Weah & The Essence of Time – Liberian President Finally Acknowledges; But Do His Supporters?
FOR SEVERAL MONTHS now President George Manneh Weah, his aides and surrogates have turned a blind eye to criticisms about some of the many missteps now posing problems for the young government.
IN THE PRESIDENT’S own words back in August, during a visit to Bong County, critics were characterized as “enemies of the state”: “My people don’t listen to those criticizing for lobbying for loans. Those doing so are enemies of the country. The loans I am taking will be able to complete the roads in three years. When I am asking partners for loans, any of them who tell me that they want complete the roads in six years, I can say no because I know in the next six years, if I don’t do anything for you, I will not be re-elected.”
THE LOANS IN QUESTION were of a controversial nature. Eton Financial Private Limited was a shady and unheard of company purportedly out of Singapore, until the Weah administration took office in January.
EBOMAF WAS FROM THE President’s Burkinabe friend, Mr. Mahamadou Gonkougou, CEO of the Burkina Faso-based construction company. Both loans have since fallen off the radar with Finance and Economic Planning Minister Samuel Tweah all but confirming recently that the two loans are dead. “We’re building roads, we’re not beholding to contracts, Tweah said recently, during an appearance on state radio, LBS. “We have a commitment to the Liberian people to build roads… We are not stuck to any one contract. Those contracts have default clauses in them and could trigger cancellation. All I am interested in is to tell the Liberian people that the President will build their roads.”
THE SIGNED ETON deal which won a 4G passage in both houses of the national legislature before the president’s signature, was a US$536 million financing agreement for the construction of 505.3km of roads including the corridor from Grand Bassa County in Buchanan through Cestos City in Rivercess County to Greenville City in Sinoe County onward to Barclayville City in Grand Kru County – 316km road. The ETON Financing Road Agreement will also cover Western Liberia counties including the Tubmanburg to Bopolu -52km road in Bomi and Garpolu Counties while the Medina and Robertsport-41.3km road in Bomi and Gbarpolu Counties.
THE SIGNED EBOMAF SA Loan, passed with a similar 4G speed, was expected to cover the pavement of 323.7 km roads including the Somalia Drive via Kesselley Boulevard to Sinkor in Monrovia -16km, Tappita to Zwedru in Nimba and Grand Gedeh Counties and from Toe Town in Grand Gedeh County to Ivory Coast Border-10.2km road. It includes the 185km road from Zwedru in Grand Gedeh County to Greenville in Sinoe County. The road construction also includes the corridor between Barclayville to Sasstown road-21km in Grand Kru County; while the Barclayville to Pleebo road-75km in Grand Kru and Maryland Counties will be constructed and paved.
THE ADMINISTRATION ignored valid concerns from the media and critics who raised conflict of interest issues for EBOMAF and lack of funds credibility issues dogging Eton to complete both deals.
THERE HAVE BEEN no shortage of scandals for the new government as the saga of the missing container load of local currency and the lack of transparency and accountability over how some US$25 million intended to curb rising exchange rate was disbursed.
PRESIDENT WEAH ANNOUNCED the measure July aimed at injecting the US$25 million into the economy to mop up the excess liquidity of Liberian dollars.
IRONICALLY, President Weah, in an address to the nation mandated the Central Bank to provide more effective supervision and regulation of money-changers or foreign exchange bureau.
INTERESTINGLY, Minister Tweah announced last week that the money was processed, not through the regulated authority, the Central Bank but through his office.
THE MINISTER TOLD the state ELBC/LNTV recently that passing the US$25 million through the commercial banks would have made no impact. Thus, the Finance ministry took it upon itself to disburse. “The goal at that point of the President’s mandate was to mop up Liberian dollars directly from the market, not to take Liberian dollars that are in the banks… so if we want to take one billion [Liberian] dollars from Logan Town, New Kru Town or Mamba Point, you don’t go to the bank account and take it from there, it’s on paper; so, you go to someone in New Kru Town who has the money and can sell his Liberian dollars to you. This was the direct mopping that happened, this was why the rate moved from 163 and it came down to 152,” he said.
TO DATE, Minister Tweah has not revealed how the money was disbursed and which businesses or money changers in Logan Town and New Kru Town received – or how much they received.
THE SAD REALITY IS THAT US$25 million later, no impact has been made as the exchange rate continue to climb and the economy continue to slide, just as some economists predicted.
THROUGH IT ALL, President Weah and his supporters have used the excuse that it is simply too early for critics and the media to start criticizing.
ALL THIS CHANGED LAST WEEK when the President finally took a position many have been urging him to take head on, telling his supporters and members of his administration at a retreat last week, to wake up from their slumber and do the Liberian people’s job.
SPEAKING LAST THURSDAY IN KAKATA, MARGIBI COUNTY during the opening of a one day working session for cabinet Ministers, the President explained that time was not on the side of his administration noting that six years is very limited.
PRESIDENT WEAH encouraged officials of his administration to double up in tackling their various tasks and responsibilities, adding, “Time is not in our favor.”
THE CABINET HAD CONVENED the special brainstorming session to take stock of pending development initiatives and challenges and to explore methods and strategies that would hasten the delivery of critical governance services to the much-expectant Liberian populace.
AT A SIMILAR MEETING, weeks earlier in Gbarnga, Bong County, President Weah admonished cabinet members to fast track efforts being made in the interest of the Liberian people, stating that “time is of essence.”
SAID THE PRESIDENT: “Our government was inaugurated just in January and now we are talking about one year. The Pro-Poor Agenda needs to be achieved and the only way to achieve this is to keep checking on the gains we have made and how we can overcome the challenges on the way.”
PRESIDENT WEAH inherited a nation ranking 177th out of 188 on the U.N. Human Development Index. The expectations were many and the challenge of following lofty campaign promises enormous for a once fiery opposition now ruling party, which rode on the backs of a pro-poor movement but now engulfed in a sea of mounting pressure from Liberians to deliver.
IT HAS NOT helped the President that he has undertaken numerous personal construction projects and failed to declare his assets.
IS IT TOO EARLY? Many Liberians say the reality is perhaps many are expecting too much of the Weah-led government or that he and his supporters simply overextended their pledges and are now finding it difficult to come to terms with the unfolding realities.
PERENNIAL PROBLEMS of corruption, lack of stable electricity delivery are leaving a major portion of the country without power and even downtown Monrovia is frequently in the dark. Much of rural Liberia is effectively cut off from the capital when summer rains flood the pitted dirt roads.
PRESIDENT WEAH inherited a nation yet to fully recover from a 2014-16 Ebola outbreak that killed thousands. Additionally, low prices for the country’s chief exports, iron ore and rubber, and declining foreign aid is elevating the problems for the government. Remittances from Liberians living abroad account for more than a quarter of gross domestic product.
SADLY, THE REFRAINS OF THE PAST are pretty much the same. Mr. Weah’s predecessor, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s administration was dogged by several corruption scandals. Even though she suspended her son and 45 other government officials in 2012 for failing to declare their assets to anti-corruption authorities and faced accusations of nepotism, the Weah government appears to be facing similar drumbeats.
HISTORY IS FILLED with stories of how the trappings of power led other past leaders like William V.S. Tubman, William R. Tolbert, Charles Taylor and others down a road less traveled but often recycled with a high-degree of impunity.
WE HOPE THAT now that the President has come to terms with the realities and the essence of time and how fast it can slip away, he and his supporters will do what is right to fix what is going wrong in the government’s first year.
THE FACT OF THE MATTER is Liberia was never built on the mantra of one political party. The dominance and eventual fall of the True Whig Party during the first republic should have at least by now serve as a chilling reminder of how quickly power can slip away.
NOTHING LASTS FOREVER which is why it is important that Mr. Weah and his team realize that time, of the essence, is running out. The sooner the government comes to the realization of what is unfolding before its eyes, the better it would be able to assess what can be done to fix the spoils, before the clock stops and time runs out.