The Paradox Of The Ebola Attack On Liberia

By Atty Philip N. Wesseh (PNW)

Today, if there is any news or issue that is of great importance to the Liberian people, then, it is the result of the just ended Special Senatorial Elections, which is seemingly indicating surprises, as the National Elections Commission (NEC) began announcing the official results. Indeed, there can be no argument about the eagerness of the people to know the winners and the losers in this process that went on peacefully during the polling process.

As a journalist and someone who deals with news and other prevailing issues taking place in the country, I decided to deal with something which may not be a topical issue, but I feel needs to be recognized because it is playing a positive role in the wake of this Ebola war or outbreak that hit the country for the second time in August. The first outbreak was in March, but was contained. To the surprise of the nation, it resurfaced in August; an epidemic the nation is still wrangling with.

It can be recalled when President Sirleaf declared the State of Emergency in August, which was all intended to ‘fight’ against the spread of the Ebola virus which came as an attack and threat to the survival of the people and nation. The move, done in keeping with the Liberian Constitution, was geared toward providing the necessary power to institute measures to curtail this pestilence that has befallen the nation. Thus far, the virus which has witnessed a decline in recent time has claimed the lives of over two thousand Liberians.

As the Constitution states in Article 86 ( b ), “a state of emergency may be declared only where there is a threat or outbreak of war or where there is civil unrest affecting the existence, security or well-being of the Republic amounting to a clear and present danger.” The state of Emergency expired last Thursday. With its expiration, there is public discussion, as to whether or not it should be extended or not.

Obviously in such a situation of a “threat” or “outbreak of war,” it is expected that such an effort would have an adverse effect on the nation and its people, especially as some of the measures resulted in the quarantining of certain areas, curtailing the free movement of people, as well as the closure of schools and the compulsory leave of some employees of government. Indisputably, all of these do have some effects on the lives of the people.

One area of concern, besides the health sector was that of the exchange rate in the country at the time. The Ebola outbreak came in the wake of escalating exchange rate against the Liberian Dollar. There was fear that with the high exchange rate at the time during the outbreak of the disease, this could correspondingly lead to the Liberian Dollar experiencing depreciation, thus adding to inflation, which could undeniably affect general price level of the economy, which could obviously affect the purchasing power of the people.

Incredibly, the fear of Liberians about the possible high exchange rate during this outbreak, has dissipated, as the government of Liberia through the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) presumably have been able to put into place measures that continue to witness the appreciation of the Liberian Dollar which several weeks ago swelled to 90 Liberian Dollar to one United State Dollars.

Because of the present exchange rate, especially as it relates to petroleum products, citizens continue to see reduced prices in the commodity. It is an open secret that because gasoline is a pervasive commodity, whenever its price swells, is always leads to increase in goods and services. To say it simply, as the gas price goes up uncontrollably, it leads to hike in other prices.

Today with this improvement in this aspect of the Liberian economy, I take interest in this because sometimes ago this issue of the depreciating Liberian dollar became a matter of concern, to an extent that President Sirleaf addressed the nation on the matter.

Frankly, those who raised issues about this had all reason for concerns because it was hardening the hardship being faced by the ordinary people. Now with the exchange showing signs of stability for some times, there is a need to recognize this effort.

For me, I see this as a paradox at a time when there was high apprehension that the Ebola crisis could lead to an upsurge in the exchange rate, thus affecting the Liberian Dollar significantly. However, this reasonable expectation that the rate might swell to 90 as it was before the intensity of the outbreak continues to prove otherwise, as the exchange rate as now dropped between 82 or 83 Liberian Dollars to one United States Dollar.

It is also an open secret that at one point when prices were getting to high rates, the Liberian leader outlined some of the causes for the economic problems. One of the problems she outlined was the lack of ‘full cooperation” between the Central Bank of Liberia and the then Finance Ministry. Following that, I wrote an article stressing the need for the two institutions to work together because they are responsible for the monetary and fiscal policies, the two major tools of the economy.

In recognizing the challenges at the time in May this year, President Sirleaf said, “Moreover, although core targets have been met, decline in the level of anticipated revenues on account of procurement fraud and corruption have combined to delay the payment of government’s financial commitment which, in the absence of full cooperation between the Ministry of Finance and the Central Bank of Liberia, have created stress in the banking system and the depredation in the exchange rate.

As my late grandmother said to me many years ago, whenever it is good, recognize it and equally when it is not good, raise the red flag, and so I decided to make note of this, since I once frowned on the cat-and-mouse relationship between the two institutions.

Now that it has improved, I feel obliged to recognize the improved relationship, as there can be no gainsaying that if the rate had remained at 90 as it was before the intensity, obviously, this could have worsened the living standard of the people and equally affect their purchasing power because of hike in prices of commodities and others owing to high exchange rates that could lead to increase in the price of petroleum products which is a pervasive commodity.

This issue may be seen as non-topical because the Liberian dollar is appreciating. Had it been the opposite where the Liberian dollar has been drastically depreciating, then, it could have been a topical issue. Thank God it is not as topical issue and that the Central Bank of Liberia and the Finance Ministry should continue to work together regarding the monetary and fiscal policies of the country to avoid anything that would add insult to injury.

Again, let the CBL and Finance take note and avoid anything that could worsen the situation, rather than improving it. I rest My Case.

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