Fact Check: President Weah’s Second Annual State of the Nation Address

On Monday, January 29, 2019, Liberia’s President, George Weah, held his Second Annual State of the Nation Address and read a nearly 3 hour long speech. He made many monetery, political, and developmental claims that I have fact checked in this piece in order to provide clarity for us all.

Statement: “We stabilized our economy, protected the fundamental rights of our citizens and preserved our peace.”

The stabilization of an economy is based on several factors such as, GDP (Gross Domestic Product), Unemployment Rate, Currency Exchange Rate, Budget Shortfall, Inflation Rate, CPI (Consumer Price Index), etc.

Figure 1: Trend of USD to LRD Exchange Rate

Figure 2:  Economic Indicators CBL Report 2016-2018

In Liberia, the unemployment rate measures the number of people actively looking for a job as a percentage of the labour force.

Figure 3: Trend of Unemployment Rate from 2009-2018

Given the data provided in the above graphs, Liberia’s economy is relatively unstable at the moment, and is on a downward trend.

With regards to the protection of citizens’ fundamental rights, the Executive Order No. 92 pursuant to the Domestic Violence that seeks to protect women against violence and abolish female genital mutilation (FGM) against young girls under the age of 18, issued by former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf on January 19, 2018,  expired on January 19th, 2019. It has not [yet] been renewed.

Liberia has remained relatively peaceful during Weah’s first year; although there has been protests, marches, and other events, these are all part of the democratic expression of the people of Liberia and peace has been marginally sustained.

Statement: “I was elected into Office upon the four pillars of our Party’s Manifesto, namely: power to the people, economy, and jobs, sustaining the peace, governance, and transparency.”

When it comes to transparency, George Weah declared his assets six months into his first year, according to a statement from the General Services Agency. The report of his assets has yet to be released to the general public, and other members of government have yet to declare their assets. Other than that, George Weah’s transparency has been called into question throughout his presidency thus far, with people being concerned about fundings for recent projects.

In terms of empowering the Liberian people, the government has done very little beyond a microfinance loan for small businesses. Per the report from the Central Bank of Liberia, the economy and job sector are struggling. Peace has been maintained but Weah made inflammatory remarks, labelling critics of him as “enemies of state.” These types of remarks, the decline of the economy, and the lack of transparency harm the stability of peace in the nation.

In President George Weah’s own words: “We recognize that youth unemployment and the lack of opportunities are not only hindrances to economic development and transformation, but are also potential threats to national security.”

While President Weah made many claims about education, we could not verify those claims regarding statistics due to the Ministry of Education’s website server being down.

President Weah’s speech was laden with mentions of donors, partners, loans, grants, and investments. The next series of statements will be about educational investments.

Statement: “The European Union made an investment of 20 Million Euros, dedicated to the development of Technical Vocational Education in Liberia.  The project will benefit all youth, whether enrolled in school or out of school, through the Ministries of Education and Youth & Sports. An additional 12.5 million Euros, previously set aside by the European Union for Out-of-School Youth, is being requested by the Ministry of Education to expand and continue the investment in vocational education (formal & informal). That application, when approved and finalized, will bring the total to 32 million Euros which will be targeting vocational education in several counties.”

Information on the ongoing deals can be found here.

Statement: “The Swedish Government has also committed itself to investing approximately 5 Million Euros for Vocational and Skills Education in Liberia, designated specifically for reconstructing and equipping the Voinjama Multilateral High School which was destroyed during the war.”

Documentation from the Swedish Government corroborating this information was not found.

Statement: “The current commitment of the USAID to Education aggregates to $60.9 Million United States dollars. The USAID investment comprises $27 Million United States dollars for the READ LIBERIA PROJECT, and $33.9 Million United States dollars for the ACCELERATED QUALITY EDUCATION PROGRAM.”

Information on this can be found: here.

Statement: “We have completed the recruitment of young people who are to be beneficiaries of youth empowerment and employment activities under our YOUTH ENTREPRENEURSHIP AND EMPLOYMENT PROJECT, YOUTH OPPORTUNITIES PROJECT, and the NATIONAL CADET PROGRAM.  About fifteen thousand (15,000) individuals and households are expected to benefit from these programs, collectively.

The Youth Opportunities Project has to date benefited one hundred and twenty-nine (129) communities in all 15 counties.”

Information on this project can be found here.

In this next segment of his speech, President Weah gives more details about the “broken economy” his government inherited.

Statement: “It is important to mention that the broken economy inherited by our administration, caused by the risk associated with the democratic transition in 2017, collapse of the country’s major export commodities prices on the global market, the UNMIL withdrawal, and the effect of the Ebola Virus Disease in 2014, is still in a struggling state.  

Despite these peculiar adverse economic circumstances, growth in real gross domestic product (GDP) recovered at 2.5 percent in 2017 and was projected to rise to 3 percent at the end of 2018.  By 2023, we expect the economy to grow by a further 4.7 percent, on account of further expansion in commercial gold production, growth in the agricultural and forestry sectors, formation of Special Economic Zones, and other economic reforms envisage under the Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development.

Even with these optimistic recovery forecasts, our projected growth rates are still below the pre-Ebola period, when the economy grew on average by 7.5 percent annually.”

The statement is true and can be checked here.

All statements on finance are in line with the Central Bank of Liberia’s report.

President Weah made a lengthy statement on road creation and infrastructure construction in Liberia, all his statements can be found here. The data behind those statements will be listed below.

SANNIQUELLIE – LOGATUO ROAD project of forty-seven kilometers (47 km) with funding from the African Development Bank.

GANTA – TAPPITTA – ZWEDRU ROAD project of two hundred and twenty-five kilometers (225 km) with funding from the Liberia Reconstruction Trust Fund.

Gbarnga – Salayea Road project of eighty-one kilometers (81 km) is expected with funding from the Arab Banks.

Our concessionaire, ARCELORMITTAL, has started the GANTA – YEKEPA Road Project of sixty-seven kilometers (67 km).

People’s Republic of China’s construction of 2 ultra-modern overpass bridges to be constructed at the SKD Boulevard and Ministerial Complex Intersections respectively on Tubman Boulevard.

The commencement of the Japanese Government’s thirteen point two kilometers (13.2km) Somalia Drive Road Phase I completion and Phase II.

The Liberian-Swedish 400 km Feeder Road Project.

The Government of India’s 144 Million commitment to build a conference center named in honor of Mahatma Gandhi on Bali Island.

Statement:”The Government is undertaking a total of one hundred and fifty kilometers (150) km of Community Roads in fifty-seven (57) communities in Monrovia and its environs, as well as in Gbarnga, Bong County and in Buchanan, Grand Bassa County.  These roads are being paved with funding from domestic revenues generated from taxes.

I am pleased to inform you that more than sixty-five percent (65%) of community roads are near completion.  DOE COMMUNITY TO CLARA TOWN road and CHUGBOR ROAD are completed and dedicated.”

This statement has yet to be verified with a tangible document released to the public.

From the data given, majority of our roads and infrastructure is being built by foreign funds, which has cause some to wonder, “How does this stimulate our economy and provide jobs for our people?”

President Weah made statements about LEC, the electrical grid of the country, and power theft. Here are the claims:

“There are more than 8000 new household connections, 324 new commercial connections, with 80 new large users added and in the process of being added. However, revenue collected accounts for about 40% of generated load, while power theft accounts for about 49% and technical losses accounts for 12%. There has not been a change in Tariff and that may not change until the problem of power theft is addressed through a policy reform.

Statistics showed that 10% of power theft will cost the Liberia Electricity Corporation $8 million United States dollars. Today, because of the increase in illegal connections, the LEC is losing in excess of $35 million United States dollars per year to electricity theft.”

Documents from LEC support these claims.

Mr. President touched on the economy’s state again, this time with statements related to the consumer prices.

Statement: “In the face of rising global prices, the government has been able to reduce the basic prices of fuel on the Liberian market.  Fuel prices have been reduced as follows: Gas: 3.70 reduce to 3.30 and AGO has been reduced from 3.95 cents to 3.70. Likewise, the price of an ordinary passport has been reduced by 10%, from $50 to $45.”

The passport claim has yet to be implemented on the immigration services website.

The claim on the price of fuel and Automotive Gas Oil (Diesel) are verified.

As many feel that agriculture is the future, President Weah also touched on that.

Statement: “Just as I am doing with the roads, I will directly get involved in the programs and practical implementation of agriculture development.The sector accounts for more than seventy percent (70%) of household earnings.”

This verifies that the current administration is already involved in this program, due to it being an extended program from Former President Sirleaf’s administration and it backs up the 70% claim.

Overall, President George Weah’s address was somewhat factual. However, the state of the economy was misrepresented and the fragility of peace was not acknowledged. There were many topics that were left unaddressed such as empowerment of Liberian-based businesses, health, social welfare including sex based gender violence and so on.  From his address, we are assured that Liberia is a donor state, receiving most of her funds and development from outside, instead of within. His address leaves people wondering if the economy will improve and if Liberia will get on the path to becoming a secure nation.

Reference Documents: Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development; Central Bank Of Liberia 2018 Report; World Bank Economic Profile Liberia; Consumer Price Index Report; Liberia Agriculture Investment Opportunities Brief.

Authored by Abner Pahpay

Featured Picture by Danielle Haynes

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