Liberia: Weah’s Government Misconstruing ‘Pro-Poor’ Agenda; Policies Shy of Lasting Solutions



Monrovia – When President George Weah announced his pro-poor agenda two days after winning the 2017 election, optimism swelled about a well-defined set of policies to address the plight of the intrinsically poor population.

Report by Lennart Dodoo, [email protected]

It’s now over three months since the President proclaimed his audacious policy but it’s becoming clear that the pro-poor agenda is just a mere ideology in the heads of the conveyors of the agenda.

An official at the Information Ministry asking for anonymity, as he doesn’t fall within the right command to speak on behalf of the Ministry, told FrontPageAfrica that the pro-poor agenda is “a set of decision-making or policy implementation tailored to directly or indirectly impact the lives of the poor people/the underprivileged.”

This concept of pro-poor as defined by this government official is, however, being misconstrued by the very actors of government, who are supposed to be clothed with the authority to define, explain and educate the public and the media on what this agenda, heralded to be the Liberian people’s savior, is all about.

Last week, President Weah, his First Lady, Mrs. Clar Weah, and some members of his Cabinet decided to do lunch in a local ‘low-level’ restaurant, eating with his bare fingers. Few minutes later, photos of the President eating at the local restaurant went viral on social media in an attempt to depict the pro-poor agenda.

Deputy Minister of Information for Press and Public Affairs has been defining pro-poor on social media with pictures of him eating in similar restaurant, splitting firewood with axe with captions like, “PRO-POOR AGENDA: Splitting wood to cook my food.”

These illustrations of the pro-poor agenda have sparked public concerns over the government’s ideology of “pro-poor”.

Boakai Jaleiba, a former assistant minister in the previous government told FrontPageAfrica that the government is proceeding wrongly with its pro-poor concept.

“They’re proceeding wrongly. Pro-poor policies are plans, actions… directed at lifting people out of poverty. The AfT [Agenda for Transformation], of course, is a pro-poor Policy. That word, pro-poor, is mentioned there at least many times. They first need to tell us what they want to do and how they want to achieve it,” he said.

According to Boakai, instead of instituting policies that would lift Liberians out of poverty in the short and long term, the Weah-led government is instead initiating programs directly affecting the psyche of their voters.

“It’s a measure aimed at getting re-elected. They’re not governing. They’re trying to get re-elected,” he said.

Weah’s Pro-Poor Projects

  • Projects earmarked with resources allocated under the pro-poor policy include:
  • Pay Junior and Senior High School Examination Fees for public and private schools;
  • Provision of digital registration system for the University of Liberia and free Wi-Fi internet for students at the main campus;
  • Fulfill government obligation by paying the salaries of 400 new teachers and correcting the salaries of 180 underpaid personnel;
  • Increase the number of local Liberian experts through professional skills development for key technical positions in government;
  • Provide beds, tools, and other medical equipment and facilities upgrades for John F. Kennedy Medical Center;
  • Support on-going humanitarian outreach programs by the First Lady;
  • Repair and maintain traffic lights in Monrovia and construct 400 new street lights along the Roberts Field Highway;
  • Conduct feasibility study for new Military Hospital;
  • Finance efforts to issue biometric identification to government employees and rationalize the wage bill through payroll verification;
  • Repair and maintain damaged NTA buses;
  • Introduce non-discriminatory loan and grant facilities will provide empowerment and support for Liberian-owned businesses.

 President Weah ‘Missing the Mark’

In an article titled “Liberia: Can George Weah deliver on his promises to the country’s poor?” published on March 6, 2018, Liberian scholar Ibrahim Al-Bakri Nyei articulated that despite inheriting a country with a collapsed economy, it must be acknowledged the withdrawal of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) signals that he’s also inheriting a peaceful country with stable institutions capable of maintaining law and order, and delivery of basic services.

“But beneath this glossy veneer is the harsh reality of poverty and acutely inefficient state institutions, as evidenced by the under-resourced hospitals and clinics and the below-standard schooling (public and private) across the country.”

Nyei advised that while President Weah has targeted some “pro-poor” projects like footing the bills of public examination fees for grade school students, delivery of critical hospital supplies, clearing the civil service of ghost workers, empowering Liberian-owned businesses, and spurring entrepreneurship among young Liberians, such can only be viewed as short term interventions that address issues affecting the daily lives of Liberians; however, there’s the need to institutionalize measures like direct policy and legal reforms to empower state institutions  and reduce bottlenecks with the aim of alleviating poverty and getting the economy working for the masses.

Like many Liberians, Nyei opined the President’s agenda to seek amendment to the citizenship laws to allow dual citizenship and grant Liberian citizenship to “non-Negroes” as solutions to the country’s economic woes and poverty conditions are far off target.

“A pro-poor government is largely understood as a government driven by the primary objective of reducing poverty. A pro-poor government thus takes direct actions that alleviate the sufferings and reduce the number of its citizens living in poverty through sustainable and long-term interventions managed by both the state and the private sector,” he wrote.

Like Boakai and Nyei elaborated, pro-poor, according to a working paper by International Poverty Centre and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), “Pro-poor growth may be referred as growth that benefits the poor and provides them with opportunities to improve their economic situation, as often cited by international agencies (UN 2000, OECD 2001).”

This research work dubbed: Pro-Poor Growth, Concepts and Measurement puts pro-poor in two concepts – Relative and Absolute Pro-Poor growth.

The relative concept arises when economic growth benefits the poor proportionally more than the non-poor. The implication is that while growth reduces poverty, it also improves relative inequality.

This definition may be referred to as a relative approach, as it implies a reduction in relative inequality. Conversely, a measure of pro-poor growth is absolute if the poor receive the absolute benefits of growth equal to, or more than, the absolute benefits received by the non-poor. Under this definition, absolute inequality would fall during the course of economic growth. In fact, this is the strongest requirement for achieving pro-poor growth, and may thus be referred to as ‘super pro-poor’.