Continental Issue

Under Weah: Which direction is Liberia heading?

Weah

Although the 12 years spent in office as president of Liberia by Former president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf were was marred by allegations of corruption, there were also noticeable improvements in the lives of Liberians. Considering the fact that she inherited a country that had virtually its entire infrastructure destroyed by 14 years of civil war, her accomplishments were obvious. Roads were built and repaired, power supply became regular and water supply in parts of the country was restored. Moreover, under Sirleaf Liberians’ wages were fairly healthy by West Africa’s standard.

Liberians, especially the youth, were hoping for an improvement over Sirleaf’s Unity Party’s performance and overwhelmingly voted George Weah and his Congress for Democratic Change, who had promised to fi ght corruption and meliorate the lives of Liberians, especially the poor. Thirteen months into Weah’s tenure leaves many Liberians disappointed and disgruntled. With no clear economic policies, many observers, especially investors perceive the new government to be rudderless, engendering dwindling investor confidence.

Exchange rate to the United States dollar, which hovered around $110 Liberian dollar has soared to $170 since Weah assumed power. This has come with its attendant inflation, thus putting a squeeze on the purchasing power of Liberians, inflicting more hardship.

Many who had voted for Weah are beginning to doubt his sincerity as campaign promises have become a far cry from reality. He has been criticized for not leading by example in declaring his assets to the anti-corruption commission.

Asset declaration is normal for all government officials before taking office, according to Liberia’s National Code of Conduct. After enormous public pressure, he eventually fi led a declaration in July.
He has also faced accusations about putting his personal business interests first, including pushing ahead with two big real estate projects. Many question Weah for not erecting such huge estates before assuming office.

President Weah has also come under attack for the personal nature of other public infrastructure projects, from road improvement in his home areas to slum improvements where he grew up. When he ordered the re-roofing of more than 200 houses in Monrovia’s Gibraltar slum, where he was born and raised, the initial official explanation was that the president was undertaking the project privately and paying for it himself. But months after the work was completed, a memo to the finance ministry ordering the transfer of nearly $1m ($160 LD) in official funds to cover the costs was leaked to the media. The ministry of finance has so far remained reticent since the publication of the memo.

A recent massive scandal allegedly unearthed by a local newspaper involving the head of the National Housing Authority (NHA) and a Burkinabe firm seeking to construct 5,000 low-income housing units in the country is an indictment on the Weah government which came to power on the mantra to fight corrupt public officers.

In the alleged recording obtained by the paper, NHA Managing Director Duanah Siryon can be heard discussing kickbacks in the tone of US$160,000 to be allegedly distributed among top government officials including the Ministers of Justice, Finance and State and Presidential Affairs.

The NHA scandal is happening as investigation of a reported “missing L$16 billion” continues in the country. The missing banknotes saga remains indelible, leaving the rest of world concerned about the stability of the country’s economy.

Added to corruption, the dearth of foreign direct investment is partly an albatross on job creation prospects in Liberia. The country’s private sector remains constrained by gap in critical road, electricity and port infrastructure. Some observers say the government itself creates some of these issues.

The country’s low-quality infrastructure, bureaucratic burdens, high level of corruption, unskilled labour force and comparatively very high supply chain costs are also affecting investors, according to a World Bank recent report.

Liberia is ranked 172nd out of 190 countries in the 2018 Doing Business report compiled by the World Bank. This means, Liberia is among countries that are unattractive to foreign investors.

According to the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) world investment report, FDI fl ows to Liberia fell sharply by 60.4 per cent from $627 to $248 million since 2015. As Weah’s first year in the hot seat elapsed, some economists said investors are still apprehensive about existing hurdles that have the propensity of hurting FDIs.

Weah’s presidency boasted recently that his government had done what no other government had ever done in the country’s history. The boast was that Weah is the only president to make a bold promise to connect the entire country, a boast he has no roadmap for yet.A host of Liberians interviewed by this medium, including Garblejay James, a clergyman, Melvin Payne, a civil servant say the president does not even have the goodwill of the international community.

They say foreign governments and multilateral organisations are reluctant to commit aid to Liberia because of fear such funds would be misused. As the Weah presidency goes into its second of six years, there are concerns that the gains of the previous government will be lost along the way, thus endangering the country’s fragile peace, with its agitated youth population.

Meanwhile, Liberians in some quarters are blaming former President Sirleaf for the country’s looming malaise. Considering the fact that Sirleaf betrayed her own party and vice then, Joseph Boakai, who was in hot contention for the presidency with Weah, and openly supported Weah.

Some claim that the only possible explanations for her action are either that she wanted to leave the country in the hands of a mediocre so as to outshine him for posterity, or that she has something to hide, which Weah either does not see or has decided to protect her in exchange for the betrayal.

And as if the president has run out of ideas to run a country, he recently erected and pastors a family church named: Forky Jlaleh Family Fellowship Church. That may go a long way in keeping sentimental youths oblivious of harsh economic reality.

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