Why Liberian President’s 60-Day Officials Travel Ban Won’t Work
AS PART OF NEW austerity measures, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has placed a 60-day moratorium on all foreign travels by officials of government effective February 2017.
THE DECISION was announced during the President’s meeting with her Economic Management Team (EMT) and the cabinet, to discuss measures aimed at addressing the current economic situation the country faces – with emphasis on enhancing ongoing efforts to diversify through agriculture and manufacturing.
THOSE AFFECTED by the moratorium include the heads of all Ministries, Agencies and Commissions along with their deputies and assistants. Exceptions will only be granted by the President herself following a one-on-one meeting with the official requesting to travel and if it is determined that such travel is of utmost imperative in the national interest.
THIS IS NOT THE FIRST time that the Liberian leader has put in place such a measure and it will certainly not be the last that something she announces goes through one ear of her officials and passes out the next.
AT THE HEIGHT OF THE EBOLA virus outbreak, a similar measure was announced aimed at curbing the flight of government officials who were fleeing to escape the outbreak while Liberians were dying.
THE PRESIDENT THEN, ordered the dismissal of some junior and senior level cabinet ministers, who fell in that category; and who were given one week; or be considered dismissed, except for those with serious health-related excuses.
THAT LIST was still being compiled as Ebola came and left. Some officials were dismissed but after a few months found themselves recycled in the government in another capacity.
OVER THE PAST eleven years, Sirleaf has come out with some impressive and commendable measures. Some good and some bad. The problem has been implementation and the problem with this latest one is simple: The President still thinks it is 2006 and she has all the time on her hands to keep playing footsie with her ill-performing officials who have done nothing but put Liberia in the mess it is in today; amid a screwed up economy, corruption at an all-time high and officials getting away with impunity while those languishing at the bottom of the economic ladder continue to suffer.
THE PRESIDENT for some strange reason still thinks that, she owes those she continues to bend over backwards to protect, or not make feel bad, something that she hasn’t already paid them back with.
IN A FEW MONTHS, Liberians will head to the polls. Sirleaf is not seeking re-election and her reign in only a matter of months will come to an end.
IT IS SAD that Africa’s first female head of state is still playing to the playbook that has caused her the most problems in the last eleven years: Asking corrupt officials to resign when they should be fired and prosecuted, pampering officials who have done nothing but brought embarrassment and shame to her government and perhaps her legacy; and coming up with these ambitious measures that she knows will not be implemented because she has not been able to surround herself with an efficient team at the ministry of state to carry out her mandates and orders.
THE LATEST Cabinet review comes when the state of the economy is in a mess, when marketers, transportation businesses are crying, when many Diaspora Liberians looking to return home and start businesses are giving up because of the unreasonable tax and import duties instituted by the Liberia Revenue Authority and when many local and foreign businesses are failing to break even because the government suddenly wants to overtax those who are barely getting by to fix the problems created by her inefficient economic team.
WE WELCOME efforts by the Economic Management Team to begin an immediate review of the recent amendments to the Revenue Code with the aim to correct provisions that are inconsistent with the requirements of the ECOWAS Common External Tariff (CET) regime.
WE ALSO WELCOME efforts being made by the Central Bank of Liberia and the Ministry of Finance to reduce and stabilize the foreign exchange rate.
BUT HOW DID WE get here?
IN THE GOVERNMEN’S FINAL year, it is finally deciding to mandate a review of the alarming situation of capital flight in a bid to strengthen its regulatory measures so as to curb the illicit repatriation of foreign currency from the country.
THIS IS NOT NEW.
AS FAR BACK as July 2008, when the issue of capital flight was first raised by FrontPageAfrica, and later by Milton Teahjay, the President Sirleaf took a rather defensive posture and dismissed suggestions that country was losing millions of dollars monthly in capital flight.
AT A FAREWELL press conference before departing for South Africa for the Nelson Mandela Intellectual Forum, the Liberian leader said she would not act on mere speculations, rather than on substantial evidence. “If anybody has evidence of people sending stolen money, public money, please bring me the evidence, and then if I fail to act against the person, then you have every right to criticize me.”
EIGHT YEARS LATER, and on the cusp of her departure from the presidency, those words are coming back to haunt her administration.
SIRLEAF WAS CLEAR THEN. “Loose talks would not help the situation. Bring the information, bring the evidence and say Madam President, here the Western Union receipts; minister Y, minister X sent this amount of money out of the country, and then I will look and see.”
TEAHJAY AT THE TIME asserted that Western Union and Money Gram, had already done what the president wants before she acts. “It is not about someone giving her evidence, but it is about her asking her security people, particularly NBI and NSA, to probe the issue raised by Teahjay.”
LIBERIA IS IN THE MESS it is in today because of self-inflicted pampering of officials by President Sirleaf.
THABO MBEKI, the former South African President said in 2013 that aboutUS$50 billion are illegally exported from Africa every year. This is twice the amount of all aid to the continent. Norway has for a long time helped to focus attention on the problem. Liberia has strong ties to the EU and Norway in particular but has failed to use that connection to address the issue.
A SWISS LAWYER, who helped Nigeria recover millions of former President Sani Abacha’s loot is on record of telling FrontPageAfrica that he is willing to help Liberia. That offer is still catching dust in the dustbin of Liberia’s professed anti-graft files.
SADLY, Liberia, rich in resources, continues to face demanding challenges brought on by not just the civil war but many years of bad governance, political patronage and sucking up to the powers.
WHAT LIBERIA lacks are strong regulatory bodies to curb illicit financial flows. What it has in abundance are a lot of corrupt officials and a government, staring down an abundance of evidence but still waiting for more hands in the cookie jar to act.
LIKE WE HAVE done before, we applaud the president’s latest austerity measure aimed at curbing foreign travels by her officials. But as the old Liberian saying goes: How Long John Stayed in the Army?
IT IS ONLY, a matter of time before one of the President’s favourite untouchable sons or daughters runs to her after googling “Conference for Ministers” and come up with some story just to get an excuse to beat her mandate.
IT IS SAD, but this is just the way it is in Liberia. A country rich in resources but holding on to the history-making feat as Africa’s oldest; while failing repeatedly to realize that true wealth lies in the ability to make tough choices no matter how unpopular they may be perceived. This has been Sirleaf’s Achilles and one likely to dampen her legacy and her more than 40 years of political life.