement, even if not the underlying problems, can be done by a simple stroke of the President’s pen. Some of these issues are simple common sense issues that don’t require eggheads from the IMF to tell us. These matters border on governance, transparency, accountability and an end to impunity. It is simple wishful thinking to assume that one can solve the economic problems of Liberia without addressing the underlying issue of governance, accountability, corruption and impunity. Mr. President, if I may break this down in words you can easily understand: it’s like trying to fill a badly leaking bucket with water. It just won’t work. You can call this the “theory of the leaking bucket”. I guess the eggheads from the IMF can relate. The common sense thing to do in this case is to seal the leaks. But George “Ali Baba” Weah and his merry band of hustlers are the main people causing the leaks! Perhaps Liberia’s economy is just doomed to bad governance and heartless leaders?
President Weah bad governance decisions aggregated
President Weah has been so busy violating our laws right from the day he set foot in the Presidency. George Weah and his CDC minions think that, by their elevation as government officials, they are now above the law. Mr. Weah and his minions have violated our laws in so many ways that if one wants to list them all, one would need to write a book. Since I’m only writing an op-ed, I guess I will just have to aggregate the violations, to underscore the point.
Circumventing laws meant to promote transparency and accountability
First off is the issue of declaration of assets as mandated by Liberia’s Code of Conduct for Public Officials law. The President resisted this simple legal requirement for months. It took six months of noise-making, dozens of editorials and even a hunger strike by “multi-purpose” activist, Archie Ponpon, at the gates of the US embassy, just for Mr. President to declare his assets. Now to make those declarations public, It will probably take the “gates of heaven and hell” to open before our President makes his assets declaration public. His argument now is that the law does not call for public disclosure and that he needs to protect his family from the many armed robbers roaming Liberia. But the last time I checked, President Weah remains the most protected individual in Liberia. Yet, it seems, on the issue of public disclosure of his assets, Mr. President is certainly not budging. In the meantime, however, the brother is constructing mansions all across Liberia. One can only imagine what he’s doing abroad.
But what exactly does the Code of Conduct law say? For starters, the law says: declare your assets prior to taking office, upon progression from one level to another, and when exiting office. Essentially, Mr. Weah was obliged to declare his assets upon the basis of his election as President, plain and simple. Yet, it took from January 22, 2018 to July 25, 2018, six months, just to declare his assets. While he keeps the declaration under lock and key, Mr. President is busy constructing scores of luxurious properties in multiple locations around Liberia and possibly abroad, projects which costs runs into millions and millions of US dollars. To date, as a further example of his lack of interest in transparency, President Weah has not seen the need to sanction officials of his government who continue to defy the law by not declaring their assets at all, or to sanction those who provide deliberately misleading information.
The issue of assets declaration and disclosures are not the only aspects of the Code of Conduct laws being violated. The Code of Conduct law, meant to institutionalize the practice of good governance, is being absolutely torn to shreds by this CDC government. Some of the violated sections include (i) promotion of the merit system, (ii)prohibition on mixing politics and work, (iii) prohibition on nepotism in the public service, (iv) prohibition of gifts and offers intended to influence, as well as the (v) setting up of the Office of Ombudsman to investigate complaints and make recommendations. Some of the mind-boggling violations of the laws are done by President Weah himself, including, for example, President Weah’s flagrant acceptance of the use of an airplane from his Burkinabe “friend”, who, as it later turned out, wanted to build roads (commercial interest) in Liberia. Other violations include campaigning by CDC government officials using government vehicles and time, often in the presence of Mr. President. And still more violations include the flooding of government posts with incompetent party stalwarts and family members. The most infamous, of course, is one in which a family-member appointee to the Ministry of Finance shouted “Jesus”, ostensibly seeking heavenly intervention when asked, at her confirmation hearing, about her knowledge of fiscal policy. And sadly too she was confirmed by the Liberian senate. And then there is the college dropout who now works as an assistant minister at the Ministry of Agriculture, with the full blessing of Mr. President. I’d very much like to see the kind of economic miracle that can occur in a governance environment like this. Maybe I’m the stupid one. Or maybe the eggheads at the IMF are also in the miracle business (or even witch doctors, since this is Africa).
Apart from the Code of Conduct law, other laws that are the CDC regime favorite for violations include the Public Procurement and Concessions Commission (PPCC) law. You will note that the PPCC law intent is to foster fair business competition in the sourcing and award of contracts and in the supply of good, services, and works. But, alas, the CDC regime is having a field day violating every aspect of this law. The list of CDC government’s PPCC law violations is endless. The former PPCC boss, Dorbor Jallah cried in vain as George “Ali Baba” Weah and his merry band of hustlers, including the entire National Legislature of Liberia, butchered the PPCC law in law in order to get their hands on what they assumed at the time to be easy and fast money (ETON and EBOMAF US$900m loans). One local CDC official even gloated that their regime is willing to get money even from the devil. Of course, it’s now public information that any procurement matter involving President Weah’s favorite Lebanese friends, Bittar Construction and Building Material Center (BMC), is now national emergency, to be awarded solely by single sourcing. To cap up this butchering of the PPCC law, Mr. Weah decided to replace the highly-respected and independent former PPCC boss, Dorbor Jallah, with the wife of a high ranking CDC official (who, coincidentally doubles also as high-rank Ministry of Finance). It’s like the independence of PPCC means absolutely nothing to “Ali Baba” Weah and his merry band of hustlers.
You know you are in a terribly misgoverned country when billions of freshly minted local currency (equivalent to US$104M) can go missing, right off the plane, while the President hounds the journalist that broke the story. Even up to now, Mr. President does not see the necessity in investigating this heinous and unprecedented economic crime. He thinks that rounding up a few Sirleaf-era officials is sufficient to keep the noisemakers quiet. Mr. President is actively dodging any comprehensive forensic investigation into the LD15 billion missing money saga. Why is George Weah so afraid of a full-scale forensic investigation into this LD15 billion scandal? You know you are in a terribly misgoverned country, when US$25 million can get squandered in a failed economic policy implementation and the President and his Justice Minister attempt to suppress the truth in broad daylight. We are not stupid, Mr. President! Criminal investigation is not your only basis for taking action against badly-performing government officials. Whatever happened to administrative action for gross incompetence and negligence? How about suspension or dismissal, as administrative actions against your officials who botched your economic policy (i.e., USD25 Mop-Up exercise)? Liberians concede you lack legal knowledge and knowledge of economics, but do you also lack common sense? Or are you equally complicit in this brazen theft from the Liberian people? Your failure to properly resolve this grave State matter, if you don’t know, is now tantamount to misfeasance, malfeasance and nonfeasance. National Legislature, please take note.
The IMF has embarked on mission impossible
When you combine these flagrant violations of laws (meant to promotes accountability, transparency, fiscal prudence and economic growth), with the fact that President Weah and his CDC minions, continue to appoint and recycle outright incompetents, dimwits, halfwits, and social degenerates to occupy key public sector posts, all in the name of party loyalty, you can appreciate why not even “economists from heaven” can save the Liberian economy from its downward spiral. Liberia’s current governance environment is inimical to economic growth and stability. My very kind regards to the eggheads from the IMF and the World Bank; you have just embarked on mission impossible. After your Liberian assignment, you will return to Washington with a new economic theory to analyze: the theory of the leaking bucket!
About the Author: Harris Kerkula is a citizen of Liberia and a resident of Monrovia. He is married and has 5 kids. He considers himself a perennial student of economics and history and has taught social studies and literature to high school students for 15 years running. Mr. Harris can be reached via email: [email protected]