Samuel Tweah, the man entrusted to lead the planning and development aspect of the Liberian government, has disclosed planning will be unnecessary over the next six years, instead he’ll focus on execution. Tweah told a gathering of journalists at the Ministry of Information last week in Monrovia that over the last 12 years there were several studies done on various sectors of the economy and he’ll carry out no further studies and planning, going forward. He said all he his to do was just to execute those plans on the books.
The Minister, with no higher level public service experience in planning and development prior to this job, boasted he could take President William V.S. Tubman plans of the 1950s and build a nation like the United States. He also bragged he could take the plans from President William R.Tolbert, Jr. in the 1970s and turn Liberia into London; he must have meant England, granted Liberia is not a city. Tweah seemed to read from a prepared text during the conference. His statement covered economics, education, press freedom and planning but in no orderly form that one may wonder if the Minister actually kept to script. He posed as a geek in all those areas but sounded like master of none.
Although Liberia relies on donor funds for support for every sector in the country including those as common as health care, water supply, electricity and budgetary supplements, the Minister threatened Liberia was willing to walk away from an International Monetary Fund (IMF) funding of almost a billion United States dollars if that was done not considering a pro-poor agenda.
Already the new government through the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning (MFDP) has recast the 2017/2018 annual budget, however, it failed to cut USD49 million paid to about 100 lawmakers and their staff. The budget is still largely about salaries, benefits, allowances, bonuses, logistics and travels of a few hundred elites in government versus support to projects and programs that will create wealth. The Minister said by May 2018, President George Weah will launch the Pro-poor agenda required to change the country. “Roads, roads, roads”, Min. Tweah stated more roads are to be paved in the next six years. He disclosed at least 2,000 miles are targeted to be paved from the nearly 11,000 miles of roads in the 43,000 square miles country.
Tweah’s objective at the press conference looked to dispel a growing public lack of confidence in his ability with the MFDP unable to present a clear economic planning roadmap in nearly 60 days of governing. The reply to his skeptics has been planning takes time. He argued that planning sometimes takes a year or two or more.
There are skepticisms in the business and financial sectors in the country who fear that other than the eloquence of the Minister of Finance, he can deliver nothing concrete on this job. Building the economy after Ebola and the fall in prices of strategic resources like iron ore and rubber provides a steep hill to climb. Admirers of the Minister want the public to be kind to Tweah as he learns the ropes. But with a stagnated economy as Liberia and looming poverty with astronomically high rates in unemployment among the youth, the people generally look to a Minister that can hit the ground running. Not many persons would want to keep faith with a Minister who’s scanning past administrations planning proposals looking for bits and pieces to copy and paste into a national development program.
For the most part, the Minister’s admitting he is not going to plan just execute, proved most public cynicisms right that he’ll struggle with putting forth a national economic policy. At his confirmation weeks ago, he looked clueless no about where he leads the country economically. He still looked and sounded that way, during the press conference Even worst was his statement at the Ministry of Information. It sounded more like a campaign speech to praise the President and boast about what generally the ruling party will do, than a revealing of economic policy issues.
Many are wondering what the coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) an opposition for 12 years had as its manifesto. There were hopes that the CDC manifesto would have been transformed to an immediate national plan but that seems to be lacking. This lack of any roadmap in these early days of a government of the party that was the key opposition and must have run a shadow government, confirms that the party ran for power without a structured platform of what it intended to achieve upon election.
The party,through its leader and now President, George Weah introduced the phrase ‘pro-poor’ immediately after the party was elected. There has been no direct interpretation as to what the CDC intends about this phrase, no clear cut definition but the phrase has become the new idiom of the CDC. Even Min. Tweah has failed to provide meaning for exactly what the CDC pro-poor agenda is. He has promised that would be in the roadmap scheduled to be released in May 2018. There has been conflicting information what the phrase means in the CDC context. Addressing a gathering in Paris, France in February, President Weah termed the pro-poor agenda as officials not taking away from the people what belongs to the people.
An official of the Ministry of Information, and a key Weah surrogate Eugene Fahngon, has defined the pro-poor agenda as living a marginal, deprived life. The deputy minister has demonstrated pro-poor attributes by displaying either primitive lifestyle like splitting wood with an axe or sitting in unhygienic environment claiming to be eating food sold at those centers where majority of the unemployed and deprived majority would eat for a very low cost.
It is far too earlier to judge the CDC government but its early start too has been far from promising.