Economic Reform Alliance (ERA) Response To President George Weah’s Annual Report, Calls For More Practical Approach

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A pressure group, the Economic Reform Alliance (ERA) has released its position on the 2020 Annual Address recently delivered by President George  Manneh Weah on January 27, 2020 to members of the National Legislature as well as the Liberian people in general.

The statement catalog series of analysis and critiques of the President’s address ranging from the Economy, Infrastructure Development with emphasis on Roads , Education,  Agriculture among others.

According to the Chairman of  (ERA) Hamilton Greene  , the president tried as much as possible to provide a financial update of the economy of the republic ranging from revenues (loans, grants, and domestic income), debts (foreign and domestic) and associated existing and promising expenditures.

Under this pillar, he noted that the president providing modalities put in place to revitalize the current struggling economy.  In his presentation, the president named appropriate government spending, trimming of the wage bill (salary harmonization), digitizing the economy (mobile money), empowering the Liberia Anti Corruption Commission (LACC) and the support and collaboration of foreign development partners as the major steps towards bringing our economy back to normality!

There is absolutely no doubt that the above measures are pertinent to resuscitating any given economy, Mr. Greene added.

ERA said they understand the vision of the president for a cashless economy however, this demands a high speed of literacy and sophistication but wonders if Liberia as a country is now prepare for a digitized economy? “How many of our compatriots are technology literate and understand the banking system” ERA’s Chair intoned? We understand that this system will not just ease the demand for cash but will also help boost the tax purse of any economy as it is easier to track financial transactions. However, have we set up our Value Added Tax (Goods and services tax) system to mainstream every transaction through this method? Let’s take this step by step, Mr. President, let’s start by firstly encouraging our people particularly the rural ones to make use of the existing financial institutions, let’s sensitize our people about the benefits of such financial revolution and also prepare our economy for the robust tax activities which will begin from the peppers we grow on our farms that are brought to the markets considering that the VAT system calls for the collection of tax on every commodity/services imported or produced within a given economy.

  1. Appropriate government spending? Mr. President, this is a good measure to help save the economy but does the appropriate government spending means a shortage of fuels and medications at public hospitals? Does it also mean denial of basic operational costs and necessities to the office of the Vice President? Or does it mean flying private jet and first class by you and other members of your cabinet? Please tell us what do you mean by ‘Steps to control spending” Mr. President.

Moreover, the group’s analysis furthered by Trimming of the Wage bill (Salary harmonization). Mr. President, we applaud this move, bravo! However, till now we are yet to know what becomes of your reduced salary Mr. President. You mentioned a 25% cut in your salary as well a reduction during the harmonization process, yet you didn’t give us an account of the total percentage reduced and where the 25% reduction and the harmonized reduction was redirected. Was it redirected to other government expenditures or was it just another political pronouncement? You have to be serious and come open to the Liberian people about this matter.

Additionally, the issue of the Salary harmonization is yet to make sense to us Liberians. It is a proven fact that a good number of civil servants making as low as 200$USD salaries were still reduced during the harmonization process. How come the process never spared the working poor? The over 15,000 people you claimed the harmonization process augmented their salaries are yet to be known Mr. President as almost everyone in government complains of reduced salaries, so who are those benefiting the harmonization process?

  1. Empowerment of the LACC to fight corruption. This is a monumental step to tackling our public enemy number-1 Mr. President. We look forward to this bill and would rally every lawmaker to support the act empowering the Liberia Anti Corruption Commission in their fight against corruption. Let’s do this together Mr. President, our country has suffered too much in the hands of corrupt officials, we entreat you to ascribe sincerity to this process by displaying the daring audacity to publicly declare your assets and as well to bring all corrupt officials to book no matter who it is. You can gain our trust in this process by beginning with your very own cabinet members,  let’s make the process progressively retroactive.
  2. Multilateral and development partners support to our fiscal and monetary growth. Way to go! However, it is without a doubt that this support is as a result of the heavy rumors of mismanagement and financial indiscipline for the past two years of your presidency, this is embarrassing Mr. President, let’s face it. Another country should not be disciplining us financially and helping us to regain the trust of our people towards the financial institutions of the republic. As we progress, let’s learn from the past and make positive adjustments to regain our integrity among the comity of nations.
  3.   Infrastructure Development:

Mr. President, this was the sweetest part of your speech, at least to some extent you reawakened our half-dead aspiration for a better Liberia. Mr. President, we are almost certain that a deep sense of patriotism went down the spine of every Liberian as you were zealously articulating the roads connectivity from Gbarnga to Salayea, Salayea to Konia, Sanniquellie to Logartuo, Fish town to Kawakan, Kawakan to Harper, Harper to Cavala border and the Roberts International Airport Highway.

Congratulations Mr. President, Liberia wins!

While we celebrate this national feat, let’s not forget other sectors of our economy. Mr. President, we applaud you for your prioritization of road infrastructures, however, we would like to caution you that road is not the only aspect of infrastructure development. Once more, congratulations on partly delivering on the road connectivity promise. Let’s move on.

  1. Agriculture:

Mr. President, we appreciate your selection and appointment of a new Agriculture minister most precisely a female and a nonpartisan of the Coalition of democratic change, this is a plus to female leadership and showcase of your desire to reach across the aisle and get every qualified Liberians hand on deck. We say bravo to that.

However, it is quite unfortunate that you would render every other Liberian incompetent stating that “If she cannot do it, then I do not know who else we will find to do it.”

Such a statement is a slap in the face to other equally or more qualified Liberians who have been desirous of contributing their service to their country. If she can’t get the job done, there are more qualified Liberians out there Sir, we will get them to get the job done. Madame Jeanine Cooper is not the last and only hope for Liberia, no she cannot be.

Mr. President, like you rightly put it, our comparative advantage lies in our fertile soil, a vast quantity of arable land and suitable climatic conditions, let’s get it working Sir! It’s about time we employ county-specific productions and organized farming. Let the people of Lofa grow what they grow best and the people of Sinoe grow what they know. Let’s make use of each county comparative advantage, let’s invest heavily in a county per-produce farming and see the dividend it yields.

Additionally, Mr. President, of the 6.5M$ of loans or grants allocated to youth development, let’s redesign our approach and engage our young people in the agriculture sector as well.

Sustenance farming is a way of life for our people in the rural areas, what are we doing to improve such standards? Are we only focused on the macroeconomic returns in our new agriculture drive or are we also going to drift some attention to household farming thus encouraging food security and self-reliance? Our agriculture agenda must be clear and precise, the speech did not provide a clear-cut drive for our agriculture agenda. Granted, you talked about the potential of the cocoa and coffee industry and how you intend to put our country on par with neighboring countries relative to the production and exportation of said commodities, however, you did not tell us how your government is going to make this possible. Joining ongoing efforts by the EU and others to revamp and make the cocoa and coffee sectors viable and profitable is not an explicit road map to boosting such sector. You must tell us how you are going to join the EU and other partners’ efforts sir, we need to know what new ideas or added incentives you intend to put in this sector to make it viable as you said. Is it possible that the government of Liberia invest into and own mechanized farms, especially investing in our staple food (rice) and the various cash crops you mentioned in cocoa and coffee?

Agriculture is the heartbeat of any given economy, you cannot provide us flimsy narrative of this sector and expect to yield results. No sir, you have to provide us a workable and lasting intervention to our agriculture sector.

  1. Human Right:

It is without a doubt that there have been lots done to protect and respect human rights in Liberia and there is still more to be done. We must applaud your government for some of the major gains thus far. Particularly, we say hats off to the judiciary under the stewardship of His Honor Chief Justice Francis Korkpor for the landmark ruling in favor of the dual citizenship. This has been one major human rights issue we violated in the past knowingly or unknowingly, considering that two Liberian parents in the diaspora can give birth to a child and said child be denied Liberian citizenship only because he/she was birthed in another country, that is sad. With this been said, we welcome the introduction of dual citizenship proposition for a referendum by your regime and say it is a massive step to promoting a sense of self belonging to our human dignity.

Additionally, we want to welcome the Gender and Social Inclusion units to be established at every government ministries, agencies, commissions and corporations. For so long our female counterparts have cried out for inclusion and meaningful participation. Such an act we believe will afford females the level opportunity to equal participation.

Additionally, we also want to commend the development and validation of the Gender-based Violence Comprehensive Prevention Strategy of “Leaving No-one Behind”, while it is true this strategy is borne of good preventive measures against SGBV as well as prosecution modalities, we (ERA) want to urge you, Mr. President, that this shouldn’t be a business, as usual, wherein we will have good laws on the book and fail to act upon them. With the existing instruments to protect our girls and young women, there is still an increasing prevalence of RAPE and other related sexual and gender violence in our society daily. This has got to stop Mr. President, we must be decisive in our quest to protect the rights of females who are the most victimized gender in all SGBV cases.

Lastly, while it is true that we appreciate your government for upholding its constitutional mandate of allowing citizens to assemble for the redress of their grievances, our sincere gratitude goes to the ever-resilient and peace-loving people of the Republic of Liberia for always demonstrating high level of civility while sending a message that we can disagree without being disagreeable.

Closing argument:

Fellow Liberians, with every sense of gratitude and appreciation, we acknowledge the level of gains we have collectively made as a people under the stewardship of the CDC government. Our nation is on an irreversible path of development and only requires the involvement and commitment of each and every Liberian.

Without a doubt, there are existing issues. It is no secret that even the most illiterate person in Liberia is aware of the lack of electricity, good health care facilities, a good educational system etc. hence, the need for a clear and defined strategy in addressing these issues cannot be overly emphasized.

In his address to the nation, the President spoke to the many issues confronting the economy, it is clear that he is aware of these issues. However, being aware of an issue is not just enough, there needs to be a clear and definite road map as to how these issues can be addressed. We need well-constructed policies to be implemented. This is important because policies guide and determine present and future decisions on matters of public interest and social concerns. Policies provide framework and structures that when enforced consistently, will contribute to national development.

The president talked heavily about infrastructure development but forgot about human capacity development. Despite whatever gains we make infrastructurally, we need a well-prepared population to sustain such gains. We need more investment into human capacity as this is the fundamental drive to sustained national productivity.  Mr. President, we were surprised at your refusal to delve into issues related to our educational sector which has in the past been described as a mess, What is your government agenda towards improving our educational system sir?

Lastly, to date, we are yet to know the unfoldings surrounding our national census which has been long overdue. This is an important instrument in forging the developmental drive of any nation. The national census helps inform state actors on specific geographic interventions, let give this a priority.

 

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