28 February 2018

Liberia: Is Liberia Broke?

Photo: Liberian Observer
Central Bank Governor Milton Weeks.

The announcement by President George M. Weah that 'the economy is broken, and the government is broke,' contrary to declarations by his predecessor, Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf who maintained that her administration left over US$150 million in the national coffers, has compelled members of the House of Representatives to vote to summon three public financial institutions to appear before it to clarify the confusion.

The Plenary, the highest decision making body of the House of Representatives, in a unanimous vote, summoned the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL), the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA) and the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning (MFDP) to appear on Thursday, March 1, in the House's Chamber at 10:00 a.m.

The three public institutions are invited to explain the "Controversial US$150 million which the Ellen Johnson-Government's administration left in the coffers, and the announcement by President Weah that the country is broke."

This is the first time for the Lower House to invite any of the three public institutions since the inception of the House of Representatives of the 54th Legislature.

The House's decision followed a letter from Montserrado County District # 16 Representative Dixon W. Seeboe.

"I write to bring to the attention of this House the statements made by President George Weah during the State of the Nation address that the country's economy is broken and the country is broke, and that our former President Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in a BBC interview claimed that she left more than US$150m in the nation's coffers," Rep. Dixon wrote.

His letter added: "These two statements leave more questions unanswered. Was the president properly briefed on the state of the economy? Are there hidden funds that were not reported? Were the former president's remarks not guided by facts? If we have this much money readily available, the urgent needs of civil servants must be handled immediately to enhance the smooth running of the government."

It may be recalled that on January 22, President George Weah, delivering his first Legislative agenda to the 54th Legislature in the Joint Chambers of the Capitol Building, disclosed that the country's economy is broken and by extension the government.

"This is plain to see for we are all affected by it: our economy is broken, our government is broke, our currency is in free fall, inflation is rising and unemployment is at unprecedented high, and our foreign reserve is at an all-time low," Weah stated.

Many believe that the full disclosure by the administration on the "State of the Economy" is very important in building public trust about how and where the so-called pro-poor government intends to take the country.

On the other hand, according to a former official (name withheld) withholding such information feeds the rumor mill with pessimists painting a gloomy picture about the nation's finances.

President Weah reported that total revenues collected in the calendar year of 2017 amounted to US$489.1 million, which is a 13 percent decline over revenue collected in 2016, which was 565.1 million, but asserted, "I cannot vouch for the accuracy or completeness of this information in the absence of verification by a full and proper audit conducted by a competent authority."

But, 21 days later, on Tuesday, February 13 on a BBC program, former President Sirleaf differed with President Weah, arguing that the coffers are not totally empty, as the new administration seems to imply.

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