It seems like Liberians are always good at repeating the same mistakes that keep causing them untold suffering. It was about this same time last year when the Senate ganged up against former Finance Minister Amara Konneh, threatening to jail him for 48 hours over the Finance Ministry decision to reduce budgetary appropriations for government functionaries.
At the time, Konneh rationalized the budgetary cuts to the country’s poor recovery from Ebola, and the decline in the prices of the two major commodities driving the economy of Liberia. As such, Konneh said there would be a deficit in revenue collection in the amount of US$70m, therefore government needed to reduce expenditure and live within its means. Even though the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning Ministry austerity measure was engineered to affect all ministries, agencies and commissions, the Liberian Legislature saw itself as the main target simply because our lawmakers could not bear to have their fat perks slashed to cushion the deficit. So they used their powers to arm-twist Konneh, while pretending they were offended by the tone of the MFDP letter written by then Deputy Minister for Fiscal Affairs, James F. Kollie. As a lone crusader for fiscal probity, Konneh had championed rash austerity measures especially after the Ebola aftershocks, cutting down scratch cards, gasoline slips and foreign travels of government officials. Of course, his colleagues in cabinet saw Konneh as public enemy # 1 to freeloading. When he left the Finance Ministry for his current World Bank post, there was a sigh of relief from up Capitol Hill. But the economy has not fared any better since Konneh’s departure. In fact, truth be told, the economy seems to be in free fall with the local currency fast depreciating against the United States dollar on a daily basis. The Central Bank of Liberia which should have an insight about the currency situation seems lost at high sea. Financial experts tend to agree that the current dire financial straits the country is facing could have been exacerbated by the laissez faire attitude of former Central Bank Government Mills Jones who dished out loans to high risk borrowers without any back up plans to recoup the country’s money. With Jones positioning himself as a strong presidential contender, people are now smarting up to the “Poverty Doctor’s” real intentions. In the mix of all the economic brouhaha, President Sirleaf has now issued a moratorium on foreign travels affecting heads of all ministries, agencies and commission along with their deputies and assistance for the next 60 days. There is a caveat though. “Exceptions will only be granted by the President herself following a one-on-one meeting with the official requesting to travel and if it is determined that such is of utmost imperative in the national interest,” an Executive Mansion issued yesterday stated. Our take on government policy action regarding the travel moratorium is that it is far belated. If this government really means business, the Central Bank should liaise with former Governor Mills Jones and recoup the millions of United States dollars that President Sirleaf herself admitted was a cause for some of the economic woes facing the country when she delivered her 2016 Annual Message. The country is in serious economic mess. We don’t need a sand cutter to decipher that. It’s no longer about telling the emperor he is fully clothed when he is stark naked. Bad sour needs pepper. The government as one unit must come together and salvage the situation. This is not about one branch of government, but all. Austerity must affect all branches. It’s no more business as usual. This should be business unusual – contrary to our common way of making the same mistakes and expecting good results.