Liberia: President Weah's Initial Pro-Poor Spending - What Will It Achieve?

President George Weah.

Our Reporters, Alvin Worzi and Gloria Tamba last Friday did a comprehensive review of President Weah's "pro-poor" spending.

They started their article by recalling that the President, who rose from abject poverty to become an international football superstar. This means he knew what he was talking about when, in his Inaugural Address last January, he made this statement: "I declare publicly today that transforming the lives of all Liberians is the singular mission and focus of my presidency."

That, we submit, is decidedly a pro-poor goal. For everyone who walks or drives through the streets of Monrovia, Liberia's capital, can readily see the abject poverty on every corner.

Everyone can also see the woeful waste of precious human resources everywhere, as children, from age five or even younger through 20 risking their lives running between heavy traffic selling trivialities, such as chewing gum, cotton buds, bread, water and anything else they can find to sell, in order to help themselves and their desperately poor parents make ends meet.

Our children and youth can be seen not only in the traffic, but in the filthy marketplaces in Soniewein, down Waterside, in Douala and at Paynesville Red Light. Part of their struggle for their daily bread is washing dishes, from age six, helping their "cold bowl" selling mothers provide food for people near every workplace in and around the city.

It seems to us that targeting these young people and getting them back in school should be one of the first priorities on President Weah's "pro-poor" agenda. These children belong in school, so what a woeful waste of their time when these "future leaders" should be in school preparing themselves for the challenges of tomorrow.

Also "selling" everywhere are our strong, healthy young men and women from 20 through 40, when they, too, should be in trade shops learning trades that would earn them far more and push them quicker towards economic independence. Alas! It seems that, as in the past 12 years of the Ellen Sirleaf administration, no one is thinking about redressing this abject waste of the nation's human resources.

Nor has anyone, including our schools, colleges and universities, thought of organizing a course in import, export and marketing that would stop the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Liberian Immigration Service (LIS) and the Labor Ministry from issuing visas and work permits to any and all Indian, Lebanese and other foreign nationalities who come to Liberia by the thousands each year to work.

So we are complaining about the enormously high unemployment rate in the country, yet it is the very government that has for generations been shooting itself in the foot by its shortsighted and focus-less macroeconomic policies. Among the monetary allocations President Weah has made is US$200,000 for a feasibility study for a military hospital.

Yet the very soldiers whom the hospital is supposed to benefit are bitterly complaining of poor living conditions in their barracks, including the lack of proper water and toilet facilities, inadequate habitation for their families and the lack of electricity.

Could not that US$200,000 go toward addressing "first things first"--making the habitation of our solders a little more comfortable, thereby raising morale in the army? A military hospital is a great idea. But the amount of US$500,000 set aside to upgrade the John F. Kennedy Medical Center (JFK) is very appropriate.

For that money, the JFK should be required to readjust its policies toward making special provisions for our military personnel. The US$200,000 for the "feasibility study" could then go towards improving the soldiers' living conditions in the barracks.

We would like to know what is in the First Lady's budget to spend the half million given her for "humanitarian outreach". Does she know enough about humanitarian needs of the population in Liberia--including the physically challenged, the visually impaired, the psychologically and mentally challenged and the Ebola orphans?

There are also the many families and individuals who are hardly assured of a good meal before bedtime. Corinna Hotel entrepreneur Sam Mitchell made a good point when, in an interview with Reporters Worzi and Tamba, he suggested that GOL should set aside some money to help struggling small and medium sized Liberian businesses.

President Weah has a great and challenging task ahead of him as he seeks to lift Liberians out of poverty. One of his most urgent challenges is to empower Liberians in business, toward taking greater ownership and control of the Liberian economy.

So many past administrations, especially since that of President W.V.S. Tubman, and including the past administration of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, have failed to do that.

If this pro-poor President, George Weah, can reverse this trend and help usher Liberians into the mainstream of business, he would, within a short while, eliminate poverty in Liberia, by helping his poor, beleaguered (long-suffering) people to escape, at long last, this poverty trap in which they have for so long found themselves enslaved.

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