5 June 2018

Liberia: Lawmakers to Approve U.S.$536.4m Loan Thursday

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(File photo).

Lawmakers at yesterday's session greatly anticipating the coming Thursday decision.

Members of the Joint Committee on Ways, Means, Finance and Development Planning and the Judiciary of the 54th Legislature have publicly considered the ratification of the US$536.4 million loan agreement. The lawmakers are expected to report to their respective plenaries for subsequent and simultaneous approval on Thursday, June 8, the Daily Observer reliably learned yesterday.

The Daily Observer has also gathered that the US$536.4 million loan agreement, which was signed between the Eton Finance PTE Limited and the Liberian government, following a strong lobbying from members of the Joint Committee on Ways, Means, Finance and Development Planning and the Judiciary of the House of Representatives and the Senate, including lawmakers from the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) to ensure the loan's ratification.

At yesterday's public hearing, Senators Milton Teahjay, Peter Coleman, Morris Saytumah, and Representatives J. Fonati Koffa, Dixon Seboe, Francis Dopoe and Jeremiah Koung were some of the lawmakers, who expressed their support to justify the US$536.4 million loan agreement held in the Joint Chambers yesterday.

The key witnesses including Public Works Minister Mobutu Nyenpan, Justice Minister F. Musah Dean, Deputy Finance Minister SamoraWolokolie and Dr. Lester Tenny, Economics Professor at the University of Liberia, urged the lawmakers to approve the loan agreement.

According to Minister Nyenpan, the loan agreement seeks to enable the government to borrow an amount of US$536.4 million for the purpose of constructing 505.3 kilometers of roads with asphalt pavement in various parts of the country and would be completed in four years.

Nyenpan said statistics reveal that Liberia has a total road network of about 12,000 kilometers, and under 1,000 kilometers of roads paved, whereas 94 percent are unpaved, and most often than not, good for safe travel and accident-prone, especially during the raining season.

He said if the loan agreement is approved, the roads will connect Buchanan-Cestos City-Greenville-Barclayville, Barclayville-Sasstown, Barclayville-Pleebo; Medina-Robertsport and Tubmanburg-Bopolu.

Minister Nyenpan said there will also be the construction of rest stops and roadside service areas; the construction of a vocational training center in Greenville, Sinoe County; the construction of mini soccer (football) stadiums in Harper, Maryland County, Barclayville, Grand Kru County; Greenville, Sinoe County; Cestos City, River Cess County; Zwedru, Grand Gedeh County; Robertsport, Grand Cape Mount County and Bopolu, Gbarpolu County.

Deputy Finance Minister Wolokolie said upon ratification of the agreement, there will be a seven-year free principal grace period before Liberia will begin to pay US$38 million annually.

As for Justice Minister Dean, if the loan financing agreement is duly signed by the Executive, the Minister of Finance and Development Planning and the Minister of Public Works will be authorized by law to execute the agreement for and on behalf of the Government of Liberia.

He maintained that all internal procedures, including approvals, consents and authorizations required by the Constitution and laws of Liberia for the negotiation and signing of the loan financing agreement have been taken, fulfilled and observed.

"We have reviewed the above agreement and have determined that it is consistent with the laws of the Republic of Liberia. We, therefore, respectfully request the Honorable Legislature to proceed to ratify the loan agreement, consistent with Article 34(f) of the 1986 Constitution," Dean said.

Dr. Tenny said the loan is intended for infrastructure intervention, noting that roads in 10 of the 15 counties are not paved, and the country's entire road network continued to suffer severe backlog.

"This, therefore, means that any government cannot harness significantly, potential growth corridors in 10 of the 15 counties. Infrastructure is an essential ingredient for productivity and growth. Small-scale economic activities of little magnitude are visible in some of these counties, but the actual benefits of this huge potential are not harnessed," Dr. Tenny said.

Tenny argued that whether the loan to the country poses a risk or a benefit to the people of Liberia, his expert opinion given his training as an economist is that the loan should be approved, because developing infrastructure creates avenues from private sector investment, employment creation, and poverty reduction require resources.

"The economy will expand and the government will generate more income in the future to repay her loan," Dr. Tenny said.

Authors

Leroy M. Sonpon, III

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