Moses D. Sandy, Philadelphia – Liberia’s Finance and Development Planning Minister, Amara M. Konneh says if the Liberian government had not taken swift actions to ensure the availability of major commodity at affordable prices on the Liberian market in the wake of the Ebola outbreak, there would had been another civil uprising similar to that of the infamous April 14, 1979, rice riots in the country.
On April 14, 1979, there were demonstrations in Monrovia, Liberia’s capital against the increase in the prices of rice. In an effort to discourage the importation of rice, the nation’s staple and encourage the production of locally grown rice, the Tolbert Administration increased the price of the US Parboiled rice. The government also, raised the price of the locally produced rice but the opposition then led by the late G. Baccus Mathews of the Progressive Alliance of Liberia (PAL), called for a massive demonstration throughout Monrovia. The riots reportedly claimed the lives of several Liberians and thousands of dollar worth of properties.
Speaking on Sunday, April 26, 2015, in the City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania at a town hall meeting held at the Faith-Immanuel Lutheran Church under the auspices of the Liberian Association of Pennsylvania (LAP) on the Post Ebola socio-economic impact and how the Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf government prevented a near economic collapse, Minister Konneh said, the outbreak of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in the country in the year 2014 had a negative impact on the nation’s economy.
He said to mitigate the problem; the Economic Management Team chaired by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf took extraordinary measures to alleviate the shortage of essential commodities by keeping trade channels open. He said President Johnson-Sirleaf also, engaged key stakeholders to reduce import costs.
The town hall meeting was attended by scores of Liberians from various states in the Americas. According to a press release from the Communications Unit of the Finance and Planning Development Ministry, Minister Konneh said Ebola was the worst disease Liberia has ever experienced in recent history. He reported the outbreak claimed many lives and further exposed the larger population to death.
He said EVD had a serious toll on economic activities throughout the country. He said the Disease eroded domestic food production, mining activities, and the nation’s hospitality sector. The Finance and Development Planning Minister told his fellow countrymen that EVD also, stalled the transportation sector and scaled down the economic activities of concession companies as expatriates departed the country for fear of the disease.
He said the situation also, gave rise to a rapid decline in the nation’s projected Growth Domestic Product (GDP) from 5.9 to 1 percent. As a result, the Minister explained, Liberia experienced a short fall in its projected revenue performance and increased expenditure demands. He said the problem was further exacerbated by the isolation of the country by some foreign countries.
Minister Konneh said despite the multiple challenges, the Liberian government, its citizens, and international partners remained resilient and resolute in containing the disease. To do this, he said three key strategies were adopted in the fight against the Ebola Virus. He named the strategies as “the strong collaboration and coordination exhibited by our national leaders who went beyond the boundaries of separation of power, the overwhelming resilience and collective efforts of the citizens, and the international response from Liberia’s development partners.”
Commenting on the government expenditure during the Ebola crisis, the Minister said steps were taken to reduce non-Ebola expenditures through austerity measures that put a premium on the highest priority – the containment of Ebola – by disbursing 100 percent to health sector and many more; the freezing of disbursement on all non-essentials like vehicles, furniture, fixtures, office supplies, etc.; a 40% reduction in foreign travels of government officials, and a 25% decrease in fuel and lubricant costs for all spending entities not directly involved in the Ebola response.
He said for now the government will continue to focus on improving the health, education and agriculture sectors, construction of roads and infrastructure development, the provision of water and electricity, and other essential needs of the people. Minister Konneh also, briefed his fellow Liberians about the Johnson-Sirleaf Government post Ebola economic recovery efforts, which are fixated on “revitalizing and diversifying growth, and addressing vulnerable employment; strengthening resilience and reducing Vulnerability in health, education and other social services; and strengthening public finances and ensuring service delivery.”
The Finance and Development Planning Minister’s town hall meeting in Philadelphia was preceded by what the press release termed a “very successful” World Bank and IMF Spring Meetings held in Washington, DC. last week. At the community gathering, the Minister screened a video production on major public sector investment projects currently underway in Liberia.
He urged Diaspora Liberians to complement the effort of the Liberian government in the nation’s reconstruction and the sustenance of Liberia’s fragile democracy, which was threatened by the EVD. He said the EVD crisis almost resulted to the cancellation of the just ended senatorial elections which the government managed and financed 100 percent. “Any attempt to undermine Liberia’s democracy by any group will definitely take the country backward,” he cautioned.