For all what it appeared, according to critics, the recent Ministry of Information Cultural Affairs and Tourism (MICAT) official weekly press conference was a publicity stunt intended more to placate rising public concerns about the state of the nation’s economy and the generally prevailing sense of growing insecurity.
The declared intent of the press conference was to brief the nation on the outcome of the mission to the United States to acquaint officials of that government with efforts being made by this government to bring development to the Liberian people as well as to debunk what officials say are falsehoods being peddled to the international community by haters of the Weah Government.
It was Information Minister Ledgerhood Rennie who led the charge, taking on those described as detractors who consistently fail to acknowledge achievements of this government. He outrightly dismissed public concerns about the rise in ritualistic killing, claiming that such were falsehoods spread also by detractors of this government.
For a Liberian Information Minister, such remarks were by no means surprising; they were expected. He was followed by Finance and Development Planning Minister Samuel Tweah, who dropped a bombshell that has apparently gone unnoticed by the public at large. Liberia, according to him, is making feverish preparations for the celebration of the bicentenary of the landing at Providence Island (Dozoa) of the first batch of former slaves from the United States of America.
He further declared that such were signs indicating this government’s desire to encourage the US government’s acceptance of Liberia as the 51st state of the United States of America. According to a civil society activist, the Minister’s remarks were quite off the cuff, suggesting a slap in the face of those brave men and women who took a leap of faith by leaving the land of their nativity and founded this nation.
They made a conscious and deliberate decision to declare independence rather than opting for US statehood. Quite clearly, mistakes were made along the way but a sense and spirit of nationalism had developed which made such thoughts and considerations of US statehood virtually unthinkable. This is irrespective of the fact that the survival of Liberia as a state would not have been possible without official support from the US government.
Thus, while most Liberians generally hold a favorable disposition towards the United States, this does not suggest that most Liberians are yearning to become the 51st state of the United States of America as Minister Tweah appears to suggest. Most Liberians prefer a free, independent Liberia capable of providing decent and sustainable livelihood for its citizens and holding its own in the comity of nations.
In the opinion of several civil society activists this newspaper has spoken to, this is a mere ploy by Minister Tweah intended to distract public attention from failed economic policies under a government so deeply mired in corruption. But such false promises of US statehood for Liberia could possibly lull the people into a state of complacency but only for a short while, if at all given the worsening of the economy.
During the press conference, Finance Minister Tweah told the Liberian people that when George Weah was elected President, the international community folded up its assistance to Liberia. But the facts reflected in a document published by the Aid Management and Coordination Unit of the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning show that Liberia received US$554 million in 2017/2018 and received USD $584 million in 2018/19. But, unfortunately, this government has not provided report of donors’ funds given during 2019/20 and/or 2020/21, which makes it difficult for the ordinary person to find reports about funds donated to Liberia.
Also, in 2019, this government removed from the Internet the 2018 annual report of the Central Bank, probably because the report indicated that the government's shortfall in revenue was US$200 million, the highest shortfall in revenue collection.
In Fiscal Years (FY) 2018/2019 donor contribution to the national budget amounted to US$584,694,427. A few of the donors include the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) US$129,013, the Government of the Kingdom of Sweden US$41,643,885, International Development Association (IDA) US$159,803,581, Government of Japan, US$15,308,968, amongst others.
Further, Finance Minister Tweah criticized the Daily Observer for a story carried citing comments by financial expert Yanqui Zaza that ArcelorMittal Liberia (Mittal Steel) did not keep its promise to pay US$3 million to Nimba (UD$1.5 million), Grand Bassa (US$1 million), and Bong (US$500,000) counties, respectively.
Minister Samuel Tweah stated that the writer, Mr. Zaza, was unprofessional and reported numbers that were far from the facts. But the facts reflected in the ‘CITIZENS BUDGET published by the Ministry of Finance show that out of a total of US$3.6 million paid as Corporate Social Responsibility Funds to those counties in 2016/2017, Firestone Liberia alone accounted for US$2.5 million. In view of this Mittal Steel could not have paid US$3 million.
According to the Liberia Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (LEITI), Corporate Social Responsibility funds paid by companies involved in the extractive industries in 2017/2018 amounted to a total of US$6,105,844 with Firestone Liberia accounting for US$2,903,729, compared to ArcelorMittal, which accounts for US$220,728.
Whatever may be the case, the Government of Liberia appears to be encouraging a culture of non-transparency in its dealings with ArcelorMittal by agreeing and committing itself to a non-disclosure clause in the agreement. This encourages the spread of rumors arising from the belief that “Kro-Kro-Gee” arrangements are involved, else why include a non-disclosure clause which appears to have no rational explanation?
Minister Tweah in his remarks declared that it is time to change the so-called false narratives, which he claims has haunted and is hurting this government. But Minister Tweah ought to realize that the very conduct of officials of this government continues to provide room for the spawning of new narratives about official theft and seemingly engrained corrupt practices.
Creating a new narrative calls for unhinged access to public officials, public documents etc, and unfeigned tolerance to public criticism and free speech. Above all, the government must always tell the people the truth if it is to engender public trust, respect and support for its policies. This is to set the record straight.