Of Perennial Political And Economic Disappointment – An Appraisal Of Year One Of The George Weah-Led Government
President Weah and his apologists have been parroting imaginary achievements on a scandal sheet in the name of first-year achievements of the “Pro-poor Agenda”. It is like “An emperor who parades the street naked under the guise of being in new suits” (Alan Woods. 2018). Juxtaposing the tempo and mood of the people in the streets, communities, and villages to that of the list of so-called achievements further
The country has been falling into grotesque ruins, as the people barely find a day’s meal to consume. Due to austerity measures recommended by the Bretton Woods Institutions and the hike in recurrent expenditure, the envelope for social services in the budget such as healthcare, education, water and sanitation, electricity, etc. has experienced brutal leakage. The piecemeal development in these sectors have been implemented at the expense of grants and aid from “donor partners” – a development funding strategy which has proven futile for solving structural imbalances and curtailing social inequality in third world countries. This is the neo-liberal agenda African countries have been subjected to since imperialism, through convert and overt maneuvering, prohibited the building of a new independent, sovereign, and self-reliant state by progressive African governments after 70years of colonialism and over four centuries of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.
While countries like Liberia, which became an entrenched de facto colony of the United States after the Second Imperialist War, look up to the IMF and World Bank and recently Chinese and Middle Eastern Financial institutions for capital to build roads, dams, etc., the resources and labor of the African people that should be the utilized to develop the continent are exploited by foreign monopoly capital and the surplus expatriated with little benefits for the African people.
This is the system that has kept the Liberian society backward. The excesses of this system led to the illusion in a George Weah. But his coming to power is like the more things change, the more they remain the same: the continuous development of underdevelopment – an indication that change of politicians in the neo-colonial state which promotes the ancillaries of capitalism cannot ensure genuine social transformation for the African people.
So inflation has hit the rooftop, spiraling at 23.4percent in 2018 as compared to 12.9percent in 2017 according to a 2018 Central Bank of Liberia Report. The exchange rate has skyrocketed to L$163.00: US$1.00 despite the questionable infusion of US$25million by the Central Bank of Liberia and Ministry of Finance to mop up excess liquidity. In 2018, the economy did not attract any capital investment due to not only the gloomy outlook of the world’s economy but also the lack of key infrastructure for capital investment in Liberia and the gross irresponsibility of the Weah-led government to uphold the rule of law. Thus, the unemployment and underemployment crisis has worsened in the country.
In 2018, the government announced reductions in the prices of imported 25kg and 50kg bags of rice after President Weah held a meeting with the rice cartel. Unfortunately, the price of the country’s staple has increased astronomically as the right strategies to make the country food-secured and reduce the reliance on imported rice have not been adopted. Reduction of import tariffs on 2500 commodities did little to reduce prices as such intervention only benefited importers who are predominantly Indians and Lebanese and further hurt the masses of the poor. There is a sharp decline in the collection of tax and non-tax revenue as the country recorded the highest budget shortfall of US$225million according to the 2018 Central Bank Report. But while the CBL reported that the cause of the decline in government revenue is due to fall in tax revenue from international trade, personal income, etc., the economy recorded US$106million in iron ore export and US$68million in rubber export according to the President’s 2nd annual message to the 54th Legislature.
The export value of gold was not provided by the President. But in 2017, the CIA Fact Sheet reported that gold recorded the highest foreign currency value in the economy. According to a World Bank 2018 Report, a 3.0percent projected growth in the Liberian economy would be attributed to an increased in gold production. So, one can conclude that the 2018 export value of gold is higher than iron ore and rubber. According to the CBL 2018 Report, the Liberian economy expanded by an estimated 3.0percent in 2018 to US$932.5million from US$904.3million in 2017. The report also indicates that the projected growth in GDP was mainly on account of developments in the mining and panning sector through industrial gold production and the agriculture and fishery sectors. According to the CBL, production of iron ore, rubber, diamond, cocoa, crude palm oil and cement increased, while beverages and sawn timber decreased.
The irony of the growth in the economy and the fall in government revenue is just an indication of how the neo-colonial capitalist system works against the African people. The system works in a way that the African working class is subjected to wage slavery and other inhumane exploitations; government is given little in taxes and royalties by the foreign multinational corporations that have ownership of the commanding heights of the economy. Workers ‘ wages are unable to meet their demand for goods and services while the paltry sum in taxes and royalties to government are only enough to pay the salary and emoluments of bureaucrats and politicians in the neo-colonial state. Vast portion of these amount accumulated from the exploitation of the labor and resources of the country is expatriated instead of being used to expand the productive forces like history saw capitalism worked for Europe and North America. This is because due to the unscientific imposition of the capitalist mode of production on the pre-capitalists mode of production on the Liberian society, the country does not have a capital owning class to have ownership and control of the properties of production.
The owners of the capital accumulated from the production of gold, iron ore, rubber, diamond, etc. come from the metropoles of capitalism. So instead of investing the accumulated surplus to further develop the productive forces and expand the productivity of labor in the Liberian economy, the surplus profit is exported to Asia, Europe and America. Thus, the manufacturing and agriculture sectors which have the highest prospects for massive job creation in the economy are lagging. Liberia has remained the supplier of raw materials to first world economies and exporter of finished goods from Asia, Europe and America. That has been the position of Liberia in the unequal international division of labor especially after the Second Imperialist War in 1945. From the numbers, we can say that in 2019, the people must brace themselves for the worst economic catastrophe.
During the regime of Madame Sirleaf, the CDC demonstrated the capability of mobilizing popular opinion due to the objective condition in the country – a condition caused by the neo-liberal capitalist model which was vehemently adhered to by Ellen Johnson Sirleaf for which she not only won many accolades from Western backed International organizations but was also on the front pages of western mainstream media as a champion of democracy. But after the CDC’s first year in power, it has been proven that governance is more than just organizing popular anger, as the party has proven that it is not a genuine social movement that can break away from the status quo but a personality cult used the celebrity status of President Weah to spout populist rhetoric without having the ideas to transform the homeland. Due to such incompetence, the harsh social contradictions keep compounding and speedily putting an end to the people’s illusion in the Weah regime.
Beside the ruling party being a fanatic of neoliberalism, President Weah has been on a brutal violation safari, bridging provisions in the Constitution and other laws at will. The President recently nominated and commissioned one of his cronies as Liberia’s Ambassador to the US without being confirmed by the Liberian Senate – a gross violation of Article 54 of the 1986 Constitution. The 2009 Act of the Liberia Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (LEITI) was victimized when President Weah appointed Gabriel Nyenkan as the head of Secretariat although the Act calls or the head to be appointed by the Multi Stakeholders Group. The President refused to rescind the appointment despite popular outcry from reputable institutions such as Global Witness, as well as sections of the population. A bill to strip tenure positions from anti-graft institutions was submitted to the 54th Legislature by the Executive, a smart attempt to undermine the independence of integrity institutions and stack these institutions with pliant stooges that will do his bidding. Apart from these, the government is inundated with scandal, scandal and scandal. If it is not the bogus Eton loan scheme, it is the 419 EBOMAF loan fiasco. If it is not the payment of questionable debts by the Ministry of Finance, it is the roofing of 205 zinc sharks in Gibraltar at the cost of over US$1million.
President Weah, through the Ministry of State and Presidential Affairs, rubbished provisions of the Public Procurement and Concession Act to award roads and other contracts to his Lebanese cronies. One of those companies is the Sidani Group Holding. The contracts of the community roads being constructed were awarded to these Lebanese friends of President Weah without National Competitive Bidding process. The President halted the bidding process and awarded the National Port Authority (NPA) headquarters’ construction contract to BMC Ali, a Lebanese company. The VIP Longue, Duty Free Store and Restaurant at the newly constructed terminal of the Roberts International Airport (RIA) were given out to foreign businesses although qualified Liberian businesses bided for the business spaces at the country’s major port of entry. The awarding of these contracts to foreign businesses that export their profits instead of reinvesting in other productive sectors of the Liberian economy is a slap in the face of the rhetoric spewed by the President that Liberians will not be spectators in their own economy. Liberians are not only spectators in their own economy; they have drifted to being slaves and serfs in their own country under the Weah-led government.
In just one year, the President has acquired overnight wealth that he did not have as a private citizen and Senator of Montserrado County. His penchant for luxury runs contrary to the collective aspiration of the people. He has turned the public treasury into a safe that funds his desire for opulence. This is evidence by President Weah using over US$1million on foreign travels in less than a year. Lavish weekend parties are held at his newly furbished Jamaica Resort where actresses from Ghana and Nigeria are habitually seen, and it has become a normal routine for President Weah and his lackeys. While construction works on the military hospital remain stagnant, President Weah numerous estate investments have been fast-tracked in and around Monrovia. Key members of the President’s cabinet that could not afford to pay house rents two years ago are now owners of lucrative properties. Nathaniel McGill (Minister of State) now owns a house worth US$250,000.00 off the Robertsfield Highway. Samuel Tweah (The lousy Minister of Finance) is building a modern estate in Ben’s Town, Marshall City, Margibi County. Jefferson Koijee (the college degenerate and Mayor of Monrovia) bought a compound on 19th Street, Sinkor at the cost of US$195,000.00 and is constructing a three-storey exotic hacienda on the property.
The public went in frenzy when President Weah announced that no senior official of his government would make more than US$7,000.00 as monthly take home pay. But before the dust could settle, Henry Costa, a popular talk show host and one of the fearless critics of the Weah-led government, in 2018 disclosed a check of US$ 8,000.00 as Saifuah M. Gray’s September allowance. It was said by Mr. Henry Costa that Miss Gray who enjoys the privilege of a very special relationship with President Weah makes US$12,000.00 in monthly salary and benefit as the President of the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL). The regime spews rhetoric right but goes left. President Weah announced a 25percent reduction of his salary and benefits but the budget of the President’s office ballooned from US$15million in the 2017/2018 fiscal year to US$21million in the 2018/2019 fiscal budget. The government announced cuts in the salary of top officials of government under the veil of mobilizing resources to fund social programs but the wage bill, which was US$297million in the 2017/2018 fiscal year soured to US$317million in 2018/2019 although there was no increment in the wages of civil servants, teachers, doctors, nurses, etc. Critical members of the opposition, civil society and media have been bullied by the CDC-led government. This shows the intolerance of the national and international scandal calling itself a government. Journalists Jonathan Pay-lay-lay, Rodney Sieh, Patrick Honnah, Henry Costa, T-Max Jlateh, Alfred Sirleaf (Daily Talk) etc. are all victims of the incompetent regime.
Also, the CDC – led government has refused to review and renegotiate all bogus concession agreements and contracts signed into law by the Ellen led government although the ruling party was one of the strongest critics of these agreements during its days in opposition. Firestone, Arcelor Mittal, MNG Gold Mine, Sime Darby, GVL, Liberty Gold, China Union, etc. are not only still exploiting the labor and resources of our people and country, they are expatriating the surplus profits instead of reinvesting in other sectors of the economy. The multinationals expatriate millions of dollars from our country and not only pay paltry sum to government’s revenue but also subject Liberian workers to wage slavery and other appalling exploitations. The little in taxes and rent given to national government is only sufficient to run and maintain the corrupt bureaucracy of the state which keeps such a system in place.
The government has turned a deaf ear to calls from many Liberians to investigate and prosecute Robert Sirleaf for leading the caravan that bankrupted the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL). Probably, Robert Sirleaf, the son of former President Sirleaf is being rewarded for allegedly helping to bankroll the election campaign of the ruling-Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) in 2017. Under the watch of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, there was massive looting of state resources for personal benefits. But the CDC – led government has refused to set up a commission of inquiry to investigate cases of corruption during Ellen’s 12 year rule. This is a proof that George Weah’s priority is to ensure the protection Ellen Sirleaf, her family and cronies at the expense of the people. No wonder there is growing discontent, anger, fury and hatred among the people for George Weah and his clique of bureaucratic parasites.
The people’s anger was expressed when hundreds of market women, students, workers, and youth took to the streets on September 24,2018 to protest against the looting of billions of Liberian dollars intended to replace mutilated bank notes. And the people are being mobilized once again to march against the Weah tyranny. On social media, the people are expressing their indignation especially at the construction of luxurious private estates by President Weah and the lack of accountability for the US$ 25million taken from the country’s foreign reserves to mop up the excess liquidity of Liberian dollars. On the radio, the people are chanting cries of disappointment in the “Country giant” turned “country devil”. In the District #13, Montserrado County’s by-election, the people rejected the candidate whose hands were lifted by President Weah in a major campaign rally – a strange phenomenon to those with a scanty understanding of the general laws of change in nature, society and human thought. The result of the by-election in Sinoe County had to be fingered to favor the CDC’s candidate – a hint of what is to come in the 2023 Presidential Election.
This massive shift in the consciousness of the people is just a proof that a government that refuses to resolve the social contradictions that brought it to the helm of power must not expect the continuous support and commitment of the people. But it seems George Weah is a “Political Falcao” who has refused to listen to the masses and has reneged on devoting the government to promoting the transformation of the nation and people. As the people rapidly lose faith in the farce, it would resort to black fascism wherein alternative voices will be mysteriously purged. This has already started to show its ugly face with threats being thrown at critics of the government. With a people caged in squalor and poverty, their patience is fast reaching its limitation. This farcical order is dying sooner than we expected. The cynics who scorned predictions of the farce not lasting longer than six years are silently eating their words. Our responsibility is to ensure that the inevitable break in the point of stasis by the people produces a social revolution that commits itself to the qualitative transformation of society.
Moses Uneh Yahmia is a youth and students activist. He is a staunch member of the Movement for Social Democratic Alternative (MOSODA). He can be reached via [email protected].