Monrovia – Liberia’s opposition politician Simeon Freeman says he foresees another round of civil unrest if the prevailing economic situation in Liberia is not addressed with urgency.
Mr. Freeman, political leader of Movement for Progressive Change (MPC), said if the country had spent US$5 million annually on rice milling equipment and farmers’ subsidy, a 100 pound bag of rice would probably cost less than US$ 20.
He argued that spending US$2 million annually on Vice President Joseph Boakai or $1 million each on the offices of the Speaker and Pro-Temp of the Liberian Senate far outweighs a basic commodity like rice that is a source of national security.
“Liberia does not have a revenue problem; we have a priority problem. "
"Reducing our trade deficit is at the heart of reducing our exchange rate, ensuring the existence of local factories; producing local goods would enable retention of the millions remitted to Liberia,” he said.
In an interview with FrontPageAfrica, Freeman said even amidst revenue shortfalls, the government thinks it’s best to delay civil servants salaries for three months instead of reducing fuel allotments or cutting budgets of non performing agencies.
He it is these “types of belly driven actions that underlie crisis in Africa”.
“When the people are hopeless, cost of basic commodities rises, cost of transportation triples, cost of tuition and rent doubles, hospitals do not function, doctors are limited, roads are horrible, electricity is unaffordable and unavailable, exchange rate wearing coat suit while salaries are constant; a clear recipe for disaster.”
The loquacious and tough talking politician also noted that it is great to expect eloquent critiques of bad governance.
“It is equally important bad people are refused power”.
“The issues challenging our daily lives are seeable, feelable and known; therefore critics of bad governance are not necessarily saviors,” he said.
“That one has the audacity to criticize the non-functional approaches of bad leaders does not present the one as a perfect replacement for the bad leader.”
He said bad governance results when tribalism replaces competence, money replaces issues and votes are influenced by aspirants’ benevolence rather than their demonstrated solutions to challenges.
He wants the 2017 election to be about solutions to the issues and not knowledge of the issues.
The MPC political leader said the proposed reestablishment of the Agricultural Bank in the country will not isolate the agricultural challenge but further ignore it.
He said 90% of Liberia’s farmers are uneducated and lack the capacity for documentation, therefore he called for a more dynamic and functional privately own system that supplies farmers’ needs void of bureaucracy.
Freeman said this will best isolate Liberia’s long held agricultural challenge and convert the country to a net exporter of agricultural value added products.
The African Agricultural Bank recently proposed Agriculture Sector Rehabilitation Project that covers 30 districts located in the four Western and four South-Eastern counties of Liberia.
The project is expected to restore the capacity of Liberia’s agricultural sector and therewith enhance the sector’s contribution to GDP, increase food security, and farmer’s incomes.
The project will be implemented in six years under three components:
“Similarly, the very large public sector is totally unsustainable at the current estimated US$270 million annual payment, a more realistic social economic vehicle that isolates this liability without rendering people unemployed is available for implementation,” he said.
Already, Liberia relies on foreign aid, and Freeman argued this undermines the country’s commitment to service delivery for its people.
“We face future challenges with a rising youthful population, unskilled workforce but without the logging forest and mineral wealth referred to by many since they have been mortgaged or used up,” he noted.
He called on all Liberians join forces to tackle emerging challenges facing the country economic - “We must tackle existing and emerging challenges with creative and dynamic approaches, recognizing the instant gratification mindset of our youthful population,” he said.
He said while the current Central Bank exchange rate stabilization approach was commendable; it serves a long term goal, as it is hoped foreign exchange remittance collections would swell up to a Liberian dollars equilibrium.
“More aggressive fiscal and monetary policy convergence are needed and to this end, we advise 50% import duties payment in Liberian dollars and retention of the collection, this singular action will mobilize excess Liberian dollars in circulation while creating currency demand,” he said.
“Though we cannot reduce salaries, we can adjust benefits."
Gasoline, diesel, and public agencies budgets can be drastically lowered, certain programs with blurry outcomes abandoned; thereby reducing the need to spend mobilized revenue.”
Freeman said mobilized resources can be quickly deployed in agriculture, not through a banking structure but a privately held structure that both supplies and mills seed rice.
“We would have begun the path to local supply and possible rice exportation,” he said.
The MPC political leader added that the challenges of today are a lot more daunting than they were in 2005; void of forest reserves, mineral wealth and an abused maritime program.