MONROVIA-The main opposition political Party in Liberia, Unity Party, (UP) has sharply reacted to the State of the Nation Address, (SONA) delivered by President George M. Weah on Monday, January 30, 2023.
Since the delivery of the SONA, it has been greeted with a series of verbal lashes and harsh criticisms from elements in the opposition community.
Though the Liberian Leader cataloged salient gains made almost six years down the line, the opposition strongly believes that Weah has woefully failed and should not be given a second term.
The UP in its statement mentioned that come the impending Legislative and Presidential Elections, the country will have new Commander-in-Chief.
“We will have a new Commander-in-Chief, someone up to the task of building this country, someone with the compassion, skills, integrity, and experience to restore our faith in our country”.
Reacting to the state of the economy, the party pointed out that, “the President made several broad promises and is yet to fulfill them. Additionally, he has continuously violated laws that seek to curb corruption.
For instance, last year during the President’s State of the Nation Address to the Legislature, he reported the passage of the 2022 National Budget in the tune of Seven Hundred Eighty-Five Million Six Hundred Thousand United States Dollars (US$785.6) and promised to make it a transformative budget.
The president’s address fell short of showing the transformative effects by making specific reference to the changes in the budget execution.
It is quite interesting that the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning (MFDP) has not published fiscal outturn or budget performance reports since the 2020 publication. There is no indication that the government generated $640.5 million United States Dollars as 81.5 percent of the revenue component as proposed in the 2022 National Budget”.
The party believes that the budget performance report should be able to provide a detailed explanation as regards revenue receipts and expenditures during the period under review. Without the President clearly reporting on these indicators and his claim that his government introduced the largest National Budget in the history of Liberia remains unrealistic.
UP emphasized that “strong revenue measures would have been taken to rigorously increase domestic resource mobilization through the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA) resource mobilization strategy to give back 50 percent of all real estate taxes collected to the counties, districts, and cities where the real estate taxes are collected”.
UP alleged that the President did not mention any progress in his 2023 Annual Message and they have no evidence of this program being successfully implemented nor have they seen evidence that the local government and or communities are receiving a percentage of the real estate taxes collected. The revenue-sharing law was passed in 2022 but it has not taken effect. “All we saw was wastage of public resources through workshops and seminars,” the former ruling party condemned.
The issue of the Social Development Fund (SDF) was also placed under the political microscope of the UP saying, “Of striking significance is the government’s inability to remit Social Development Funds (SDF) collected from concessional multinational firms operating in Liberia to the local county authorities. This clearly exhibits a high degree of insincerity and unwillingness on the part of the Executive branch of government to uphold the Local Government Act and the MDAs as laws.
For example, the Executive received 7.5 Million United States Dollars for Nimba County, 3 Million United States Dollars for Bong Country, 5 Million United States Dollars for Grand Bassa County as Social Development Funds. The government has callously not remitted those amounts to the respective counties thereby depriving the counties of the needed development. What have the people of Nimba, Bong and Grand Bassa done to you Mr. President for which you and your government are depriving them of money from their own natural resources?”
On the subject of the concession agreement, the party again made it as a reminder of the controversy over the Western Cluster deal that is still fresh on the minds and or ears of Liberians, especially citizens of the affected counties in Bomi, Grand Cape Mount, and Gbarpolu.
The statement pointedly said, “Recently, the Government announced to the public that the Western Cluster Concession agreement ratified in 2011 was being activated using an illegal MoU. There were several breaches in the Mineral Development Agreement (MDA) which only qualifies it for re-negotiation. Western Cluster owed the three counties 24 million, didn’t meet the exploration deadlines, didn’t establish any production sites and have not commenced the development of the agreed infrastructures (the construction of a road from Bomi Hill to Mano River, the construction of a rail and the construction of a port).
The government used an illegal MoU and waived 14 million of the SDF and allowed Western Cluster to lift the Direct Shipping Ore for shipping on the illegal MoU. This is Stealing!!!!!!
According to Main opposition party, Liberians expected to have heard the President speak about his government’s approach to avoid the progressive abuse of over $300 million U.S. dollars in duty-free privileges granted prior to the delivery of his 2022 Annual Message.
UP alleged that the President deliberately and heartlessly decided not to speak about this very important issue as he had committed to do in the last State of the Nation Address. We believe, President Weah and his government didn’t mention anything about stop gap measures taken to prevent this linkage in the system. He and his government continue to abuse the granting of duty-free privileges which could’ve amounted to more than 300 million as we speak.
The President reported last year during the delivery of his Annual Message that the positive review from the IMF was immediately followed by a disbursement of $23.64 million U.S. dollars to the Central Bank to add to the nation’s reserve stock. Additionally, Liberia received $345.3 million US dollars in August 2021 under the general Special Drawing Rights allocation from the IMF as a member due to the unstable condition of our financial situation. What the President didn’t report was that this disbursement of SDR was a result of the recapitalization of the Central Bank after the CDC Government uncontrollably and carelessly depleted the national reserve by the first quarter of 2019 upon taking office.
He also reported that despite the challenges of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, the economy grew by 3.6 percent from negative 3 percent in 2020, and growth was expected in 2022 to be 4.7 percent. The President didn’t mention the actual growth rate due to a decline by 0.7 percent. Though inflation rhetorically reduced, commodity prices including everyday household need continue to skyrocket thereby posing serious hardship to Liberians as they struggle to look for their daily meal.
For three consecutive years, from 2018 to 2020, for instance, prices of food and nonalcoholic drinks like water increased without any form of policy control or a clear strategy to lessen their impacts. Compared to food price inflation of 4.6% between 2016 and 2017, the people of Liberia experienced a massive shock in 2018 when prices of food and related items went up by 25%. There was a further escalation of 30% in 2019 and 15% in 2020 despite the use of almost $40 million of public resources for purported food aid to vulnerable people which should have reduced the consumer demand pressure on the market.
Worse still, unjustified, insensitive tax regimes on petroleum and digital service providers, and the government’s tacit or acquiescent complicity in the emergence of cartels that control critical commodities, have seen sharp increases in the cost of transportation and communication. These additional costs that are not linked to any specific investment in the relevant sector’s infrastructures have undermined productivity in the service sector of the economy. On the supply side, higher transport and communication costs affect the marketing and distribution of goods and services. For consumers, these rising costs of transportation and communication create additional hurdles for access to information from both public and private providers of goods, services, and policies.
According to the Central Bank of Liberia’s own reports from 2018 to date, the true picture about inflation has been much more devastating under the leadership of this President and his incompetent government. For households and individuals, the prices of basic goods and services have been climbing beyond the purchasing power of the average citizen and family. A combination of unregulated injection of currency into the economy, reduction in inflows of foreign exchange, and violations of the independence of the Central Bank of Liberia have increased the inflationary pressures on the consumer price index (CPI), which is the market basket of essential goods and services. In 2018, for example, the cost of health care in Liberia was 20.5% higher than what it was in 2017, 14% in 2019, 53% in 2020, and 30% in 2021.
The cost of education, which is an essential citizenship right, has also become unsustainable. Since 2019, it has been on the rise increasing by 13% in 2019, 36% in 2020, and 30% in 2021.
On the monetary policy front, the President reported that in 2022 the Central Bank of Liberia printed 48 Billion Liberian Dollars without inflation. This statement is far from reality. The records show that the CBL brought in the first consignment of banknotes totaling L$4.0 billion Liberian dollars out of the approved L$48.734 billion Liberian dollars in November 2021.
The second consignment was expected in January 2022. The President failed to report on the current status of the second consignment to include the coins which we already see in circulation. The Mandate given the Central Bank by the National Legislature was to print a whole new family of currency; instead, the Executive through the Central Bank of Liberia printed the same “conflicted currency”.
This situation has opened up a new front for the duplication of the currency. Several cases have been reported about citizens being arrested with thousands and millions of Liberian dollars at different border points. This decision to continue printing such a conflicted currency speaks to a larger extent of something that Liberians need to know.
What do these numbers as stated early mean? They tell you how poorly our country is performing, how disrespectful our government is when it comes to respecting and upholding fiscal policies. Failure to show the actual picture of the state of our country’s economy only tells a story of how dishonest and deceitful our government under President Weah is.
Since the President’s ascendancy to power, he has indicated on numerous occasions that he is committed to fighting corruption. However, it appears that he is the Commander of Corruption-in-Chief.
In his 2022 SONA, he pledged to have sustained the fight against corruption, money laundering and illicit financial flows and promised to have strengthened and empowered the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission. In this year’s Annual Message, the President provided a lip-service update to these fights. The President has weakened the Liberia Anti-corruption Law making the LACC a lame duck.
The Weah-led government has conspicuously refused to fight corruption with cases related to important institutions such as Agriculture, National Elections Commission, and Liberia Water & Sewer Corporation all going down the drain with no form of accountability. The President also committed to spare no effort in bringing to Liberia international compliance platforms in the fight against corruption and illicit financial flows. On the contrary, just last year, three Liberian government officials were sanctioned for acts related to corruption and illicit financial flows of money.
President Weah loudly promised to commission an investigation into the sanctioned officials; the former Minister of State Nathaniel McGill, former Managing Director of the National Port Authority Bill Tweahway, and former Solicitor-General Saymah Cyrenus Cephas. Liberians are left wondering what has happened to the investigation. We only see a public display of support to these officials by his political party and government some embark to run for office.
Furthermore, after an audit of the National Road Fund Account; it was reported that little over 6 Million United States Dollars was misapplied in 2018 and an additional 24 Million United States Dollars by the Government on payroll financing. This runs contrary to the established law which prohibits the use of the fund for anything other than road rehabilitation and construction. The President also refused to report on the 11 Million United States Dollars appropriated in the 2022 fiscal year budget as rice subsidy. Even with this subsidy and an additional 14 Million United States Dollars in the current 2023 fiscal year budget; rice price has been increased to US$17.50 per 25 Kg bag from US$13.5 per bag.
Commenting on the issues of salaries and benefits, President Weah further reported during his last year’s Annual Message that several reforms were taking place on the Central Government Payroll and pension schemes reporting the placement of Government workers on biometric ID; to reduce non-contributory pension scheme; expanded social security coverage and increase social security contribution by 300 percent in some instances.
He further said that at the end of the reform which is yet to be completed, those who retired should immediately start to get their benefits the next month. However, we have realized that President Weah did not provide any significant update on this during this year’s Annual Message delivery. The President’s address did not report on any progress. Evidence has shown to date that many civil servants were retired and did not receive any benefits thereafter. The country continues to witness agitations from retired civil servants who are left to struggle for their survival.
Even in the face of not fulfilling promises he made from the beginning of his Presidency, the President again went on to make an empty political promise about increasing the salaries of those civil servants earning below the minimum wage. What is even more appalling is for the President to tell the civil servants that for more than five years he had no idea that Fifteen Thousand civil servants were making salaries way below the minimum wage when it was his HARMONIZATION POLICY that actually reduced their salaries.
One of the damaging failures of monetary policy has been the almost tacit complicity of the authority of the CBL with the fiscal authorities in the excessive printing of Liberian currency to the extent that the Central Bank of Liberia cannot accurately account for the stock of money, whether in circulation or in banks. More ironically, the successive printing of new banknotes, some legal and others questionable, has not solved the challenges of insufficient Liberian dollars in circulation and mutilated and deformed banknotes.