Liberia: “Reclaiming Montserrado County”? An Exercise In Grand Futility
It is interesting how stooges of the discredited government in Liberia would sit in their comfort and conclude that Thomas Fallah, alias “Walking ATM” of the ruling CDC, would defeat Senator Darius Dillon in the impending senatorial election in vote-rich Montserrado County. What do these pens for hire and microphone mercenaries take our people for? Do they think the Liberia people are expendable cannon fodders of the ruling party? Or are the Liberian masses so disposed to suffering that they would thus fall for the dismal CDC candidate in Montserrado County hook, line, and sinker? We refuse such demeaning characterization of the people. They may not be formally educated en masse to understand complex phenomena as a result of decades of abandonment and subjugation. But they are intelligent enough to rapidly learn from the experience of their daily life and are amenable to struggling for a transformative future.
By Moses Uneh Yahmia, [email protected], Contributing Writer
The assertion of these cynics flies in the face of the objective reality as nothing has changed in economic and political governance over the years to cause a dramatic shift in the consciousness of the masses and overwhelmingly vote for Mr. Fallah in the Dec 8 polls. In 2019, the economy was in a tailspin. It has become even more disastrous this year since the world began reeling from the devastations of COVID-19 pandemic. GDP growth, which stood at -2.5percent in 2019 has further nosedived to -3-00percent in 2020 according to a recent IMF World Economic Outlook. The World Bank recently reported that COVID-related economic slump would cause 335,000 to 526,000—that is, more Liberians to plunge into extreme poverty. This statistic would put the poverty numbers in Liberia to over 3million out of a population of about 5million people. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) recently reported a 40percent decline in global investment as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. A primary commodity producing Liberian economy which was already in decline before the pandemic has been hard hit by this global slump.
The mouthpieces of the regime have claimed the contrary. But several requests to the National Investment Commission (NIC) to pull out any data on new investments in the productive sectors of the economy have fallen on deaf ears. They cannot disprove the grinding nature of the social crisis. In fact, companies have reacted to the crisis by shutting down production, laying off workers, butchering wages, and subjecting workers to more precarious working conditions. For example, apart from the 800 workers that were laid off by Firestone Liberia in 2019, the company recently laid off additional 370 workers. Also, MNG Gold Mine, the largest gold mining company in Liberia lay off more than 250 workers in August. Golden Veroleum Liberia (GVL) also laid off 450 workers in May as part of its plan to slash 1,200 jobs in 2020. Additionally, more than 30,000 public sector workers’ real wages have been sliced under through an IMF recommended wage cut which the government disingenuously peddled as a wage harmonization scheme.
A recent High Frequency Phone Monitoring Survey (HFPMS) conducted by LIGIS found that the economic crisis has “thrown businesses in turmoil. Workforce, supply chain, sales, and profit projection have gotten more uncertain. Expectation on workforce indicates that about 5percent of large firms anticipate reduction in employees and 11percent of firms in that sector revealed they anticipate dismissing some employees. Half of the medium firms (48%) and majority of the large businesses (71%) are uncertain about the short-term forecast.” This is the nature of the crisis in the formal sector. Imagine what has become of the informal sector where the bulk of the people eke out a living. Obviously, the incomes of hundreds of thousands of low-income families have been wiped out.
The apologists of the government consider the scarcity of Liberian dollars and US dollars on the market as monetary stability. But they have not told the people why the prices of goods and services have not responded to the downward movement of the exchange rate which directly reflects the country’s balance of trade position. Also, when a local currency appreciates, it does not get scarce. It remains in circulation in enormous quantities and becomes valuable. Why the Liberian dollar which is only a legal tender within the geography of Liberia is in low supply on the market remains a mystery.
A 5.7percent reduction in the rate of inflation was promoted by officials of government as an economic milestone for Mr. Weah. But what they failed to tell the public is that this reduction in the inflation rate is not a result of a sane fiscal policy framework or a real transformation in the economy which increases investment, provides good-paying jobs, increases aggregate demand, and boosts national income in order to positively impact the Liberian dollars and stabilize the exchange rate.
Instead, the measly reduction in the rate of inflation is not only a result of “weak demand for non-food items such as furnishing and major household appliances” according to LISGIS. The decelerating inflation rate can also be attributed to the infusion of part of the proceeds of an IMF special drawing rights which was negotiated and concluded between the Bretton Woods institution and the Liberian government in December 2019. The Fund, through the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) has used the SDR to exclusively make monetary interventions like paying for imports through foreign currency auction and other short-term monetary mechanisms. This is not sustainable as the funds provided by the IMF would sooner rather than later be wiped out and the demand for foreign currency to import consumer goods would skyrocket. The government would have to go back to the IMF to sign up for another credit facility. This would increase the country’s debt stock which has already ballooned by 71.5percent in less than three years or 898million at the end of 2017 to 1.503billion at the end of March 2020.
Even the national budget which should be an effective tool to launch a full-scale assault on poverty and economic deprivation seems to be working against the people. For example, 89.7percent or US$480.3million of a budget of 535.5million covers recurrent expenditure while a dreadful amount of US$55.2million or 10.3 accounts for capital expenditure. Amid a global pandemic, the health budget has been slashed from 86.8million in 2019/2020 to 66.9million in 2020/2021. The budget of the Executive Protective Service (EPS) which stands at US$7.1million is higher than the budget of US$6.4million for agriculture which should be the bedrock of the Liberian economy. These are just a few of the many lines in the 2020/2021 Budget which speak to the failure of the government to place emphasis on the people.
At the same time, slews of corruption scandals have emerged including the looting of 48million meant for the procurement of PPEs and payment of front-line healthcare workers in the fight against the COVID-19 Pandemic. Also, 30million borrowed from the IMF to provide food aid to vulnerable households during the height of the national lockdown has been squandered. Then there is the passport scandal involving Mr. Weah who, according to Andrew Wanplo – erstwhile director of Passport and Visa Services – instructed the Foreign Ministry to sell the position of honorary consul and issue diplomatic passports to narco-terrorists and drug kingpins. There is this mystery surrounding 4billion banknotes that were printed to address the Liberian dollar liquidity crisis but have been doled out to Thomas Fallah to lure voters in a futile attempt to unseat Senator Dillon. Then the public was gripped in shock and awe by the gruesome deaths of four auditors who were killed because they refused to cover up audit reports that implicate top officials of the government in acts of plunder.
In a nutshell, the Liberian economy is in utter shambles. Corruption which is the staple of top guns of the regime is draining the public purse and depriving the people of basic social services. A reign of terror has been unleashed against principled professionals, civil servants, social activists, and journalists who have refused to cozy up to the scandal-ridden farce. All these sums up the material basis for the general outrage of the Liberian people which would be reflected at the December 8, 2020 polls. The defeat of the ruling party would be more catastrophic than its defeat in 2019. Hence, no amount of spinning by hired propagandists would change the reality. The last resorts of the regime to keep its grips on power are the instruments of manipulations and brute force. It looks up to a compromised National Election Commission (NEC) to steal the democratic verdict of the people, a fraudulent process that would be validated by a subservient Supreme Court. Finally, the forces of repression which include the armed bodies of men and paramilitary thugs would be unleashed to crush any popular resistance of the masses against the fraud. This would be the last straw that would break the camel’s back.
“Ask not for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.”