12 June 2018

Liberia - President Weah Labels Loan Critics As 'Enemies' of State

Photo: Le Pays
President George Weah.

Gbarnga — Liberian President George Manneh Weah kicked off a two-day tour of central Liberia including Bong and Nimba Counties at the weekend with an expression of disappointment over the many criticisms descending on his administration just after five months.

The President's response to his critics come in the wake of criticisms from all sectors of Liberia over the government's quest for loans to construct major roads across the country in order to ease traveling constraints faced by Liberians, mainly during the rainy seasons.

Speaking in Gbarnga at the weekend, the President wondered what it is that Liberians want as he lamented the wave of criticisms against the government's development efforts. "I told them that if you elect me, I will build your roads. I am trying to build the roads, they are criticizing me. From 1847 to 2018, we Liberians still don't know what we want; if you don't want road and good health system, let me know".

The President also expressed frustration at critics who have gone as far as insulting his mother on the social medium Facebook. "Some of my critics are abusing my mother on Facebook. What have I done to deserve all the insults I am receiving on Facebook, my people. Why you insulting me for? Is it bad to bring development? Is it because I grew up in the ghetto and went on to become President?"

The two loans which have brought the government to public rebuke include a US$536 million arrangement geared toward the construction of a coastal corridor connection of counties' capitals road project, via the construction of the Buchanan-Cestos City to Greenville to Barclaryville Road, the Barclayville to Sasstown Road and the Barclayville to Pleebo Road. Other roads to benefit from the loan include; the Medina to Robertsport Road and the Tubmanburg to Bopolu Road. Also to be constructed are 'rest stops' and 'roadside service areas.'

The US$536 million loan will also include the construction of a vocational training center in Greenville, Sinoe County; construction of a mini soccer stadium in Harper, Maryland County; Barclaville, Grand Kru County; Greenville, Sinoe County, Cestos City, Rivercesss County; Zwedru, Grand Gedeh County, Robertsport, Grand Cape Mount Count and Bopolu County.

The principal amount of the loan is said to be payable in 15 years by level payment at an interest rate of 1.46 percent per annum, with a seven-year interest and principal free grace period.

The second, a US$420 million loan is aimed at financing the design, construction, and supervision of road corridors in Monrovia(Somalia Drive-Kesselly Boulevard to Sinkor) and northeastern Liberia - Tappita-Zwedru Raod, including Toe Town to La Cote D'Ivoire and Zwedru-Greenville." The transaction, according to the document obtained by FPA has been labeled "The Loan" is between the Liberian government and Mr. Mahmadou Boukoungou's road construction company, EBOMAF.

Both the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have previously advised against borrowing above the country's budget ceiling.

The President has come under fire for granting a US$420 million loan to his businessman friend, Boukoungou whose planes he has been using for presidential trip and a clear violation of the code of conduct and a conflict of interest.

The President, in responding to his critics told residents in Bong not to listen to the critics who he described as enemies of the state. "My people, don't listen to those criticizing for lobbying for loans. Those doing so are enemies of the country. The loans I am taking will be able to complete the roads in three years. When I am asking partners for loans, any of them who tell me that they want complete the roads in six years, I can say no because I know in the next six years, if I don't do anything for you, I will not be re-elected"

The President lamented that he feels bad about how his own people have begun to criticize what he is trying to do. "I can feel bad when my own people, who are from the slum community, criticizing me". The elite people... I mean people who grew up from wealthy backgrounds) who served as presidents since 1847 failed and had not been critics like the manner I am being criticized."

The President encouraged Liberians to plan and work together for the betterment of the country. "So my government will continue every project that was started by the previous government. When the roads are good you can achieve your goal in a day, that is what development can do. Let me tell you my fellow citizens, if I do wrong, come and give your recommendations rather than insulting me on Facebook."

His disapproval of criticisms comes at a time when he has proffered a bill to the national legislature with modifications, to repeal some sections of the Penal Law of Liberia in an effort to decriminalize free speech and create an unfettered media environment.

The Bill submitted May 31, 2018 seeks to amend Chapter 11 of Penal Law of 1978, repealing Sections 11.11 on criminal libel against the President; 11.12 on Sedition and 11.14 on criminal malevolence.

In resubmitting the Bill, President Weah described the action as a proof of his government's commitment to uphold the constitution, Table Mountain Declaration and other International Treaties relating to the Press and press-related activities.

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