Liberia’s Challenge: President George Weah’s Conundrum

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WHEN LIBERIANS DECIDED – and warring factions agreed to allow the guns of war to become silent, the international community and key stakeholders came to the aid of Africa’s oldest republic in no small measure.

THE ELECTION in 2006 of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Africa’s first woman head of state was greeted with much fanfare and admiration thereby paving the way the eradication of billions of dollars in debt, triggering a milestone that catalyzed further support from donors.

BOTH THE INTERNATIONAL Monetary Fund(IMF) and the World Bank supported the final stage of debt relief for Liberia that in total amounts to $4.6 billion in nominal terms.

THE DEBT WAIVER WAS a turning point for the nation emerging from war and marked a significant milestone in Liberia’s path toward recovery.

OVER THE COURSE of the past decade the country embraced the revival of iron ore mining, forestry, and commercial agriculture while much effort was made toward investment on roads, electric power, and ports to unblock bottlenecks that inhibit private sector investment.

FOR TWELVE YEARS, the Sirleaf era came under immense scrutiny as Liberians continue to decry the lack of impact from the country’s resources. Simply put, those languishing at the bottom of the economic ladder repeatedly complained about not feeling the pinch of what its government was projecting to the outside world.

FROM THE ONSET however it was clear that the challenge would be enormous. A country emerging from war and struggling to maintain macroeconomic stability alongside expansionary fiscal policies, strengthening governance and the rule of law was a daunting proposition to begin with.

SIRLEAF CAME under fire for a lot of missteps during her reign and exited the stage on a whimper after falling out with her own party due to her failure to support the candidacy of her vice president Joseph Boakai.

THE DAWN OF THE George Weah era was viewed as an unconventional approach for modern African politics, as Liberia ushered in a former world football icon with limited experience in government but immense control of the country’s grassroots, to steer the affairs of the state.

FIVE MONTHS ON THE JOB, signals are mixed on the early reports of the new government.

INFLATION IS ON THE RISE, the exchange rate is rapidly climbing and financial projections appear bleak for the country for the foreseeable future.

NOTED ECONOMIST Samuel L. Jackson opined this week that the Weah-led administration’s economic policy direction was a bit chaotic and not integrated into achieving sustainable outcomes. “Like mainstreaming the SDGs into your short, medium and long-term development agenda,” Mr. Jackson said in a post directed at President Weah on the social medium Facebook.

MR. JACKSON SAID HE has seen no efforts so far to expand private sector development. “Either through domestic capital formation or Foreign direct investments. You can do neither without improving the rule of law and effective governance. Liberia is at the near bottom of the World Bank Doing Business Survey ranking. No serious attraction of FDI can occur in this environment.”

TOWARD THE END of the Sirleaf era, many international stakeholders cautioned that her likely successor would face a daunting task improving on the gains made despite some challenges which put Sirleaf on the receiving end of a lot of criticisms during her time in office.

ASSUMING THE MANTLE of authority in January, Mr. Weah in his inaugural address promise to do everything in his power to be the agent of positive change. In particular, he emphasized that the most effective way to directly impact the poor and to narrow the gap between rich and poor, is to ensure that public resources do not end up in the pockets of Government officials.

IN REALITY, many of the President’s critics have been pressing him to lead the way in declaring his assets especially in the wake of the construction of many of his personal and private construction projects making it difficult to decipher his personal money from that of the country’s coffers.

THIS BRINGS US TO the looming concerns over the obstacles regarding the country’s standing with the Millennium Challenge Corporation.

SINCE THE END OF THE CIVIL WAR, Liberia has faced several constraints and grants from the MCC over to past few years have been instrumental in the improvement of primary education including a Threshold Program that helps increase girls’ primary education enrollment and retention in the three communities with the largest number of out-of-school girls.

A JULY 2010 agreement featured a $US15 million threshold program grant that focused on improving land rights and access, increasing girls’ primary education enrollment and retention, and improving Liberia’s trade policy and practices.

A 2015 AGREEMENT featured a $US257 million Liberia Compact aimed at encouraging economic growth and reducing poverty in Liberia by addressing the inadequate access to reliable and affordable electricity in the country and the poor quality of road infrastructure.

WITH THE NEXT qualification period approaching there are signs that Liberia could be in trouble due to early signs of governance lapses, the rule of law and attack on the press.

UNLESS THE ADMINISTRATION begins taking stern measures to improve its governance evaluations, deterioration in the rule of law, corruption and transparency and accountability, many international stakeholders are beginning to fear the country may lose out next year.

THE MILLENNIUM CHALLENGE Corporation (MCC) is an independent US Government Agency, which was established in 2004 as a way of devising an innovative approach to support poverty reduction in developing countries to produce sustainable outcomes.

IN THE 2018 SCORESHEET, Liberia passed half of the scorecard, corruption and democratic rights.  However, these scores are compared to other institutionally weak countries.  Liberia failed in the following categories:   Fiscal policy with a score of 29%; Regulatory quality 37; Rule of law 49; Government effectiveness 25; Land rights and access 14; Primary education expenditure 8; Natural resource protection 18; Immunization rate 33; Girls’ primary education completion rate 18 and Child health 45.  A country needs to pass 10 out of 20 indicators, inclusive of control of corruption.

PER THE 2018 INDICATOR, most of the reds are issues related to budget (funding social services) and economic performance. The danger comes into play when a country begins to see reds on political freedoms and corruption, two worrying indicators.

THIS IS WHY we are raising the alarm early so that the new government can begin to assess itself and its stance on the issues likely to decide its fate in the coming year.

THE WEAH-LED government must take a cue from the frailties of its predecessors and begin to carefully address the early shortcomings.

GOVERNANCE APPEARS to be in peril with the near-death of the Civil Service Agency with the party chairman Mulbah Morlu performing the task of the CSA with daily recommendations of partisans for jobs.

THE EFFORT to slash prices of key commodities is welcoming but the rapid climb of the exchange rate is a serious cause for concern.

THE CHALLENGES are enormous but not impossible to tackle – and this is where political will should kick in and where sycophancy and praise singing should give way to common sense for the sake of Liberia.

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