Liberia: Finance Minister Predicts Negative Economic Growth In 2020, Eyes Support to Vulnerable Citizens

Finance and Economic Planning Minister Samuel Tweah appeared as guest on a live stream panel discussion Monday hosted by the US Institute for Peace (USIP) in partnership with the World Bank Group (WBG).

Monrovia – Finance and Development Planning Minister Samuel Tweah has predicted negative economic growth in Liberia this year, as a result of the deadly Coronavirus outbreak in the post-conflict nation.

Minister Tweah said the country is presently experiencing economic losses because of the pandemic, which is raging hell around the world, including the African continent.

He attributed his prediction to loss in revenue generation, predicated upon the sharp decline in business activities as a result of the pandemic.

Minister Tweah made these assertions when he appeared as guest on a live stream panel discussion hosted by the US Institute for Peace (USIP) in partnership with the World Bank Group (WBG).

The public virtual event featured a moderated panel discussion with a distinguished group of high-level representatives discussing both the immediate and long-term impacts and responses to COVID-19 in fragile and conflict-affected settings. 

Minister Tweah shared the forum with other panelists including Axel van Trotsenburg, Managing Director of Operations, World Bank, Nancy Lindborg, President and CEO, US Institute of Peace, Lamis Al-Iryani, Head, Monitoring and Evaluation, Social Fund for Development, Yemen, Mark Lowcock, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, United Nations.

According to the Liberian Finance Minister, Liberia will continue to experience economic difficulties depending on the Coronavirus response to the nation.

He disclosed that the private sector, including the marketers, petty traders and others who trade mini goods and services to survive, are paying what he termed as “a huge price in order for us to get ahead of this disease (Covid-19)”.

“We need to develop a new parallel or framework of Covid and assess the key risk to fragile countries. For example, growth will be negative this year, and this is coming out of a very difficult macroeconomic reform we had to undertake in the last two years. And that came out of a difficult experience with Ebola. Now we’re dealing with economic difficulties; revenue losses, slowdown in business because of Covid”.

He noted that despite the declaration of a state of emergency in Liberia to curb the spread of the Coronavirus in Liberia, there is “no significant impact” on the country’s economy in the wake of a high inflation rate.

President George Manneh Weah recently extended the state of emergency which was declared on April 8 to help eradicate Covid-19 from the country.

But Minister Tweah maintained that a response to the pandemic in Liberia must firstly address the private sector, including petty traders and marketers.

“Since they (marketers and petty traders) are not part of the formal system, we’ve also turn to overlook them in budget system and in planning. There is always a tendency to just allocate small amount to them. We’re resisting that to the IMF saying these vulnerable households or people have to be taken care of because they are paying the price for us to get ahead of the disease”.

He further disclosed that the Ministry of Agriculture has also put in place a Coronavirus Response Plan to ensure food security for agricultural households that are not planting as a result of the pandemic.

Minister Tweah stated that though the outbreak of the pandemic poses risks to fragile and other developed countries, Liberia will not allow the situation to derail its economy and governance system in the midst of credible macroeconomic reforms through a national budgetary framework that has been rationalized with international partners.

He underscored the need for the flow of resources to prepare Liberia to combat against the outbreak of an epidemic or pandemic in the country.

He added that despite the outbreak of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in Liberia in 2014, the post-conflict nation seems to be unprepared in combating against an epidemic or pandemic as a result of huge deficiency in the health sector and other areas.  

Social tensions eminent

Minister Tweah stated that “social tensions” may likely rise in fragile countries in different forms, including Liberia as a result of the pandemic outbreak.

According to him, gains being made by Liberia would be eroded if economic situations become very difficult in the country.

“Coronavirus may also complicate cross border situations here in West Africa and the Mano River basin. We are in a hot zone where almost all the countries are about to go to elections. We’re preparing and knowing that nothing bad is going to happen in these countries”.

According to the Liberian Finance and Development Planning Minister, Coronavirus induced economic weaknesses will aggravate debts across the African continent, adding that, “as Minister of Finance, this is the biggest headache I’m dealing with”.

He underscored the need for the strengthening of Liberia’s health system and the inclusion of all stakeholders towards the combat against the Coronavirus in Liberia.

Minister Tweah noted that it is now time that countries across the continent to turn the Covid-19 crisis into an opportunity to showcase that their macroeconomic and planning systems are workable and can adapt to crisis.

He pointed out that the Ministry is in the process of making public disbursement memos, economic impacts as well as the sources of funding, provided to fight the virus as instructed by President Weah as a sign of transparency and accountability.

He added that the Coronavirus outbreak has more economic impact on the society than health, and as such, transparency and accountability must be the hallmark in tackling the virus.

“We are at a different stage now; the impact of Covid-19 is not going to be only health in fragile countries; the impact is going to be non-health; the private sector impact, governance system, resilience of health system, and conflict propensity because of weaken fiscal spaces. We are not going to see the number of deaths we’re seeing in America or Europe; you know, others have predicted millions of Africans will die-they made the same prediction with Ebola and it didn’t work”.