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A Rebuttal to ‘Why the Liberian Economy Has Gone to the Dogs: A Spotlight on the Misrule of Amara Konneh’ – Globe Afrique, February 14, 2019

A formal response from Amara Konneh’s Media Team

Amara Konneh left the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning (MFDP), and the Government of Liberia (GoL) nearly three years ago on April 30, 2016 – halfway into former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s second term.  He departed having revived and professionalized the Ministry of Planning & Economic Affairs; contributed to the performance triggers and negotiations that led to the waiver of nearly $5 billion of Liberia’s external debt, developed and driven the implementation of two successful post-conflict national development strategies; fostered economic recovery at an average rate of 7 percent, good governance, peace and security; and spearheaded the establishment of the Ministry of Finance & Development Planning (MFDP) and the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA) with excellence.

Harvard awards former Liberia Finance Minister with prestigious Public Service Award

The Liberian economy under his watch was far more stable than it is today – even during the Ebola crisis when Liberia’s GDP growth rate took a nosedive into the negative. He left the economy with a single-digit inflation rate at 7 percent, the stable exchange rate of US$1 to L$85, and he kept the circular flow of the economy (government, businesses, and households) lubricated and turning by paying all public sector employees and businesses for services they rendered to the government on time. In the thick of the epidemic, he shifted the government’s focus toward economic recovery, mobilizing financing for ALL the infrastructure projects that were dedicated in President Sirleaf’s last year and early this year by President George Weah. None of these would have been possible had there been “theft and looting” as alleged by the writer of the Opinion ‘Why the Liberian Economy Has Gone to the Dogs: A Spotlight on the Misrule of Amara Konneh’ in the Globe Afrique Online Magazine and other news and social media outlets.  No one, including the writers that are falsely attacking Amara, can ever know what it takes to maintain macroeconomic stability for an economy affected by an outbreak of a pandemic disease as it recovers from nearly two generations of sustained economic decline and biggest collapse -90 percent) in the history of growth economics.  We are very PROUD of Amara’s record that is reflected in the economic numbers during his tenure compared to those of his successors and will defend it any day.

But, of course, Amara’s hard-won progress in those years, under the committed leadership of former President Johnson Sirleaf, has earned him no small measure of vitriol. A year after his 2012 appointment as Minister of Finance, his political enemies accused him of “diverting” US$13 million of European Union (EU) budget support – implying that those funds had been siphoned for his personal use. The amount had been disbursed electronically to the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) from the Central Bank of Europe via the CBL’s corresponding Bank, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Once the funds hit the GoL’s Consolidated Account, the CBL issued a flag receipt to the MFDP and the resources were disbursed to the health agencies, consistent with the 2013/14 Budget, PFM Law and Regulations.

We must note the context in which those allegations were levied against him. The transaction was made through the world’s two most powerful and secure central banks, in a post 9/11 world and under the watch of then Executive Governor Dr. J. Mills Jones, who was widely known to be a policy foe of Amara. Moreover, as a standard procedure, the transaction was verified by EU auditors. Any rational person can see that it would have been IMPOSSIBLE to “divert” one red cent from that transaction in this scenario.

Though the same newspaper that broke the story based on information the editor received from a source in the Ministry of Health set the record straight by clarifying the misunderstanding between the Ministries of Finance and Health, Amara’s enemies continue to use it as the only weapon to throw mud at his character, record and service to Liberia.  The two links below show the clarification and the additional resources Amara was able to attract after EU auditors verified the transaction:

1.      http://universalhealth2030.org/2013/07/04/liberiaclarifying-liberias-maternal-health-mystery-govt-finally-sets-record-straight/

2.      https://www.liberianobserver.com/news/eu-commits-us384m-in-aid-to-liberia/

Moreover, during his tenure, Amara reported on the state of the Liberian economy and invested significant time and resources in making citizens aware of the budget through his award-winning Open Budget Initiative for which an attempt was made on his life with petrol bombs and reported on fiscal performance regularly and on time.  Also, well before Amara’s exit from government, he had subjected himself to audits for his years of service at the MFDP, MoF and the MPEA by a suspicious and unfriendly General Auditing Commission (GAC) – the only Sirleaf Administration official to do so, out of respect for the public’s right to government transparency. Since 2016, he has had two successors, one of whom conducted another audit based on similar opinions to the one published in Globe Afrique on February 14, 2019, and it yielded no findings of misappropriation or malfeasance by him except for a few MFDP staff who took loans from a private sector scheme intended to support small businesses in the regions hit hard by Ebola but failed to pay.  The GAC published those reports on its website.

The writer of the February 14, 2019 opinion and those before him have not reviewed those reports and seems to have misread the MFDP’s and Central Bank’s audited financial statements. Amara’s enemies should at least have consulted more knowledgeable third parties, before making the dire claims in the February 14th opinion. In any case, because there was no backdrop deal during the 2017 elections – an election that happened while Amara was out of the country and based in Nairobi as head of the World Bank’s Global Hub for fragile states – nothing prevents the current regime from carrying out its own audits of its predecessor, although such an initiative would prove redundant.

When Amara was recruited by the World Bank nearly three years ago, he went through strenuous background checks both in the United States and on the ground in Liberia. He declared and verified his assets then, and continue to do so every year, as is required of staff members at his grade level and above. 

Five years later in December 2018, Amara participated in the launching of the World Bank Nigeria’s Borno State Governance and Public Financial Management (PFM) Reforms under a $200 million World Bank-managed European Union Trust Fund that paves the way for a whopping nearly $700 million World Bank funded North East Nigeria Recovery and Stabilization Program that is under discussion which he publicized on his social media page with photos.  It defies logic that the EU and World Bank would entrust the major responsibility for strengthening PFM systems to anyone accused of running a “criminal ring” at Liberia’s Ministry of Finance and stealing US$13 million of their money.

But we know all too well that politics is a nasty game, rife with mud-slinging and twisted interpretations of clear facts – not to mention tribalism.

We believe President Weah himself would resent the suggestion that his thoughts and actions are not independent, as mentioned by the writer in his misleading Op-ed. Moreover, Liberian history did not begin with former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf; the writer may recall that a warlord and an army sergeant had held the nation’s highest office before her, but he never assigned them any blame for the alleged failings of the Johnson-Sirleaf government. 

The political masters and financiers of the writers of these outrageous lies and attacks would do well to gift them with a crash course in public policy, finance, and central banking. This would safeguard the vulnerability of the young men’s reputation for responsible writing, and for being the conscience of Liberia’s government and people. 

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