A Letter to Liberian Lawmakers and U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs
|Amb. Greenfield and President Sirleaf
There are calls for the Liberian Legislature to quickly ratify Liberia’s accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO). The pressure being put on the Legislature by some local actors and international actors seem reminiscent of the same pressure that Ms. Greenfield and others put on the Legislature to ratify more than 100 concessions and contracts since the inception of the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf administration in January, 2006. Moore Stephens, a London based international accounting firm, reviewed a sample of 68 of the more than 100 concessions and contracts in Liberia and the findings were appalling. The accounting firm reported that only 2 of the 68 concessions were done legally, meaning 66 concessions or 97% were done illegally.
The 67th flawed agreement (Wologizi) was in the pipeline as we have learned recently from Global Witness. The Legislature and the Executive connived to change the procurement laws just to conclude Wologizi concessionary agreement to benefit foreign interests, against the interest of the Liberian people. Today, many officials of the Government, including the speaker of the House of Representatives and senators (including the Chairman of the ruling Unity Party) are on the hooks for taking bribe to pass laws that benefited foreign investors against the interest of the Liberian people. This is why Liberia stands at the bottom of all indexes, including the UNDP Human Development Index, Transparency International, Heritage Foundation/Wall Street Journal Economic Freedom Index, and we are rock bottom amongst the poorest in the world. This is after 168 years of existence, with billions of dollars being allegedly spent on Liberia in the past 10 years.
Remember, the same international actors boasted, as did the Executive Branch of the Liberian Government, that Liberia “was open for business” and Liberia has attracted $16 billion in foreign direct investments. Realizing that Liberians are not seeing the benefits of the $16 billion, the President of Liberia said only $4.5 billion of that amount has been invested in Liberia during the first ten years of her administration. Guess what, her Party Chairman contradicted her $4.5 billion figure and he claimed that barely $500 million has been invested in Liberia.
The U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, instead of asking about the 66 flawed agreements or why Liberians seeing the benefits of $500 million and not $16 billion, she is now pinch-hitting for President Sirleaf in pressuring the members of the lower house of the Liberian Legislature to ratify the WTO Agreement, due to the president’s lack of moral rectitude amid prevailing systemic corruption with impunities in the country. Sadly, Madam Greenfield is not only aware of corruption in the country, but she is also aware of the adverse repercussions of Liberia joining the WTO. So why is she pushing the agreement down the throats of our lawmakers? Is this based on friendship with the President?
The Perspective in favor of free and unfretted trade and for Liberia to join any organization that advanced the interests of the Liberian people. But given our recent history of selling the country‘s resources for cheap while Liberians remained amongst the poorest in the world, there is a need for caution. Liberia has joined nearly every organization imaginable and our President has received every award imaginable in the world. The question has been what Liberians have gotten out of all these international memberships.
Quite recently, the same domestic and international actors boasted of Liberian being included in African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). The Government of Liberia jubilated when Liberia was included in AGOA. Since Liberian was accepted in AGOA, how have Liberians and Liberia fared? What has been the increase of Liberian exports to the United States of America?
Liberia is also included in the European Union, Cotonou Agreement, a treaty between the European Union and the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States ("ACP countries"). How have Liberians benefitted. We are asking these questions not to diminish the importance of these agreements but to show that joining an organization or an arrangement just for the sake of joining when the Government of Liberia is not serious about obtaining any benefits for the Liberian people is a waste of time and energy and a mockery to the suffering of Liberians.
The Perspective believes the Liberian Legislature should not rush and must not be rushed to ratify yet again another agreement without a full debate or clear understanding of how Liberia can practically benefit from accession to WTO. It seems that WTO accession is being pushed so that when the Sirleaf administration expires on January 16, 2018, it will be difficult for a new Government to revisit, negotiate or cancel the illegal concessions and contracts. Only those firms that have gained concessions illegally and irregularly will benefit. The victims will be the Liberian people. What does Liberia have to sell on the world market? What do we manufacture and or produce to sell to other countries? Firestone Rubber Plantation started in 1926 in Liberia, but today Liberia does not have the capacity to produce even a condom. We have sold for cheap the land (our indigenous population depend on to make ends meet) to oil palm companies that are now-a-days suppressing the ”First People”. Worst, the same way we produce iron ore, etc. without adding values, we do not have the capacity to produce value added products form oil palms.
Unfortunately, from 1847 to 2016, each administration has promised value addition to our natural resources that we can sell for higher premium on the world market, but all have been nothing but empty promises. Today, Liberia is an IMPORTING NATION, including buying practically everything it uses from foreign markets. We buy even bitter balls, pepper, banana, etc. from Guinea, Ivory Coast, and Sierra Leone because our government has failed to create a supporting environment for mechanize farming.
Until Liberia can develop the productive capacity to make and sell export products or services, we do not see how our accession to WTO will benefit Liberia and Liberians. We therefore see this move as intended to protect fraudsters and hustlers masquerading as investors, than advancing the interests of Liberians. We are selling iron ores, timber diamond, gold and all things natural resources, after all.
The Perspective wonders whether the Assistant Secretary of State knows that the Liberian Government has reported that it international reserves is being depleted and that Liberia barely has 3 months of international reserve to meet its forever import demands? Further, does the Assistant Secretary knows that Liberia has severely limited US dollars to the extent that the President has announced they have printed more Liberian dollars and Liberians and Liberians businesses will be paid in Liberian dollars? And furthermore, does the Assistant Secretary know that banks are running out of US dollars? All of these represent cumulative failure of the Liberian Government's inability to create and support a vibrant export market, as they “Asian Tigers” did in the 70s, 80s, and 90s. Instead of pushing prematurely Liberia into WTO, the Assistant Secretary should push to end corruption so that there is money left to build an export sector first and then WTO later.
Finally, the interest of the World Trade Organization is beyond protecting flawed concessionary agreements. It has other cardinal initiatives: “seeking to privatize or sell essential public services such as education, health care, energy and water…radio airwaves or schools…” We have seen this privatization scams masterminded by the Sirleaf administration in recent months. Education privatization was recently consummated in Boston. Energized by the indecision of Liberians to the scam, the Sirleaf administration has turned its callous efforts to the Liberia Water and Sewer Corporation for privatization. But these scams are the foretastes of what will happen when the WTO Agreement is rectified.
So our lawmaker must, at least for a change, say NO to the WTO Agreement. The Perspective believes in free trade but it wants WTO to TRULY benefit Liberia, so a caution is necessary and appropriate.