Collaborating Political Parties Counters President Weah’s Annual Message, Says His Government’s Agenda Has Failed to Address Needs of Liberians
Monrovia – Liberia’s largest opposition bloc, the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP) says contrary to President Weah’s assertion in his annual message that his Pro Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development is well on course and achieving results, his government has failed to address the plight of Liberians who resoundingly voted him in 2017.
President Weah, in line with Article 58 of the Constitution of Liberia, delivered his fourth annual message where he painted an optimistic picture of the state of the nation and assured the Legislature, as the people’s deputies that despite the major setbacks posed by COVID-19, the government did not lose track and was on course in implementing its Pro Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development (PAPD).
However, in response to the President’s ‘Annual Message’, the CPP, through its Chairman, Mr. Alexander B. Cummings sharply debunked President Weah and said his policies have failed, and he was running the government on a “trial and error” basis.
“Fellow Liberians, three years later, President Weah’s administration is still on ‘trial and error’ governance, and contrary to what the President told you, the state of our nation remains weak and unstable. You do not need President Weah, or me, to tell you that the cost of living is too high – that prices are rising continuously while incomes are falling; that too many are unemployed as you become spectators and bystanders in your own economy,” he countered.
He continues: “A small business woman or government employee, does not need President Weah, or me, to tell them that we are still importing what we can produce, or that they cannot get what they deposited in the bank because there is “no money in the banks.” Liberians do not need President Weah, or me, to tell them that incompetence and mismanagement at the Central Bank have combined to create a devastating confidence crisis in the banking sector.”
According to him, Liberians are living this reality every day in the increasing costs of transportation, food, school fees, rent, and even the costs of government-provided services; and that too many families are being overburdened with more than they can bear.
“Sadly enough”, he continues, “neither President Weah nor me needs to tell you that the quality of our education is still very poor and left wanting, something the President himself publicly admitted when he openly chastised the Education Minister about the poor state of our education system”.
Mr. Cummings, also the political leader of the Alternative National Congress (ANC), delivering the CPP’s official response at the ANC National Headquarters in Monrovia on Tuesday, countered President Weah in almost every sector the President touched, ranging from the economy to agriculture, health and education, among others.
On the economy, the President reported that GDP growth was revised downwards to negative 3.3 percent in 2020 from negative 2.5 percent in 2019, reflecting a decline but yet projected economic growth in 2021. He also added the Liberian dollars has appreciated compared to other currencies, but that 40 percent of the banknotes are mutilated, hence seeking the approval of the legislature to print a new family of bank notes. President Weah also called for currency reforms, citing that the CBL does not have control over 90 percent of Liberian dollars outside the banking sector, thus recognizing the lack of confidence or low level of confidence in the banking sector.
For President Weah and his backers, his administration deserves a pat on the back for sustaining the economy in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic that ravaged the world and crumbled major economy. He said although the state of the economy is challenged, the fundamentals remain sound and strong; and that soundness and strength is based on the very hard work his government has delivered over the past 18 months.
But in his rebuttal, Mr. Cummings noted that the President did not mention about job creation. Under the government much trumpeted development agenda, the Pro Poor Agenda for Prosperity & Development (PAPD), the former presidential candidate pointed out that the government promised to create one million jobs over a period of five years. Three years later, he said 600,000 jobs should have been created by now but not one job was created last year.
“Instead of a job creation strategy as promised in the PADP, the government has actually implemented a job destruction strategy through his administration’s poor governance, lack of accountability and transparency, judicial interference, and general insecurity which undermines investors’ confidence,” he lambasted, while adding that the President made no mention of new investment, and confirmed that confidence in Liberia’s investment climate is poor.
On the President’s request of printing new family of banknotes, Mr. Cummings said the President failed to tell Liberians what happened to the L$4 billion printed and infused under his watch, adding that the dust surrounding the alleged missing L$16 billion is still unsettled. “This does not show an economy that is doing well by any measure or that is expected to do well according to his projection,” Cummings countered.
Still on the economy, Cummings pointed out a conflicting accounts given by President Weah and the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning. The President in his address, pronounced that the cash carried forward from Fiscal Year 2019/2020 to FY 2020/2021 is US$7 million, but according to the National Budget of Liberia 2020-2021, Section 1.5 Fiscal Table, the unspent cash carried forward from 2019-2020 fiscal year recast budget is US$10 million.
Cummings questioned what happened to the difference of US$3 million. “Given that the surplus budget was US$10 million, why are civil servants not been paid on time; and why are government contractors including beach and waterway workers or government employees including Liberia Water & Sewer Corporation (LWSC), Liberia Airport Authority (LAA) employees, etc are yet to get paid,” he asked rhetorically.
Speaking further, that said in spite of a ‘so-called budget surplus’, the President admitted that the nation’s public debt portfolio has increased by more than US$300 million in just one year.
“Yet, we cannot see what was done with the $300 million USD, when international partners are sponsoring all road construction, our entire COVID-response was paid for by the international community, and government workers salaries have not been current. So, what was the money borrowed for?”
Under the stimulus package COVID-19 Relief fund, the President claimed that 40 percent food distribution has reached ten counties, benefitting one million Liberians. However, Cummings, citing a 2020 Afro Barometer report, noted that not more than 16% of any social demographic group in Liberia has received said package and 78% of Liberians say the benefits to support people during covid-19 were not fairly distributed.
He said despite the President’s revelation that his government gave the Liberia Water and Sewer Corporation US$1.5 million, employees at Water and Sewer are on strike for their salaries, and water supply has been cut off to Monrovia and its environs indefinitely.
On the US$1 million stimulus package COVID relief fund the President said he gave to the Liberia Electricity Corporation (LEC) for COVID electricity relief, Cummings said many communities are without electricity, and President Weah failed to state the communities that are benefitting from that relief. He also questioned why health workers are still protesting for salaries and hazard benefits if a total of US$26 million have been used on the COVID-response as the President stated.
Health, Agriculture and Education
On health, Mr. Cumming said the President’s failure to provide any update, except for his mention of “COVID Response, was evidence that the health sector is still very weak and is still in need of major interventions.” Similarly, he observed that there was no progress update on the Agriculture sector. Instead, three years since this President was inaugurated, he is still announcing aspirations about what he will do about agriculture.”
“It appears the President has finally caught on the adage that if you have nothing good to say, do not say anything at all. It is a shame that two of the most important sectors, health and agriculture have seen no improvement to have been reported,” he denounced.
On Education, President Weah boasted that his free tuition policy has increased enrollment at the University of Liberia from eight thousand to 18 thousand, and that the number of students passing the WASSCE has increased. But the CPP Chairman, in a counter argument, mentioned that before the president came to power, enrollment at the University of Liberia had been between 20,000 to 30,000 students. And that celebrating percentage increase of students passing a single subject was a celebration of mediocrity.
“Education remains a crucial part of our development and until we are serious about fixing it, this President and his administration will continue to celebrate mediocre outcomes,” he noted.