Liberia’s Presidential Walhalla: I beg to Differ with the Economic Prescription of Alexander B. Cummings
I start off by saying that I support the idea that debate is a key ingredient in a democratic process; hence, I believe that it should be encouraged by individuals who have placed themselves up to get the mandate of the people. Any candidate who refuses to explain to the people his ideas for the transformation of the country is not fit to govern.
Hence, in this write-up, I endeavor to put a spotlight on the points raised by the former Coca-Cola man in Alexander Cummings in the debate held at the Paynesville City Hall, specifically on his ideas about making radical improvement in the economy of this country. For obvious reason, I take the economy as a sector to look at simply because the economy represents the heartbeat of the nation, and because Mr. Cummings bagged a graduate in that field of studies.
Prefacing my point, I want to insist that eloquence is different from making sense in a discourse. A person can be high on eloquence but low on substance. That is why judging the performance of the candidates in the last debate should tailor on the sense they bring to bear on the nagging issues rather than their command of the lingua franca. Secondly, their prescriptions to address the challenges ought to be evaluated in the context of the peculiarity of the Liberian condition. To single out a candidate out for praise without subjecting his perspective to cross-examination equates to intellectual laziness.
When the moderator poised the question of how the candidates will tackle the problem of the budget being 80 percent recurrent expenditure.
The little I know about how to reduce recurrent expense got me throwing out when I heard the prescription of the former Coca-Cola man who supposed to be an authority on economics, because he has a graduate degree in such course. I later realized that our man has a knowledge deficit on how to address the question of reducing the recurrent cost of a budget.
Cummings argued that to address the question of recurrent expense, he will opt for growth in the budget. To argue for a growth in the budget is not a problem but what seems ridiculous to me was the refusal of Cummings to narrate to us how such growth will be generated. There is less investment in the country; even some of the investments here have been given hovering tax breaks.
Majority of the citizens are either unemployed or underemployed and don’t have the financial wherewithal to pay personal income and real estate taxes. Furthermore, one does not need an expert in macroeconomic to conclude that overtime, the sole dependence of our government on taxes, royalties from concessions, loans from international and local financial institutions, grants, aids and goodwill from friendly countries have not expanded our budget to the height that capital expenditure in education, health, infrastructure, etc. will be prioritized.
I agree with Cummings including other candidates’ plans for cutting waste in the national budget. But remember now, cutting waste in a budget with a soaring 8.5 percent deficit does not generate an extra revenue. It either reduces the deficit or create a balance budget. So, in this case, the possibility of having a growth in the budget through cutting wasteful spending is unlikely. Under his leadership, our man Cummings argued that our budget will be in the tune of 2 billion dollar, although he failed to tell us how he arrived at that projection of the revenue, which sector will contribute more to his ambitious budget projection, as well as his strategy for capital mobilization. I find this projection more as mere political zealotry aimed at duping the people.
Meanwhile, although our man promised to increase the budget in the tune of 2 billion dollars, he contradicted himself by adding that he will reduce taxes without telling us which additional revenue source he intends to hype on to realize his ambitious budget of 2 billion. In a situation where he intends to toy with the same economic model of the current status quo, tax amounts to the biggest source of revenue generation. To cut taxes and argue that you will increase the budget to 2 billion dollars without telling us alternative source of revenue generation is tantamount to wishful thinking.
In my reading of how countries increase their revenue envelope and assuage acute problems, I know that government intervention in the economy either through partial nationalization of the commanding heights of the country’s economy, buying of shares from the stock exchange market or increase in taxes increases the revenue of the government. When the revenue of government grows, priority areas like education, health, infrastructure, security and the rule of law are considered. This generates economic growth and development. For instance, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s antidote for the Great Depression in America was the New Deal. With the New Deal, President Roosevelt used the progressive tax system to raise revenue. In Botswana, diamond is the single most natural resource the Southern African country can boast of. To accrue the benefit of such natural endowed resource, the government of Botswana partially nationalized the Debswana Mining Company. That is, government has a 50 percent ownership right in the company. Such right has been contributing a hooping 30percent to the implementation of the country’s budget. Today, the revenue generated from diamond mining has made Botswana a middle-income country booming in education, health, agriculture, entrepreneurship, infrastructure etc. etc.
Again, our Coca-Cola man argued that he intends to embark on industrialization on his ascendancy as President of Liberia. As it is said in certain quarters, talk is cheap, but doing is difficult. In other words, politicians are good at making lofty promises, but implementation is difficult. His statement is a mere posturing of a desperate former Coca-Cola henchman who is on a spree to impress the masses that there are fantasies of quick fixes to deal with the structural problems in the economy of the homeland.
The question of industrialization must take into consideration the labor pool of the Republic, or else the industrialization, as unrealistic as it is, will only serve the interest of foreign monopoly capital. To argue even in the broader sense of the word, this is not possible because to reach the height of industrialization we must invest in Science Technology and Engineering (STEM). If you want to do that, it is almost difficult to attain the height of industrialization in the period of six years. Politicians say anything to get the votes of the people, but we intend to take them to task on their prescriptions.
If Cummings presented coliseum of contradictions in his economic model, I suppose economics is his forte, because he has a degree in such field. It is needless to appraise him on the question of security and the other issues raised in the debate. Where he has his strength, he was high on eloquence but low on substance.
Reality check has it that although Alexander Cummings promises to empower Liberian businesses by giving loans to them, a system that is currently in place and has proved futile to spur growth and put Liberian entrepreneurs on pal with their competitors. At the headquarters and other satellites offices of the ANC, the pieces of furniture in those offices are not Liberian-made but are imported. If he argues about empowering Liberian businesses, our man needs to demonstrate this through his action. The fellow speaks from double sides of his mouth- he says one thing and does another one.
Furthermore, he argued about cutting down waste in the budget, but here is an individual who uses the most expensive car of all the candidates. Mr. cummings, if you don’t have the discipline to cut down spending using your private wealth, will you have the discipline to cut down spending when you have the national treasury at your disposal?
Following the mass excesses of Alexander Cummings, one working in a bureaucracy where he deals with only profit and loss does not make him fits for the Presidency. In politics, you deal with conflicting interest and resolve contradictions in a zero-sum way to strengthen the fundamental of the polity. No wonder why in the world over no businessman has made a successful president, let alone in a Third World country of ours where the decision of the president plays a pivotal role in shaping the course of the country