-Says Finance Minister Tweah
The Liberian Government is working on a long-term vision for the country to be launched by the 30th of June 2018, Finance Minister, Samuel Tweah has disclosed.
For now, he said, the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) led government does not have a 'development agenda for the country' but said the Pro Poor Agenda of the CDC administration is a "proposal that is being formulated into a vision for the country."
Minister Tweah who is leading a government delegation to the United States spoke Sunday, April 15, 2018 at the Town Hall meeting in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
The Town Hall meeting is part of broad based consultations to solicit the views and inputs of Liberians both home and abroad in crafting a new vision for the country.
The vision will replace the Agenda for Transformation (AfT) of the former Unity Party administration.
He spoke on wide range of issues relating to economy, agriculture, youth and women empowerment, peace and security, education, roads and infrastructural development amongst others.
Reports from the U.S. quotes Minister Tweah as saying, "following these consultations, the government will launch a new vision for Liberia by the 30th of June 2018, at the beginning of the new budget year."
He told the gathering that the "national budget should be about the poor people and not government officials, suggesting that salaries of government officials and civil servants should be cut to target venerable Liberians, especially those in rural communities."
Also, Information Minister Eugene Nagbe reaffirmed President George Weah's commitment to protecting freedom of speech and of the media.
He added that the President is reviewing, and will shortly resubmit to the legislature for repeal, all laws that criminalizes speech offenses in the country.
"The government is working with the Press Union of Liberia, Center for Media Studies and Peace Building and other media organizations in the country to achieve this goal," he said.
Minister Nagbe was part of the meeting President Weah held with the media last week.
However, Minister Samuel Tweah was very critical of the Liberian media during the Town Hall forum. He pointed that the media in Liberia published stories that targets Liberians living outside of the country and not those living in Liberia.
The Finance Minister said 'many Liberians do not read news and information published by the Liberians Media and cautioned those in the diaspora to countercheck the news that are being reported by the media in the country in order to make informed decision.
Rationalizing public spending and budget cuts
In a power point presentation, the Liberia Finance minister said, "strong revenue performance is key to sustaining the Pro Poor Agenda of the government and added that a minimum of US$300 million will have to be raised in addition to whatever revenue being generated to support the pro-poor vision and to ensure Liberia remains on a debt-sustainable path."
"Projection for the fiscal year 2018/19 budget is around US$515M and will focus on reducing the purchase of goods and services and focus on public sector investment in the administration of the government."
"The increase in revenue will support aggressive implementation of a new domestic resource mobilization strategy, which aims to reduce tax exemptions, move toward value added taxes as opposed to Goods and Service Tax (GST), and increase reliance on technology to minimize corruption in tax administration."
"But the biggest impact will come from increasing investment and value addition in oil Palm which has strong potential and recovery in rubber and iron ore prices should provide some succor," the Minister averred.
Shedding some light on the 536 million Road Project
Minister Tweah outlined roads and electricity as a major component of the new vision for the country. He added that only 10 percent of 11,400 km of roads in the country are paved, while 60 percent of roads are unpaved and in terrible conditions.
He added that the Ministry of Public works has informed the government that many bridges in the country are at the verge of collapse if nothing is done to address the situation.
The minister maintained that "the Government of Liberia has entered a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Eton Finance Private Limited to fund the Buchanan - Cestos City - Greenville Barclayville Road Project, the Barclayville - Sasstown Road Project, the Barclayville - Pleebo Road Project, the Medina - Robertsport Road Project, the Tubmanburg - Bopolu Road Project and other associated projects.
About 503 km of roads will be constructed in addition to five football stadiums. This gives per km cost of US$1.066 million per km of road, which is around the same cost as Ganta-Red light, which was US$1 million per km road, but is better considering that Ganta-Red Light was already paved," the Minister noted.
Minister Tweah further indicated that "the US$536M loan is highly concessional: Seven-year grace period, no accrued interest and no interest payment during the grace period. Using the IMF Grant Element Calculator shows a grant element of 35 percent, which means about 35 percent of the loan can be considered a grant.
But grant element is higher than 35 percent because the IMF calculator assumes interest payments during the 7-year grace period. No interests are paid during the grace period under the terms of US$536M."
"Contrary to what has been reported in the media, this loan does not compromise Liberia's debt sustainability. As a matter of fact, Liberia does not presently have an IMF program and is planning on entering a new program," the Minister said.
Sustaining Investments in Power
Commenting on electricity, Minister Tweah said 'the government has planned on optimizing the capacity at Mount Coffee Hydro via River Reservoir Project from 88 MW to about 500 MW, construct mini hydro for rural areas to support economic growth clusters in Agriculture sector, and sustained support for energy sector organizations.
The Minister said the government is seeking more funding to increase the ongoing transmission and distribution of electricity across the country. He said "the government has begun the instillation of 500 solar street lights from the ELWA Junction in Paynesville City to the Roberts International Airport in Margibi County."
He said President Weah will shortly appoint new members of the Energy Regulatory Commission, which will work to open the space for private investment in the energy sector and help in resolving some of the challenges.
Economic Diversification will be key to delivering pro-poor transformation
Speaking on the issue of economic diversification, the Minister of Finance said, "We aim to add value to Liberia's primary products such as the rubber, forestry, iron ore, Coffee, cocoa, oil palm etc.
Value addition in these sectors can create thousands of jobs for many Liberians. Defining local rice and cassava production and value addition from these crops as a major driver in transforming the economy and create job, the Minister noted.
Minister Tweah stated that Liberia will "face a national security risk if the government failed to create jobs for young people especially venerable Liberians."
During the consultation several Liberians were giving the opportunity to express the views on what they think should be placed in the new vision for the country.
The participants called for the pavement of roads, construction of more school and hospitals, the provision of basic social services across the country and the training of more teachers and doctors in the country.
Others suggested the provision of loans for farmers to get involve in large scale farming to help grow more food for the country, while some suggested that the government do more to reduce charges on containers at the Freeport of Monrovia amongst other suggestions.
The delegation to the meeting included Finance Minister Samuel D. Tweah, Deputy Minister for Economic Management Hon. Augustus J. Flomo, Agriculture Minister, Mogana S. Flomo Jr., Minister of Information Culture and Tourism, Hon. Lenn Eugene Nagbe, and Minister of State without Portfolio, Hon. Trokon Kpui.