Analysis of the President Sirleaf Annual Message
By: Alieu Haircrates Sackor
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
After reading Madam Sirleaf’s nationwide address on the Perspective Magazine on February 12, 2015, I instantaneously decided to take few minutes of my pricey time to look through the Madam’s analyses. Afterward, I categorically comprehended that her address was economically deceptive, statistically illusory, diametrically opposed to Liberia’s economic reality, persuasively disjointed and logically disproportional. As a result, I then classified her as an example of contradiction and what is wrong with inconsistency and fragmented discussion.
Furthermore, Madam Sirleaf’s nationwide address on the state of the Liberia economy was a clever concoction of self-created impression and misinterpretation of Liberia’s economic representativeness. Besides, it was an attempt to deceive the Liberian people especially those who might quickly mouthful the unsubstantiated falsehood and conflicted braggadocios propounded in the address.
It would be a disservice to the Liberian people specifically the masses of our people who have been victimized by abject poverty across the country if I do not comment on the dishonest and inaccurate economic analyses presented by Madam Sirleaf on the status of our Economy.
First of all, I feel very discontented and disgruntled as a result of Madam Sirleaf being a Harvard University’s economist but yet cannot comprehend simple 21st century macroeconomic issues hampering the growth and development of the Liberian economy. In her address, she failed to underline the failures and major causes of Liberia’s economic problems but went on to misinform our people about economic developments she claimed her short-sighted government that lacks coordinated economic and developmental patterns has achieved.
For example, she stated that “With many constraints and challenges, our economy has performed well over the past 6 years, averaging annual growth rates of 7 per cent. Our annual growth rate exceeds the average growth rates of the West African region.”
How can a nation make progress in wealth at the same time its people are living in poverty and hunger? I wonder which kind of country is Liberia where leaders are always far from reality thus making empty statements to beautify themselves at the expense of the people.
However, let me provide certain information and proceed forward. In developed or developing economies, the definition of an “economy has performed well” is directly proportional to the conglomeration of economic growth, central to the alleviation of people from a state of stagnation and paralysis to a decent living condition. An economy that has achieved better economic growth is able to meet people’s wants and resolve socioeconomic problems such as unemployment, inflation, poverty, and etc. [McConnell & Brue/Economics sixth edition]. More besides, the well performance of an economy is not interpreted through simple words rather it should be visible and reflective on the lives of the people in general. That is, an upsurge in economic growth must significantly reflect on the advancement of the people and all sectors in the economy. It becomes extremely unempirical to insinuate that an economy has performed well in the midst of intense economic hardship coupled with unemployment, visible poverty, low productivity, extreme corruption, low standard of living, bad road conditions, massive capital flight, consistent budgetary shortfall, inflation etc. etc. etc. and etc.
On the other hand, if you argue that the president’s statement is true then, looking at the current obnoxious living conditions of the Liberian people, where extreme poverty and awkward unemployment have declared war on thousands of people, what have been the significant impacts of the 7 per cent increase in Liberia’s annual growth rate as it relates to relieving the poverty-stricken masses of Liberia from such economic privation?
Tthe analysis propounded here by Madam Sirleaf relating to the Liberian economy performing well over the past 6 years, averaging annual growth rates of 7 per cent. And Liberia’s annual growth rate exceeding the average growth rates of the West African region is diametrically opposed to the economic veracity in Liberia. By matter of fact, the economic barometer on the national economic front of Liberia is reading something opposite to Madam Sirleaf’s analysis.
As Dr. Togba-Nah Tipoteh stated, “The Republic is the people and it is not possible for the Republic to be making progress when the people are not making progress. In other words, it is economically incorrect for Liberia to be making progress in economic growth when the Liberian people are not making process and stay living in destituted inertness. Look! An economy that has succeeded in achieving economic growth is capacitated to undertake new programs to reduce poverty, unemployment and protect the environment without impairing existing levels of consumption, investment and public goods production. Thus, why such has not happened since our economy has performed well and our annual growth rate exceeds the average growth rates of the West African region?
Finally on this matter, in order for an economy to be classified as “has performed well” simply means; the economy including both the public and private sectors along with the living conditions of the people has shifted from one level to another meaningful level. An economy cannot be referred to as “has performed well” in the midst of bankrupt economic system consistent with budgetary short-fall, massive unemployment and high inflation, bad transport infrastructures and broken health care and messy education systems. These circumstances clearly demonstrate the opposite of Madam President’s statement. This is a clever attempt by Madam Sirleaf to give our people false optimism of progress as to free herself from future historical implications.
Additionally, Madam Sirleaf mentioned that “Liberians must not just wait for a government job but be empowered to own their own businesses and employ others. It means more Liberians must be able to pay their bills, send their children to school, care for their families, and travel if they desire, retire with dignity, and treat themselves to some of the nicer things that life has to offer. It means that our society must become one in which all Liberians – males and females, young and old, Christians and Muslims, abled and disabled – can all make it, if they are willing to try. Yes, this is possible”.
Firstly, Madam Sirleaf is very far from earth! Why Liberians should not wait for a government job when the private sector of Liberia is completely disarmed and lacks full capacity and investment capital to create exquisite jobs for jobs’ seekers? Secondly, how can Liberians be empower to own their own businesses and employ others and pay their bills, send their children to school, care for their families when the smooth socioeconomic environment that allows citizens to easily own their own businesses and employ others in the rural and urban areas is not provided? Thirdly, how can Liberians retire with dignity when the Labor law of Liberia is ambiguously abysmal? These are the fundamental questions Madam President needed to have looked at before jumping to such conclusion.
Liberia is not Monrovia or Gbarnga, the Unitary Sovereign State of Liberia goes beyond these cities. If you knew how many of our people are living in poverty and cannot satisfactorily sustain themselves, you could not have said such. Instead, you would have concentrated on creating the smooth economic atmosphere through policy making to relieve their conditions.
Besides, in economics there are factors responsible for the high concentration of people in a particular sector. For example, the private sector is the largest producer and employer of goods, services and people in any given economy. Therefore, if the private sector is disarmed or lacked full capacity and investment capital to create jobs for jobs’ seekers, the high concentration of people seeking public sector job will not reduce until the private sector can be fully capacitated to employ and facilitate self-sustainable productions. Also, to understand how economic growth and change affect different groups, we must turn to the labor market. Except for retirees and others receiving government support, most people rely almost entirely on wages and salaries to pay their bills and put something down for the future. Hence, it is in the labor market that most people can see the benefits of economic growth. Not through words.
Here is a Clear picture on how an efficient private sector helps in the stimulatory process of booming an economy in terms of job creation. Today in the United States of America, the private sector jobs increased by 262,000. Construction jobs increased by 6,000; manufacturing jobs increased by 16,000. Private service-producing jobs increased by 236,000. While Government [public sector] jobs increased by 26,000, with 18,000 of those additions in the Local Government/Education sector (Molly's Middle America Jobs & Unemployment Reports of 2014).
Now, do you see the employment gaps between the public and private sectors? This shows that, in order for any country’s economy to boom and meet its unemployment, poverty and other problems, the private sector plays a major role. Thus, it needs to be given more attention. Madam President must understand that Liberians are tired listening to misleading and fallacious statements and reports from her government. For example, the official unemployment rate of Liberia declining from 85% to 3.7% according to LISGIS. The increase in the labor force participation rate averaging to 62.8 per cent according to the Labor Force Survey carried out in 2010 and etc.
Nevertheless, I was opportune as a student of Cuttington to have travelled in some parts of Liberia. Disappointingly, I came across Liberians who were very far from 21st century transformation! These people are the real victims of African poverty and 21st century backwardness. They are only living by the mercy of God and you expect them to own their own businesses and employ others, send their children to school and pay their bills just like that, through simple words? You must also understand that the payment of bills, owning of businesses and etc. cannot happen magically or miraculously. Rather, they could best be achieved if this government is responsible to crafting and implementing sound macroeconomic policy that would strengthen both the public and private sectors. Make sure that a national minimum wage is set. And ensure that, the national income is equitably distributed among the owners of the factors of production as to help transform their lives. Instead of talking and delivering beautiful speeches that wouldn’t help or impact the people.
Suggested ways in achieving or making sure that Liberians don’t just wait for a government job but be empowered to own their own businesses and employ others.
If Liberians should not just wait for a government job but be empowered to own their own businesses and employ others then; as a government, we must make sure that a national minimum wage is set. And ensure that, the national income is equitably distributed among the owners of the factors of production as to help transform their lives.
Government must cultivate [through policy] a smooth macroeconomic environment that embraces competition among local Liberian industries, companies and corporations as to increase their productivity capacities. Competition is one of the basic regulatory forces in the market system. Thus, government must create the environment that promotes competition among enterprises so that we a vibrant macroeconomic terrain that addresses the different needs and demands of consumers and producers.
We must invest as a government in the development of the rural and urban populations through diversification of economic and agricultural activities and ensure that the overall social and economic developments commensurate with the decent living conditions of the Liberian people. Economic prosperity comes not from what a nation consumes but from what it produces and from the investment it makes in its people and infrastructures [Barack Obama]. Accordingly, we must significantly invest in different economic and agricultural activities in order to achieve our full potential as a nation.
We must look at the ways other nations have established industrial and economic supremacy over us and try to copy their best policies and examples.
In addition, if the Liberian economy should achieve stability in meeting a productive and efficient private sector and become a middle income economy by 2030, local Liberian industries, companies and corporations must be strategically promoted and protected by law as to regulate their own domestic markets in terms of export and import. Besides, government must start to reward home-based companies, corporations industries and businesses that open new plans and train Liberian workers and create new jobs for Liberian citizens. This requires sacrifices, dedications, better policy making and building confidence in our own local enterprises.
More importantly, if Liberians should be able to pay their bills, own their own businesses, send their children to school and etc., we must pass into law policy that prevents other countries from doing to us what they cloud not allow us do to them. For example; could Liberia have a large rubber plantation like firestone in America, England, France or Italy, and after producing the unprocessed rubber, she takes it to another country for manufacturing rather than manufacturing it into finish products to where it was produced? This is the biggest question the government and the Liberian people need to answer!
If the Liberian government can be responsible enough to make foreign companies [by law] transform all of our resources [rubber, timber, iron ore, oil and etc.] into finish and consumable products here in Liberia, I can assure you with no doubt that the above will be met. Secondly, Liberia will have an efficient and productive private sector that raises a broad middle class of Liberians who can earn more money and enjoy better living standards. But on the contrary, if we fail to prevent such; our supreme rights of controlling our own domestic markets will continue to be in the hands of foreigners. When this continues, they will have everything to gain while we will have everything to lose as a nation and people.
At another point, the President stated that “the engine is the economy. And to keep us moving forward, the economy must keep working by our people and for our people. This is the only way to open new doors of opportunities for Liberians. This is how we expand the space for increased participation of Liberians. And this is how we break down the walls of monopolies so that more of our people can continue to benefit from quality services at affordable prices”.
Yes, metaphorically, I agree in this case that the engine is the economy. But one thing the president failed to comprehend is that, in order to keep us moving forward, the engine [economy] of the bus needs to keep beating perfectly. How? The bus needs powerful mechanical experts [sound macroeconomic policies] and a sound and respectful driver [government] that respects the economic values and rights of all passengers (citizens). This is one of the best ways the buses engine can keep beating and moving by our people perfectly.
Secondly, to open new doors of opportunities for Liberians and expand the space for increased participation of Liberians and brake down the walls of monopolies so that more of our people can continue to benefit from quality services at affordable prices, we need to take three things into consideration in achieving such. [Sustainability, Competitiveness and Fairness]
We need to build a sound and sustainable economy so that we provide for future generations of Liberia. Society learns lessons from past history to correct the present and set a progressive agenda for future transformation. In the past, the public sector has been the driving force behind much of the country’s economic growth. Now, we need to grow our economy by increasing the role of the private sector through policy making and encourage our own entrepreneurs and unleash innovation in the private sector. There is no greater generator of wealth and innovation then the system of free enterprise that unleashes the full potential of individual men and women [Adam Smith words]. This concept of free market tradition remains true today in the global market economy. On the other side, we also need to invest in and develop the agriculture sector as to increase our productivity capacity. Create policy to ensure that the young people of Liberia are educated, skilled, motivated, confident, assiduous, responsible and healthy and are thus empowered to play active role in shifting a better society which will be their inhabitance. Improve the situation of the disabled based on enhanced recognition of their rights and abilities, much as in other countries, through improved and expanded training and support programmes. And ensure that those disadvantaged and people living with disabilities are well represented in the work place at all levels.
We [government] need to embrace competition; make Liberia filtered to compete regionally and globally and increase our domestic productivity. We must ensure that Liberia is shifted from an economy built on public sector to a more diversified economy that raises a broad middle class of Liberians who can earn more and enjoy better living standards. This requires giving Liberians new skills and continues to attract additional expertise from overseas companies. We must help build and strengthen home-based factories and businesses and develop the rural and urban transport infrastructures for businesses to easily thrive and compete. Besides, we need to reward companies, corporations and Liberian businesses that produce more products and employ Liberian workers as to promote competition in the private sector instead of empowering political parties.
We must provide adequate social services such as quality education, health care facilities and social support in the rural and urban areas. Make sure that every Liberian is given equal opportunity through policy making to play active role in our economic and developmental advancements. This means, more and better paid jobs, better access to training and skills development and a better quality of life for all Liberians. At the same time, no Liberian should be left behind; those who cannot actively participate in our economic advancement due to social, political or economic deficiency can be provided for. Yes this is possible if our resources are properly used. Lastly, Government should be accountable and provide better services to all citizens; corruption needs to be rooted out and the justice system should be fair to all Liberians.
These are some of the best ways the economy can keep working by the people and for the people. Open new doors of opportunities for Liberians and expand the space for increased participation of Liberians and brake down the walls of monopolies so that more of the people can continue to benefit from their resources. But if we fail and leave the economy on its own without government’s intervention through policy making, it would be incapacitated to boom and meet the demands and expectations of the people.
More besides, the president stated that “in economic terms, no country is an island. On our own, we cannot build all of our roads, pave all of our streets, rebuild all of our schools and hospitals, secure our borders, and make ourselves feel entirely safe. On our own, we cannot meet all of our needs. Certainly also, the government- indeed no government on the face of this earth- can employ all of its citizens”.
The economic hypothesis that explains this theory is simply built on the concept that no country on earth can exist on its own without seeking alliance or assistance from other countries. But it doesn’t suggest that a country should give in her sovereign rights of controlling her domestic markets to foreign countries or entities. It doesn’t give rights to Arcelor-Mittal, BHP Billiton, Firestone and etc. to export Liberia’s raw resources to other foreign countries for manufacturing. This hypothesis only suggests partnership and seeking assistances from others.
Instead of disingenuously talking, drastic actions are needed to refurbish Liberia’s economic and financial independence by means of collaborating with our partners in transforming our resources into finish products right here in Liberia rather than raw exportation. You must understand that it is more profitable and beneficiary to produce and manufacture more goods and services in Liberia and employing Liberian workers. We must establish policy to prevent the raw and unprocessed exportation of our resources if we should get on path to becoming a middle income economy by 2030.
Here, she stated that “You will recall that one of our primary focuses, upon taking office in 2006, was to improve the image of our country, to lift Liberia so that we become a destination not just for international assistance and support but also for private capital investment and external trade. We are grateful for all the help and support we continue to receive from the international community, and for the over US $16 billion in Foreign Direct Investment which we have attracted to our country”.
Realistically, if one of the primary focuses of this government upon taking office in 2006 was to achieve what Madam President stated than, the following questions need prefect answers:
[1.] What are the mechanisms this government has instituted to improve the image of Liberia when Liberia has been listed as one of the most supreme and greatest corrupt nations on planet earth under her watchful eyes?
[2.] What are the measures instituted by this government to make Liberia a destination not just for international assistance and support when the government itself lacks coordinated economic policies and managerial patterns?
[3.] When will Liberia become such a destination when government officials continue to embezzle and mismanage our resources and walk with impunity while millions of people remained in a state of lifelessness?
Nevertheless, Madam President revealed that over 16 billion in Foreign Direct Investment [FDI] has been attracted to Liberia.
First of all, Foreign Direct Investment [FDI] is that investment whereby a firm based in one country acquires production or manufacturing facilities in another country. It creates competition among firms, employment opportunities and trade acquaintances with other countries. It is also an important economic catalyst through which economic growth and private sector development can be achieved in any given economy. Most importantly, FDI has the tendency to reduce poverty, unemployment and etc. in host country. So, if Liberia, a country that has approximately 3.5 million people can accumulate over 16 billion in such an Investment then, Why poverty, unemployment, infrastructural development and other critical economic issues hampering the growth and development of the Liberian society remained be abysmal and unsettled? This is the million dollar question Madam President needs to answer.
The uneven distribution of Foreign Direct Investment in a developing or an emerging economy as a result of corruption can limit the potential for growth and development. Corruption in this case implies secrecy, illegality and misuse of public power for private benefit and can take various forms across different economic activities. We must understand that corruption within a political and economic system is a potential threat to the advancement of Foreign Direct Investment. It introduces inherent instability in the economic system and can distort all the financial environments in the economy. In addition, corruption can affect every sector of the government from the executive, legislative and judicial branches down to regional and local officials; as a result, economic efficiency is plummeted.
This is the simple reality the Harvard University’s professed economist failed to comprehend. And honestly, Madam Sirleaf needs to revisit her economic laboratory for more consultation or reading as to perfectly understand 21st century global economic issues and developments.
Above and beyond, here Madam Sirleaf Micro-down her thought by saying “it hurts all of us. It makes it harder to find jobs, harder to care for family members, harder to pay school fees, harder to pay hospital bills, harder to reach out to friends, and harder to climb out of poverty” and at another point insinuating that “Liberians must not just wait for a government job but be empowered to own their own businesses and employ others. Pay their bills, send their children to school, care for their families, travel if they desire and retire with dignity.
In conclusion, Madam President mentioned that the Liberian people expect her government to do everything at the same time. This is a fallacy of false misinterpretation. Here, the president’s argument crumbled under its own disproportionality as a result of misunderstanding. The Liberians I know do not expect her government to do everything contemporaneously. These people are fully cognizant that government cannot solve all of their problems and it is impossible for government to do everything concomitantly. These are the Liberians I know! What they expect from Madam Sirleaf’s government is the implementation of her promises.
These are some of the basic things the Liberians expect from Sirleaf’s government. And realistically, if this government can be responsible enough to implement her promises to the Liberian people, there is no doubt about Liberia’s future economic progress and stability. In order to obliterate the culture of impunity that has given birth to corruption and dishonesty in our country, government must be very robust in policy making and implementation.
Moreover, in repositioning yourself to shift a better Liberia, our partners must be conscious of the fact that it is beneficial and profitable for Liberia and its people to produce and manufacture more of the nation’s resources here in Liberia instead of the opposite. Time is running out Madam President. Forget beautiful speeches and work honestly to transform the lives of the rejected, neglected, maltreated and abandoned slum dwellers and poverty-stricken people of Liberia. Note that changes in officials, prosecution of offenders, robust partnership, reform in policies and actions have long been overdue. However, better late than never! We hope you try your best within the remaining three (3) years!
Finally, I offer these recommendations for Liberia’s economic development and future stability!
President Sirleaf’s Annual Address to the Nation Revisited
Lessons for President Sirleaf and Cabinet: How to Build a Nation
PREZ SIRLEAF SAYS: LIBERIA OWES USD $759M , AFTER $4.7B DEBT
Author: Alieu Haircrates Sackor is Interim President of Cuttington University Student Union