The exit of Liberia’s foremost postwar economy managers, Mills Jones and Amara Konneh, has left many financial pundits scratching their heads over who would be the President’s next choice for Executive Governor of the Central Bank of Liberia, and Minister of Finance and Development Planning.
Both men, Jones and Amara, were leaving at a critical time in the nation’s history when the economy is at a record low, from an 8% growth projection in 2014 to 0.3% in 2015. The negative growth rate was occasioned by the sharp decline in commodity prices, especially for iron ore and rubber, from which the government’s export earning largely relied on. The advent of the Ebola Virus Disease in 2014 also helped to worsen the economic hardship.
As the first postwar governor of the CBL, right after Elie Saleeby, Jones had transformed Liberia’s premier banking regulator into a financial powerhouse, from a negligible inherited reserve to a whopping $500 million in less than ten years. Despite his financial achievements, Jones would later be heavily criticized over his granting of microfinance loans to many un-creditworthy savings and loans clubs, an act which left a significant portion of the CBL’s reserve in the red. No one really expected a renewal of his contact.
Amara Konneh made a name for himself in spearheading the transformation of the Ministry of Planning and Economic Affairs and the Ministry of Finance into the new Ministry of Finance and Development Planning. The transformation was hinged on best practices, and the need to make government leaner, effective and more efficient. As a student of fiscal probity, Amara would initiate innovative means of making the national budget leaner and more project-driven so as to ably convey government’s development agenda. Amara would be much criticized for attempting to effect budget cuts across the board. The recent spate with the Liberian senate is exemplary of the bad blood generated by Amara’s attempt at budget trimming. Despite his brush-offs with the Legislature, Amara’s announced departure for the World Bank assignment left many shocked.
The departure of Governor Jones and Minister Konneh had left a huge void which was filled over the weekend when President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf appointed Mr Milton Weeks as CBL Governor and Mr. Boima Kamara as the next Finance minister.
For us at the Capitol Times, we wholeheartedly welcome the appointment of the two astute Liberians; for we know these are two fine sons of the soil who are up the task. Both men have built an enviable reputation for themselves over the years and can be counted on delivering the goods, especially during these trying times when everyone is telling us to tighten our belts for a bumpy ride.
Our caveat to Mr. Weeks is that he must find innovative ways to ensure restitution of the US$7.2 million deficit created by his predecessor Jones. How well this challenge is overcome will set the basis for his success story at the CBL.
As for the Finance Minister-designate, the major challenge is to ensure the national budget projects the realities of the day. In these trying austere times, government must focus more on leaving a lasting legacy through implementation of key projects, rather than expending much needed funds on recurrent expenses. This is a slippery slope that Mr. Kamara must thread gingerly and sagaciously. How he does this without incurring the wrath of the Legislature and members of his own cabinet will be the first test to his leadership skill.