When, Madam President?

By Atty Philip N. Wesseh(PNW)

People who find themselves in leadership are actually under obligation to ensure that whatever they say becomes a reality. Even if there are obstacles in the realization of such goal, the public or those concerned should be adequately informed of such setback. But to say one thing, with high public expectation and failing to act accordingly, brings such a leader’s credibility to question. This is why whenever national leaders make pronouncements to their people in the face of a particular problem, they endeavor to make sure that such is realized or accomplished, even to the largest extent.

It can be recalled that in the wake of the rising United States Dollars rate to the Liberian Dollars that is at present still unprecedentedly appreciating against the Liberian dollars that the exchange rate has now escalated to more than 90 Liberian Dollars to one US Dollar. The President of Liberia addressed the nation on the state of the nation’s economy and in that address she acknowledged the problems facing the country.

In that address on May 28, the President likened the state of the country’s economy to that of “driving a bus while at the same time repairing its many deficient and dysfunctional parts. As we know, for the past years, our bus has been parked, some of the parts have gotten rusty, some are unusable, and many of our people were left stranded and abandoned on the sides of the road. From opportunity to morality, our children, and in many respects ourselves, have fallen too far behind.

She went on: “This is why, although we have repaired a few parts, and the engine is up and running, we must keep moving forward – determined to always give our collective best to close the gap between where we are and where we know we can be. This is, also, why all Liberians are right to be concerned that the engine of our bus must keep beating.”

Noting that that “engine is the economy,” President Sirleaf pointed out “to keep us moving forward, the economy must keep working by our people for all our people. This is the only way to open new doors of opportunity for Liberians. This is how we expand the space for increased participation of Liberians. And this is how we break down the walls of monopolies so that more of our people can continue to benefit from quality services at affordable prices.”

Despite the many challenges facing the economy, the President at the time said, “Yet, with many constraints and challenges, our economy has performed well over the past 6 years, averaging annual growth rates of 7 percent. Our annual growth rate exceeds the average growth rates of the West African region. Estimates from the IMF indicate the growth rate in 2013 to be 8.7 percent. This performance was based on an activation of operations in the traditional sectors of iron ore and rubber. At the same time, efforts are underway to reactivate other traditional sectors such as cocoa, coffee and oil palm.”

Today, my interest is not to do a repeat of the entire address, but to point out an important portion of that address which I feel is crucial to dealing with some of the challenges (as we euphemistically referred to “problems” these days) is the portion in which she promised that certain measures or actions would be taken in dealing with these challenges to repair the “’engine.”

In that address, she said, “Through it all, we have continued to address deficiencies as we uncover them, and are confident that the Liberian economy remains fundamentally strong and poised to achieve the potentials we have identified; To continue to achieve this, as already begun, the administration is undertaking bolder and tougher measures to continue to streamline our priorities, reduce wasteful spending, create additional savings and increase revenues so as to continue to invest in roads, ports, electricity, education, health, security, water and sewer – all these things that will multiply opportunities and benefits for all of our people.”

It is this portion of the address that I am interested in because I believe that it would also help to remedy the situation. I believe that if “bolder and tougher measures” such as streamlining priorities, reducing waste, increasing additional savings and revenues, there would be some funds to focus on other development projects to help to improve the welfare and wellbeing of the ordinary people. I agree with the President.

I certainly agree with the President that, “in economic terms, no country is an island. On our own, we cannot build all of our roads, pave all of our streets, rebuild all of our schools and hospitals, secure our borders, and make ourselves feel entirely safe. On our own, we cannot meet all of our needs. Certainly also, the government – indeed no government on the face of this earth – can employ all of its citizens. This is why we have spared no effort to continue to explore new areas of trade, cooperation and partnership with other nations, always seeking to improve those relations, as well as our productive capacities, so that we sell more than we have the need to buy.”

Notwithstanding, by taking these measures and tackling other issues like the public transport system, in the face of exploitation by commercial drivers, this would also help to strengthen the purchasing power of the ordinary people. The other day the government of India gave this country buses to help with the issue of transportation. In my expectation, I had though that this gift would have been used to generate funds to purchase additional buses, as there is high demand for public transport system, as evidenced by the number of persons in the streets seeking transportation.

Besides, a smooth working relationship between the Ministry of Finance which is responsible for fiscal matter and the Central Bank of Liberia which has statutory mandate over money matters, there would be some reliefs, concerning the exchange rate, which continues to swell on the Liberian market, thus causing inflation which obviously affects the ability of the people in getting goods and services.Whether this sour relationship which was observed in the President’s address has improved remains doubtful as there has been no improvement in the monetary and fiscal operations of the country. Today, the exchange rate stands at 90 Liberian Dollars to one United States Dollar. I would not even be surprise if there would be another budget shortfall in this fiscal period.

I am aware of the many challenges facing this country after many years of backwardness, still, this government can take measures and policies to help improve the situation .I am aware of some of the great strives by this government; nevertheless, much is expected of it by its people. The government should quickly do something about the exchange rate, escalating prices and the public transport system.

These, I believe, if tackled substantially, would bring relief to the economy or do a substantial level of repair to that engine. It means the President, after raising the expectation of the people, must do something now. As the women always say, “Don’t sit there, do something.”

In closing, let me say that while it remains an indisputable fact that we have a free market system, this is not just absolute, as there must be supervision and monitoring by the government to avoid exploitation and unnecessary profiteering. This can be compared to the issue of freedom of speech and freedom of the press; they, too, are not absolute. They must be exercised with high degree of responsibility.

Until President Sirleaf realizes that after raising the expectation of the people, she is now under obligation to act to remedy the economic woes, as delays are dangerous. I REST MY CASE.