“A fair and just measure of the effectiveness of any economic policy is the living standard of the people” McGill, 2016.
LIBERIA, In late February 2018, President Weah convened his first Cabinet Meeting. During the meeting, he mandated a “comprehensive needs assessment of all Ministries” with an expectation that those ministries and agencies would present a report to him within two weeks – Liberians are still waiting for the government to publish its findings.
Today, the government of former soccer legend President George Weah hasn’t offered any meaningful economic or growth strategy nor a development roadmap on education, healthcare or a plan to achieve the much-touted pro-poor agenda in Liberia. Instead, Liberians see some of the same misplaced strategies that led to 12 years of misdirected priorities and harsh criticisms of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.
According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), since 2005, Liberia has received over 2 billion dollars of foreign aid. Today, the country is still one of the poorest on earth. Nearly 60 percent of the population lives in abject poverty on less than fifty cents per day, life expectancy for a male is 57 years, and a female is 58 years.
The population, mainly of individuals between the ages of 18 – 35, is by far the least skilled on earth and illiteracy hovers around 57 percent. The 2017 United Nations’ Human Development Index, places Liberia at 177 out of 188 countries. Moreover, the country remains infamous for its high corruption (Transparency International Corruption Index), economic sabotage, and a complete disregard for the rule of law.
The Failing Economy – Silence from the Central Bank of Liberia
In its quarterly Financial and Economic Bulletin, the Central Bank of Liberia reported inflation (rising prices) would continue over the next several months. Inflation, also known as the “poor man’s tax” because of its substantial adverse impact on the poor, especially those living on less than a dollar a day, is expected to remain in double-digits. The Liberian Dollar has fallen to some of its lowest level in recent history. Liberia’s unemployment rate remains one of the highest in the region. And the Central Bank of Liberia’s Governor, Mr. Patray, stated he plans to take orders from the President of Liberia – the failed strategies that led to hyperinflation in Zimbabwe.
“We are therefore making this personal appeal to you and the government of France to support us in any way that you can in our efforts to jump-start our economy.” President George Weah
Liberians are witnessing President Weah beg for foreign aid, similar to what former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf did, and touting his pleadings for aid as successes in development. His surrogates parade all aspects of social media claiming victory from the President’s begging efforts.
In 2016, at the 5th Tana High-Level Forum on Security in Africa, former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan insisted that “African countries must stop begging, cap-in-hand, for
assistance from foreigners to address challenges confronting the continent.” The late Secretary-General went on to say, “We cannot always pass a hat around and insist we want to be sovereign, we want to be independent. We should lead and get others to support us, that support will be much more forthcoming when they see how serious and committed we are.”
In February, President Weah appealed to French President Macron, for assistance in jump-starting the Liberian economy. In March, President Weah pleaded with President Buhari to help rescue the failing Liberian economy and to send 6,000 teachers to Liberia to provide technical training. In March, Liberia sent a delegation to Japan to beg, borrow and lobby on behalf of the Liberian government. By June, the Government of Liberia engaged in a borrowing scheme with a defunct Singaporean company, Eton Finance Private Limited. When the press in Liberia called-out the administration, the President retorted that the critics were “Enemies of the State,” later, the government retreated and affirmed they needed to perform their due diligence.
In September, President Weah visited China and pleaded for aid and loans to jump-start the Liberian economy. Still, how does President Weah reconcile the wasteful spending by officials of his government, renovations of personal properties by individuals who have failed to declare their assets, and travel expenses by government officials in a country where people live on less than 1 dollar per day with a request for aid?
“Even in instances where it is clear that government officials cannot account for assets, the LACC has not pursued prosecution” McGill, 2016.
Liberians are seeing government officials, including the Minister of State, McGill, purchase assets without any account of how he obtained resources. Moreover, nearly 95 percent of President Weah’s officials have yet to declare their assets. Reports from Liberia indicate it was the efforts of a young student activist, Martin Kollie, that forced President Weah to declare his assets. It was reported that the President of Liberia declared his assets after allegedly renovating several personal properties in Liberia. Additionally, records from the Deeds office in Florida shows President Weah has overstated the value of his properties in Florida by nearly 2.5 million.
On January 6, 2006, former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf stated, “In an environment of rumors, conspiracies, lies, and suspicions, it is important that those holding high public office disclose
their financial status to the public.” She went on to say, “I will be the first to comply by declaring my assets…”
“…our expectation was that the eyes of government will be on those unscrupulous officials who will soon see their bank accounts of $200 dollars, ‘grow substantially’ into $5 million dollars in less than ten years” McGill, 2016.
In his criticism of former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Mr. Nathaniel McGill stated, “The deeply entrenched economic catastrophes of the last decade, suggests that President Sirleaf was unprepared for national democratic stewardship, which is why her government continues to pursue misplaced priorities that only favor a few above the collective interests of the ordinary population.” Today, Liberians are inquiring if the CDC-led government of President Weah is prepared to rebuild the nation.
How “Change for Hope” remains a ‘Hope for Change’
The election of soccer icon George Weah was declared the end of nepotism, corruption, wasteful spending, and economic disenfranchise of the youth population. Today, Liberians are finding it equally difficult to resolve the realities of the Weah-led government just how Weah and his surrogates found it difficult to explain “Change for Hope.”
With no level of creativity, the Foreign Minister, Findley reverts to former President Sirleaf’s playbook and brings in Riva Levinson. The Weah-led government has sealed its fate of being the third term of former President Sirleaf with its hiring of Riva K. Levinson, a former employee of convicted lobbyist Paul Manafort.
Many disenchanted Liberians see Ms. Levinson as a mole planted in the CDC-led government by former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf to inform on President Weah. Records obtained by Globe Afrique shows Riva Levinson plans to file a claim against the CDC-led government to settle Sirleaf’s outstanding bill of over $19,000 owed to her lobbying firm.
Liberians will recall that Riva K. Levinson was an influential lobbyist for Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and a vehement critic of George Weah. Ms. Levinson raked in hundreds of thousands of dollars in lobbying fees from Liberia with very little work to show for the money received.
During her time as Ellen’s confidant, Ms. Levinson was heavily criticized by CDC’s Bhofal Chambers. Today, we see more of the same as the speaker and the CDC welcomes Ms. Levinson into their
To change the trajectory of President Weah’s failing government, George Weah must make more meaningful changes in how the government spends taxpayers and donor’s money. The Government of Liberia must dissolve ties with the same old cronies that led to the 12 years of intense criticisms of President Sirleaf from opposition parties and ordinary Liberians. The government needs more accountability and transparency along with more creative strategies to solve poverty in Liberia.