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Opinions of Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Columnist: Moses Uneh Yahmia

Liberia: A country on the brink of total socioeconomic collapse?

Everywhere in Liberia, the social crisis has reached its terminal stage. There is massive unemployment with no prospect of increasing the productivity of labor through productive economic activities in key sectors of the economy.

The living standards of the mass of people cannot withstand the shock being produced by the general rise in the prices of goods and services. The low supply of foreign currency in the economy has made the Liberian dollars a mere paper on the desk of a public school teacher. Due to lack of productivity in the industrial sector of the economy, almost 95percent of consumer goods are imported into the country from external economies.

The constraints on economic growth and development (low human development, poor healthcare delivery system, infrastructural deficit, fragile security, abuse of the rule of law, high cost for electricity, etc.) in conjunction with the global capitalist crisis of overproduction have hampered capital investment in small, medium and large private investment in the economy. Petty traders are losing the monetary power to purchase wholesale commodities to sell as retail due to the volatility of the exchange rate. Those who struggle to remain in business retrieve the loss by hiking the prices of the commodities – a market condition that is affecting ordinary consumers who are involved with informal economic activities to prevent their extinction.

The current foreign direct investments, especially in the extractive sector of the economy are scaling down operations (cut in wages, laying-off workers, decline in the purchase of goods and services, etc.) due to the fall in the prices of the traditional commodities (iron ore and rubber). The revenue of government has dwindled as a result of the acute limitation and bankruptcy of the private sector which the government depends on for the mobilization of capital. Thus, government’s capital spending on social programs has astronomically fallen as a budget of US$570million has an 89percent recurrent expenditure – a spending which predominantly caters to the wage bill (US$310million) of the government.
A public policy think tank, Center for Policy Action and Research (CePAR) recently predicted a USD 41million shortfall in the approved 2018/2019 budget due to the increment in the exchange rate from USD1 = LD140 (government’s set rate for collecting domestic revenue for fiscal year 2018/2019) to USD1.00 = LD156.00 as government collects 40percent of its domestic revenue in Liberian dollars. The group has recommended that the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning intervenes by recasting the budget and making the projected loss as contingent revenue which can be allocated in case of substantial fall in the exchange rate. Predictably, the pompous and self-proclaimed bookish “Know-it-all Minister of Finance would arrogantly not listen.

Into this explosive national scene in Liberia, steps in George Manneh Weah as President of the war-torn and Ebola-ravaged African country. His ascent to power was greeted with deep embitterment from members of the intelligentsia who Plato described as the “Philosopher King” in his magna opus “The Republic”. They are appalled that a country with so much socioeconomic and political challenges could at this time produce as President a man with zero sophistication in contemporary political leadership. But what could they have done to stop the wreck of the republic when President Weah was the choice of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf who was convinced that the ex-striker of AC Milan was the only option among the many presidential candidates who could have pardoned her wholesale exploitation and plunder of the people and their resources?

After six months of the Presidency of Mr. Weah, the economic malaise in the country has geometrically accelerated as we described above. Apologists of the CDC –led government are placing the blame on Ellen Johnson Sirleaf whom President Weah is shielding instead of bringing her before the judgment seat of history to account for her stewardship of the republic. The apologists of the regime are arguing that the depreciation of the Liberian Dollars is as the result of surplus bank notes that Ellen Johnson Sirleaf infused into the economy to attract for personal use the small amount of foreign currency in circulation. According to the proponents of this argument, Madame Sirleaf in the latter stage of her government got the approval of the 53rd National Legislature to print 5billion new Liberian bank notes. On the contrary, she printed more than such amount of the new bank notes in Lebanon. This claim cannot be out rightly dismissed taking into consideration the character of the individual in question but the regime is exerting no political will to investigate and prosecute Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. This brings pundits to the conclusion that the regime is nothing but a basket of hypocritical deplorables.

The mass of the people on the other hand are blaming President Weah’s vague pro-poor agenda for lacking the ingredients to assuage the economic logjam which is taking a toll on the nation and thus plunging her into the abyss. Most of them are lamenting that they elected George Weah to change their living conditions instead of always finding excuses to justify the rapidly growing economic crisis stultifying the republic. For us, we know such claim about the economic mishaps is being overstated. The social crisis which Liberia is experiencing is not the brainchild of President Weah or any other individual. The economic conundrum in the homeland is an extension of the crisis of a socio-economic system (Neo-Colonial Capitalism) that has exhausted its progressive stages and is now in its senile decay globally.

But as students of the dialectics, we were taught not to rule out the subjective role of an individual in history. Just as the subjective role of a vanguard revolutionary socialist party is an imperative to achieving or not achieving the objectives of the working class struggle against capital and all its superstructures, the subjective role of the President can prove decisive for mitigating or escalating the current social crisis in Liberia. This is why it is prudent to conclude that although President Weah did not create the current economic paralysis on the home-front, his actions and inactions have expanded it to an intense, insecure and unpredictable level.

When President Weah was inducted into office on January 22, 2018, the economy was already in free fall. Pundits anticipated the formation of a cabinet with the brightest, competent and qualified minds and technocrats to overhaul public service and place the economy on the path of recovery. Unfortunately, President Weah proved his gross limitation by appointing incompetent, inexperience and unqualified individuals to pivotal posts in public service. In addition to the many inexperience and semi-literates that were appointed on the basis of political patronage, are henchmen (Emmanuel Shaw, Charles Bright, Koukou Dennis etc.) of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) of war crime convict Charles Ghankay Taylor – a situation that has a negative foreign policy implication for a country that depends on off budget supports from Western Countries to deliver basic social services to the mass of people.

Also, in wanton disregard to the social crisis which is predominantly persecuting the mass of the people and consigning them to the dungeon of poverty, diseases and ignorance, President Weah took the lead to simultaneously build three exotic private properties after refusing to declare his assets- a violation of the Code of Conduct for Public Officials. Members of his cabinet have elected to emulate him. Nathaniel McGill, the Minister of State and Presidential Affairs took a loan of US$200,000.00 to purchase a villa on the Robertsfield Highway in Margibi County. Sam Manneh, the Presidential Press Secretary recently used his Facebook account to show to the public the architectural design of his flashy two-story building.

Jefferson Koijee, the Chairman of the Youth League of the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) and Mayor of the City of Monrovia is always seen in Monrovia lavishing in pomp and pageantry while the capital city is being taken over by garbage. Incompetent and mediocre playboys and playgirls who were appointed against the backdrop of their closed relationship with President Weah are frequently seen on social media with new suits, new pair of shoes and expensive phones throwing jibes at alternative voices instead of focusing on the herculean task at hand.

Within seven months of the Presidency of George Manneh Weah, there has been no comprehensive plan for economic recovery. The people have only been bombarded with the vague “pro-poor” cliché which has no ingredient for social transformation. Ardent followers of Liberian politics have asserted that President Weah’s distortion of the rule of law might be one of the reasons domestic, regional and foreign investments are not forthcoming. The Public Procurement and Concession Commission Act of 2005 was violated to award road contracts to companies without competitive bidding processes. The government recently negotiated and approved two controversial non-concessional loan deals (US$536million Eton and US$ 420million EBOMAF) as a mean of mobilizing capital to fund the road contracts.

Due to the shadiness of the loan deals, not only the opposition but also the International Monetary Fund (IMF) cautioned the government to manage within the confines of transparency and accountability the country’s debt portfolio. The IMF also admonished the government to take future loans from reputable bilateral and multilateral partners.

These and other recommendations fell on infertile soil as the government went on to conclude the two bogus loan deals.
The republic is at the brink of socioeconomic collapse. This is a phenomenon we predicted. We were and are still convinced that the economic desolation that the country suffers did not require a chap like President George Manneh Weah taking it into the future. To have thought that an unenlightened and a semi-literate man could have produced any positive results as president makes us to wonder. For Ellen, she knew the limitation of this chap. But she committed the country to shady concession agreements. She took responsibility of the mysterious bankruptcy of the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL). She bought shares in big hotels and gold mining companies.

She has real estate properties in Morocco and other parts of the world. Her reprobate son (Robert A. Sirleaf) and some members of her cabinet treated the republic like a casino. Therefore, she could not sit idle and watch the emergence of a serious minded nationalist who would have placed not only her but also accomplices of her banditry before a judicial commission of inquiry.

For the few enlightened ones in the camp of the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC), they are quite cognizant of the gross incompetence of President Weah. But for them, politics is not about the social transformation of the society. They see politics as the shortest route to the primitive accumulation of wealth. Therefore they chose to stick with this man so that they may take advantage of his extreme excesses. For some of the lumpen masses who supported Weah’s presidential bid, they could not challenge him to explain how he was going to embark on his transformation of the country. Some who did received answers that were inscrutably inexplicit. Yet, a lack of specificity of political platform did not deter his convinced supporters from accepting as true, with an almost religious fanaticism, that their miraculous and marvelous messiah has the capacity, skills and aptitude to change the country’s horrible objective condition and make history.

They could not listen to the voices that predicted such a socioeconomic stalemate. The people collaborated with Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and the nationally unconscious literate elements in the CDC to impose such a calamity on the republic. They created such a mess through their collective human actions. They must clean the mess through their very collective human actions. The latter would come based on their experience with the reality in the homeland. And the growing ferment in the homeland makes us convinced that the people are drawing revolutionary conclusions.
It is now the responsibility of the conscious vanguard to properly organize with the requisite revolutionary ideas and programs in order to direct the people’s actions on a platform of social transformation. This social transformation of the country and its people must encapsulate bringing “together the country socially and economically through education, culture, healthcare, language, and literature; with the development of industry, communications, and infrastructure; with a land reform to modernize the countryside; and through the creation of a strong, modern democratic state.” (Arturo Rodriguez 25, May 2016). To not do this is to sit passive and allow the national calamity to reproduce itself.
STRUGGLE OR PERISH!

Moses Uneh Yahmia is a student of the University of Liberia. He studies Political Science and Economics. He is a staunch member of the Movement for Social Democratic Alternative (MOSODA). He can be reached via moseswyalc@gmail.com