Monrovia – President George Manneh Weah used his return from the 73rd United Nations General Assembly in New York Sunday, September 30, to throw pointed jabs at his predecessor Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf over her recent comments regarding the Gross Domestic Product. He also directed his jabs at protesters demanding accountability over the alleged missing L$16 billion.
Report by Rodney D. Sieh, [email protected]
The GDP is the monetary measure of the market value of final goods and services produced in a period of time, often annually or quarterly. Nominal GDP estimates are commonly used to determine the economic performance of a country or region, and to make international comparisons.
Former President Sirleaf during a recent BBC Focus on Africa interview expressed disappointment in attempts by some figures in the Weah-led government to link her administration to the recent controversy involving billions of local currency allegedly missing from two 20-foot containers.
Said President Sirleaf: “I’m angry, I’m shocked. When it comes to the government I say this is our country, we have a new President. We all must support him for the good of our country. I’ll like to call on the government – even that the country’s reputation and innocent people’s reputation has been impugned – they must go back to the media and say that the investigation is concluded and the evidence and facts are known, they must go back to the media and correct it.”
The former President went on to accuse the Central Bank of Liberia of withholding an internal investigation which could have removed her administration from the saga: “The Central Bank has already done an investigation on the direction of the Minister of Justice. Why haven’t they released the report of the investigation? Why are they sitting on it? Has the President realized what he has done to the country? The reputation of the country is also at stake. They’re talking about 16 billion, do they know what the GDP of this country is?”
The CBL has since suggested that it has not conducted any internal probe.
“The Central Bank has already done an investigation on the direction of the Minister of Justice. Why haven’t they released the report of the investigation? Why are they sitting on it? Has the President realized what he has done to the country? The reputation of the country is also at stake. They’re talking about 16 billion, do they know what the GDP of this country is?” – Former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf
Prioritizing Roads; Dissing EJS
Within the CDC, some supporters and party stalwarts including Representative Acarous Moses Gray and party chair Mulbah Morlu went on the offensive against the former President as the President faced calls within his ranks to take the former President head-on.
On Sunday, President Weah obliged, telling his supporters at the Dominion Christian Fellowship Church in Congotown along the Tubman Boulevard that despite the knowledge of GDP, the former President failed to build roads and make any meaningful contribution to Liberia.
The President explained: “People talking that we don’t know the trouble that we have caused for the country. Our government has caused nothing… can you imagine [that] people saying that we don’t know the GDP of this country; we don’t even know what GDP is? But the GDP they know, 12 years Doe Community doesn’t have light. They know the GDP from their fingertip but roads from here to Sasstown, it’s not there. If you know the GDP, you don’t know what GDP is? If you know the GDP but you don’t develop your people, then who are you?”
On the contrary, President Weah said, if he does not achieve anything in six years – roads will be a priority. “That’s what I say to my partners no matter what we talk – roads, roads, roads. We got lots of things to do but the road is paramount to me. Any other president your get out there, if he will build 300 hospitals he will come and build it – because I believe that even the hospital that he will build the road will be good for you to reach to the hospital.”
During her tenure, former President Sirleaf dedicated more than 500 kilometers of roads including the Somalia Drive, Police Academy and the Harper to Karloken Project. The Somalia Drive is being undertaken by the Japanese-owned Dai Nippon Construction (DNC) which is implementing the construction of a 13.2km Freeport to Red-Light project.
When completed, the project will ease congestion along the Somalia Drive and promote economic and social activities. Phase I of the project focused on the expansion of the current 2-lane to 4-lane, constructing 2 completely new lanes along the current road; the construction of a new Stockton Bridge and repair of Double Bridge.
The Sirleaf administration also dedicated the Cotton Tree-Buchanan highway which was renamed the ‘Diahanblah-Gberzohn’ highway. The 80.8km road was undertaken by the China Henan Company (CHICO). Additionally, former President Sirleaf dedicated the newly paved Gbarnga-Ganta to Guinea border highway.
Nevertheless, President Weah, in a rallying cry to his supporters Sunday insisted that he inherited a broken economy and unlike the previous government has been making strides to right the flaws of the past. “In this economy – when we came everywhere was broken down but we managed to maintain salaries. We don’t know GDP but we were able to cut salaries. Those that know GDP could pay someone US$16,000; US$17,000 – even if they are, its not working. But we say no, this GDP got to help all Liberians so you making 15,000 we cut it down – that is how to use your GDP, if you know GDP.”
The President explained that roads are crucial part to the country’s development. “Without roads you can’t achieve anything but all you want to do when you go outside Monrovia and come back [you say], ‘the place bad, the road bad’. But soon someone wanted to fix it [you say] for what you want to fix it?”
Two loans undertaken by the government has so far failed to materialize as the Legislature appears to have sidelined the bills from being signed into law despite both loans winning 4-G passages in both houses of the legislature.
The first loan is eyeing project for the pavement of the Buchanan to Cestos road; Cestos to Greenville road; Greenville to Barclayville road; and the Barclayville to Pleebo road. The project will also see the pavement of the Tubmanburg to Bopolu and the Medina to Robertsport road corridors. While the second loan with EBOMAF Group owned by President Weah’s friend, Bonkoungou Mohamoudou, is eyeing a 337-kilometers of roads targeting the Kessely Boulevard to Sinkor Road and the Tappita to Zwedru road corridor, including the Toe Town to La Cote d’Ivoire and the Zwedru to Greenville road corridors.
‘How is it Possible’: Attack on Protesters
The President also threw jabs at protesters who took to the streets of Monrovia last week to demand the return of the missing billions, suggesting that those who showed up to welcome him Sunday should have countered with a protest of their own.
Said the President: “How is that possible for somebody to steal L$16 billion – then you are talking about an inflation of 250%. We got to think… If you look at the video, the same people that said L$16 billion lost were the same people running say they protesting. Where are the Liberians? Where were you people? You should have been in the streets, not the people that said 16 billion lost they put themselves together and got in the streets. But remember their government functioned for 12 years, we were opposition, when we got in the streets they were shooting at us, people were dying… they took guns and ammunitions against us, just the other day they went in the streets police guided them [and] they exercised their franchise.”
The President expressed disappointment at some detractors who wanted to see him flop at the UNGA. “I went to represent people that even got in the streets telling people to boo me but if I was going to fail, you were going to be the cause. But you see with everything that was said I was focused. Some of you people, your know too much but your don’t even know about yourself but your know about everybody. But you see, I’m glad that I can represent you with my colleagues. No matter what you do, please for this six years, you have a decision to make after six years. Let us keep this place stable. I’ll put in good programs, policies to move this country [forward].”
“People talking that we don’t know the trouble that we have caused for the country. Our government has caused nothing… can you imagine [that] people saying that we don’t know the GDP of this country; we don’t even know what GDP is. But the GDP they know, 12 years Doe Community doesn’t have light. They know the GDP from their finger tip roads from here to Sass town, it’s not there. If you know the GDP, you don’t know what GDP is? If you know the GDP but you don’t develop your people, then who are you?” – President George Manneh Weah
Hauling Journalists to Probe
The President also took aim at journalists over the reportage of the missing billions saga. “The journalists, you know it’s sad. Just the other day we were fighting to sign decriminalization [law] so the journalist can have their rights. But the fact that they have their rights they can not say something that will damage the country. So those journalists that said that 16 billion lost and 9 billion lost, they also gonna be brought into the investigation. We going bring them to the investigation so they can tell us where the 16 billion go…”
The President fell short of mentioning his own Information Minister Lenn Eugene Nagbe who revealed that the current President was kept in the dark by the former administration of President Sirleaf.
Minister Eugene Nagbe told the VOA that President George Weah was never kept appraised about the new banknotes during the transitional period. “…One would have thought that this new president would have been informed about all of these transactions during the transition notes that was presented to him during the transition meeting but he was not aware,” Nagbe said.
Minister Nagbe went on to confirm the printing of money in several countries. “We can confirm that the money was brought through the Freeport of Liberia and the Roberts International Airport and for now it is US$16 billion Liberian dollars that we have confirmed. An estimated of a little over 15 billion Liberian dollars as far as we have concerned from the ongoing investigation as of today and it came in the two ports of entry.”
The Minister said in November of 2017, the investigation had determined and confirmed that a batch of banknotes came in the country – just before the President assumed office. “Now, when the President received information about these newly-minted banknotes, he sanctioned an investigation which is being chaired by the Ministry of Justice and 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 it was printed in and how did it affect the foreign exchange situation in the country.”
The President claimed that he purchased cameras and video recorders for journalists during his football-playing days. “People believe in this country [so] we need to set a positive image for you from you people to the journalists. In my life as a footballer, every journalist that had camera or video recorder –if not all – I paid for them. When we were fighting for peace to come to this country, the same journalists were against us and someone will look at me …. To say I will kill a journalist. I can’t even kill fly…”
The President acknowledged that the controversy has brought some embarrassment to him and his government. “With your 16 billion, because all over the internet [people are saying] George Weah spoke well but let him bring our 16 billion. It’s sad but we laughed. But I hope one of you will get in a position when someone lies on you – and those people that lying they are culpable. These are the people that caused the problem.”
He added: “We left here, going to the UN, all my colleagues I have to explained to them …you expect me to perform well for you when you telling the whole world that I stole 16 billion. And I go on the UN podium, when I make mistake and don’t represent the country well, you will be the same person to say that ‘we told your that … There are lots of challenges but there are opportunities within those challenges and that something we can handle. “
Declaring that he is not worried about those that are still, according to him in campaign mode, President Weah said he came up with a plan and his plan is working. “Our infrastructure is broken down; the first African republic they don’t have a fitting road… So, the decision that we are making is in the interest of the country so nobody can sit – it’s sad. You led for 12 years; other people helped you to succeed and the people here you don’t want to help them. You know, so many years people telling me why you become peace ambassador for this government. But is this the government that owns this country? I’m working, I’m not working for the government – I’m working for Liberia; I’m working for Liberians.”
Vague Wealth Claim vs. Assets Declaration
President Weah who has come under fire for failing to make his assets declaration public thereby leading to a lot of officials in his administration the following suit, suggested that he acquired a lot of wealth during his football days.
“You going around [and] you forget that I am George Manneh Weah, everything that I own, I don’t hide it from people. It’s all visible. You know as a young man what I acquired I have never taken anything from you but I have given so much, this is the time for you to work with me so what the international community is giving us so it can help you instead of playing politics. Campaign is over and gone.”
In assets declared during the 2005 Presidential elections, President Weah reported three sources of incomes realized in US dollars in the year 2005 totaled US$335,000 on properties both in the United States and here in Liberia.
Real estate in the USA valued US$250,000, US$60,000 from a supermarket in the USA, while he said to earned US$25, 000 from his real estate in Liberia.
Weah in 2005 declared that his combined assets both in Liberia and the USA was over US$2.8 million. His residence in Florida, USA was said to worth US$1.5 million, while his Supermarket in Miami, Florida was said to worth US$1.2 million.
Mr. Weah also reported two residences in Liberia said to be valued US$250,000, with the one in which he currently resides as President in the ELWA Rehab Road area outside Monrovia being put at US$100,000. His residence located on the 9th Street in Sinkor, Monrovia, which is currently being demolished to be replaced by a mega structure, was valued in 2005 at US$150,000.
As Senator of Montserrado County, Mr. Weah earned US$15,000 a month with a total worth as Senator for the three years estimated to be US$540,000.
Since becoming President, he demolished his 9th Street property where a hotel is said to be under construction.
The President is also undertaking a number of massive apartment complexes including a 48-unit and 28 unit respectively off the Robertsfield Highway. Additionally, the President has renovated and paved the road leading to his Jamaica property.
Contradictions Regarding Probe
In recent weeks, the Weah-led government suggested that the US Federal Bureau of Investigation is being invited to assist in the investigation. On Sunday, however, President Weah showered praise on his Ministers of Finance and State for making sure that this issue will come to rest, an indication that the government may not been keen to press on with the investigation. “”I can guarantee you that – it’s not just by words – I can guarantee you as I said to the UN, if our international partners come with the team and they find out that some thing was missing – every one that took something if they can bring it back, we will give them opportunity to bring it back. If they can bring it back, they will be prosecuted by the law.”
The President, while dismissing the missing billions, said he has told his ministers not to make him shame. “And I tell my friends them – minister just make sure and think about the past when you were working with some of these people – and don’t be implicated. I want to focus so I am asking you people please help me to be focused. Because if you wish for me to fail how those that help you? Will it develop your life?”
The President said since 1847 Liberia has had scholars from Harvard, Princeton but in the absence of those Liberians will have to do with what they have. “So, when the competent is not available the non-competent becomes available. No matter what we do here, you need to help our Pro-poor government so we can pave all our roads so that we connect our country to the rest of the countries in Africa.”
President Weah’s rants Sunday appear to have dealt a major blow in the relationship between he and former President Sirleaf, whom President Weah has showered praise on since winning the presidency.
When the former President won the 5th Mo Ibrahim prize for Achievement in African Leadership, President Weah said he was proud for the accomplishment. The current President went as far as grading Sirleaf’s leadership high for her contributions made to Liberia. The ongoing trading of barbs over GDP while appealing to the President’s base is likely to deepen what was once a cordial relationship, some say was helpful in propelling Mr. Weah to the Presidency.