Weah’s Vision for a road network excellent, but why is the IMF concern

Bad road conditions in southeastern Liberia and throughout Liberia have caused havoc for motorists, passengers, and students who no longer use the road network.

WASHINGTON, DC —-Every public policy strategy and economic benchmark show that investing in highways has often been considered as an imperative economic development approach, especially for developing and underdeveloped nations and rural areas like most places in Liberia (Appalachia, 1982).  This is one key reason why governments in developed economies such as the United States, Canada, the UK, Germany, France etc. have recognized the importance of investing in areas like transportation infrastructure.   Moreover, empirical realities and research analysis over the years have proven that activities such as building new roads, widening existing ones, putting in new interchanges, or constructing bridges can result in various benefits for non-metro areas, including providing improved access to services and jobs for rural residents, creating better access to customers for businesses, and reducing transportation costs.   Some other potential advantages in having good road networks include reductions in travel time for motorists, lower vehicle operating costs, safety, and environmental gains, and cost savings for local consumers as goods and services become more competitively priced.

At the 2015 World Economic Forum, the World Bank posed a thoughtful question: How far do roads contribute to development?   In responding to the question, the World Bank acknowledged that: “Roads are the arteries through which the economy pulses. By linking producers to markets, workers to jobs, students to school, and the sick to hospitals, roads are vital to any development agenda.  Since 2002, the World Bank has constructed or rehabilitated more than 260,000 km of roads. It (World Bank) lends more for roads than for education, health, and social services combined.”

Besides, the fundamental concepts behind labor market information and analysis support the World Bank’s view that a region’s industrial and employment base is closely tied to the quality of the transportation system it has. And that good, dependable transportation infrastructure allows businesses and services to receive inputs to production facilities and to transport finished goods to market in an efficient manner. An efficient and reliable transportation system allows investors, traders and companies to lower transportation costs, which in turns lowers production costs and enhances productivity and profits.  So, it sounds ballistic, if not ironic, that the international community and Liberia’s international partners would have problems with a new and progressive Liberian president and a young government that want to build roads.

Since taking over as head of state of Liberia in January 2018, President George Manneh Weah has not pleased some people in everything he does, but most Liberians support him and will continue to do so until he can be a near perfect leader of Liberia. Most Liberians support President Weah because he has a good heart and good intentions for Liberia.  Of course, to some, he is not doing everything they expect him to do immediately, including not appointing real trained, qualified and experienced officials in key government functionaries and a slowness in requesting an audit of past stewardship of the country. These concerns are legitimate, and everyone must respect them, but the desire of wanting to build a road network that connects all of Liberia must also be extolled by all Liberians and friends of Liberia that President Weah has a clear and defined vision.  With this vision, and if the president can adjust in the coming months and accommodate the expertise of more sincere Liberian professionals, he will head for the skies and nothing will stop him from being the Liberian leader who delivers what past presidents have failed to do.  Obviously, there are some career Liberian politicians and treacherous masterminds that probably don’t want him to succeed.  These include some of the people that don’t really want to retire from Liberian politics and who falsely believe that they have or could do better than the current president.

Like him or not, President Weah’s understanding and approach that road network underpins economic development projects him as a genius and he deserves applauds from the international community and Liberians across all spectrum.  This is the kind of mindset and leadership that deserves the Ibrahim Prize from the Mo Ibrahim Foundation.  This is what lifting people out of poverty really means.

This is precisely why news reports that some international stakeholders including the International Monetary Fund (IMF) would have a problem with Liberia being connected by a good road network and that by so doing would put the Weah administration, which allegedly seeks to borrow $500 million from a financial services institution in Singapore, at odds with Liberia’s international partners must be narrated with clarity, precision, and an undivided logic.   Granted that the reasoning behind the concern expressed by Liberia’s international partners makes sense at all, the real reason for the concern is not that Liberia’s international partners do not want the country to have a good road network or that the Weah administration does not have the right to borrow such amount to develop Liberia’s road infrastructure.  The concern of Liberia’s international partners dwells on the lack of transparency and accountability in the administration of past loans.

It is no secret that both Liberians and Liberia’s international partners know that past loans borrowed for road and other projects have made some corrupt Liberian officials, past and present, to become millionaires overnight, and many of these individuals are today walking around like kings and queens in the country where poverty thrives a hundredfold.  If anyone thinks the international community does not get it, he or she must be living in Lalaland.

Past Liberian governments, including the most recent administration of former president Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, have borrowed money to build and improve road network throughout the country.  With all due respect to President Sirleaf, most of the funds allocated for roads and other infrastructural development during her administration were largely misapplied and, in most instances, corrupted or ended up in the private bank accounts of individuals.  Few of the roads that were built during the Sirleaf administration were either poorly constructed or are substandard.  Moreover, Liberia’s international partners are fully cognizant that Liberia has become a nation that not only adorns and nurtures criminality but protects criminals and cartels like the Liberia Rice Importers Associations as well as the petroleum importers etc.

If people who steal public funds including development aid support such as the Japanese Fund donated at the Foreign Ministry etc. during the past government can walk free and brag about their wealth or given new positions in government then all other future borrowing and development support to Liberia will always be viewed from the lenses that the funds will not be used for their intended purposes.  However, why the international community holds this doubt and has valid trust issues with Liberia regarding the decision to borrow half a billion dollars to build good roads, it will be worthwhile to point out that Liberians are likewise are doubtful of the international community too.

For 12 years, the same international community was basically mute as Liberia underwent gross exploitation and rampant corruption.  In fact, some members of the very so-called international community dished out unwarranted accolades for reasons that villagers in Liberian could not fathom.  When people like Tony Praise Lawal, a former Nigerian peacekeeping soldier with no background in infrastructural engineering and construction was awarded more than $18 million dollars in Liberian government contracts to build or renovate roads in Liberia, this should tell everyone why the international community has such a doubt.  Like Lawal, many other non-Liberians and others were given vast sums of money in government contracts and Liberians saw nothing in return.  Even the so-called Private Sector Development Initiative (PSDI) loan scheme experienced organized and unrepentant corruption and the individuals who became beneficiaries of these criminal ventures are embellished and free.  So, the real concern and fear of Liberia’s international partners are not so much about the borrowing, and an attempt to deny Liberia the right to have a good road network, but the fear that the funds might be treated like how past funds were handled.

This is one key reason why Liberia and the current Liberian administration must be bold enough to request for a comprehensive audit of all government agencies beginning with 2004 when the interim administration of Gyude Bryant was in power so that Liberia can recoup its stolen wealth.  This approach will signal to the international community that Liberia is a responsible nation prepared to turn the page and move forward. Short of this, there will always be a dark cloud and stringent doubt over anything the new Liberian government may want to do and that would require international financing.

First and foremost, there would be a disagreement with any economic observer or commentator that says that President Weah’s desire to borrow money to develop Liberia’s road network is a move that is in clear breach of the IMF’s Article IV program.  The problem with the international community including the IMF, in dealing with the Liberian question over the past 12 years, is that Liberia became a nation where the international community had applied two different standards–with hypocrisy and insincerity.

The international community and Liberia’s international partners cannot praise Liberia over the past 12 years under the previous administration when theft of public funds became a new normal and unrestrained, and now turns around and say austerity and fear of the lack of transparency and accountability are concerns for them simply because the new president and his administration want to genuinely implement a meaningful program that was neglected by the previous president and the past administration.  That would be the height of hypocrisy and Liberians must not stoop to this. Besides, the information that is available to some people is that those who don’t want President Weah to succeed or outshine them are the ones pushing their luck within the international community to raise this unwarranted doubt over and about anything he may want to do for the benefit of Liberia and all Liberians.  President Weah and the Liberian government’s desire to build roads is a good thing.  Liberians must support this objective and the international community must not stand in the way of such development.  Lastly, there are two tangible things that President Weah and his new administration need to do to avoid these kinds drawbacks from the international community which slept on Liberians in the past decade.  First, the Weah administration should call for an audit of all government agencies and past loans borrowed, or else, more of these kinds of doubts will show up from the international community.  Second, the Weah administration must try to discontinue its marriage from the previous administration and many of those who served in if the CDC-led government really means what it preached and promised the Liberian voters.  This is what true change is.  Change does not mean continuity, it means doing something new and dealing with new faces.

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