It Is Really Unfair to Liberia, Mr. President: Make US$536M Asian Loan MOU Public

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LIBERIA HAS BEEN through so much in so long, leading to so many bad things: Coups, a civil war and Ebola are just a few of the many unnecessary distractions that have caused unnecessary setbacks in the country’s development.

ON APRIL 14, 1979, it was the progressives who engineered a rice riot in hopes of bringing down the price of rice.

IT ALL STARTED AFTER the then Minister of Agriculture, Florence Chenoweth, proposed an increase in the subsidized price of rice from $22 per 100-pound bag to $26. Chenoweth asserted that the increase would serve as an added inducement for rice farmers to stay on the land and produce rice as both a subsistence crop and a cash crop, instead of abandoning their farms for jobs in the cities or on the rubber plantations.

POLITICAL OPPONENTS at the time, criticized the proposal as self-aggrandizement, pointing out that Chenoweth and the Tolbert family of the president operated large rice farms and would therefore realize a tidy profit from the proposed price increase.

THIS RESULTED IN what should have been a peaceful riot by the Progressive Alliance of Liberia which called for a peaceful demonstration in Monrovia to protest the proposed price increase. Thus, on April 14 about 2,000 activists embarked on a peaceful march on the Executive Mansion. The protest march swelled dramatically when the protesters were joined En-route by more than 10,000 “back street boys,” causing the march to quickly degenerate into a disorderly mob of riot and destruction.

THE INTENT OF THE PROTEST was lost and widespread looting of retail stores and rice warehouses ensued with damage to private property estimated to have exceeded $40 million. The government called in troops to reinforce police units in the capital, who were overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of the rioters. In 12 hours of violence in the city’s streets, at least 40 civilians were killed, and more than 500 were injured. Hundreds more were arrested.

SADLY, NOTHING HAS CHANGED in Liberia since. The price of rice never came down and more problems have piled up since those riots, commencing with a coup just a year later and ending the reign of President William R. Tolbert and the True Whig Party government.

DOE PROMISED TO RID Liberia of corruption, nepotism and abuse of human rights. His government even went a step further by executing thirteen of the most senior officials of the Tolbert government who were stripped down to their underwear and publicly executed on a Monrovia beach.


IT’S BEEN DAYS NOW since a delegation comprising Finance and Economic Planning Minister Samuel Tweah, Public Works Minister Mabutu Nyenpan, Minister of State Nathaniel McGill, Justice Minister Musa Dean and Cllr. Archibald Bernard, Legal Advisor to the President, returned home after signing the MOU but the government has so far failed to make the MOU public to the nation, its people and the international community.


AT THE TIME, Liberians cheered. The Doe years would prove much of the same prompting exile Liberians led by Charles Taylor to mount a civil war on the country leading to countless bloodshed, pain, suffering.

 

LIKE DOE, TAYLOR’S reign was no different. Cries of corruption, abuse of human rights, lack of transparency and accountability dominated the fears that Liberia was a cursed nation entrenched in a sea of unprincipled people.

BACK IN 1986, shortly after winning his infamous 1985 elections, Doe in a bid to appease Washington, made a self-critical speech, in which he acknowledged that a major source of Liberia’s problems” is that Liberia’s government spends more than it earns and that “financial discipline continues to elude us.”

THAT SPEECH in Washington acknowledged that Doe’s government routinely had spent money without accounting for where it went, and that his ministries had subsidized their profligacy by dipping into the earnings of public corporations. He asked the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the European Community to send money managers to Liberia to supervise tax collection and government spending.

SOUNDS FAMILIAR? Since the ushering in of the George Weah-led government memories of the Doe era has been resurfacing, starting with the new government’s plan to construct a military hospital but yet to show where the money is coming from to do so as it is not in the budget.

IN RECENT WEEKS, another controversy is swirling over the government’s signing of a Memorandum of Understanding an Asian conglomerate for a reported US$536 million toward the construction of a coastal highway for southeastern Liberia.

IT’S BEEN DAYS NOW since a delegation comprising Finance and Economic Planning Minister Samuel Tweah, Public Works Minister Mabutu Nyenpan, Minister of State Nathaniel McGill, Justice Minister Musa Dean and Cllr. Archibald Bernard, Legal Advisor to the President, returned home after signing the MOU but the government has so far failed to make the MOU public to the nation, its people and the international community.

THE INTERNATIONAL MONETARY FUND has already cautioned: “Debt levels have been rising steadily in recent years. While the risk of debt distress remains moderate, borrowing space has clearly been reduced over time.”

THIS IS WHY it is becoming increasingly necessary for the Weah-led government to let Liberians, particularly those who elected them see what is in this MOU that it has signed with the Asian Conglomerate.

ALL WE KNOW NOW and have already reported is that the loan is being processed through a Singaporean financing firm Eton finance private limited.
ALREADY there is a backlash amid concerns that the loan itself is in breach of IMF article iv and if not properly used for the intended purpose could sink Weah’s presidency and leave Liberians holding once again an empty bag.

WHAT WE DO NOT KNOW, is why was such an important MOU putting a sovereign nation in debt signed with a private company on a foreign soil behind the back of an entire nation?

LIBERIANS ARE ENTITLED TO KNOW not because they are noisy but because it is about the country and its resources. Thus, it is important for the Weah-led government to explain the fine prints of the loan. Who is getting commission? Who funded the delegation’s trip to Asia? Was it s private flight? Is Chinese money planted somewhere in there?

FURTHERMORE, WHAT IS IN the MOU? What is Liberia giving up? What has Liberia been promised? Has money been dished out already? Who signed for it and how much? Has the legislature been informed? Have they consented? It is a known fact that no government can upon itself sign off a nation’s assets without legislative approval.

ALL THESE QUESTIONS ARE IMPORTANT and demand answers because there are just too many of them going unanswered and simply too many speculations flying around. In addition to the yet-to-be explained where the money is coming from for the military hospital, reports are already surfacing that the Weah-led government is contemplating purchasing an airplane through the instrumentation of controversial businessman Emmanuel Shaw.

WHERE IS THIS MONEY coming from? Is it part of the loan from the Asian Conglomerate?
AFRICAN GOVERNMENTS have a bad habit of blaming the media for speculating too much but in reality, when the lack of accountability and transparency becomes routine, the media will speculate and ask questions.

THE PREVIOUS ADMINISTRATION had its issues but one thing it was good at was posing signed MOU’s or agreements on the Executive Mansion’s website for all to see.

THE FACT THAT the Weah-CDC-led government is refusing to make the Asian loan details public and even rejecting declarations of assets makes it obvious that it is hiding something.

PRESIDENT WEAH was clear during his inauguration when he said: “It will be my task to lead this nation from division to unity. I will not let you down. It is my belief that the most effective way to directly impact the poor, and to narrow the gap between the rich and the poor is to make sure that public resources do not end up in the pockets of government officials.”

 

SADLY, MR. PRESIDENT nearly every action you have embarked on so far is doing just the contrary. Dismissing assets declaration and shying away from transparency and accountability will not get you and your government anywhere.

 

WE HAVE SEEN IT ALL BEFORE. During the Sirleaf government, it was Harry Greaves and the Nigerian Oil deal that dragged on forever and drowned in one controversy after the next. After Doe’s demise, the airplane Mr. Shaw helped him purchased was reportedly sold for millions. Today, Shaw is back in your circle, just as he was with Doe and Taylor.

THIS IS NOT GOOD for Liberia. It is these kinds of things that lead to conflict in the long-term and no one wants to see Liberia plunged back into another civil unrest but we cannot sit back idly and allow our country’s resources to be given up without lifting a finger up to ask why?

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