I won’t even bother to go into the details of the commentary from Daily Observer, a paper that became postwar famous after it endorsed Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as its choice for the presidency.
My chief concern with the article is the manner and form in which the author desperately fought to cast Liberia’s 168 year problems of underdevelopment and bad governance at the doorsteps of Amara Konneh.
By ascribing superhuman powers to the outgoing finance minister in terms of his ability or inability to magically transform the Liberian economy overnight, we are simply saying: “to hell with the centuries of bad governance, one-party rule and underdevelopment; we’re saying, to hell with the years of flagrant disregard for human rights under a military dictatorship; and we’re simply saying to hell with the locust years that the rebels ate when they destroyed Mt. Coffee, and brought down light poles to sell copper wires. Amara Konneh is to blame for all those historical mishaps. You know, it’s like how the Republicans are now blaming Obama for the Jarbridge Stage Robbery of December 5, 1916.
Of course, Liberia deserves better. Looking at our age as the oldest African republic, we ought to be far better than some of our newly independent neighbors. But the age of Methuselah has little to do with Solomon’s wisdom. Liberia is older in years, but we’re backward mainly because we keep doing the same stupid things and expect different results. Our last prewar Vice President, Bishop Bennie Warner, summed up our social malaise in these words: “the problem with us is us.”
Amara Konneh became head of the Ministry of Finance in 2012, at a time when government’s reform process was in full throttle. As an advocate of leaner, efficient and effective government, Amara Konneh was all too happy to work with relevant government agencies and Liberia’s numerous development partners to enforce the transformation of the Ministries of Planning and Economic Affairs and Finance into the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning.
Check around Africa, check around the globe. Governments all over have scrapped the Ministries of Planning and Finance, and created one body for better economic and fiscal policy management and administration. That reform process also called for the separation of the functions of revenue collection from Finance to a new semi-autonomous agency, the Liberia Revenue Authority. This would allow the Ministry to concentrate on its core mandate, leaving the burden and headache of revenue collection to the LRA.
Of course, as new minister of Finance and Development Planning, Amara’s quest to ensure a lean national budget that would focus less on recurrent expenditure and more on development projects would meet stiff opposition, within and outside government.
People started fuming when Amara suggested cutting off perks like scratch cards, gasoline, etc from his colleague government officials to supplement the budget for development programmes. There was a huge outcry that the new minister was out for their blood. From the cabinet to members of the Legislature and Judiciary, Amara Konneh’s name became chewing gum: “Mr. Budget Shortfall”.
But what we’ve failed to realize is that in most instances what is termed as “shortfall” is actually caused by over-projections from our honorable lawmakers. When draft budgets are sent to them for ratification, our honorable legislators would in most instances increase budget lines that would be in their favor. In one instance, they even predicted excess collection in oil revenue, but when the deal faltered, that over-projection was still reflected in the approved budget. At the end of the day, the same people would rein in Amara to explain the budget shortfall.
It takes a man of very strong will to resign a highly prestigious post as finance minister for a desk job outside of his country, after making a name for himself. Amara Konneh could have fallen for the many abiding temptations, remained here, entered the political fray or become a king maker if he so wished.
He leaves the post as one of the youngest, overachieving Finance Ministers of his country, with his boss showering accolades on him. He was honored by cross sections of Liberians. Yana Boys. Shoe Shine Boys. People whose life he impacted directly or indirectly. The man has moved on to another level in his professional career. The bile in our bellies will surely burst, while Amara Konneh moves ahead.