Boakai’s First SONA: Six Years’ Journey Begins

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“In this fight, me and my Vice President, we will be the first to take a drug test and I urge all others to follow,” this quotation is attributed to President Joseph Nyuma Boakai, when reflecting on some of what his first State of the Nation Address to the Liberian people contained. In what appears to be the shortest state of the nation address delivered by any elected President in the country, President Boakai performed this constitutional duty on Monday, January 29, 2024 in the joint chamber of the 55th National Legislature on Capitol Hill. According to him, the drug epidemic, especially the use of “KUSH” in Liberia is an existential threat eating away at the future of Liberian children and the country. “We must stand up and face this national security risk together. Given the need for immediate action to make good my pledge to the thousands of families burdened by this crisis, I am hereby declaring Drugs and Substance abuse as a Public Health Emergency. In this direction, I am establishing a multisectoral steering committee comprising the following agencies:

  • Ministry of Health – Chair
  • Ministry of Justice – Co-Chair
  • Ministry of Youth and Sports- Member
  • Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection – Member
  • Liberia Drug Enforcement Agency (LDEA) – Member
  • Ministry of Finance and Development Planning (MFDP) – Member.”

President Boakai told Liberians that the state of the economy of the country is a cause for concern, with many of the citizens facing perennial unemployment and economic instability. He noted that Liberians must not just recognize the pain and frustration that permeate the society, but also work together to introduce and pass legislations that will prioritize economic reforms that foster sustainable economic growth and job creation. “Distinguished Legislators, economic growth slowed between 2022 and 2023, from 4.8 percent to 4.6 percent. The rate of growth averaged about 1.5 percent, compared with 3.1 percent between 2012 and 2017 due in part to an underperforming economy and the existing geo-political global environment. During the past six years, the economy faced challenges in terms of growth, job creation, and poverty reduction,” he indicated.   According to him, inflation during the period 2023 rose to 10.1 percent at the end of December, from 7.6 percent in 2022. He noted that revenue collection as reported for 2023 stood at US$710.23 million while expenditure totaled US$796.32 million; hence, a large budget deficit of over US$80 million.

As a government, President Boakai said they intend to change this state of the economy by thinking “outside the box”; a paradigm shift away from reliance on primary commodity export to focusing on value addition with the private sector as the engine to drive the economy. “Under my Administration, the empowerment of Liberian entrepreneurship through more support will help bring back THE MADE IN LIBERIA quest for inclusive and sustainable growth and jobs. In our quest to expand the economy, we will leverage Information Communication Technology (ICT) in creating jobs, especially for our youth.  To achieve this, my Administration will train up to 10,000 young people in various digital skills in the first half of 2024. The Liberian middle-class goal must be a reality in the next 6 years,” he assured. President Boakai revealed that the net international reserves position reported at the end of December 2023 was US$220 million.  However, the President told Liberians that the report of US $40 million as the GoL’s consolidated account balance as at January 19, 2024 is not supported by the fact.   According to him, the balance reported by the CBL as of the same date was US$20.5 million, highly encumbered, NOT US$40 million.  To this end, the President stressed: “We re-emphasize our earlier commitment to audit and ensure that regular audits will be a culture across all branches of government, not only the Executive. The stock of public debt at end-December 2023 stood at US$2.21 billion, an increase of 6.25 percent compared to end-December 2022 stock of US$2.08 billion. This represents a sharp increase of US$1.33 billion compared to the end of December 2017 stock of US$878.17 million (representing 151.66 percent rise). Our debt burden has clearly grown astronomically. Certainly, the rescue mission was a necessity for Liberia’s transformation.” President Boakai also disclosed that currently, Liberia is under sanction for lack of payment of dues to the African Union and the African Development Bank while there is also a default in payment of about US$650,000 to the European Investment Bank, thus preventing a disbursement of over US$13 million for the Sanniquellie – Loguato road.  “We will reintroduce the Fiscal Rules and Travel Ordinance in addition to other measures to help address waste and abuse and ensure the return of prudent fiscal management. We will ensure that the executive leads by example,” he promised.  Touching on agriculture, the President asserted that Liberia is endowed with abundant natural resources, stressing that with over 40% of West Africa’s rainforest, Liberia is home to a diverse array of flora and fauna that should help provide economic and agricultural growth opportunities. He further said the country is also a leader in the discussion on climate change mitigation, emphasizing the importance of international partnerships for sustainable agricultural production and development.

However, the President indicated that it is important to recognize that Liberia’s available arable land is underutilized. “My Government is committed to harnessing the right resources and strengthening collaboration with international partners and local farmers to improve production,” he assured. He also disclosed that there are an estimated 70,000 employees, including appointed officials, in the Government of Liberia. These employees are said to command a total wage of over US$300 million annually.  Unfortunately, this growth in the size of the government has reportedly not been proportional to the growth in revenue and the efficiency and effectiveness of the government. “This means that wage continues to consume a sizeable portion of the total budget, strangulating service delivery and all initiatives and obligations of the government. So, the government faces a situation of stunted growth and non-investment in the lives of the people,” he indicated.  In order to make the government more effective and efficient, President Boakai said they must focus on public service deliveries; adding, “The people, not the government, must come first.” The President also touched on other sectors including health, education, and road network, among others; as the full text exhibits on page—.2,4 and 5

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