Weah’s Pro-Poor Agenda,
-Can it Succeed in Liberia?
By John L. Momoh
The fact is that in the past and now seating Presidents in Liberia have been presenting their visions about what projects and programs they will engage in to make their government succeed. President George Manneh Weah has for example enunciated the ‘Pro-poor Agenda policy’ which for his Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) led administration, is the best suited pathway for the sustainable development of Liberia.But the question that is rumbling in the minds of many Liberians is whether President Weah’s vision will be suited to Liberia’s peculiar situation. This is a situation in which corruption remains endemic, in a tiny West African nation founded by Free American slaves of negro descent mainly perpetuated by almost all segments of the society in both the urban and the urban settings. A situation in which the indigenous who are in the majority over the settler population have over the years been agitating for political power until Master Sergeant Samuel K. Doe effected a military take over two decades ago.
President Weah must realize that the key obstacles or enemies in reaching out to the poor people with economic benefits and development are endemic corruption. Ex-President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, prior to leaving office termed it vampires. At the beginning of her mandate she promised the Liberian people that we will confront it, fight it and defeat it.
Unfortunately like any other vampire or cancer eating into the fabric of the Liberian society in the schools, churches, work places, hospitals and offices and the business circles. The ex-president was unable to defeat what ex-President Samuel Kanyon Doe use to often refer to as rampant corruption. Thus the ball is in the court of Ambassador Weah to ensure that his pro-poor agenda policy effectively work by putting in place mechanisms towards achieving that goal.
One thing that many people commend President Weah for is that since coming to power, he has been putting in place solid programs to ensure the realization of his pro-poor agenda vision. The breaking of grounds for the Mendecoma Highway that took place in Gbarnga, the breaking of ground for the construction of a Military Hospital, directing that all former officials of the outgoing administration should make an exit and should be audited.
President Weah went further by the composing of a task force to retrieve government properties, appointment of young and qualified Liberians to responsible positions in government, increasing rather than decreasing fundamental liberties and freedoms such as giving directives to his ministers not to offer employments to qualified Liberians on party affiliation lines but strictly on the basis of merit, and expressing his government’s commitment to enhancing press freedom.
The fact remains that over the past 12 years, the Liberian government, in partnership with the international donor community have been making some landmark gains towards reducing the country’s number one public enemy, which is corruption. At least the CDC led administration inherited as a legacy certain mechanisms that were put in place during the administration of the past government, such as the establishment of the Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC), the Public Procurement and Concessions Commission (PPCC), the Liberia Extractive Industries Transparency Initiatives (LEITI), the National Investment Commission (NIC) and the enhancement of the lawmakers oversight responsibilities and the Open Budget initiatives.
Nonetheless, despite the existence of some of these institutions, some unscrupulous Liberians have been violating the rules and procedures with impunity by engaging in corrupt practices, thus tempting the Liberian people to generally state that the laws are in our law books but either downplayed or not implemented due to laxity.
It is in this regards that Pres. Weah needs to stand tall and tough in making sure that as he himself has stated there should be a change of attitude by being sensitive to the rules and applying sanctions or punishments for wrong doing when necessary. The laws of Liberia must be scrupulously observed without fear and favor. Weah must equally be sensitive towards acting upon necessary and constructive warning alerts from the general public and the media as well as suggestions from anyone sincerely eager to see his pro-poor agenda succeed.
The CDC led administration must always make sure that the PPCC arrangement remains proactive and not taken for granted. This is because it can be very easy for unscrupulous government officials and others to take advantage of any loopholes that they can detect to by-pass or ignore the PPCC laws for personal gains, thus enabling them to make away with thousands or millions of dollars that may have been used by government to invest in cassava farming in Bong county for example. Monitoring mechanisms must be in place to ensure that contracts are not awarded by public officials without any recourse to the PPCC rules.
It can be recalled that during the election campaign periods it was alleged that ballot papers and other election materials were printed or purchased without the input of the PPCC rules. If such allegations were true, then it is high time that action must be taken to ensure that irrespective of party affiliation or interest nobody is above the law in the application of rules required to ensure transparency.
In certain rules however it would be necessary to exercise maximum discretion. It is for example unrealistic for an ordinary cleaner or market seller to be mandated to present business registration and tax clearance documents before offering payment for services or goods rendered to government. This is never pro-poor, as it works against the interests of poor people.
Apart from the rigid implementation of the PPCC laws, it will be in the best interest of President Weah’s administration to keep close eyes on the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning as over the years it has been observed that most corruption related transactions have been occurring at that Ministry especially concerning budgetary allotments made for various ministries and agencies of government in the country’s annual national budget appropriations. Many Liberians sometimes wonder how budget shortfalls can come about when certain projects for which budgets are allotted are not implemented but yet still it is reported that the money has been used for the implementation of the project. Such a disappearance of funds can appear to many as a miracle.
The CDC led administration must also be conscious that after all said and done, Liberia’s economic growth and sustainable development depends on what Liberians can produce within the country and not on foreign assistance. As foreign aid, grants and loans are ephemeral and not to be relied on. The government and the various legislative committees with oversight responsibility and the public should have zero tolerance for the culture of impunity.
As can be recalled in his inaugural address, Pres. Weah emphasized the need to build a New Liberia in which freedom reigns and access to economic opportunities abound. The ball is now in his courts to revive life in Liberia by involving all Liberians to change the paradigm in the way they do things, so that socio-economic and political opportunities reach to all without discrimination.
Massive investments should be made in the agriculture sector, as agriculture and the development of agro-based industries constitute the backbone of the Liberian economy. This should be done taken into consideration all the 15 counties especially in counties with a high population ratio as in most cases agricultural activities is the major source of income generating activities for most Liberians. Liberia should be self sufficient in food production, especially in the production of rice the nation’s staple food. By doing so, the administration will be sending one stone to kill many birds, that is creating jobs and conserving the limited foreign exchange earnings that can be spent on the importation of food, developing cash crop export and taking care of reducing the foreign exchange rate to purchase the US dollar.
Some Liberian economists always point fingers at road connectivity and again road connectivity as the most urgent priority in any effort to reduce poverty. But there are others who feel that it will be an error to put all eggs in one basket by only concentrating on roads without equally focusing attention on agriculture, which is also an important engine of economic growth in West Africa. The war is already a thing of the past and by the will of God, the horrible events of war will no longer be repeated, so it will not be an excuse to keep saying that Liberia lagged behind other West African countries in developing the export cash crops sector because of the war.
One salient point that this pro-poor regime should be mindful of is that the past administration placed more emphasis on the importation of rice to ensure that rice, whose absence can be a major source of tension and conflict remains always accessible to buy on the Liberian market. But while trying to avoid the chaos and conflict reminiscent of the 1979 Rice riot, farmers in the country were marginalized as they lacked being empowered by government to ensure food security.
This time around under President Weah’s pro-poor agenda, it is hoped that due diligence be made to ensure that rural dwellers are not left out in any development package. Massive investments should be on course not only to ensure road connectivity but agricultural production as well.