MONROVIA – Opposition politicians in Liberia have begun swiftly reacting to the State of the Nation Address (SONA) delivered by President George Manneh Weah to the Liberian people, accusing the Liberian Chief Executive of “scamming” and being highly deceptive to Liberians and international and donor partners to support and favor him for re-election.
On Monday, January 30, President Weah delivered his annual message to the Liberian people, through the 54th National Legislature.
By Obediah Johnson and Willie Tokpa
The deliverance of the annual message is in consonance with Article 58 of the 1986 Liberian constitution.
Article 58 of the Constitution states that: “the President shall, on the fourth working Monday in January of each year, present the administration’s legislative program for the ensuing session, and shall once a year report to the Legislature on the state of the Republic.”
Responding to the annual message, the Standard Bearer of the opposition Collaborating Political Parties (CPP) Mr. Alexander Cummings accused the Liberian leader of being “playful” by not focusing on his constitutional mandates.
“Yesterday, the President delivered the last State of the Republic Address of his failed and leaderless presidency. To borrow from a popular Liberian Musician, the President “lied to us”. The truth is that President Weah has weakened our Republic. He has made Liberians poorer, and continues to internationally embarrass our nation.”
“For most of the last six years, President Weah was too busy playing, partying and vacationing. It’s ok to play. But when the President plays too much and does not do his job, the people suffer. The President did not know what he was elected to do, and still does not know what the President of our country is supposed to be doing. Leadership matters. Presidential leadership matters even more in our country. Unfortunately, until we change it, in our country, everything starts and ends with the President.”
According to him, President Weah does not know what he supposed to be doing for the past years and what he is doing presently, and as a result of this, Liberia continues to fall into a serious trouble while the people are suffering.
Mr. Cummings maintained that Liberia is currently running itself as evidenced that nothing seems to be working under President Weah regime.
“Everybody gets to do their own thing, even if it is against the law. Everything breaks down. Dirt piles up in the streets risking people’s health. Prices go up as the hard times keep getting harder. Businesses get harassed with some forced to close down, or forced to sell to the President’s friends. When the country runs itself, people lose their jobs, and those with jobs can’t take pay on time. Every day, there is a new protest for something that is wrong because protesting is the only way people believe they can get solutions to their problems.”
He added that streets and communities become unsafe, while crime goes up and ghettos are opened everywhere, making the society to become lawless.
Broken promises; No jobs
Mr. Cummings observed thatafter six years of Weah’s leaderless presidency, the State of Liberia is weak with no jobs, broken promises, no hope, no change, and no security.
He added that there is too much suffering among the masses and stealing going on among public officials.
“In six years, President Weah has dumped our country into a deep hole, and he has no idea how to get us out of the deep hole he has put us in. With nearly 2 Billion dollars they have borrowed, and the way they have spent it mostly on themselves, they are not even ‘digging hole to cover hole’. They are wickedly digging new holes and throwing the dirt away! They are making the Liberian people suffer today, and all this borrowing, stealing and wasteful spending will make our children suffer to pay it back, tomorrow.”
Mr. Cummings questioned the professed love President Weah claimed to have for Liberia and its citizens by asking: “How can anybody say they love their country and do this kind of wickedness to the people? As if the hole they have put our country in is not deep enough – as if the suffering the Liberian people are going through is not already too much – the President is again making more promises, and asking us to give him more time.”
Requesting additional term to steal
He stressed that the Liberian Chief Executive is only requesting for more time to govern the country so he can “dig a bigger hole, and make the Liberian people suffer even more.”
According to him, President Weah actually wants more time so he and others in his government can continue to steal to make themselves richer, while Liberians are getting poorer.
“Well, Mr. President, enough is enough. Nobody stupid here! We will end your failed and leaderless presidency in October. Your sacking loading. My fellow citizens: The Presidency is not a 419 business. Too many people lives depend on the honesty, integrity, discipline, judgment and decision-making of the President. Scamming every day to fool people is not what Presidents are supposed to be doing. Faking numbers to tell us that inflation is low while prices are going up every day will not fool us to believe that the economy is improving.”
Mr. Cummings maintained that these deceptions from the President will not also fool Liberians to believe that the hard times are over.
He observed that rice, oil, sugar, and even Pepper and bitter balls – the prices of every single basic commodity are higher today than it was when Mr. Weah became President.
Childish and offensive joke
He noted that calling Liberia Miami when the streets, schools, hospitals, public utilities and governing systems are all broken down and crumbling, is a “childish and offensive joke” from the President.
He added that though the Liberian leader had six years to make Liberia Miami, he failed to do so, but only made the country to be a living hell for Liberians.
He emphasized these things are happening not because the government does not have money to care about the wellbeing and welfare of the people, but the Weah led-administration does not care that people are suffering.
“Liberia is too rich for Liberians to be so poor. They only care about themselves and how much they and their friends can steal from the country and the people. In Weah’s Miami, no market woman needs to be told that business is so rough that even sell-pay (seh-pay) can no longer pay.”
From spectators to outsiders
Mr. Cummings claimed that for six years, now Liberians and Liberian businesses have been on their own, suffering and struggling.
He noted that Liberians and their businesses have not just been spectators to their economy; but they have been thrown outside the stadium.
He said the Weah led-administration has not just been bad for Liberia, but it has also been wicked to the Liberian people.
Mr. Cummings observed that too many dreams, hopes and promises have been unfulfilled, dashed and broken.
“Too many lives have been lost mysteriously. Too many families continue to grieve and hurt with no hope of closure for the deaths of loved ones, some of whom were the breadwinners of the family. For six years, too many young people have continued to be at-risk and have their future lost to drugs and crime. Too many Liberian businesses continue to unfairly struggle, and too many Liberians continue to be left out of opportunities, and left behind to suffer.”
Shattered health system
He pointed out that since the inception of the CDC administration; many Liberians continued to die of preventable and curable illnesses.
He added that babies and pregnant mothers continue to die at unacceptably high and alarming rates because of the lack of care and reach to medical facilities.
Mr. Cummings maintained that too many children continue to have poor-quality and substandard education, while many citizens continue to be too poor and excluded from the blessings of Liberia’s abundance of natural wealth.
“For the next six years, our people do not need jokers. Liberia needs trusted leaders who will know what they are doing. Liberians do not need to be lied to and given more false hopes and wishful thinking. Our people need to share in the wealth of our country, and equally enjoy all of the benefits and rights of their citizenship. To buy food, pay school fees and rent, or to settle hospital bills, Liberians do not need to wish they had money. They need to have money. Liberians do not need to beg to live. They need jobs – decent paying jobs.”
Speaking further, Mr. Cummings vowed to create decent and high-paying jobs for Liberians when elected as President in the October elections.
He stressed that Liberians need to take pay on time and as such, a CPP led-government will pay civil servants and others on time.
He added that people salaries that were “wickedly cut” by the CDC led-administration during its “unfair harmonization”, will be placed back and increased.
Mr. Cummings indicated that Liberia cannot be developed without first developing the capacity of its citizens.
“We will end the wickedness of the Weah administration on the Liberian people. Our people need investors and companies to come to our country. We will bring serious investors and big companies to our country to create good-paying jobs. Liberian businesses do not only have to be small shops and way-lor (waiter) market. We will provide the means and push Liberians to grow their small businesses into bigger ones. Liberian businesses need to succeed, if Liberians will actually own the building of Liberia’s economy because that is the only way we can develop Liberia.”
He observed that from arts to music, and from movies to sports; it is a shame that under a football President, Liberian players and artists are not being supported to succeed in their own country.
According to him, a CPP government will prioritize helping Liberians to succeed, as their respective talents, efforts and enterprising spirits deserve.
Rather than continue to abandon our schools and hospitals to the charity and goodwill of private and faith-based institutions, Mr. Cummings disclosed that his government will also provide the much-needed help and support to schools and hospitals so that all children can get quality education, and every Liberian can get the quality medical treatment they deserve, right here in Liberia.
“We will stop the stealing and lack of accountability in government. This is one of the important ways we will change the living conditions of our people. In a Cummings Administration, no matter who you are, if you steal from the Liberian people, no place on earth will be safe for you to hide. Let me be even clearer: The harshest punishment for corruption in a Cummings Administration will be given to those who will be deemed to be closest to me. I will not, and do not need to steal one cent from the Liberian people.”
He disclosed that anyone in his administration thinking about stealing will be dealt with drastically, so everybody will know that public service is to serve the public and not to steal from the public.
Mr. Cummings observed that Liberia will not develop until Liberians are serious about stopping corruption.
He stressed that the riches of Liberia belong to the citizens and as such, the usual wicked business of dividing the national budget so that schools and hospitals, and all other things Liberians need to improve their lives, are cut down and given to the President, Vice President, Speaker, Pro-Temp and Deputy Speaker, will end under a Cummings-led Government.
Hidden monies in draft budget
He used the occasion to point out that the ongoing review of the national budget by the CPP shows monies being hidden under certain ministries and agencies for unspecified and overestimated works.
This, he said, is a foolish attempt to legalize stealing.
“Hear me today, and hear me well: There will be consequences for this stealing. No one who steals from the Liberian people should think they will get away with it. We will thoroughly investigate and audit public expenditures to include but not limited to missing millions, the $25 Million U.S. Dollar Mop-up, the COVID Relief Fund, and the National Road Fund. Anyone involved in stealing will be prosecuted in keeping with law. I mean what I say and only say what I mean.”
On the mysterious deaths of the auditors and others, Mr. Cummings vowed to commission a team of professionals to investigate six months after his ascendancy to the Liberian presidency.
He added that wherever foul play is discovered, the CPP led-government will deal with the situation as law-abiding societies should because, the life of every Liberian is precious and important.
“Our administration will not need to spend our country’s money on me, or any member of my family. Liberia’s money belongs to the Liberian people. We will spend it on them so they have a chance to better their lives. We will unite our people. Everybody deserves a chance to make it, if they are willing to work hard and obey the laws. We will take responsibility for successes and failures, and stop blaming others for our shortcomings. We will lead by good examples and higher standards, and we will demand higher standards from everyone else in national leadership.”
This is why, Mr. Cummings noted, that he will regularly declare his assets and demand the same regular declaration from all officials.
Unity Party reacts
In a similar development, the former ruling Unity Party, now forming a core of the opposition bloc, observed that President Weah’s SONA creates more doubt about the possibility of addressing the major challenges faced by citizens, with just few months to the end of his tenure.
Addressing a news conference held at the UP headquarters in Monrovia, the party’s National Vice Chair for Administration, Dabah Varpilah observed that the prices of commodities, including the country’s staple food(rice), remain exorbitant, thus increasing the persistent economic burden on the masses.
Besides, Varpilah lamented how troubling it is that after nearly six years, President Weah and his government had fallen short of making changes in the National Budget from “it’s the current worst state to good” while job availability remains scary.
According to her, the Liberian leader was unrealistic about the cogent issues affecting the country and its citizens when he mentioned that his administration has generated the highest revenue.
“The harsh economic conditions faced by our people across the country speaks to the core of the real problems confronting our people. They can barely afford a stable meal. No jobs and many have turned to beggars in their own country. This story of Ma Sarah is the story of the vast majority of our people, many of whom have lost confidence in their government. “
She assured that the UP government, under the stewardship of Joseph Nyumah Boakai can “change this, and we MUST.”
She emphasized that on the economy, the President made several broad promises that are yet to be fulfilled.
Madam Varpilah added that President Weah has continuously violated laws that seek to curb corruption, citing 2022, SONA to the Legislature, where he reported the passage of the 2022 National Budget in the tone of Seven Hundred Eighty-Five Million Six Hundred Thousand United States Dollars (US$785.6) and promised to make it a transformative budget.
She argued that the president’s address fell short of showing the transformative effects by making specific reference to the changes in the budget execution.
Madam Varpilah termed as interesting, the failure of the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning (MFDP) to publish fiscal outturn or budget performance reports since it did in 2020.
She said: “There is no indication that the government generated $640.5 million United States Dollars as 81.5 percent of the revenue component as proposed in the 2022 National Budget. The budget performance report should provide a detailed explanation as regards revenue receipts and expenditures during the period under review.”
She added that without the President reporting on these indicators and his claim that his government introduced the largest National Budget in the history of Liberia remains unrealistic.
According to her, the Executive shows a high degree of insincerity and unwillingness to uphold the Local Government Act and the MDAs as laws, through the remittance of County Development Funds, adding that, the government is now signing agreements, using illegal MOU.
She maintained that the President and his buddies continue to abuse the granting of duty-free privileges which could’ve amounted to more than US$ 300 million in revenue generation.
Madam Vapilah further asserted that the government’s argument that the majority of its capital investments are financed from its domestic resource mobilization is not factual on grounds that the 2022 budget appropriated over 75 percent for only recurrent expenditures which leaves a smaller fiscal space to invest in both social and economic infrastructure development.
“Most of our major capital investments are funded by bilateral and multilateral agents. For the first time in recent financial and fiscal history, debt repayment has exceeded capital expenditure as a percentage of public expenditure. From 2018 to now, cumulative repayment of loans and interest amounted to 9% of total expenditure. This was more than two times the 4% of expenditure spent on capital accumulation.”
She reminded citizens that, the country received $345.3 million US dollars in August 2021 under the general Special Drawing Rights allocation from the IMF as a member due to the unstable condition of the country’s financial situation, but claimed that President Weah failed to report the disbursement of the SDR as a result of the recapitalization of the Central Bank, “after the CDC Government uncontrollably and carelessly depleted the national reserve by the first quarter of 2019” upon taking office.”
She maintained that the Liberian Chief Executive also failed to mention the actual growth rate due to a decline of 0.7 percent.
The UP National Vice Chair for Administration added that unjustified, insensitive tax regimes on petroleum and digital service providers, and the government’s tacit or acquiescent complicity in the emergence of cartels that control critical commodities, have seen sharp increases in the cost of transportation and communication.
These additional costs, she believes, are not linked to any specific investment in the relevant sector’s infrastructures, thereby undermining productivity in the service sector of the economy.
On the supply side, Madam Varpilah said higher transport and communication costs affect the marketing and distribution of goods and services and these rising costs of transportation and communication create additional hurdles for access to information from both public and private providers of goods, services, and policies for consumers.
Analyzing the country’s monetary policy, she recalled that the President stated that in 2022, the Central Bank of Liberia printed 48 Billion Liberian Dollars without inflation.
According to her, such a pronouncement from the President is far from reality.
She said records show that the CBL brought in the first consignment of banknotes totaling 4.0 billion Liberian dollars out of the approved 48.734 billion Liberian dollars in November 2021 and the second consignment was expected in January 2022, but President Weah accordingly failed to report on the current status of the second consignment to include the coins which are already seen in circulation.
“The Mandate given the Central Bank by the National Legislature was to print a whole new family of currency; instead, the Executive through the Central Bank of Liberia printed the same “conflicted currency,” she contended.
“This situation has opened up a new front for the duplication of the currency. Several cases have been reported about citizens being arrested with thousands and millions of Liberian dollars at different border points. This decision to continue printing such a conflicted currency speaks to a larger extent of something that Liberians need to know.”
Madam Varpilah noted that the failure of the SONA to showcase the actual picture of the state of the country’s economy only tells a story of how dishonest and deceitful the government under President Weah is.
She further said: “However, it appears that he is the Commander of Corruption-in-Chief.”
She observed that President Weah has weakened the Liberia Anti-corruption Law, “making the LACC a lame duck.”
Madam Varpilah maintained that the President also committed to spare no effort in bringing to Liberia international compliance platforms in the fight against corruption and illicit financial flows, but only mentioned on the contrary that just last year, three Liberian government officials were sanctioned for acts related to corruption and illicit financial flows of money.
Sadly, she noted that President Weah loudly promised to commission an investigation into the sanctioned officials; the former Minister of State Nathaniel McGill, former Managing Director of the National Port Authority Bill Tweahway, and former Solicitor-General Saymah Cyrenus Cephas, but to no avail.
She recalled that after an audit of the National Road Fund Account; it was reported that little over US$6 Million was misapplied in 2018 and an additional US$24 Million by the Government on payroll financing.
According to her, these acts contravene the established law which prohibits the use of the fund for anything other than road rehabilitation and construction.
She maintained: “The President also refused to report on the 11 Million United States Dollars appropriated in the 2022 fiscal year budget as rice subsidy. Even with this subsidy and an additional 14 Million United States Dollars in the current 2023 fiscal year budget; rice price has been increased to US$17.50 per 25 Kg bag from US$13.5 per bag.”
On the issue of Civil Servant Salary, Madam Varpilah said many of them were laid off without being reinstated, while the country continues to witness agitations from retired civil servants who are left to struggle for their survival.
“What is even more appalling is for the President to tell the civil servants that for more than five years he had no idea that Fifteen Thousand civil servants were making salaries way below the minimum wage when it was his HARMONIZATION POLICY that reduced their salaries.”
Meanwhile, the Unity Party, through her Vice Chair for Administration has expressed disappointment that access to stable electricity remains a major challenge under the Weah-led administration.
The party noted that the CDC cannot boast of securing enough road projects with a few only intended to provide contracts to friends at exorbitant costs without proper procurement processes.
Madam Varpilah said food security and the agriculture sector suffered a lack of innovation under President Weah after boasting several efforts of a new beginning setting milestones for the agricultural sector to achieve.
The UP then reminded President Weah that at the time his government was cutting the pay of the least civil servant from a total of around US$150 to as low as 45 dollars in some institutions, he also cut the pay of the boss of that least civil servant from probably US$500 to US$150, therefore, President Weah and the CDC government need to own up to the massive failure and inequity in their Payroll Harmonization Scheme and effect increases across all grades of the civil service.
She, however, encouraged Liberians to rally with the Unity Party, to change the situation being endured by them.
Macdella Cooper is the Political Leader of the Movement for One Liberia (MOL). She described MacDella Cooper President Weah’s call for a second time as a sad news for Liberia and its citizens.
“Sad news for Liberia; President Weah announcement of his intention to run for a second term. After four years of failed government, one thing is certain; OUR BELOVED LIBERIA DESERVES BETTER.”
Senator Lawrence speaks
For her part, Senator Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence of the Liberty Party indicated that the SONA delivered by the President should not be seen (as it was yesterday) as a ritual address that requires the president to catalogue what the administration claimed to have accomplished during the previous year.
According to her, the message should be a true reflection of what citizens have actually gone through during the previous year and one that builds the hope and aspirations of people throughout the country.
She disclosed that in at least two significant ways, the address by President Weah serves as an eye opener to Liberians as to the intent and aspirations of the President that Liberians have lived with for the last five years.
Senator Lawrence pointed out that the address reveals the reality of who an honest leader is, or is not; and it also serves as a clear pointer to Liberians regarding what they must do to propel the nation into the future by working and entrusting state power with prepared individuals to rescue the state from retrogression that has befallen the nation over the last five years.
According to her, President spoke about a country that is different from the one, citizens know and live in but ultimately, this was a calculated attempt to mislead the world and fool unsuspecting Liberians about the harsh reality in Liberia and the failure of the Weah Administration.
“But be not deceived! This government came to power at the expense of average Liberians, many of whom were hopeful that this president who came from poverty and made his way to a better life would have understood the plight of ordinary Liberians to foster better opportunities for them. Unfortunately, the dreams of better opportunities for Liberians have been replaced with the hashed reality of failed promises that are repeatedly made at public forums.”
Senator Lawrence said the primary responsibility of government is to ensure that the citizens access the minimum quality of public services that enhance their dignity, expand opportunities, and improve their standards of living.
She added that accountable governments and responsible leaders around the world often focus on continuously improving the quality of public services especially in education, health, water, and sanitation.
She said on the contrary, it is regrettable that the president, since his ascendency has paid very little attention to appraise the nation on the state of service delivery in the country.
Senator Lawrence claimed that Liberians are suffering due to the lack of public service delivery system which has virtually broken down under President Weah government.
“It is painful talking about the health sector of this country. The state of our healthcare is in peril. We continue to see a systematic decline of our healthcare system unlike the elaborate picture of success pronounced by the president’s address. The president has displayed insincerity to the Liberian people by mesmerizing about the conditions prevailing in the sector when for the past five years there has been no strategic plan for the health sector to tackle the challenges, yet the president has boasted in his address of constructing two hospitals: the military hospital in Lower Margibi County and another hospital in Gbarpulu County built by the United Arab Emirates (UAE).”
While the construction of the two hospitals is laudable, she noted, that it is equally important that the true state of the healthcare system be told by the President.
She said hospitals and clinics across the country presently do not have drugs, electricity, fuel for ambulances, beds to cater to patients amid insufficient doctors, nurses, and healthcare staff to provide lifesaving care.
Senator Lawrence intoned that health facilities in many counties are struggling to function because the decentralization health policy faces serious challenges.
She observed that in the face of these predicaments, qualified doctors and medical consultants are forced into retirement while still capable of practicing and well experienced without better pension.
Flying abroad for treatment
According to her, officials of government have the luxury of getting on flights to seek care in foreign countries, while all the public hospitals remain non-functional with a consistent short-change in their budgetary allotments.
Senator Lawrence maintained that despite pleas from some members of the Senate to increase the budgetary allotment for healthcare, the majority vote in the legislature continuously outweighs their stance, while the insufficient amounts approved for operations are always delayed or never forthcoming.
In education, Senator Lawrence pointed out that the regular payment of WAEC and WASSEC fees for students in 9th and 12th grades as indicated in the President’s address is commendable.
She also recognized the waiver of tuitions for students in public universities across the country, but cautioned that these interventions can boost regional and global competitiveness if the Government pays attention to the issues of quality backed by increase in budgetary allocations to the Ministry of Education and these universities.
Senator Lawrence further acknowledged the progress made by the government relative to its efforts to decentralize tax administration, beginning with the real estate tax based on 50/50 tax revenue sharing with the local government administration.
According to her, this tax reform measure, if administered and managed efficiently, will not only widen tax revenue base but it will also help to promote ownership and empowerment at the local level.
She said despite the President’s claim that the Liberian economy is in a better shape, inflation and unemployment remain high in the post conflict nation.
“Inflation and high unemployment continue to hurt Liberians. Many of our citizens cannot afford their basic needs, either because they have no jobs or because the little, they earn cannot sustain their needs. After 5 years of failed promises, including the promise to create one million jobs, our citizens have become beggars in their own country.”
She said the reality to the President’s claim is, “when there is reduction in inflation, it must benefit price reduction.”
Contrarily, she noted, that Liberia’s situation, as pronounced by the President, is on the reverse.
Senator Lawrence recalled that the Liberian leader presented an appraisal of the state of the economy upon his ascendency to the presidency when he claimed that the Liberian economy was in a state of distress, the exchange rate was in free fall and inflation rate was skyrocketing.
She pointed out that before President Weah took over, domestic and international debts of Liberia stood at U$900,000,000million after Madam Sirleaf’s 12 years.
But however, she intoned that Liberia has accrued a total debt burden of U$835 million in domestic debt and US$1.1 billion in external debts just five years after the ascendancy of President Weah.
“This represents an increment of $1billion and could be an impediment to the next administration’s economy recovery agenda. So, Mr. President, how much more distressful was the economy during the twelve years of the previous regime than it is now under your administration?
Corruption and Patronage
Senator Lawrence emphasized that compounding the nightmares of the economy is the issue of corruption and patronage which have become a cancer in the Liberian society, because of the Government’s blind eye on corruption and misuse of public funds.
She added that this is the most poisonous venom in the country, but yet, the government is yet to investigate allegations of corruption and prosecute those found guilty.
“We see government officials living lavish lifestyles far beyond their earned income, walking around with impunity.
She noted that over the years, the government has displayed reluctance to fight corruption.
Senator Lawrence said ranging from the dubious Domestic Debt profile to the unexplained disappearance of U$13 million dollars which was approved by the Legislature to ameliorate the incidence of rice shortage, the government continues to swim deeper into the ocean of corruption.
“Fellow Liberians, be not deceived because those who steal public funds and public assets are stealing from Liberian taxpayers who must endure surviving in a hostile economic environment. They are stealing the future of our children, and will not go with impunity.”
The President’s reference to Audits
In an attempt to portray his administration as performing in the eye of the Liberian People and our international partners in ensuring probity in government, she observed that President Weah maintained in his Annual Message that “Audit opinions have improved form disclaimer to adverse.”
She challenged the government to prove itself worthy of the trust and confidence of the Liberian People by going beyond these rhetorical comments and face the real issue surrounding the question of audits.
“For instance, we would like to have an audit report about the U$13 million that was allotted in the budget to stabilize the price of rice. To date, the government has provided no explanation regarding the U$13 million. We are also interested in the President instituting an audit of the sanctioned officials. This would give substance to his vaunt about maintaining cordial relations with the Government of the United States of America.”
According to her, it is no telling that the Weah/CDC-led regime has significantly failed over the last five years to empower Liberian owned businesses.
Senator Lawrence stated that the President promised that Liberians would no longer be spectators of their own economy, but today, the regime has done little to do business with Liberians.
She pointed out that this is evidenced by the fact that records of domestic debts paid to businesses for the past five years cannot be displayed, despite uncountable requests and demands by courageous Members of the Liberian Senate to establish proof of inclusion of Liberian businesses.
“The only list presented by the Executive Branch entailed $25 million for Government’s failed mop-up exercise that showed transactions of exchange with few streets money exchangers who did not exist or have not been found, because such transactions did not occur. We still await accountability in this matter.”
“With the dim state affecting Liberian businesses, the President, in his SONA, went on yet another wide promise spree to cajole the public about his government’s policy regarding the Legal Power of Attorney. He tended to elevate the national profile of his administration by projecting the positive impacts of the LPA scheme. The reality check is that government has failed to meet up with its LPA obligation to businesses, thus suffocating the intended purpose of the policy. An available example is the ERA Corporation and other businesses.”
Senator Lawrence further claimed that the Weah-led regime has failed on gender issues, especially justice for rape victims.
According to her, many mothers, sisters and daughters are molested and raped across the country and their cases go nowhere in the judicial system for so many different reasons, including the lack of support to the structures that are responsible for investigation and prosecution.
She added that the regime has not invested in an expedited judicial process for rape cases, thereby allowing rapists to go about their lives with impunity.
Senator Lawrence recommended more support to the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection, the Women and Children Protection Unit at the Liberian National Police.
She called for recruitment of more women, training and logistics for the Justice Ministry, but with programs, structures and systems that will take into consideration decentralized coordinated efforts.
National Security, Justice, and the Rule of Law
She observed that as expected, the President has again fallen short of addressing the question of national security and rule of law as issues of critical concern.
Senator Lawrence said National Security, Justice and the Rule of Law are indispensable to the building of a truly democratic culture and, by extension, a guarantor for increased sub-regional and international cooperation and as such, a country like Liberia that is still in transition from a lawless state to re-entry amongst the community of civilized nations, must be deliberate about how it handles these matters.
“Our task as leaders of this country is to strengthen the foundation for sustainable peace and shared prosperity for today and in the future. These cannot be achieved by putting armed men on the streets of our cities. It can only be achieved when those who are charged with the honor of public service respect the dignity of our people and when government pursues policies that deepen the sense of justice, equal opportunity, and shared prosperity.”
“Sadly, the Weah Administration doesn’t seem to care. To date, the nation and our international partners are yet to receive any closure on series of investigations launched by this administration into the deaths of some of our compatriots. We recall the investigation launched, more than two years ago, into the deaths of four auditors whose deaths came in a mind-wrenching sequence, the obscure investigation commissioned into the death of Miss Princess Cooper; Miss Odell Sherman; the case of three young men who got missing while on contract with the St. Moses Funeral Home; the NEC Magistrate who went missing in Grand Gedeh and other incessant reports of citizens going missing in Montserrado County and parts of the country.”
She also requested a speedy investigation into the gruesome murder of a two year old boy in Bomi County.
She said these are real security problems that require unmitigated attention of a serious government, but certainly, these are problems President Weah and his functionaries decide to place on the back burner.
Senator Lawrence maintained that for the past five years, the Executive Branch has failed to present a national security plan to the Legislature.
This, she added, has led to the lack of coordination, poor visibility and performance in the security sector making Liberians vulnerable.
“Indeed, all efforts by the legislature to address all security concerns including reports on mysterious and ritualistic deaths are not forth coming due to an undue influence on the legislature. Nevertheless, the latest security strategy, in the wisdom of President Weah is to announce saying (quote) “all citizens must purchase and own CCTV and be your own security” (unquote). Interestingly, what Pres. Weah has failed to realize or consider is that CCTV does not work without electricity, oblivion of the fact that most of the citizens do not have electricity and cannot afford CCTV.”
She noted that the President’s silence on the issue of drugs is more worrisome when there is a national concern for an entire generation of the nation’s youths who are considered disadvantaged youths or commonly known as zogos from the abuse of drugs.
Senator Lawrence said the huge importation of drugs will continue to affect the current generation.
She emphasized that despite these prevailing circumstances, the government has no substantive policy or programs to solve this problem.
She called on President Weah to prioritize the safety and security of youth and youth development through a national plan that will be supported by the national budget and external supports.
Senator Lawrence termed as misleading assertions made by the President that the road from Harper to Rivergee was paved by his administration.
According to her, the road was completed during the administration of ex-President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, noting that, “this Weah government has not paved any roads in the south eastern part of Liberia.
She observed that the Weah led-administration has benefited from projects initiated by previous administration, whereas the president felt short of mentioning investment attracted to the country so far by his administration.
Increase in domestic Revenues
“Fellow Liberians, rise in domestic revenues must have a reflection in the provision of basic social services. The President articulates in his SONA that more than ever in the history of Liberia, his administration was able to raise, in 2022, 740 million in domestic revenues as over 646 million in 2021. The sad commentary is, however, that the distribution of the revenues across ministries and agencies and their application to critical areas of needs, leaves much to be desired.”
She noted these allocations usually end up not being applied to benefit projects for which they were set aside and tracking mechanism, basically, the budget performance reports are never forthcoming, amidst the saturation of partisan interest that overshadows the national interest.
Further to this, she added, that the President of Liberia is the recipient of more than U$10,000,000 in the budget for County tour.
“In his 2022 Address to the Legislature, the president praised the House of Representatives for approving U$10,000,000 for his Presidential tour. He indicated that several projects were earmarked across the country out of that amount. Where is the report to show where those projects are and their status? This is a matter of serious concern, considering that even in the face of the increase in domestic revenues; his administration has not been able to disburse to the counties their deserved share of Social and County Development Funds. And operational allotment.”
She stated that against this backdrop, she will make representation to her colleagues to put a freeze on the disbursement of additional money representing allocation for presidential county tour until funds intended for social development are fully disbursed to the concerned counties.
Commitment to ensuring the conduct of Free and Fair Elections
“Liberty Party takes keen interest in the President’s pronounced commitment to conducting free and fair elections and accepting the results. we commend the president on this declaration, for we know that come October 2023, he will be defected and by then, he will be tested by his commitment to accept the results and give way to a smooth one term transition.”
She said it is also noteworthy that the President challenged Political Leaders not to militarize the youthful population of the country to their political advantage.
According to her, the Liberian leader would certainly do well to redirect this statement to the political institution that he heads.
“It is no secret that President Weah’s political party has, since its ascendency, found it difficult to transition itself from something of a radical political movement to a national political party. We are reminded of the constant attacks on students on the main campus of the University of Liberia and the Fendell facility by groups operating under the banner of the CDC. So yes, Mr. President, we will continue to direct the youthful organizations within our institutions to do the right things. You equally have a responsibility to contain yours not to militarize the political process.”
Promise to increase the salaries of about 15,000 civil servants
“Mr. President, we know that this is electioneering time, and you will play the card of deception to lure unsuspecting civil servants into believing that you care for them. After all, where did you meet the salary structure upon becoming president? Wasn’t it your ill-advised harmonization exercise that brought about the reduction in salary? We are not averse to stepping up the salaries of civil servants, but such effort must be depoliticized.”
To stretch the point further, she recalled that the President made a campaign promise of creating 1,000,000 jobs, but after five years and close to six years to the end of his administration, those jobs are yet to be created.
She said the mentioning of US$6million by the President to raise the salaries of 15,000 civil servants is unrealistic.
“We see this as one of your usual attempts to put the people against the legislature as six million is insignificant to raise the salary 15,000 civil servants. While we support salary increment for civil servants, same must be done across the board with classification and grading to avoid disincentives for employees at different levels of qualifications. To jointly achieve this, we request a financial analysis to include a breakdown and total amount from the president for onward approval by the legislature in the 2023 National Budget.”