MONROVIA, Montserrado â€“ The George Weah-led government may be unable to pay civil servants for the Christmas holiday season, as Senate President Pro Tempore AlbertÂ Chie suggested that the government would be unable to stabilize salary payments until February 2020.
Chie indicated such on Tuesday, Dec. 2 when he spoke before a Senate special session requested by the president to discuss issues of national concerns.
As many Liberianâ€™s have feared, the next few months will be more difficult than the past, as further salary delays can be expected under the current state of economic decline.
At the special session, Chie took pains to appeal to his fellow citizens: â€œThe next few months will be difficult with the delayed salary payments continuing up to Christmas Season.â€
Chie noted that the government was â€œworking very hard to stabilize salary payments by the end of February 2020, this special session of the legislature is a catalyst for the achievement of this objective.â€
The Senate leader highlighted a litany of national challenges, which he said had combined to negatively impact the economy and derail the timely payment of civil servant salaries.
First was the consequences of the 2014 Ebola crisis. Then, there was the exit of international peacekeepers, which removed some US$50 million from the economy. He also noted that the printing and questionable infusion of L$10 million into circulation two years ago by the past government further exacerbated the situation. Furthermore, Chie said repeated budget shortfalls led to increased borrowing and expansion in the national debt stock. Finally, a rapid fall in government revenue collection, with the Liberia Revenue Authority falling short of its July to November 2019 target by approximately US$60 million, made the situation worse.
The waves of public street protests have not helped the situation either. Instead, Chie said they have â€œincreased the political risk index and deterred foreign direct investment.â€
â€œAll of these factors have compounded to create an environment of hardship for our people,â€ he noted.
These economic changes have forced the Liberian government to enter into an IMF program, where additional cuts to the government wage bill are a prerequisite. In addition to the earlier â€˜wage harmonizationâ€™ announced by the government, a new round of 8.4 percent salary reduction was recently announced to help keep the government wage bill low and manageable.
Under these circumstances, the governmentâ€™s Economic Management Team and the Central Bank are seeking authorization from the legislature to print a total of L$35 billion, which Chie describes as â€œa new family of currencyâ€ to completely replace the current stock of banknotes.
When the Central Bank made this request in August of this year, Liberian dollars supply stood at L$21.48 billion, with an estimated 86 percent in circulation outside of the bank, and only 8 percent residing in commercial banks, according to statistics provided by the Central Bank.
But the Central Bankâ€™s request for the printing of new banknotes comes amid heightened suspicions and the lack of a resolution of recent scandals involving another printing of banknotes, in addition to a US$25 million â€˜mop-upâ€™ exercise intended to respond to rising inflation.
At least two independent reports â€“ performed by Kroll Associates and General Auditing Agency â€“ raised serious questions of impropriety and the lack of transparency and accountability in the Central Bankâ€™s procedures.
Chie hopes that the current special session will take the actions needed to authorize the printing of new banknotes. But there is no guarantee he will succeed.
Already, many senators, including the newest member from Montserrado, Sen. Darius Dillon, have already come out publicly to reject the printing of any new banknotes unless there are resolutions on the key questions raised.
Featured photo by Zeze Ballah