LIBERIA: PRESIDENT WEAH’S POST-PROTEST SPEECH SETS THE RIGHT TONE
PRESIDENT GEORGE MANNEH Weah used his first public address since the June 7 Save-the-State Protest, acknowledging that he had heard the voice of the people. “For the past several days, our democracy has been tried, tested, and it has proven to be mature, resilient, and strong,” the President said.
IT WAS A SOMBER tone that illustrated not just some sense of maturity but a commitment to continuing to ensure that the administration has its pulse on a nation struggling to wrestle its way out of a major economic decline.
LIBERIA’S ECONOMY has been taking a tumble since the deadly Ebola outbreak between 2014–16 that killed thousands. It hasn’t helped that the country has been hit by low commodity prices for its minerals – iron ore and rubber, and a rapidly decline in foreign aid.
AFTER THE FIRST year under President Wear, inflation has spiked to 28.5% in December – making it difficult for the average Liberians to feed their families as the cost of everyday living has gone through the roof.
THE INTERNATIONAL MONETARY Fund, in March, lowered Liberia’s economic growth forecast for 2019 to 0.4% from 4.7%, declaring that the government’s wage bill was just too high. “Productive spending is being crowded out by a wage bill, including discretionary allowances, that totals about two-thirds of government-funded expenditure,” the IMF noted.
PRESIDENT WEAH’S DECISION to inject an amount of US$25m to remove excess Liberian dollars from the economy and control inflation did little to ease the situation as the government struggled to explain its way out of reports amid questions that the funds were not disbursed properly. The President did admit that US$8m of the US$25 million had not been used, taking aim at the Central Bank of Liberia for lacking the right systems and control to keep track on expenditures.
THE IMF’S counterpart, the World Bank in February 2018, signed a $24.67m grant agreement to boost economic reforms and governance with a focus on transparency and accountability. But recent controversy stemming from a number of communications from key partners and stakeholders that Liberia has been dipping into donor funds, has complicated things for the government, now in its second year.
ON TUESDAY, President Weah stated that it will take the collective effort of all Liberians to achieve the desired objective of reviving the economy and placing our country on a path of sustainable development and transformation. “We will have to come together to devise and support new measures which are necessary to address the structural defects and imbalances in our economy,” the President said.
WHILE WE ARE encouraged by the President’s call to arms, we hope that the President will go beyond the rhetoric and actually take meaningful steps to ensure that the atmosphere is soften for all Liberians to come to the table – and that the government will not just listen to what each and everyone have to say, but will act and implement as well.
WE AGREE with the President that all Liberians have a vested interest in the peace and economic development of the country and remain encouraged that the President says he and his government recognizes that the alternative views of all citizens are equally vital in finding a way forward.
THIS IN ITSELF should send a word of caution to those in the President’s circle and government who continue to use their presence on social media to rain insults and attack their fellow Liberians with opposing views.
NO COUNTRY OR GROUP of people can grow when those at the helm of power remain indignant to those languishing at the bottom of the economic ladder.
THE RULING COALITION for Democratic Change must realize its history, coming from a grassroot movement to understand that a lot of poor and unfortunate people have held out their hands in hopes that someone like them will one day come to power and look out for them.
THE ARROGANCE OF POWER that we have seen in recent months does not bode well for a government harboring a pro-poor agenda.
THE PRESIDENT, despite his frailties and missteps must be given the benefit of the doubt to see where his latest attempt at olive branching takes us when he said Tuesday. “I now take the opportunity to again invite the leaders of political parties, civil society groups, elders, religious leaders, our traditional leaders, student leaders and the business community to a round-table discussion to afford them the opportunity to present their alternative views or their suggestions on the economy. Fellow citizens, let us sit and dialogue on the way forward for economic revival in Liberia. Bring your ideas to the table, and I assure you that they will be given my most careful consideration.”
THIS SHOULD be an opportunity for the Council of Patriots, those on social media criticizing the government, and all Liberians to give the President and Government the benefit of the doubt. This is an opportunity not just to dialogue but to engage the President on the demands listed by COP in the petition finally presented to the President’s office Tuesday.
WHAT THE PRESIDENT and his government does or does not do afterwards, we can always hold them to their actions or lack thereof in the not too distant future.