Liberia: The George Weah Presidency - One Year Later, It's Time to Wise Up!!!

Photo: George Weah
President George Weah.
opinion

THE HONEYMOON period usually associated with the first-year presidency in most, if not all modern democracies has clocked for President George Manneh Weah.

THE LEADER of the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change endured a rugged start to his reign as President eclipsed by a number of high-profile corruption scandals and much ado over his unexplained wealth and construction of massive buildings in less than a year.

THE PRESIDENT'S REFUSAL or reluctance to first, declare his assets, and when he finally did, make them public has not helped ease concerns over how he accumulated the wealth to undertake such massive projects.

THE PRESIDENT'S SUPPORTERS have been keen to suggest that he made millions during his professional football playing days. In reality, the Presidency himself acknowledged financial struggles prior to assuming the role of President.

HE TOLD A JUDGE in the US state of George that he could not pay child support for his young daughter because he simply did not make enough money as a lawmaker. As a result, he could only afford US$180 a month in payment for the upkeep of his child.

THE PRESIDENT also sought the help of Mohammed Bin Hammam, a Qatari businessman who served as administrator and president of the Asian Football Federation, to assist him with his school fees.

THE REVELATION WAS part of an extensive probe by football's world governing body into allegations of tampering by Bin Hammam in the awarding of the 2022 FIFA World Cup bid. The Qatari has since been banned for conflict of interest.

MR. WEAH'S FINANCIAL dilemma prior to assuming the presidency is a major reason why many Liberians and international partners are wary about his sudden unexplained wealth, especially since he declared a cash total of US$50,000 in his last publicly declared assets prior to his successful 2014 Montserrado County senatorial elections.

ALL THIS IS BEING compounded by a renewed sense of urgency regarding the fate of the country's economy.

THE SAGA OF THE BILLIONS IN missing Liberian dollars and the unexplained disbursement of US$25 million said to have been infused into the economy to curb the fluctuating foreign exchange rate have added more fuel to the concerns over the future of Liberia.

AS MANY AWAIT the release of the findings into missing billions, the Central Bank of Liberia remains mute.

IT APPEARS the bank's board is no longer in control. The Economic Management Team (EMT) led by Finance and Economic Planning Minister Samuel Tweah and Charles Bright has usurped its policy-making power amid reports of persistent borrowing to finance operations outside the national budget. Most cases, according to sources, the government has been unable to pay back.

MULTIPLE SOURCES have confirmed to FrontPageAfrica that the MFDP has overdrawn Consolidated Account by approximately over $50 million to finance recurrent expenditures particularly payroll.

SOURCES ALSO POINT TO massive payments to the National Security Agency that reportedly go directly to the Executive Mansion. This has also been confirmed by vouchers recently obtained by FPA showing millions in payments to the NSA for unexplained security operations.

THIS, FPA HAS LEARNED HAS led to delays in payment of staffers at the NSA with reports that some NSA staffers are quietly complaining about secret payments to some members and officials of government already on existing payrolls at various government ministries and agencies.

IT IS BECOMING INCREASING CLEAR that the CBL needs recapitalization and a shakeup of the current economic is key to fulfilling this.

SHARE CAPITAL IS BASICALLY NEGATIVE, when you factor in all the losses. Commercial banks are not liquid and unable to call up their reserves at CBL to serve their customers. If and when they do, CBL could be in a crisis. It's been bad since October. Most financial experts are surprised it did not hit crisis mode over the recent Christmas and New Year's holidays.

THE CENTRAL BANK of Liberia has also lost its independence since January 2018. Besides the governor Nathaniel Patray all but succumbing himself and the bank to the wishes of the presidency, Mr. Bright attends Board meetings and sits in on Audit committee discussions.

MR. BRIGHT, ACCORDING TO STAFFERS, argues with and belittles CBL staff over policies and trivialities that show a lack of understanding about how central banking really works.

GOVERNOR PATRAY REPORTEDLY sits by and does nothing to protect his staff and the entire board of the CBL appears to be afraid to raise alarm.

THIS INAPPROPRIATE AND illegal action contravenes the Act of the CBL and undermines its independence. Most say Bright is only there to twist arms to get money for MFDP to finance President's projects via the NSA.

MR. PATRAY, ACCORDING TO SOURCES have insisted to international banking institutions that this is a political decision they just have to deal with it.

TODAY, THE BANK'S payroll has increased exponentially because of political decisions to hire unproven and inexperienced political professionals from the ruling CDC.

THE CBL'S two main sources of revenues are interest they earn on GOL Consolidated Account and supervision fees they collect from commercial banks. With low levels of revenues and perennial overdrawing of consolidated account, CBL is not solvent to meet its bloated payroll.

MONTHS AFTER THE INFUSION of US$25 million, the exchange rate is back to where it was when the decision was made to make the infusion in a bid to address the depreciation of the LD against USD in July. When it first hit $1USD to $160 LD, the CDC Govt pointed fingers at the Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf-led government. Today, Mr. Bright and the EMT are now telling President Weah that $160 (official CBL rate) isn't that high after spending $25m.

AS A RESULT, the CBL and commercial banks are on the verge of a potential collapse if actions are not taken now to prevent it. The next 6-12 months could be critical for Liberia's financial sector.

WITH YEAR ONE NOW IN THE doldrums of history, we hope that President Weah and his team of advisors will now realize that time is no longer on their side. The first year should have set the benchmark of expectations but have so far fallen short.

PRIORITY TO ROADS OVER education and health and massive spending outside the national budget is not a good recipe for success, especially for a government still struggling to find its way.

THOSE AROUND PRESIDENT cannot no longer afford to continue shielding him from the realities on the ground and keeping him in a bubble, far away from what the average Liberians and those languishing at the bottom of the economic ladder are experiencing.

IT IS ABOUT TIME that President Weah wise up and wake up to what is unfolding. The realities are striking, the stakes are higher and the room for freshman excuses are sinking quite rapidly.

THOSE AROUND PRESIDENT cannot no longer afford to continue shielding him from the realities on the ground and keeping him in a bubble, far away from what the average Liberians and those languishing at the bottom of the economic ladder are experiencing.

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