Dear President Weah:
I admire your recent honesty that you were aware of the challenges that were present with the national economy when you decided to contest the presidency. It tells everyone, including me, that you are not surprised by what you’ve got to clean up right now. If I heard you clearly, sir, you related these economic issues to the fallen prices of Liberia’s key exports, rubber and iron ore, coupled with the withdrawal of the United Nation Mission in Liberia (UNMIL). You’ve also stated clearly that we remain in this quagmire due to the lack of non-value added to our exports for generations, which you intend to address.
Mr. President, honesty and earnestness have a way to payback those who believe and live by these principles. What these do for those who live by those principles is to help them identify where in life they are and how far they have to go; in essence, it helps them uncover problems and find solutions. I’m not sure if everyone agrees with you. But there are some who want us to believe our current state of the economy, especially the monetary situation, is a result of theft by former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. I wonder why you did not name the former president as cause but instead spoke of other issues? I know those are the actual cause of the situation the country faces.
Let me not make this letter appear like an issue about the former President. Mr President, this has nothing to do with your predecessor but a common advice I’m trying to pass on. I have found that in addition to the salient points raised in your address to the nation on July 16, 2018, one major guide rail missing to stabilize the economy was the surrendering of foreign exchange coming into the country. This decision is going to be unpopular, but I strongly encourage you to take the bull by the horn and mandate it to surrender 100%.
Mr President, along with that 100% forex surrender should be the following measures:
- All transactions in Liberia must be carried out in Liberian dollar. Any business found transacting in US dollar should face hefty fines on the first offense and license revoked on the second;
- All salaries for public and private employees must be paid 100% in Liberian dollar; from the President to the janitors in public offices and the managers to sweepers in private businesses;
- Outlaw the US dollar as legal tender in Liberia.
You have the power, sir, use it. Make this work. From this fiscal year 2018/2019, let’s have all salaries paid in Liberian dollars. I think by doing these things we will remove the relevance of the US dollar from the local market and only importers of goods and services and foreign travels would need forex exchange. This should ease the pressure on the Central Bank of Liberia tremendously.
Mr President, imagine you have provided US$25M to mop up excess liquidity and that exercise is ongoing. Do you know that after all the excess Liberian dollars are collected from the street corners and returned to the CBL the next place they go from the CBL vaults would be back in the streets? When you need to pay salaries and request US dollars from the CBL those notes are going to get pumped into the streets again. This time it’ll not be just Government looking to pay salaries. Businesses would be looking for forex to bring in goods. They may pump excess notes into the streets, the common market for US dollars. The rate may be just where we had it before the mopping up exercise. It may appear that you did nothing when you actually did much. But that much would not be enough, sir.
I think once the US dollar is removed as legal tender the better. You will not believe this but taxi drivers charge for charter on their taxi in US dollar, and even “cold bowl” shops sell dumboy in US dollar. We can’t blame those people when the car is sold in US dollar and the pig feet and onion bags are sold in US dollar.This confusion in the market have to stop. Let the petty traders and the five star hotels all sell goods and services in Liberian dollar only.
Mr. President, on the forex bureaux end, we must bring some sanity and order. How do we do this? Let us have at least four or five companies or franchises registered with the CBL to conduct this business throughout the country. From Pleebo, Maryland County to Duala on Bushrod Island; from Robertsport in Cape Mount to Yekepa in Nimba County; from Ganta in Nimba to Kaloken in Maryland County every forex bureau must be owned and operated by a certified company or franchise.
These companies or franchises are to be held for the rates their branches would offer customers. They should be provided a CBL certified rate and have that communicated to the branches. Communication should be the least of their worries, given the current mobile telecommunications infrastructure in the country. Companies or franchises engaging in acts to cause volatility to the market should face fines on a number of occasions and license terminated for repeated offenses.
Mr. President, each of the CBL Governors since it’s creation in 1999 has struggled with the dual currency regime in the country, yet none ended that regime. These men recognized dual currency as negative consequences on the economy but failed to end it. I urge you to drive the final nail into the coffin of this monetary taboo with the stroke of your pen. We don’t need a law for that, just an executive order is enough.
I am not sure if these are things you might want to do; however, I thought to let you know as we are going nowhere with the dual currency; 30-70 US to LD salaries payment of salaries; transactions in US dollars, including selling dumboy.
Thanks for all the efforts thus far but you can’t have your cake and eat it.
Journalist & Political Commentator