The Fragile Foundations of Mr. Weah’s Development Dream
Apart from the battle cries and the cheers, we are beginning to get glimpses of what to expect from football star and leader of the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC), George Weah, in terms of his economic and development program when and if elected President, the real test of his leadership. He told journalists recently:
“ If you look at what we have, like our resources, Liberia’s going to be better. We have all of the resources here. We can do better. We can lower taxes. Investors will come in and we can put our people to work. We can create jobs. Most of the goods are not coming through the port no more. Taxes are high. After 15 years of civil crisis, we needed to lower our taxes that will encourage people to open their factories and bring goods that will put people to work. The last time LU (University of Liberia) graduated over 3,000 students but they are not qualified to work
because they are bringing all of their people from the States to work.
And this is a high institution. So, it shows that we still have a short
fall. There’s a way we all have to work on it. We embrace people from
the States but they have to mix with the people on the ground to work.
People will be satisfied…”
Of course, there are several misconceptions here reminiscent of 1980 when the army seized power with the belief that the country was wash with unlimited money and resources. The ‘evil’ Hut tax imposed on rural people without attending benefits was immediately abolished and salaries hiked in cheers, except that as months later, these salaries could not be paid since there was no money. Discontent began as the past was missed. And contrary to Mr. Weah’s belief, this country does not have “all the resources.” Its iron ore, one of the main foreign exchange earners in the past, has almost been depleted. Rubber production is picking up, but it will take years to recover from the wounds the war inflicted. The population is growing, but the comparable skills required for employment in productive sectors are lacking.
Secondly, Mr. Weah and his CDC should give more details on their proposed tax cuts for their development agenda. In which areas are they going to cut taxes? How can they convince us that tax cuts will lead to a stampede of investors here? What studies have they done to reach this crucial conclusion?
So far, many of the major investors that have landed here have done so with tax cuts, meaning that the government has given them tax freedoms in many areas. Mittal Steel, perhaps the biggest investor yet, opted out of the country’s tax regime. Others certainly have followed, with the government yielding because it believes more jobs will be the trade off. This, too, is yet to prove true.
The burden of taxes now rests on small and medium businesses and if taxes they are cut as Mr. Weah and the CDC has promised, there will be a critical vacuum in the fiscal budget. From where are they to fill this budgetary vacuum?
Thirdly, Mr. Weah is falling on the same medicine that this government has fallen on—foreign donors as engines for development. If so, he must tell us what is this Government doing that he can do better in wooing donors. What magic does he have that this government and others before it lack?
Fourthly, if the team and ‘experts’ on Mr. Weah’s team for the implementation of his development agenda are examined and considered, they will provide nothing new other than what they have provided in recent years as economic managers. Nearly all of his cardinal members are relicts from the National Patriotic Front of Liberia/National Patriotic Party or the People’s Redemption Council junta, National Democratic Party of Liberia. The economic footprints of these parties are well-known—hyper corruption and plunder, crude and primitive patronage, the absence of vision, etc. Is Mr. Weah prepared to tell us what they will do after 2011 that will be different from that they did in between 1980 and 1990 and 1990 to 2003 and how?
It is time to go beyond the appealing rhetoric of politicians and look at their capacity in fulfilling their promises. In this, Mr. Weah has opened the avenue for more scrutiny because he must assure voters that he has a better economic agenda and the team to implement it or get out of the show.
The More I Know....The More I Know I Need To Know"