FPA Weighs in on Performance of Chief Executive, Cabinet Ministers for the Year 2018

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Monrovia – George Manneh Weah’s ascendancy to the Liberian presidency came with the full realization that he had some massive shoes to fill. Liberia, known for historic firsts, had just bid farewell to its first woman head of state, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. Now, Africa’s oldest republic has its first former professional footballer; who in his prime, won every major international honor and was simply the best in the game. Turning in his boots for the rugged jungle of modern-day African politics, Mr. Weah’s first year proved to be a mixed bag of expectations and promises eclipsed by sudden realization, as the rigors of the job began to take its toll,  the government appears to still be finding its way – albeit missteps, misfortunes and some disappointments along the way. With limited room for errors, the first year saw the government come to terms with promises made on the campaign trail and what is required to succeed. Over the past decade, FrontPageAfrica’s annual assessment of government has served as a gauging point for the government to take stock of its highs and lows, its strength and weaknesses offering of an outlook into the coming year. Today, we present our first annual assessment of the Weah-led government with the usual kick off, the Executive Branch of government.

THE EXECUTIVE

THE LOWDOWN: When President Weah assumed the mantle of authority from former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf in January, the expectations of a youthful generation trumpeting a grassroots base was high. Over the past decade, as a key opposition political party, the Congress for Democratic Change took the Sirleaf administration head on – issue by issue.  From corruption to nepotism, to allegations of neglect of those languishing at the bottom of the economic ladder, the party held no punches in making sure that the voice of its constituents was heard around the length and breadth of Liberia. After two tries for the mantle of leadership, the dawn of the 2017 saw the party enter into a coalition of former President Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Party (NPP), and former speaker Alex Tyler’s Liberia People Democratic Party (LPDP).

The marriage proved to be a success as Weah clinched the presidency. His inaugural address was full of hope and promise; trumpeting his quest to unify the country and embrace Liberians beyond party lines. “I guarantee you, when we finish, there will not be a winning or a losing side. Today, we all wear the jersey of Liberia, and the victory belongs to the people, to peace, and to democracy,” Weah averred.

Realizing the damage, the issue of corruption did to his predecessor who once described the chronic disease as a “vampire”, Weah sought to assure Liberians of his readiness to curb graft. “I further believe that the overwhelming mandate I received from the Liberian people is a mandate to end corruption in public service. I promise to deliver on this mandate,” he charged. “As officials of Government, it is time to put the interest of our people above our own selfish interests. It is time to be honest with our people. Though corruption is a habit amongst our people, we must end it. We must pay civil servants a living wage so that corruption is not an excuse for taking what is not theirs. Those who do not refrain from enriching themselves at the expense of the people – the law will take its course. I say today that you will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”

The President also pledged to ensure a business-friendly government while making Liberians part of the economy. “We will do all that is within our power to provide an environment that will be conducive for the conduct of honest and transparent business. We will remove unnecessary regulatory constraints that tend to impede the establishment and operation of business in a profitable and predictable manner.”

The first year has without a doubt seen some ups and downs, and a lot of room for improvement for the new government; with many hoping for some tweaking of sorts to change the dynamics of the unfolding realities marred by early red flags.

2018 HIGHS: Playing to his strength, President Weah, the former world best footballer returned to his former turf France, where he scored a crucial meeting with President Emmanuel Macron who announced a 10-million-euro (12.31 million U.S dollar) grant to help support development in the country. “So far, we have not done much for Liberia…In this perspective, we wish to change things,” Macron told President Weah in February. 

During the course of the year under review, the President prioritized the construction of roads as a gauging accomplishment for his re-election in five years.  He has been pushing the Ministry of Public Works to speed up roadworks in various communities across the country including; ongoing works in the Battery Factory/Plank Field Community, the Doe community, the Topoe Village and the second phase of the Somalia Drive Road Project. The President has also been pressing the Ministry of Public Works to speed up projects in Tusa Field, Archbishop Michael Francis Road, Pipeline Road, ELWA to Rehab Community road and Voca Mission road. The President has also set his sight on empowering Liberians with the tools to gain control of their lives through equitable provisions of opportunities in education, health, youth development, and social protection.

2018 LOWS: The President endured a rugged stretch during the course of the year under review, mostly due to his own doings. Two failed loans from the little-known Eton Financial Private Limited and the Burkinabe firm, EBOMAF was further dampened by the President’s admission that he was using the private plane of the company’s owner Mr. Mahmadou Boukoungou for his foreign travels.

Both loans combined for a near US$1 billion road construction project. The US$536 million Eton was a road project geared toward the construction of a coastal corridor connection of counties’ capitals, via the construction of the Buchanan-Cestos City to Greenville and Barclayville Road, the Barclayville to Sasstown Road and the Barclayville to Pleebo Road. Other roads to benefit from the loan include; the Medina to Robertsport Road and the Tubmanburg to Bopolu Road. Also to be constructed are ‘rest stops’ and ‘roadside service areas’. The US$420 million Ebomaf loan aims at financing the design, construction, and supervision of road corridors in Monrovia(Somalia Drive-Kesselly Boulevard to Sinkor) and northeastern Liberia – Tappita-Zwedru Road, including; Toe Town to La Cote D’Ivoire and Zwedru-Greenville.The transaction, according to the document obtained by FPA, that has been labeled “The Loan” is between the Liberian government and road construction company, EBOMAF.

The President and his staffers ignored public criticisms and scrutiny regarding the lack of transparency, accountability and concerns over conflict of interest for Ebomaf and Eton’s lack of history and financial muscle to pull it off.

The year also produced several stains on the President’s first year with two major scandals – the saga of the missing containers filled money, LD16 billion, and the lack of transparency over how some US$25 million was infused into the economy to help curb the rising exchange rate. All this complicated by the president’s silence amid the resurgence of a militant-style sabu unit orchestrated by his city mayor Jefferson Koijee, the widespread overnight construction of his own personal properties and reports of several of his officials purchasing thousands of dollars worth of properties for themselves. The Liberia Anti Corruption Commission recently reported that several of those appointed by President Weah have failed to declare their assets since taking office respectively.

More importantly, the President reneged on his pledge that Liberians would not be spectators in the economy with multiple road and construction contracts to his former business partner, the Lebanese national Mohammed Bittar.

A FrontPageAfrica investigation during the year under review found that since the government took over in January, most of the contracts for roads and development projects were given to Lebanese nationals Mohammed Bittar and Mr. Shawki Fawaz of SSF ENTREPRENEUR, INC AND West  Africa Construction. 

The projects include: Duazon Sand Beach Road 1,0km, Sophie Road 1.2km, VOA ELWA COMMUNITY ACCESS RD 1.5KM, MANATEMA RD,(1.7KM) ELWA. R2 Community Access Road (1.0 Km); Cooper Farm Jangaba Road (1.0Km); Thinker’s Village Telecom Road (2.2Km) Soul Clinic (2.5Km) Rehab Community Road (2.5Km) and Morris Farm (3.0 Km)

Bittar has received construction permits from the Ministry of Public Works to construct housing unit in Grand Kru and Sinoe counties without going through the procurement process of the Public Procurement Concessions Commission. Using the Freedom of Information, FPA recently received confirmation from the PPCC that Bittar was contracted for work on the 14 Military Hospital

On the foreign front, President Weah appears to be struggling to get his footing with Liberia’s traditional stepfather, the United States of America. He had pledged during his inauguration to work with the country’s  bilateral and multilateral partners, as well with those friendly nations to foster Liberia’s agenda. While the president has been exploring all options diplomatically and internationally to attract partners in making his Pro-poor Agenda for Prosperity & Development(PAPD) come to reality; with the exception of France that announced a10-million-euro grant to support development in the country, China, which US$54M Grant to Construct Overpasses at the SKD Boulevard Ministerial Complex, the first year has been a challenge.

Trumpeting Liberia as a United Nations success story, the President used his address at the 73rd UN General Assembly to herald his Pro-Poor Agenda which he says is designed to give power to the people, promote economic diversification, protect sustainable peace and encourage good governance.

DOMESTIC GRADE: C+

FOREIGN AFFAIRS GRADE: C+ 

2019 OUTLOOK: In his own words, President Weah told his Cabinet toward the end of the year that time is not on the government’s side as he underscored the exigency of time in meeting Liberian people yearn for better standard of living. At a retreat in Kakata City, Margibi County, in October the President  encouraged officials of his administration to double up in tackling their various tasks and responsibilities, adding, “Time is not in our favor.” How the government proceeds in the coming year could prove pivotal to Weah’s survival. The key concern for many is whether the sophomore year would see President Weah and his supporters graduating from party mode to umbrella of Liberia. Only Time Will Tell…

THE VICE PRESIDENCY

THE LOWDOWN: What an enduring year it has been for the former First Lady.  The ex-wife of former President Charles Taylor, who is currently serving a 50-year prison sentence in England for war crimes in Sierra Leone, played a pivotal role in helping President Weah ascend to the presidency. 

Even before the 2017 election victory, Madam Taylor was clear that the vice presidency is not a nominal role. This was triggered when her predecessor Vice President Joseph Boakai said during the first presidential debate that the reason he was much laid back during the twelve years of the Sirleaf presidency was because he was a “parked car in a garage”. But while the now ruling coalition capitalized on Boakai’s political snafu for campaign advantage, the aftermath has seen the current vice president fall victim to allegations about what some in the ruling establishment are describing as her hidden presidential ambitions. Off the bat, the VP was in trouble as President Weah worked behind the scenes to wrestle constitutional power away from her as the deciding vote in the Senate – all aimed at minimizing her influence and positioning for a possible future run at the presidency. Toward the end of the year, it was becoming clear that efforts to minimize the VP was evident with the submission of a bill by President Weah to take away her oversight responsibilities of the Liberia National Lotteries. 

2018 HIGHS: In a freshman year dominated by concerns over the reluctance of officials of government   to declare their assets, the vice president made her filings with the Liberia Anti-corruption Commission (LACC).

Despite limited opportunities to assert her role, the VP has used available platforms to advocate for sustained investment in youth empowerment and employment which she says remains an integral part of the Government’s Pro-Poor Agenda for Development and Prosperity. Terming youth empowerment. 

During the year under review, the VP’s office stressed the importance of youth employment as a must for sustainable development and said, the administration remains committed to highlighting issues that are affecting young people, and the Administration is determined to explore avenues that will address such concerns for the improvement of the living conditions of youths in Liberia.

2018 LOWS: In a defining year for the VP, a number of off the cuff remarks drew her in the firing line of critics.  Her comments in May during an appearance with district commissioners in Bong County, she declared: “This is our time to eat. We will eat but we are going to do it in a way that everybody will be able to eat”. The comments raised a lot of eyebrows, particularly over the sticky issue of corruption with some critics slamming the VP for suggesting that service in government is open only to those who have taken membership in her Coalition for Democratic Change.

In August, the VP again came under fire during a campaign stop in support of the ruling party’s senatorial candidate, Marvin Cole. The seat became vacant  after her ascendancy to the vice presidency.

Speaking to citizens in David Dean’s Town in Kokoya District, the VP accused some caucus members including Yallah of corruption, claiming they  are the reasons for the delay and mismanagement of funds for the Gbarnga Street pavement project and the Bong County Technical College. “The people are corrupt,” she said. “Where has the money for the road construction and college gone?”

Senator Yallah fired back, stating that he was disheartened to hear the VP using her new position to preach hate in the county instead of promoting peace and reconciliation among citizens. “She was in the Senate when the college project began in 2008 and now she is acting as if she had no part to play when things went wrong with the project.”

GRADE: C

2019 OUTLOOK: The year ended on a low note for the VP amid issues of distrust within the ruling coalition about her perceived political ambitions. Two things could happen in the coming year: President Weah decides to stop listening to chatters about his vice president’s ambitions or give her more leeway to remove the car out of the garage. But most importantly, who and what’s beyond the quest to diminish the VP role via wrestling away Group of 77, National Lotteries and even shortchanging the budget for her office.

MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE

THE LOWDOWN:  The forgotten sector with enormous potential to turn Liberia’s economic misfortunes around remains vastly ignored and underfunded. Three years ago, the deadly Ebola virus outbreak hit the key counties like — Lofa, Bomi, Bong, Margibi and Montserrado— hard.  The draft national budget for the 2018/2019 fiscal year is US$488.8 million, with US$8.3 million appropriated for agriculture. This amounts to 1.69% of the total national budget of Liberia, while 62.1% go to recurrent expenditures the bulk of which pays for huge salaries, allowances and logistics for top officials.

According to the World Bank,  these major areas of the country remain poor and food insecure. At least 16% of the households surveyed in these areas were found by a 2015 emergency food assessment to be food insecure, with 18% using emergency coping strategies—or, in other words, reduced to begging to meet their needs for food. And yet, together these counties are home to about 51% of Liberia’s population of some 4.5 million.

The food scarcity has been blamed on Liberia’s subsistence farming initiatives which makes it hard for Liberians to compete on the market with cheaper food imports, and agriculture has suffered as a result of the 2014 Ebola outbreak and prolonged civil crises.

A recent World Bank report noted that despite a high degree of involvement by the local population in agriculture, the sector’s productivity remains low: little technology and poor pest management, combined with the extremely limited use of fertilizer and other modern cultivation methods, are some of the factors responsible for this. Other factors include; the lack of good quality farm inputs, high pre- and post-harvest losses, and the lack of incentives to produce food beyond subsistence level, given that marketing is difficult because of poor road network and high transport costs.

The West Africa Agricultural Productivity Project (WAAPP-Liberia)—a regional project supported by the World Bank and Japanese Government, provides a platform with a project that helps fund the resuscitation of the Central Agricultural Research Institute (CARI), Liberia’s only agricultural research institute, which was badly damaged during the country’s civil wars. WAAPP supported 32 young Liberian scientists, some of whom earned Master’s degrees or PhDs at African universities, and all of whom completed their studies. Now they serve in Liberia’s Ministry of Agriculture and at CARI. But CARI itself has been marred by allegations of corruption and misuse of equipment and donor supplies in the past few years.

2018 HIGHS: During the year under review, the ministry emphasized rice value-chain development. Dr. Mogana Flomo, who heads the ministry made it clear to a forum in May that the extraction and exportation of minerals from Liberia did not improve the lives of the ordinary people over the years as he called on government to redirect its attention to the agriculture sector to improve the lives of those languishing at the bottom of the economic ladder.

2018 LOWS: Eyebrows are still being raised across the country over the importation of the Pro-Poor Rice imported from India. The ministry which has been vocal about encouraging local produce kept silent while government actors imported rice under the guise of pro-poor when local country rice could be processed and packaged for local and foreign consumption. All this when the sector carries a bare minimal of 1.5% of the overall national budget, suggesting that the current government, like the one before has very little interest in showing seriousness about the Agriculture Sector.

GRADE:

2019 OUTLOOK:Prior to the ushering in of the Weah-led government, the previous administration of President Sirleaf was working with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) as well as other developmental partners to brainstorm on the development of an agriculture investment plan that will prioritize increased allotment in the annual National Budget  for the improvement of the country’s agricultural sector. Would the coming year see a revisit to that? Time Will Tell…

MINISTRY OF COMMERCE

THE LOWDOWN: This is one area many are paying serious attention to. The ministry tasked with regulating commodity and trade standards, collecting, evaluating and publishing data pertaining to Commerce and  Industry has been under the microscope amid rising increase in the price of key commodities; rice, petrol and diesel( fuel oil). During the course of the year under review, the ministry came under fire for failing to establish and enforce standards for business practices and also failing to promote sound development of foreign and domestic trade, particularly, the issuance of import and export permits. Some businesses are complaining that the ministry has given a free rein to Lebanese businessman Mohamad Bittar, a long-time business partner to President Weah to control the issuance of permits and demand special favors for personal interests. 

2018 HIGHS: The biggest news of the year was the government’s decision to approve a new schedule to reduce tariffs on a wide range of commodities being imported into the country. The new tariff regime was aimed at making reductions ranging from 81 to 40 percent in over 2000 widely consumed commodities. Some of the reductions include; pig feet (81%), chicken feet (63%), vegetable oil (41%), onions (53%), used clothing (41%) and mosquito coil (65%), among others. But while the President mandated the Ministry to urgently implement a concurrent and proportionate reduction in the prices of the affected commodities in order to bring relief to the poor masses, the prices are still unaffordable for many Liberians lingering at the bottom of the economic ladder. The government has repeatedly cautioned that business entities engaging in price hike and profiteering in the wake of the tariff reduction will bear the full weight of the law.

One of the high points of the year for the MoCI was a collaborated effort with the Swedish National Board of Trade (NBT) and the World Bank Group (WBG) in launching the LIB Business Hub/service sector website, which will provide an e-government solution to the business community and the general public. The hub aims to make it easier for people to do business in the country.

During the year under review, Dr. Wilson Tarpeh, who heads the ministry stressed the importance of the implementation of a National Single Window in Liberia to allow parties involved in trade and logistics to lodge documents through a single entry point to fulfill import, export and transit-related regulatory requirements. The minister also laid emphasis on the World Trade Organization (WTO) Trade Facilitation Agreement Article 12, sub-section 4.1, which encourages members to establish or maintain a single window that will enable traders to submit documentations and/or data requirements for importation, exportation, or transit of goods through a single entry point to the related authorities or agencies. 

On paper, the ministry appealed to businesses including; supermarkets, Stores, Provision shops to price tag their commodities in both Liberian Dollars (LD) and United States Dollars (USD) base on Central Bank Prevailing rate. But despite the appeal, regulation has been a challenge.

2018 LOWS: The ministry came under fire during the year under review amid allegations that some Lebanese businesses imported Plastic Rice in the country and were distributing it on the market. As the regulatory agency of government with the responsibility to regulate the market and protect the Liberians, the ministry convened a meeting of Rice Importers to investigate the allegation. At that meeting, that consignment of rice was reportedly quarantined. The ministry later conducted a conformity Assessment Test and revealed that the rice was not “PLASTIC RICE”.

GRADE: C

MINISTRY OF EDUCATION

THE LOWDOWN: Complexities of the civil war, the deadly Ebola virus outbreak, poor management, and lack of adequate infrastructures have all contributed to the daunting task facing the sector in Liberia. The year under review marked a low point for school enrollment as hardships forced many students to stay out of the classrooms. Additionally, overage enrollment and huge number of out-of-school children wasted government’s resources because of ‘ghost’ teachers and unskilled teachers. Many unqualified teachers have been perennial issue dogging progress of the sector. The lack of a national school quality standards, capacity, and resourcing at county and district levels is gravely lacking.

2018 HIGHS: The high point for the sector during the year under review was a pronouncement by  President Weah that students at all public universities would be free of tuition headache, although it is unclear how government intends to fund the process. The freshman minister Professor Ansu Sonii has made the delivery  of quality education to children a top priority. Coming on the heels of the previous government in which former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf declared the educational system a mess, Sonii seems quite aware about the challenges before him. During the year under review, the minister and his team embarked on a nationwide tour of schools in the entire country to assess the veracity in the former president’s assertion and has come to the reality that the assertions were true. 

An educational sector stakeholders summit in May at the Booker Washington Institute in Kakata, Margibi county set off a chain of events said to be in play in a bid to reform the sector. For now, the government is relying on handouts, particularly from the USAID education programs which focus on improving the quality of teaching and learning (especially in early grade reading), and increasing equitable access to safe learning opportunities for girls and for youth who missed out on education due to postwar reconstruction and a weak education system. 

2018 LOWS: This was a low year for the sector with a very low enrollment for elementary and secondary school students. It didn’t help much that the sector only received 14 percent allotment in the current budget. The year also witnessed protests yet again at the University of Liberia as students at both campuses chanted revolutionary slogans and disrupted normal activities in early February as students called for the resignation of the president of the university, Dr. Ophelia Inez Weeks. At the university’s Fendall campus, the student group set roadblocks preventing vehicles from plying the highway from Kakata to Monrovia. 

GRADE: D

2019 OUTLOOK: Would the coming year see the sector developed through a transparent, inclusive process with the government in the driving seat?  Like agriculture, investment in here remains pivotal to the country’s overall development but lack of adequate commitments of domestic financing poses serious challenges.

MINISTRY OF FINANCE AND DEVELOPMENT PLANNING

THE LOWDOWN: Whew! It’s been one heck of a year for the ministry. Samuel Tweah, one of the ruling party’s firebrand came to the post with a lot of expectations with many of his supporters hoping he would duplicate his tough-talk into action in helping to resuscitate the ailing economy. In the wake of a somewhat rugged start, the government was embroiled in one messy financial scandal after the next, but it was the saga of the missing billions of local currency from containers docked at the Freeport of Monrovia that caught the world by storm.

The disappearance of several shipments of freshly printed Liberian dollars ordered from Sweden, Lebanon and other countries was complicated by various versions of explanations from government ministers which raised the skepticism of the local population. Minister Tweah played down the crisis and said that not all the money was missing, contradicting Information Minister Lenn Eugene Nagbe who had earlier confirmed the millions of local currency printed in Lebanon, Sweden and other countries had gone missing. “The investigation is about establishing the accuracy of money that came in between 2016 and 2018, because we got reports that some irregularities happened along the way,” Tweah said. 

Missing billions aside, Liberia remains a low-income country still relying heavily on foreign assistance and remittances from the diaspora. 

Many remain perplexed by the government’s ambitious economic manifesto, the Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development, aimed at giving priority to the alleviation of poverty with focus on reducing the marginalization of the most vulnerable, creating a conducive atmosphere for middle and upper income Liberians to grow and prosper, and contribute to the country’s development.

According to the World Bank, the Liberian economy is still struggling to recover fully from the effects of multiple shocks in recent years; namely, Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) outbreak, collapse of commodity prices, UNMIL withdrawal and the perception of risk associated with the political transition in January 2018. Real gross domestic product (GDP) growth in 2017, was estimated to have recovered to 2.5% and projected to rise to 3.0%  in 2018. Those numbers fell short during the year under review. Adding more fuel to the fire is what economist say is the continuing rise of headline inflation which reached an all-time high of 24%  in June 2018 from 10.8% the same period last year. This, according to the World Bank is largely due to a sharp drop in foreign exchange supply (30%- following the drop in the exports and donor inflows), in the face of relatively rigid demand for U.S. dollars and rising global oil prices. The inflationary impact of Liberian Dollars (LD) depreciation is magnified in the context of highly dollarized Liberian economy.

2018 HIGHS: A rather turbulent year for the ministry produced few eye raisers. The ministry did however report a successful outcome from its trip to the 2018 IMF-World Bank Annual Meetings held in Bali, Indonesia.

The World Bank Vice President for the Africa Region, Dr. Hafez Ghanem, reaffirmed the Bank’s commitment to supporting the Government’s Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development (PAPD), particularly its priorities of the road and human capital development. The Delegation and the Bank agreed to jointly develop an implementation framework around three priorities: 1) Scaling up financing for road investment, with the Bank promising to support the Government in its engagement with the China Export-Import Bank; 2) Taking accelerated actions to transform Liberia’s human capital, with clear goals of significantly reducing under-five mortality, reducing child stunting and improving teacher and student outcomes. Development partners from the Arab World– Kuwait Fund, BADEA, and OFID– variously reaffirmed their support for the Government’s road development agenda. The Arab partners promised new financing to the tune of US$100 million in concessional borrowing as well as additional financing for feasibility studies of major road corridors.

In Bali, the government also won commitment from the Africa Export-Import Bank (AFREXIMBANK), with a new trade-enhancing and –related financings to Liberia in the range of US$100 -$200 million.

2018 LOWS: The government received high-marks in July when President Weah announced a series of measures aimed at tackling rampant inflation and poverty. Part of the measure also included the injection of $US25 million into the forex market and taking steps to bring more local cash into the formal banking system. “I am fully aware of the negative impact of the declining exchange rate on the economic well-being of the Liberian people, and the serious hardship that this is beginning to cause. We believe a more aggressive enforcement of monetary policy should go a long way to … address the problem,” including giving the central bank stronger powers to regulate money changers and banks, he said. To the dismay of many, Minister Tweah, came out later to declare that the money did not go through the Central Bank of Liberia but was rather filtered through money changers in New Kru Town and Logan Town but fell short of providing a detailed listing of how the money was disbursed.

On a personal note, Minister Tweah drew unnecessary scrutiny to himself, when in an attempt to justify his purchase of a first class ticket to Beijing for the China-Africa summit told a news conference that he earned a whopping US$500,000 per month as an advisor to the Board of Directors of the AfDB from 2012 to 2016. “I’m entitled to travel on business class and the cost of my ticket was US$12,700, so let’s get that fact clear… I paid the upgrade difference. If I don’t have US$4,000 to sit in a first class – it’s unfortunate. I worked in this country for the past seven years as a consultant for the Ministry of Finance, after that I went to the African Development Bank where my salary exceeds US$500,000 a year,” he told journalists at a press briefing on Tuesday, September 11.

2019 OUTLOOK: By World Bank estimate, the medium term economic outlook is optimistic despite substantial downside risks. “These include a further slump in commodity prices, incomplete structural and institutional reforms, and risky borrowing. The new Administration is expected to mitigate these risks by embarking on policy reforms that will promote economic diversification, improve the investment climate, promote domestic revenue mobilization and to ensure prudent borrowing strategy.” For the immediate future however, all eyes will be looking out for the U.S. government’s report on the saga of the missing billions after it announced during the year under review that it would help Liberia track down more than $100 million in missing cash.

GRADE: F

MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS

THE LOWDOWN: When former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf exited the presidency in January, Liberia was expected to brace itself for a new beginning. Sirleaf, despite her domestic struggles remains highly regarded on the global stage. President Weah, at his inauguration, vowed to work with Liberia’s bilateral and multilateral partners and as well with those friendly nations to foster Liberia’s agenda.

Other than France’s Macron and China’s Xi Jinping whom President Weah met at the China-Africa summit, the President is yet to meet any other G-7 leader for state or official visit. Nevertheless, the Executive Mansion says the President is exploring all options diplomatically and internationally to attract Liberia’s partners in making his Pro-poor Agenda for Prosperity & Development(PAPD) comes to reality. During the course of the year under review, many Liberians continue to complain about spending thousands of dollars traveling to neighboring Ghana, Ivory Coast and Nigeria to process EU and other visas. Like its predecessor, the ministry has not yet come up with a formula that works to help Liberians save money.

2018 HIGHS: During the course of the year under review, the government ministry trumpeted the signing of a memorandum of understanding with the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which would allow Diplomatic Passports holders of both countries to enjoy Visa free privilege between the two states. A similar MOU was previously signed with the government of the Kingdom of Morocco. These arrangements have drawn criticisms from some quarters concerned that the government is looking out to save money for itself instead of trying to explore ways how ordinary Liberians can secure visas without the hassles of airfares and hotel accommodation for visas. 

2018 LOWS: The MoF was entangled in a major diplomatic snafu during the course of the year under review when Minister Gbehzohngar Milton Findley and a number of government officials reportedly flew to the Serbian Capital, Belgrade for a special ceremony to declare that Liberia was reversing its decade-old decision to recognize Kosovo and shifting recognition to Serbia. The issue drew concerns within diplomatic circles and brought unnecessary embarrassment to the Weah-led government. Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia a decade ago, igniting a fiery feud with Belgrade for global recognition. Today, some 53 countries around the world recognize Kosovo and Serbia has vowed many times it will not recognize Kosovo as an independent state and has actively tried to dissuade — along with powerful friend Russia — other countries from formally doing so.

Kosovo currently says it has received official recognition of 117 countries and has also been accepted into many international sports bodies, including FIFA and the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Serbia is known to lobby countries that have already recognized Kosovo in hopes of getting them to reverse their decisions.

GRADE:

2019 OUTLOOK:This is one area crucial to Liberia’s political revival. Would the coming year see some improvements in dealings with the country’s traditional stepfather, the United States of America? At least one member of the Clergy,  Liberian Islamist Cleric,  Abubakar Sheriff  urged the administration to improve diplomatic relations with the US. “The United States is a historical friend of Liberia and I believe that the tide should be at its best than what it is now. So, the President needs to put more effort so that this relationship can lead to more economic progress and putting back Liberia to where it belongs,” the clergyman noted.

MINISTRY OF GENDER & SOCIAL PROTECTION AND DEVELOPMENT

THE LOWDOWN: Since 2001 when an Act of the National Legislature, established this ministry, many Liberians have looked to the government office mandated to advise government on all matters affecting the development and welfare of women and children for answers. The cold truth is that youngsters – both male and female remain vulnerable to a society unkind to their existence. 

According to Human Rights Watch, domestic violence, rape and other forms of sexual violence against women and girls, including practices such as female genital mutilation and early marriage remains widespread. 

More than a decade after the civil war, sexual violence continues to present a significant threat to the physical security of women and children across Liberia. According to the United Nations, the social breakdown that occurred during 14 years of brutal conflict, in which sexual violence was rampant, has left a profound imprint on Liberian society, especially as the issue was not addressed during the peace process. “The rape of minors is the most frequently reported incident of sexual and gender-based violence.” According to the Liberia Institute for Statistic and Geo Information Services’ (LISGIS) Demographic 2014 Survey, 43 percent of women between the ages 15 to 49 years experienced sexual harassment while about 80 percent experienced sexual violence.

2018 HIGHS: The good news is that the ministry headed by Minister Wilhelmina Piso Saydee-Tarr acknowledges that sexual harassment is a threat to Liberia’s social development, stressing the need to abolish the act at every institution of higher learning if it’s presence at those places. “Social problems continue to search across different areas of Liberia’s political subdivisions from university campuses to high school premises and from homes to workplaces, sexual harassment and exploitation remain increasingly an annoying social problem that we must fight,” the Minister noted while speaking at the start of a strategic dialogue on making higher education safe for learning during the latter stages of the year under review.

2018 LOWS: The resignation of Katie Meyler as head of the disgraced charity More Than Me in the aftermath of revelations in a Pro-Publica documentary that several young girls were raped from the onset of the NGO exposed the depth of sexual and gender-based violence in Liberia. The perpetrator was originally described as the charity’s co-founder, an ex-combatant named Macintosh Johnson, with whom it is said that Katie had a sexual relationship. Soon after the founding, according to witnesses, and court documents, Johnson began raping the girls as young as 10 years. Katie herself admitted that the number of girls, who were raped at the MTM Academy, could have been a quarter of the school; adding: “Everyone over the age of 11.”

Also during the year under review, the Liberia Children Representative Forum and the Right Holders Network called for the rearrests of Varney Jersey, the former president of the Liberia National Student Union (LINSU) and Momolu V.O. Sirleaf, a Health Ministry’s official to face speedy court trials. Both men were subject to high-profile cases but find themselves free amid mounting criticisms of the government’s lukewarm approach to alleged perpetrators of rape and abuse.

The year also proved to be a setback for advocates against SGBV when students of More Than Me (MTM) Academy gathered for a peaceful march to portray the ‘innocence’ of its founder, Meyler, who is being accused of covering up series of rape meted against students by her partner, McIntosh Johnson. For many expressing rage over the saga, the staged protest was the latest slap in the face of a never-ending dilemma.

GRADE: F

2019 OUTLOOK: Will the coming year see an increase in efforts to combat sexual and gender-based violence- and will Liberia finally be able to curb rape and abuse of vulnerable young boys and girls by those in the corridors of power? 

MINISTRY OF HEALTH & SOCIAL WELFARE

Dr. Wilhelmina Jallah, Minister of Health-designate, Ministry of Health – Liberia

THE LOWDOWN:  The 2014 deadly Ebola outbreak exposed the weaknesses in Liberia’s health care delivery services. Today, the country remains heavily dependant on a combination of international aid and expertise and national budgetary allocations. 

Prior to the ushering in of the current government, former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s Agenda for Transformation master plan aimed at increasing access to healthcare through investment in healthcare equipment and facilities did little to address much of the problems affecting ordinary Liberians. Thus, Liberia’s healthcare system still has a number of major hurdles to cross which makes it tough for health tech innovators to deliver complementary life-saving products. 

Prior to her appointment, Dr. Wilhelmina Jallah, the freshman minister expressed belief that the sector could be revamp. “All of the people that have been working in the health sector, the past ministers, the chief medical officers and all of the doctors and health professionals who have been working in the hospitals have done their best,” she told FrontPageAfrica prior to her confirmation.

Amid hope, despair lingers and issues of funding remains pivotal. During the year under review, authorities appealed to the World Health Organization to assist devise a financial mechanism that would bridge the financial gap facing the health sector.

Dr. Francis Kateh, Chief Medical Officer told a regional gathering in Darkar Senegal that the allotment for health in the national budget is small due to the size of the national budget while emphasizing that the government’s pro poor agenda seeks to meet the needs of the people in all spheres of life including health.

2018 HIGHS: In July, President Weah laid the first brick for the foundation of the construction of the new Redemption Hospital in the township of Caldwell. The US$14 million project being financed by the World Bank was initiated by the former government of former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. The project has two phases—.phase one includes the fencing of the premises, construction of water storage, generator house , ware house and the inland road leading to the site. Phase two which starts immediately with the block laying includes the construction of the maternal and pediatrics wards.

Also during the year under review, two renowned Global Health Organizations renewed their commitments to help support Liberia’s health priorities of the pro poor agenda for development and prosperity. The World Health Organization and the Center for Disease Control, expressed delight over the country’s health priorities which they say were well thought out. Since the restoration of peace and stability in Liberia following years of civil war, the WHO has been involved with providing technical and financial support to Liberia’s effort in building a resilient health sector, while the Center for Disease Control has been engaged with national effort to strengthen public health emergency.

2018 LOWS: The year under review saw incidents of lassa fever outbreak. In January, a patient from Guinea with fever, neck pain, body pain and vomiting was admitted to a hospital in Ganta in Nimba County, Liberia. The patient was treated with Ribavirin until her death on 11 January 2018. The patient first experienced symptoms on 29 December 2017. Prior to hospitalization in Liberia, she sought medical care at a health facility in Diécké in N’Zérékore Region, Guinea where she was treated for typhoid and malaria. On 10 January 2018, a specimen was collected and tested positive for Lassa fever by a reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) at the National Reference Laboratory in Liberia. On 11 January, a safe and dignified burial was conducted for the patient in Ganta.

In total, 16 contacts were identified from the Ganta Hospital and 12 family members. In Guinea, 28 contacts, including 22 health care workers, were identified. As of 18 January 2018, two of the patient’s contacts in Liberia were symptomatic, but both tested negative for Lassa fever by RT-PCR. The other contacts have now all completed their follow-up period. From 1 January 2017 through 23 January 2018, 91 suspected cases were reported from six counties: Bong, Grand Bassa, Grand Kru, Lofa, Margibi, and Nimba. Thirty-three of these cases were laboratory confirmed, including 15 deaths (case fatality rate for confirmed cases = 45.4%).

In April, the country was once again shaken after Patients and staffs of the John F. Kennedy Medical Center lost a long serving nurse who was denied emergency treatment, causing her death few minutes later. Jessica Broderick, 45, had gone to the JFK – where she has been working for the last 15 years – to seek treatment for a severe heart pain, but she was told to go through the formalities of registration before she gets treatment. The incident underscored the need for massive improvement of the health sector at a time when many are still questioning the rationale of constructing a military hospital when existing facilities are facing numerous challenges.

GRADE: F

2019 OUTLOOK: Reducing maternal mortality remains a challenge for Liberia despite major funding from the European Union. Would the coming year see a change in the approach?  Also, when would employees in the ministry be taken to task for opening private drug stores with donations from international partners?

MINISTRY OF INFORMATION CULTURE AFFAIRS AND TOURISM

THE LOWDOWN: Information dissemination is a key part of governance. While governments past and present have struggled to toe the line between defending government’s image and propaganda, the year under review presented enormous challenges for the ministry responsible for developing and disseminating factual information about the Government of Liberia both at home and abroad. The culture and tourism sections of the ministry have been lost over the past few years mostly blamed on budget allocations. The ministry also found itself at odds with the Ministry of Finance and Justice over the government’s explanation regarding the container with LD16 million.

The issue led to speculations that Minister Lenn Eugene Nagbe, upset with Finance Minister Samuel Tweah had tendered in his resignation.

Nagbe came out to deny the reports of his resignation. “I did not resign,” he told FrontPageAfrica. The issue was precipitated by an interview the minister granted the Voice of America in which he acknowledged that monies were missing in the tone of LD16 billion and not LD9 billion as had been reported. 

Minister Nagbe told the VOA Daybreak Africa that the current government was not in the loop (to furnish someone with sufficient relevant information and include them in the decision-making) on the money or the container.

According to Nagbe, in November 2017, the investigation determined and confirmed that a batch of banknotes was brought into the country — just before President Weah assumed office.

“Now, when the president received information about these newly-printed banknotes, he sanctioned an investigation, which is being chaired by the Ministry of Justice, the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU), and other security apparatus. The idea is to understand how much money came into the country, how much was ordered, how much was printed, which country printed the money, and how did it affect the country’s foreign exchange situation,” he said.

“We can confirm that the money was brought through the Freeport of Monrovia and the Roberts International Airport and for now we can confirm that the amount was L$16 billion. An estimate of a little over US$60 million, as far as we are concerned from ongoing investigation, came in the two ports of entry,” Minister Nagbe confirmed.

Minister Tweah, on September 20, during an appearance on OK FM had described Nagbe’s assertion as irrelevant. “No money was missing from the government’s coffers, contrary to claims by Minister Nagbe,” Tweah said. “The total money printed in Liberia for the past two years is L$15 billion. It is not possible to print L$16 billion. There is no money missing, but the media keeps saying that L$16 billion is missing.”

2018 HIGHS: During the course of the year under review, Minister Nagbe addressed the elephant in the room the government has been reluctant to address, the issue of some government ministries and agencies selectively picking media institutions singing its tone, for advertisement. “The lifeblood of the media is advertisement. “I have met with the Press Union of Liberia to find the solution to this matter but it has not been successful,” the minister recently acknowledged.

The minister went on to suggest that there is a tendency in which a government agency or ministry will decide to restrict advertisement to a selected number of the media simply because some other media are seen as unfavorable to the government. “The situation is still lingering and we are back to free for all,” he said.

He acknowledged that the media is important because no nation can survive without the role of the media. “A vibrant media is an indispensable tool for the government and the growth of its nascent democracy,” he said.

Despite the minister’s assertions, the government is still reneging on paying media intuitions monies owed for advertisement. 

2018 LOWS: The government, during the year under review took a controversial decision reportedly aimed at keeping talk show host Patrick Honnah from launching his new radio station, Punch FM. The ministry through deputy minister for public affairs, Eugene Fahngon announced that the government had suspended the licenses of eight new media institutions.

The decision announced on June 18, affected all licenses issued to media operators between January 1 and June 18 this year. At the time, the government said it was reviewing the regulatory regime of media operating licenses and authorization due to “technical and administrative irregularities,” including duplications of frequencies to radio and television operators, and incorrect designations and submissions.

While it did not name the institutions that would be affected, the government did say that the review process, would not affect media entities that were in existence prior to January 2018. The affected institutions were Spoon Communications, Punch FM, 231 Group of Companies, and Magic FM/Emmanuel TV. At the time, talk show host Henry Costa’s request for a radio station was also announced suspended. While Costa and a few new stations have been added, Punch FM which had already been licensed remains off the air giving very little relevance to the government’s insistence that the decision was not orchestrated to target Honnah, owner of Punch FM.

To the contrary, Mr. Honnah fulfilled all the requirements,  including his articles of incorporation, business registration, a complete list of essential staff, career profile of managing editor and editor in chief, the exact location of propose media facility, presentation of revenue tax receipt and license for frequency allocation from the Liberia Telecommunication Authority.

Also during the year under review, the Liberia News Agency which falls under the umbrella of MICAT, suspended one of its employees for discussing the LRD$15 billion saga on Facebook and the agency’s head, Director General Kwame O. Weeks warned all employees of the agency not to discuss the issue of the alleged missing container of money.

2018 LOWS: Deputy Minister Eugene Fahngon came under fire during the course of the year under review when his war-of-words with Representative Edwin Melvin Snowe went viral on the worldwide web.

The pair were caught publicly exchanging invectives on a video posted on Facebook. In the video, a war of words ensued between the two politicians over a misunderstanding that reportedly erupted between Kelvin D.J. Mattaldi, a legislative aide and Mr. Fahngon.

Mr. Mattaldi, who is also the media officer in the office of Representative Snowe, reportedly photographed Fahngon while he as allegedly dancing with a woman at a local night club. Mr. Fahngon reportedly ordered the photos deleted. But the situation brought the intervention of state security officers who landed the matter at a police depot in Monrovia, resorting in a huge outburst ensued between Snowe and Fahngon to the extent that the lawmaker demanded the immediate release of Mattaldi at the Zone 3 police depot. Mr. Fahngon and Rep. Snowe were seen in the live Facebook video in an exchange of words, with a slew of expletives coming from the deputy minister. The video, which went viral on social media, also grabbed the attention of some Liberian Facebook users, with many terming the exchanges between the two as “childish.”

GRADE: F

2019 OUTLOOK: Would the culture and tourism aspect of the minister finally see some traction in the coming year?

MINISTRY OF INTERNAL AFFAIRS

THE LOWDOWN: The former ministry of local government, rural development and urban reconstruction, is the oldest and largest institution, which has undergone reforms since its establishment in 1864, known then as the PARISH.  Since its formation the territorial influence of government was extended and felt only a few hundred kilometers in-land from the coast. Interaction with the rural masses was very limited. Therefore, the institution’s responsibility was, to Administer Local Governance which basically involved Collection of Taxes, Maintenance of Peace and Tranquility, and Seeking the Welfare of the People. Today, much of Liberia’s rural areas remain entrenched in land squabbles and disagreements over decentralization.

Under the previous administration of President Sirleaf, local government administration began to see a new dimension of governance system which sought to gradually transform the development landscape and changing the mindset of both the Leaders and the Governed. 

Under the year under review, Minister Varney Sirleaf, a holdover from the Sirleaf administration  declared that steps are being taken to develop a comprehensive national Local Integration Strategy to promote assimilation and peaceful co-existence for all refugees who will opt to integrate in Liberia. The administration also expressed a commitment in striving to domesticate international instruments acceded to. In particular the two Conventions relating to Statelessness Persons and the 2009 Kampala AU Convention on Internal displacement.  

2018 HIGHS: During the year under review, the administration said it remains committed to improving existing domestic legal norms one of which is the ongoing revision of the 1973 Alien and Nationality Laws (ANL) which restricts Liberian women passing their nationality to their children. Once amended and passed by Parliament, this will a positive step towards preventing statelessness.  Amidst global challenges in providing sustainable durable solutions for the refugee cause, the Government of Liberia has shown 100% goodwill to support Durable Solutions, including Local Integration, for all refugees living in Liberia. This has resulted in the following positive steps;  

The government also provided 310 acres of land in one of the refugee hosting areas to support the local integration program for 800 Ivorian refugees who are opting to live in Liberia. Currently, there are 9, 454 Ivorian refugees residing in camps in Liberia.  The government, through the active participation of the President on July 26, 2018, National Independence Day of Liberia, issued  Certificates of Naturalization to 375 former Sierra Leonean Refugees; and is in the process of completing the civil documentation for the residual caseload of 1,101 former Sierra Leonean Refugees living in Liberia. 

A major high for MIA during the year under review was the signing into law of the Local Government and the Liberia Land Rights Acts. UNDP has over the years, significantly invested resources into these programmes alongside other partners, with a political push by the former UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) and funding from donors-EU, Sweden, USAID, as well as Assessed Funding Contributions among others.

President Weah has trumpeted the move as key components of his administration’s development agenda. The signing lays the groundwork for tackling major reforms on land and in local governance, backed by law.

2018 LOWS: The year under review saw a dip in donor support program although the government started with its sustainability with some amount allocated in the National budget every fiscal year for operational expenses. During the phase of donor support, operational costs were underwritten by the Liberia Decentralization Support Program through the MIA. 

The LDSP is a five-year program designed to support and facilitate the implementation of the National Policy on Decentralization. The Liberia Decentralization Support Program (LDSP) is a holistic national development program that focuses on the  decentralization of administrative, political and fiscal governance in Liberia and its alignment to the peace building  and reconciliation processes, Public Sector Reform Agenda, Poverty Reduction Strategy( PRS), Civil Service Reform (CSR) and the Agenda for Transformation (AfT) under Governance Pillar IV which is now transformed into the Pro-poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development Pillar 4.

GRADE: C

2019 OUTLOOK: Will the coming year see the ministry go beyond lip service in pursuit of  peace and national reconciliation? 

MINISTRY OF JUSTICE

THE LOWDOWN: The year under review started with a rough patch for the new government when President Weah, in January was forced to part ways with his nomination for minister. Charles Gibson, had his lawyer’s licence revoked for embezzling a client’s money. Gibson was one of the appointees named on a list of ministers released by the presidency a few hours after George Weah became president on January 22. The nomination was met with criticism by the media and activists who pointed out that Gibson’s appointment in the sensitive justice docket would send a wrong message as far as rule of law and the fight against corruption are concerned. 

President Weah turned to Cllr. Frank Musa Dean, who served as lead lawyer for the National Elections Commission (NEC) during the October 2017 election impasse, as his chief legal adviser.

2018 HIGHS: The high point for the ministry during the year under review came in April when Minister Frank Liberia’s attorney general/justice minister on Wednesday announced he would step aside from investigation emanating from a Global Witness report showing evidence that in 2005 Broadway Consolidated/Peppercoast was part-owned at the time by Liberia’s minister for mining and a deputy minister — a breach of Liberian law. Global Witness produced corporate documents, it said, show “Exxon knew that Block 13 was originally awarded through bribery and that its purchase of the oil block could enrich former officials who might have been behind BCP.” Global Witness’ report also said “bonuses” of $35,000 were made to senior Liberian officials after Exxon acquired Block 13.

Dean had been named by President Weah to head the probe. His resignation was a welcoming sign. Dean, in a statement, said he had decided to step aside from the probe — initiated by an undercover investigation by the NGO Global Witness — in the interests of transparency. “The decision to recuse myself is based on the fact that I served as President and Chief Executive Officer of NOCAL [the National Oil Company of Liberia] between 2004 and January 2006,” he said.

The current controversy stems from a deal in 2013 when the US oil major Exxon Mobil paid $68.5 million (55.73 million euros) for a license to exploit a Liberian oilfield called Block 13. It bought Block 13 from a company called Broadway Consolidated/Peppercoast (BCP), which had initially been awarded the license from NOCAL in 2005.

2018 LOWS: The ministry came under fire from Student Unification Party (SUP), of the University of Liberia in July over a planned protest aptly timed with the observance of the 171st Independence aimed at drawing attention to a litany of missteps on the part of the then six-month-old government, particularly the president’s failure to declare his assets. The ministry had initially denied the protesters’ request for permit but buckle under pressure. 

The year also saw the ministry inheriting a perennial problem of locals harassing investors over land issues. Minister Dean made numerous appeals for citizens to desist while encouraging locals to make their concerns heard through the Justice ministry.

Of particular concern were Grand Cape and Bomi County were residents have been on the heels of the Malaysian-owned palm plantation, the Sime Darby Plantation. The minister at one point urged residents, to respect the rule of law, and not to take the law into their hands, adding, “It will always be in your interest if you follow the right channel by addressing your grievances through the Ministry of Justice and not by a protest. We are the Ministry will always protect the interest of our citizens likewise our investors. Therefore, I urged you to follow the rule of law,” The Chief Prosecutor and Attorney General of Liberia warned.

GRADE: D

2019 OUTLOOK: A laundry list of prisoners remain behind bars without a day in court. Would that change in the coming year?

MINISTRY OF LABOR

THE LOWDOWN: The government ministry responsible for the promotion, administration, development, regulation, control of Labour Law and Labour Practices Law got off to a decent start during the course of the year under review with freshman minister Moses Y. Kollie promising to recruit and deploy qualified Labour Inspectors throughout the country. 

At his confirmation hearing, Kollie emphasized that if the ministry must fully implement the Decent Work Act of 2015, it needs qualified inspectors and Labour Solicitors to assist workers who may seek justice, but does not have the means to sponsor them (employees) in court.

The minister’s position comes amid a US  State Department’s Office of Investment Affairs’ Investment Climate report which concluded that the Liberian labor force is predominantly illiterate and unskilled and most Liberians, particularly those in the rural areas, lack basic vocational or computer skills.  

According to UNESCO’s 2015 statistics, the adult literacy rate for Liberia stands at 47.7 percent and the youth (15-24) literacy rate is 54.4 percent. Additionally, Liberia does not have a reliable database on labor market information to update such indicators as employment and unemployment.  

2018 HIGHS: During the course of the year under review, the ministry took some steps to clamp down on bad labor practice by businesses amid reports that Farmington Hostel in Margibi County and the SEGAL Security firm are among firms accused of alleged bad labor practice.  “On the issue of Farmington hostel, let me say this; we have decided to put a system in place,” he said in April. The ministry has also been working with the Liberia Immigration Service (LIS) to monitor alien or foreigners coming in the country to work.

The Ministry also successfully launched a hot-line intended for the public to give authorities at the ministry tipoff and also complain people perceived to be involved in the violation of the labor laws of Liberia.

The hotline allows the public to serve as whistle blower by utilizing the line to inform authorities of the Ministry on any illegal activities that violate the labour laws of the country including bad labour practices and illegal dismissals.

2018 LOWS: One of the major challenges still facing the ministry is the lack of a database on the issuance of alien work permits as well as to create a website of the Ministry of Labour to enable people to get some idea on the new Labour law of Liberia and other workings of the Ministry to ensure compliance with the system.

GRADE: C

2018 OUTLOOK: Would the coming year see further decline in trafficking of young children who continue to be victims of commercial sexual exploitation, domestic work, forced begging, and forced labor in street vending, alluvial diamond mines, and on rubber plantations?

MINISTRY OF MINES, MINERALS, REGULATORY AUTHORITY

THE LOWDOWN: One of the most influential ministries in government, tasked with administering all activities relative to land, mineral, water and energy resource exploration, coordination and development in the Liberia had a somewhat rugged year under review.

The ministry with is also responsible for formulating and implementing policies and regulations in collaboration with other sector related agencies for the delivery of efficient services to the public from the land, mineral, water and energy sectors, had its responsibilities taken away when President Weah during the course of the year under review, announced that the ministry would no longer be in charge of handling applications for Mining licenses.

In effect, the key component of Minister Gessler E. Murray’s job is now being handled by the President’s office and the ministry of state.  Ironically, Section 5.1 of the New Mineral and Mining Law of Liberia gives the Mines and Energy Minister the power to grant reconnaissance license in line with prevailing regulations. “All Prospective Dealers must write a letter of intent, addressed to the Minister of Lands, Mines and Energy with the following documents attached: Two passport photographs; ü Business Registration from the Ministry of Commerce and Industry; Partnership Agreement/Articles of Incorporation. Applicant must fill application form required for diamond dealership (new applicant only). Procedures for Obtaining Mineral Rights/License,” according to the Procedures for obtaining mining rights/License of the Mines Ministry.

2018 HIGHS: Sadly, this was a very poor year for a ministry stripped off its lifeline.

2018 LOWS: During the course of the year under review, a number of Liberia’s key international stakeholders quietly expressing concerns about the misplaced appointments made so far in the government, raising concerns about the nonchalant displays exhibited by senior officials in the administration toward some international partners which is said to be stalling a number of projects seen as key deliverables for the government’s pro-poor agenda. One of those happened to be in the electricity sector where the European Union and the MCC threatened to pull the plug on a Euro 42 million package aimed at rural electrification in President Weah’s stronghold in the South – East due to the delay in the appointment of commissioners overseeing the Liberia Electricity Regulatory Commission.

On August 8, 2018, Mr. Augustus W. Goanue, Chair and Secretariat of the Rural Energy Working Group(REWG) submitted a letter to Minister Murray in which the risks were clearly outlines regarding Liberia’s commitment to the rural electricity project. The REWG is a consortium of energy sector stakeholders with the objective to ensure the successful implementation of the Rural Energy Strategy and Master Plan for Liberia(RESMP) and related programs/projects, by fostering close coordination and cooperation between concerned stakeholders – relevant GOL entities, civil society organization, local and international NGOs, the private sector, donors, and development partners. The REQG is chaired by the RREA.

The year under review also saw glitches in the passage of the Mineral Development Agreement of the Hummingbird deal after President Weah vetoed the Act to ratify the MDA, stating that the agreement needed modification. Weeks after the modifications were made, the MDA is yet to be signed with some speculating the influence of Ghanaian businesswoman Angela List, a close friend to the President said to be pulling the strings on the deal.

GRADE:  F

2019 OUTLOOK: Will the President finally put pen to paper on the Hummingbird concession?

MINISTRY OF NATIONAL DEFENSE

THE LOWDOWN: President Weah broke ranks with the 1972 Act of the National Legislature establishing the Minister when he named the former head of the army, Daniel Ziakahn as Minister. According to the Act, “The Minister of National Defense shall be a civilian and shall be nominated and, with the consent of the Senate, appointed and commissioned by the President.”

During the course of the year under review, the ministry tasked with the responsibility of ensuring the protection of Liberia’s national interest and territorial integrity faced very little threat but was involved in a number of humanitarian efforts aimed at improving relationship between the civilian population and the army.

2018 HIGHS: The ground-breaking of 14 Military Hospital dominated the year for the military and came six weeks after President Weah made his Armed Forces Day pronouncement. Minister Ziahnkan disclosed during the year that US$2 million has already been provided from the government’s end for the construction of the Military Hospital. The feasibility study for the hospital was done by the Indian Government with assistance from the Chinese Government. The 14-Military Hospital, which reminisces the number 14 Jersey President Weah wore when he played for the Invincible Eleven (I.E) and the senior National Football Team of Liberia, is the first to be built in the country at an estimated cost of US$2.5 million.

Also during the course of the year under review, the AFL reconditioned the boathouse located on its army base hosting the Liberia National Coast Guard on the Bushrod Island. The boathouse had sustained extensive damage during a March 2017 storm. The Liberian Coast Guard’s refurbished facility will help it increase maritime safety and security. Other U.S.-sponsored infrastructure projects include a permanent fixed pier on Bushrod Island, the Liberian Coast Guard boat station, and a boat ramp in Buchanan. The second phase of the project which is nearing completion in the port city of Buchanan (Grand Bassa County) is expected to be turned over to the Liberian Government in two months.

During the year, the AFL completed the administration of its Officers Promotion Examination (PROMEX) code named EXERCISE BOLDSTRIKER. The exam is one of the major exercises aimed at building the capacity and career of AFL officers to function effectively as leaders. The examination was administered in both written and practical phases. It is a major tool for the career development and advancement of officers.

2018 LOWS: A scuffle between agents of the Executive Protective Service (EPS) and soldiers of the Armed Forces of Liberia at the Samuel K. Doe Sports complex, resulted in the shooting of an AFL soldier toward the end of the year under review, illustrating the lack of understanding between the various security apparatus in the country.  The fracas occurred in the morning hours of Sunday, November 18, ahead of a football match between the Liberian national team, the Lone Star and the Zimbabwean national team in an African Cup of Nations qualifier.  The incident also in an EPS agent being injured. 

GRADE: D

2019 OUTLOOK: Will No. 14 Military Hospital be completed and what plans are in store to equip and have it ready – Could it complement the top referral hospital, the JFK Medical Hospital? Is it really needed? Who will equip and staff it?

NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY

THE LOWDOWN: One of the shrewdest government agencies in Liberia operates as a political government intelligence institution tasked with the gathering/collection, analyzing and dissemination of national security information for decision/policy makers including the President. In recent years however, the agency has been struggling to brush off criticism that is actually a breeding ground to target perceived enemies and critics of the government. The ushering in of the Weah-led government has failed to erase that perception.

2018 HIGHS: Shrouded in secrecy the agency has done very little to convince Liberians that it is more than a cashcow for security agencies and underground government operations.

2018 LOWS: New director Mr. James Henric Pearson, faced criticisms early in the year following his appointment after a FrontPageAfrica investigation found that his wife, Maime Hayford Pearson, was actually the NSA’s comptroller, forcing her to transfer after the revelation. She previously served as Deputy Comptroller but was elevated to comptroller following the death of her predecessor.

GRADE: F

2019 OUTLOOK: Will the coming year marked the end of the agency being used as the money-eating line for security chiefs? 

MINISTRY OF POST & TELECOMMUNICATIONS

THE LOWDOWN: Liberia continues to lag behind the rest of the world when it comes to The deputy Minister, Cllr. Edward K. Goba has urged qualified workers (Enumerators) working with the National Postal Address System Project (NAPAS) to do an excellent job that will bring credibility to the Ministry.

Speaking at the start of a two-day on workshop on Tuesday October 30, 2018 organized by the Ministry to train Enumerators for the NAPAS project that will ensure homes, offices, and buildings are numbered.

Cllr. Goba informed those qualified, to serve the Country with dedication and commitment in performing their duties to make Liberia a better place in terms of postal delivery services. “No matter how small the token is for you to do this work, I want to admonish you to do your best”, he stated. Speaking further, the Acting Minister noted that the numbering of houses is very important to National Postal activities which will ensure a smooth delivery of parcels and letters effectively. 

2018 HIGHS: With the help of the United States Aid for International Development, the ministry helped develop the draft of the national ICT policy and the improvement of performances of ministries, agencies and commissions under the e-Governance program implementation. USAID provided the funding which allows the ministry  to access the ACE cable system that now connects Liberia to the world.

The ministry also launched the government’s information portal on July 23, 2018 during the celebration of the 171independence anniversary of Liberia by Madam Jewel Howard-Taylor, Vice President of the Republic of Liberia. “By the launch of the portal, we hope to centralize all online government services for our citizens and businesses to communicate and transact with the government,” Cllr. Cooper W. Kruah, the minister disclosed.

2018 LOWS: Minister Cooper W. Kruah became the latest minister to trumpet the fiber optic cable importance when he paid a visit to the CSquared Metro Fiber deployment during the year under review. The previous administration made a big deal about how Liberians are expected to benefit from reliable and affordable internet services for all Liberians.  At the end of the tour, Minister Kruah appreciated the management of CSquared and stated that, “This is in line with our Pro Poor Agenda of the Liberian Government and the ministry is looking forward to see all Liberians using affordable internet service”. Many are holding out hope that it comes to fruition.

GRADE: C

2019 OUTLOOK: Will the coming year finally see Liberians benefit from the long-overdue fiber optic cable – or better still, affordable internet? 

MINISTRY OF PUBLIC WORKS

THE LOWDOWN: No ministry is under more pressure than Public Works. During the course of the year under review, the first-year president promised to do everything within his reach to make Liberia a better place than it has been over the last 171 years. “I will make sure that Liberians can leave from here to the interior and come back the same day. When you ask me for my platform, I will tell you my platform is to build the road network.”

The President during the course of the year made several inspections of government projects while mandating Minister Mabutu Nyenpan to ensure that all feeder roads in Monrovia are paved.  But the ministry also fell prey to a major corruption scheme when Mr. Jefferson Chesson, an assistant minister was at the center of an ongoing investigation of a criminal scheme to defraud the government of revenue through doctoring of documents to grant duty-free privileges to undeserving companies while pocketing very huge sums of money.

The Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA) recently intercepted two containers destined for the Ministry of Pubic Works intended for use at the Ministerial Complex site but was diverted to the West Africa Telecommunications compound which is now being used by Orange Liberia.

Being suspicious of the containers, the LRA Security Consultant, Abraham Sinayoko, followed the container to its diverted destination, West African Telecommunications, where he was informed by the security that the container belonged to CAMUSAT (a company contracted by Orange Liberia).

2018 HIGHS: The President made a lot of proclamations during the year under review and a lot of them were tied to two controversial loans—Eton and Ebomaf. With very little movement in terms of those loans becoming a reality, attention appears to now be shifted toward community roads and others started by the former government of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.

2018 LOWS: The ministry came under fire during the course of the year under review when a civil society organization, the Liberia Infrastructural Development Watch, took the minister to the ministry to task over the Doe Community to Claratown Road project after the ministry took the project away from the original contractor East International Group Incorporated due to what it termed the company’s lack of commitment to construct the road and that the company. While the ministry explained that the company would not hold the development of Liberia hostage, and decided to review options for the termination of the pre-financing agreement.”

The CSO while applauding the government for being thoughtful for the construction of the Doe Community to Clara Town Road, the fact remains that the deal was ratified under a pre-financing agreement by the 53rd Legislature of which both sitting President George Manneh Weah and Vice President Jewel Howard Taylor who at the time served as Senators of Montserrado County and Bong County respectively.

Furthermore, the CSO added that the Pre-Financing agreement upon being ratified was approved by former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and subsequently printed into handbill by authority of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs thereby substantiating its legality. “We wish to state categorically clear that Minister Mabutu Vlah Nyenpan is completely out of order and has provided misinformation to the public that East International Group Inc, demonstrated lack of commitment in constructing the Doe Community road and other roads captured in the pre-financing agreement,” the organization declared.

In reality, the CSO found that contrary to what Minister Nyenpan’s assertion against East International citing lack of commitment, the company was rather engaged in a very rigid loan negotiation with the African Export and Import Bank in Cairo, Egypt where 98% of the negotiation had been completed indicating that the road work is in sight.”

The minister unilaterally took the decision to allow a memorandum of understanding to be signed between East International and SSF for SSF to do an asphalt pavement in order to remain in the three months deadline given by President Weah since indeed the original concrete pavement that should have been done by East International would have taken more than three months. The CSO cited the minister’s double standard play in citing lack of commitment by East International to do the road, but yet partnering the company with SSF.

The ministry has also come under fire for referring major road construction projects to Lebanese businesses against the president’s declared pledge to allow Liberian businesses to be part of the economy.

GRADE: C

2019 OUTLOOK: Year Two could prove pivotal for the government’s road construction projects. 

MINISTRY OF STATE

THE LOWDOWN: This is perhaps one of the must crucial ministries in the Cabinet, charged with the responsibility of coordinating activities and operations of the Office of the President and providing support to the President in carrying out the Executive Functions of the State through close consultation with the Cabinet, key agencies and other institutions, i.e. private sector and civil society. Sadly, the ministry, during the year under review proved to be one of the least performers with many local and international stakeholders calling for the dismissal of Minister Nathaniel McGill, who just happens to be the most trusted in the president’s inner circle.

The ministry came under fire during the course of the year amid multiple reports that Liberians at home and abroad have been paying hefty sums of money for appointments in the government. This was evident in September, when the minister, who was Acting President was linked to two communications demanding appointments for members of the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change.

Letters from both McGill and party chair Mulbah Morlu have been the new fashion since the government took office in January, rendering the office of the Civil Agency closed to useless. 

In his defense, the minister described those reportedly using his name to exploit money in the name of giving them jobs as criminals.

The CSA was established in 1973 by an Act of the Legislature to increase efficiency in the civil service and also act as the central personnel agency of MACs. By law, the CSA should be independent from all other Ministries and Agencies of Government and serves as the central government agency responsible for managing the Civil Service.

2018 HIGHS:  Minister McGill is one of the first in line for criticisms when the administration missteps. Critics say the minister often ignores public sentiments and keeps the president in a bubble regarding the realities on the ground. Sadly, a personal high point is the minister’s stubborn defense of the controversial Eton and Ebomaf loans. Minister McGill threw jabs at critics raising red flags about the loans and took Senator Sando Johnson(NPP, Bomi) to task  after he raised issues about Eton’s lack of funds to secure the loan for road construction in Liberia.

The minister went as far as to suggest that only irresponsible countries and governments will take loan from organizations and other countries with a mind of not paying back; claiming that these are some of the issues that have kept Liberia developmentally backward. “Under the leadership of President George Manneh Weah, the right decisions will be made. An independent country, which is about to take other people’s money must guarantee it. The agreement is clear; in the agreement, Eton will deposit the money at the Central Bank of Liberia and the bank will disburse the money to the contractor,” he said.

The minister also faced scrutiny over his office’s lack of assertiveness regarding benefits to former officials, particularly, former VP Joseph Boakai.  While the minister explained that this administration has no intentions of denying past leaders what is constitutionally theirs, critics say the government is not going far enough.

2018 LOWS: The minister’s purchase of a US$200,000 home situated in the VOA-R2 Community — along the Robertsfield Highway drew a lot of criticisms despite clarification from Mr. John Davis, President of the Liberia Bank for Development and Investment(LBDI). Although Davis came out to say that the minister had a loan application in the pipeline, the Center for Transparency and Accountability(CENTAL) questioned the acquisition which was paid in cash.

Gerald Yerkula, General Manager of CENTAL Said:  “It indeed raises an eyebrow, we know the resolute salary of the Minister, so what’s the repayment arrangement?” 

Yerkula further stated in a phone interview with FrontPageAfrica that it is not clear why the bank will want to take such risk with a presidential appointee. “Why will a bank want to take that risk when there’s no stable source of income because he’s a political appointee? Usually the bank gives commercial loan. For Minister McGill, who is not taking this loan for business to get any return, this means the Minister will work two years plus without taking a dime from his salary to repay the loan,” Yerkula said. Yerkula lamented that President Weah and his officials’ failure to declare their assets would cast dark clouds over the government’s readiness to prosecute corrupt officials.”

GRADE: F

2019 OUTLOOK: Amid lingering issues with President Weah and his vice president, expect to see more of McGill who enjoys unfettered influence in the president’s ears. Some say he and Gender Minister Piso Saydee Tarr are among the top prospects to replace Jewel Howard-Taylor. What’s the worst that could happen? President Weah could buckle down to pressure and part ways with his trusted ally.

MINISTRY OF TRANSPORT

THE LOWDOWN: The government ministry tasked with establishing a policy framework that ensures an effective and efficient service delivery and National Transport Master Plan is also one of the closely watched, especially as it relates to impacting the lives of ordinary Liberians using transportation on a daily basis.

Minister Samuel Wlue came under fire during the course of the year under review when the Plenary of the House of Representatives summoned him on charges relative to contempt of the Legislature. The decision was necessitated by a communication from Representative Francis Saidy Dopoh(District # 3, River Gee County), who claimed that his vehicle was stopped by a transport officer acting under the instruction of the Minister and the Inspector General of the Liberia National Police. The incident illustrated how members of the national legislature continue to complicate the job of civil servants and local law enforcement. Also during the year, the ministry launched its employees’ sign-in and sign-out biometric machine in a bid to improve performance.

2018 HIGHS: The ministry partnered with the Liberia National Police(LNP) to enforce a  joint Motor Vehicle, Driver’s License, Eligibility and Insurance Compliance Inspection. Also during the course of the year, Minister Wlue assumed the Chairmanship of the Ministerial Council of the Roberts Flight Information Region (RFIR), taking over from  his Guinean Counterpart, Aboubacar Sylla. The position of Chairman is rotational amongst member states. 


2018 LOWS: During the year under review, Minister Wlue expressed frustration over the very unsafe mode of transport (Canoe) presently being used to ferry people from both sides of the Measured River between Clara Town and West Point.

While addressing executives of the Liberia National Sea and River Transport Union in June the Minister said one of the major responsibilities of any government is to ensure the safety of all its citizens and expressed concerns about the lack of  unsafe mode of water transport being used to ferry citizens and residents across in both Clara Town and West Point which poses very serious dangers to their lives.

The ministry followed up in October with the launch of a road safety action although many remain concern about the implementation aspects of the plan. During the course of the year, a total 390 cases of road accidents were record out of which a total of 85 deaths, 501 injuries and 490 properties damaged were also recorded, signalling a major road safety crisis in the country.

The ministry also came under fire during the course of the year when some commuters raised concerns that the ministry has been unable to control and implement rising transportation cost. 

While the government announced increased in the price of gasoline, taxi and bus drivers say the regulated price by the ministry was unreasonable. Drivers have frowned on penalties announced suggesting taxi drivers who violate the new fare structure will be fined US$100 for the first time, while bus drivers will be fined US$100; and Taxi drivers that violate for the second time will be fined US$200 and bus drivers US$400.

GRADE: C

2019 OUTLOOK: Will the ministry come up with a much-better regulation and control of transportation fare increase? Time will tell…

MINISTRY OF YOUTH & SPORTS

THE LOWDOWN: Minister Zoegar Wilson, in his first year pledged at his confirmation hearing to introduce a Sports Development Tax, youth development, and vocational training when he took over in February. The goal of the minister was to use the revenue to construct stadiums across the country.

Nearly a year in, much of the activities of the ministry have been focussed on football while other competitive sports have been left in the cold. Just as in previous years, the ministry’s limited budget continues to deny progress of other sports, relatively ignoring the mandate of the ministry which includes the direction of the affairs of youths of the nation and enabling them to most effectively discharge their responsibilities as useful citizens while contributing to the development of the Republic and promote, control and direct all programs and activities relating to sports. 

2018 HIGHS: During the course of the year under review, the ministry announced that it is putting an end to VIP Tickets freebies for football games involving the National Football Teams. The ministry says proceeds resulting from the new action will help support football in Liberia.           

2018 LOWS: The ministry came under fire during the year under review when it featured President Weah, 51 and his retired strike partner James Salinsa Debbah, 48 in a Fifa-sanctioned match. Nigerians took to Twitter to condemn the friendly, also blasting the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) and President Weah who played 79 minutes in the match.  Nigerians took to Twitter to express their disgust. “George Weah is a major disappointment. For someone as exposed, experienced and educated, his constant appropriation of Liberia’s platforms to fulfill his personal objectives is a disgrace. He had no business giving Wenger that award and had no business playing tonight,” outspoken Twitter personality Biola Kazeem wrote. 

GRADE: C+

2019 OUTLOOK: Talk of another match featuring Weah, Didier Drogba and Samuel Eto in March 2019 is already turning heads amid calls for Weah to hang up his boots permanently and focus on cementing his presidency.

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