It seems Liberia’s President George M. Weah cannot effectually move the development needle in Liberia without the support from Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.
In a last-ditch effort to revitalize the sinking Liberian economy, President Weah hires former President Ellen Johnson’s Sirleaf’s chief lobbyist, Riva K. Levinson of KRL International to the tune of USD$240 thousand per year with an additional USD$8,500 to cover travel expenses for KRL’s staffers.
In 2014, former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf derided Representative Bhofal Chambers of the Congress of Democratic Change for accusing her administration of spending millions on lobbying fees. Specifically for his angry statement that, “We (Liberians) have gross deficits in Liberia in terms of infrastructure at home, in terms of employment, in terms of welfare. There are so many gaps and our people cannot afford, yet Sirleaf appears to be the most popular leader in the world.” In an article posted on VOA by Mr. James Butty, Madam Sirleaf stated she was paying Riva Levinson, on average, around $53,000 per year.
Is Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf making a serious play to have Weah covertly lose power? There are strong signals that Ellen’s cohorts are “creeping back in Liberia’s governance,” with reports that former finance minister Amara Konneh (who received accolades as Finance Minister of the Year by a London banking magazine) stands the best chance of being elected Senator. Hence, the contract by Ellen’s former information minister raises some serious questions as to the long-term strategy of President George Weah of Liberia.
According to information collected from the U.S. Department of Justice, on January 3, 2020, the Information Minister under Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and Liberia’s current Information Minister, Eugene Lenn Nagbwe, and Weah’s current Finance Minister, Samuel Tweah signed a “Retainership Agreement” with Riva Levinson of KRL International.
The Agreement calls for Ms. Levinson’s firm to help build confidence in Liberia’s Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development; increase donor funding in support of the PAPD; increase foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in critical sectors, including infrastructure and agriculture; and project Liberia’s positive attributes and opportunities for partnership and collaboration.
Evidence shows that Riva Levinson has no record of successfully boosting FDIs to Liberia. One could surmise that if Ms. Levinson could increase FDI’s to Liberia, she would have done so during the time she represented Madam Sirleaf, where FDIs to Liberia fell by 77% from $1billion to $122 million.
According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), In 2013, FDIs to Liberia plunged by a massive 74%. It is well-known that the West African Ebola epidemic instigated this precipitous drop.
Although interests and investments to Liberia increased in 2014 – spurred by attractions to the sale of several oil blocks (LB-6, LB-7, LB-16, and LB-17) – those interests quickly dissipated when several investors turned out to be as deceptive as the Singaporean company Eton.
By 2015, during the mid-point of Madam Sirleaf’s second term and during the time Ms. Levinson served as the chief lobbyist for Liberia, data posted on UNCTAD shows foreign direct investments to Liberia fell in 2015, 2016, and 2017 by 28%, 45%, and 51% respectively. Conversely, foreign direct investments to Sierra Leone have increased by 365%, and in Guinea, it has increased by 72% – surpassing its pre-Ebola numbers; while Liberia’s FDIs remains at 89% less than its pre-Ebola numbers.
According to the Retainership Agreement, KRL promises to “(1) build the Government of Liberia’s foundational relationships with the public and private sectors in the United States and with international financial institutions; (2) consolidate the importance of Liberia in the realm of U.S. national security policy and U.S.-Africa relations; (3) foster confidence in the Government’s plans to propel Liberia forward, notably in consolidating its democratic institutions, developing its economic and human potential; and (4) improve the depiction of Liberia on the global stage.”
By all accounts, it appears that the Government of Liberia is grasping for economic miracles in all the wrong places. There is a misconception that strong lobbying efforts are far more effective than good economic policies. For example, Ministers in African countries tend to believe that the fight against hunger depends on good lobbying efforts rather than good policies on fixing the agriculture sector to ensure their people have access to nutritious food.
Interestingly, KRL signed a lobbying contract with the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where KRL’s travel expenses were limited to airline economy class for two persons, and the DRC was only responsible for paying their hotel bill when her staffers travel internationally in the DRC’s behalf.
Additionally, in a contract with the Republic of Ghana, KRL was responsible for all “other expenses,” which included the company’s staff international travel and travel outside of Washington, D.C.
One has to wonder how the Government of Liberia was conned into paying $20k per month and an additional $8,500 for travel expenses for a lobbying firm that did not move the economic needle during their decade long relationship with Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, and why is the Weah administration reverting to Ellen’s schemes when “change” was their battle cry?