By Jerry Wehtee Wion
MY TURN: Washington, DC, July 25, 2015: May their souls rest in peace: the late President Samuel K. Doe and the late Governor of the National Bank of Liberia Thomas V. Hanson, for it was their vision and they started the project but was not completed as a result of the civil war, and we all know those who started the war. That both Doe and Hanson's names were not mentioned at the dedication of new Central Bank office by either President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Central Bank Governor Mills Jones speaks to one of my themes in my writings: that Liberia is a two-tier society between the tiny five percent privileged Americo-Liberians or Congua and the majority 95 percent marginalized natives or country people. How else does one explain not giving credit to the two country men (Doe and Hanson) who started the project?
Also lost in the self-adulation and glorification of a leader, and the cosmetic dedicatory ceremony of a structure and institution that has not lived up to the mission of the Central Bank of Liberia as the economic and financial engine that drives the economy and the financial lifeline of the country. It was not by accident that our self-anointed Harvard University educated “economist“ President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf did not talk about the economy and the 85 percent national unemployment rate which has been steady since she took office in January 2006 to the present. And so is Governor Mills who has never talked about banking interest rates but finds happiness in spending our money to campaign for the presidency but disguises same "economic stimulus" package. No wonder the Liberian economy is in the tank and the country is teetering on the brink of financial bankruptcy.
Bank Governor Jones & President Sirleaf
The Central Bank of Liberia is to the economy and the banking system in Liberia what the US Federal Reserve is to the US economy and the US banking system. When was the last time Governor Mills Jones and the members of Board of Governors of Liberia's Central Bank talked about interest rates, the economy, monetary policies, unemployment, or economic forecast? When Jessica Yelin --- the new Chair of the US Federal Reserve,-- speaks, Wall Street and the American financial system/economy, the US Congress, the President of the United States all take note and readjust their strategies aimed at economic growth to reduce unemployment.
The first and last time anyone in the government in Liberia talked about unemployment was 2012 when a "Doctor Liberty" head of the Bureau of Labor Statistics and Geo Information Services announced at the regular Information Ministry press conference that unemployment went from 85 percent in January 2006 to 3.7 percent in 2012. He said Liberians were considered employed or self-employed if they selling used clothing, selling kalla, selling cold water, palm oil, breaking rocks, mining sand on the beaches, riding their motorbikes as taxi, selling rice by cup, unloading goods at the port for merchants, and whatever one does to put food on the table. This, I guess, is the Harvard economics promised by Ellen when she told Liberians they would be gainfully employed so that when papa comes home from work his bag will be full with food for the family and the children faces will glow with smiles.
Technically, Liberia is now broke and the next two years will see most government workers going without pay. Already, the Police is owed two months in back pay and the government is talking 50/50, meaning half of their monthly pay in US dollars and the other half in the worthless Liberian currency.
After the international community forgave all our foreign debt of about $4 billion because we were coming out of war, the hope was that our Harvard "economist” President Sirleaf would lay the foundation for a new responsible fiscal management. Instead, she introduced Ellenomics or voodoo economics, but certainly not Harvard University economics. Financial bankruptcy hangs over the nation as the country is now saddled with a new debt gradually approaching $4 billion again. There is talk to borrow new money but the international community that forgave the previous debt is not laughing, wondering what went wrong so soon. Back to square one we find ourselves.
There are Liberian government officials who earn more in salaries than the President of the United States (Barack Obama's $400,000.00) yearly salary. Liberian lawmakers earn far more ($180,000.00 plus benefits yearly) than their counterparts in the United States Congress ($174,000.00) yearly.
Some major revenue earners for the government---NOCAL-National Oil Company of Liberia, LTA-Liberia Telecommunications Authority, NPA-National Port Authority, LRA-Liberia Revenue Authority, LAA-Liberia Aviation/airport Administration, LPRC-Liberia Petroleum Refinery Corporation---are turning over less revenue, thanks to corruption and greed by some at the agencies. NPA's Matilda Parker is now indicted for allegedly stealing nearly $1 million. NOCAL was left broke by Ellen's son Robert Sirleaf. NOCAL that was once hyped as the agency that would rebuild our roads, hospitals, schools, restore light and water, can't now pay its rent despite the fact that big oil giants that were granted oil drilling rights paid over $100 million as signing fees and bonuses. Where did that money go?
At the Liberia Telecommunications Authority, head honcho Angilique Weeks who made phone operators to pay for their licenses 15 years in advance is said to make LTA broke and now wants to impose new fees on operators. There are employees at LTA who earn between $100,000.00 and $300,000.00 a year in pay. Weekes once chartered a jet plane that flew her sick mother from Monrovia to Europe for medical treatment. I guess she forgot to take her to our government funded, the US built John F. Kennedy Hospital in nearby Sinkor, Monrovia. That must have cost her a hefty sum of money. But then again we recall how Weeks engineered a million dollars building leasing Ponzi scheme with a Chinese landlord in violation of the laws, and Liberians are notorious for getting kickbacks in such crony deals.
So back to the new glittering, modern Central Bank building. But that was not the only worthy, money saving project started by the forgotten President Samuel Doe, a man who never went to Harvard University, let alone finish high school when he seized power in 1980. But Doe knew you didn't have to go to Harvard University to know it was wrong to rent the private buildings of people who worked in government as government ministries and agencies. That is poor people common sense street-smart economics. And it is now being celebrated but without mentioning his name.
And President Doe embarked on a massive government-owned buildings, some that still dot the landscape of Monrovia that include the just completed ---thanks to the Chinese government---Ministry of Health and Social Welfare. Others are the uncompleted massive Ministry of National Defense, the National Housing and Savings Banking, and the Liberia Broadcasting System (ELBS-TV) complex near the Omega Tower, just to name a few.
Therefore, it was not surprising that President Sirleaf did not give credit to the late President Samuel Doe at the dedication of the new Central Bank building. She also did not mention Doe's name at the dedication of the new Ministry of Health and Social Welfare building. But we journalists have notebooks and our "poisonous pens" to discredit Ellen and give credit to whom it belongs. This time the credit goes to the late Samuel Doe, a country man who never went to Harvard University. “Da me again”.
Author: Jerry Wehtee Wion, Journalist and Political Commentator, Washington, DC, USA