By Timothy T. Seaklon
“It does seem that some people are vexed because the Central Bank is meeting the needs of Liberian citizens in our quest to improve their wellbeing. But to quote from the famous song, “IF THEY VEX, LET THEM BURST” retired CBL Board of Governor Member and veteran Economist, Mr. John Bestman has said.
Governor Bestman said, “Despite the successes achieved in improving financial inclusion by the Central Bank of Liberia, there are some people who seek to politicize the intent of the Bank in promoting the wellbeing of Liberians.”
“They continue to make all kinds of irresponsible remarks about the direction of the Bank including insinuating that the money being used to provide stimuli to the economy comes out of the consolidated account of the central government,” he stated.
“This is false and misleading and the accusations are baseless and dangerous. Not one penny of Government’s money is spent on economic stimuli to the real sector,” Retired Governor Bestman disclosed.
Speaking at a farewell Dinner in his honor last Friday at the Monrovia City Hall, Mr. Bestman recalled national government’s effort which places great emphasis on its poverty reduction strategy (PRS) in order to lift Liberians out of extreme poverty and deprivation and to promote share prosperity.
Retired Governor Bestman said as a result, the Central Bank of Liberia developed the strategy for Financial Inclusion from 2009 – 2013 in order to respond to the needs for expanding banking services in all parts of Liberia.
Retired Governor Bestman maintained that the plan has received lots of commendation from those impacted in communities all over the country.
Governor Bestman, a former Finance Minister, said the CBL currently supports the numerous programs in the furtherance of its strategic objectives such as the opening of six rural community finance institutions (RCFI’s), with three additionals planned.
Governor Bestman who was retired after 11 years of service as a member of the Board of Governors of the Central Bank of Liberia further said in addition and as stimuli to the economy, the CBL designed and implemented the Loan Extension Availability Facility (LEAF) to fund Small and Medium Enterprises(SMEs), provided SME capital of US$ 5m through commercial banks for onward lending.
Outlining more of the CBL’s achievements under the J. Mills Jones Administration, retired Governor Bestman said the CBL provided the funds as 3 percent interest for onward lending at 8 percent to qualified borrowers.
He said the risks were mitigated by the reserves of the commercial banks and the program was hugely successful and ended in 2013.
Bestman, a former Governor of the National Bank of Liberia (NBL) an institution which the CBL succeeded said, “A Home Mortgage Program of US$ 10m was inaugurated through the Liberia Bank for Development and Investment (LBDI) and placement of US$5m plus L$181,250,000 to Afriland Bank at 3 percent interest for long term funding to agriculture to support planting of cocoa, coffee, rubber, and oil palm.”
“The Central Bank of Liberia continues to promote its financial inclusion strategy and it is working. The CBL’s US$5.0 million 3-year term placements with commercial banks to support medium-term lending to Liberian-owned businesses have been redeemed with interest,” the retired CBL Board of Governor member intimated.
He disclosed that a total of 93 businesses benefited, 31 of which are owned by women; 10 sectors were covered, including fisheries, transportation, woodwork, agriculture, hospitality, and manufacturing.
He further disclosed that these businesses are employing about 3,000 individuals more than Arcelor Mittal and China Union combined.
“The increasing success of the financial inclusion strategy is also evident in the growth of credit unions, which until a few years ago were virtually stagnant in the country,” Mr. Bestman said.
Governor Bestman said, “Because of the steps taken by CBL, Liberia now have 350 credit unions, up from 29 two years ago. The Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLA) program is now in all of the 15 counties and comprises 400 associations, mainly dominated by women.”
Mr. Bestman said so far, over 10,000 women have benefited from being members of these associations, and have told their stories about how access to credit has made a difference in their lives.
He said over the past 9 years, massive improvements have occurred in the nation’s banking systems, saying, “Instead of four commercial banks in existence when this administration came to power, there are now 9 commercial banks in the country with 82 branches.”
He recounted that the minimum capital required of banks to operate in Liberia has increased from 2 million United States dollars to ten million United States dollars and the liquidity of banks have greatly improved, leading to aggressive lending.
“I graciously acknowledge my tenure of service during the past nine years of the Unity Party led administration, under our illustrious President, Her Excellency, Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. My experience over these years has been hugely blessed and richly rewarding. I also commend her for the quality of the professional men and women she continues to appoint to the Board of Governors,” Mr. John Bestman said.
Mr. Bestman also commended CBL’s Executive Governor, Dr. Joseph Mills Jones and the members of the Board for the high level of professionalism demonstrated during his tenure in advancing the interests of the Liberian people over the past 9 years.
He said all evidences exist that indeed the nation’s banking system is on a sound footing as he is being retired.
He added, “We have managed to keep inflation in single digits, while in many countries in the region, inflation due to currency depreciation is in double digits. The value of the Liberian dollar, despite limited export capacity and low productivity is still relatively stable Vis a Vis the value of international currencies. We have managed to keep the Liberian dollar at a reasonable rate by active interventions in the market place.”
Speaking earlier, CBL Executive Governor, Dr. J. Mills Jones lauded Governor Bestman for his dedicatory service to the nation, saying, “John and I share the same philosophy”.
Dr. Jones said he and Governor Bestman will continue to show leadership by empowering Liberians and the economy.
He stated, “Governor Bestman, through your work, the train of economic empowerment has left the station and the passengers onboard it are Liberians. With proper leadership we will get there.”
Dr. Jones said retired Governor Bestman with good academic and professional standing served the Liberian people especially those who are the poor and voiceless, saying, “We need more men and women like John Bestman.”
Governor Bestman who served two years under the administration of the late, Excellency Charles Gyude Bryant, during the National Transitional Government of Liberia, when the late Charles Greene was Executive Governor and was fortunate to be appointed during the administration of Her Excellency, Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf for additional two terms, is the longest served member of the Board of Governors.