The Minister of Finance and Development Planning, Samuel D. Tweah, has highlighted agriculture as a fulcrum for the much-needed economic recovery of the Liberian nation.
The economy of Liberia is currently experiencing a downward trend which prompted President George Weah to constitute a National Economic Dialogue Secretariat to speedily examine the causes, challenges as well as measures that will remedy the situation.
In an effort to find a short and medium term solution to those challenges, President Weah mandated the Secretariat to convene a dialogue aimed at soliciting views from broad-based Liberians and international partners for the recalibration of the economy.
Speaking Wednesday at the opening session of the three-day dialogue held at the Ministerial Complex in Congo Town, Minister Tweah indicated that the Government of Liberia views the agriculture sector as the clearer path to short and medium term job creation.
“The benefits here are too great and we would like to see some consensus developed around agricultural investment during this dialogue,” Tweah said.
He encouraged banking institutions to prioritize lending money to agricultural institutions to improve value chain and domestic food production which, according to him, will help foster speedy economic growth.
However, Tweah said he understands the risk associated with lending money, which are high but further proposed a conversation on de-risking bank lending to agriculture.
“There is absolutely no way we can transform agriculture if banks do not seriously participate,” Tweah emphasized.
The Finance Minister noted that the President of Liberia mandated the Finance Ministry to include US$2 million in the 2019/2020 budget as an agriculture guarantee fund as a means of beginning the transformation of the agriculture sector in Liberia.
According to Tweah, the government intends to increase such amount every year which is intended to back flexible lending terms in the agriculture sector.
The MFDP official stressed that firms in agricultural production need flexible terms such as one to two years grace period for maturity.
“The government is ready to put its mouth where its money is by using public resources to relax constraints in key sectors such as agriculture,” he said.
Tweah asserted that the government is challenged to put Liberia on the path of food security and job creation in the next three years, using agriculture as a conduit.
He cautioned the citizenry that there will be no economic progress for Liberia if the country remains an undiversified economy which depends heavily on the sale of iron ore, gold, timber, and rubber with no value added.
Meanwhile, Tweah has explained that the current economic situation in Liberia is not because domestic revenue mobilization is not performing but rather the reduction in external assistance and remittance that foster liquidity of foreign exchange.
“The shocks to the budget were not because domestic revenue is not performing; evidence shows that domestic revenue levels in the last year budget exceeded levels as far back as three to four years.
“The shocks came from the decline in external assistance which has been a major part of our revenue over the past ten years,” he said.
Tweah also highlighted that evidence shows that import cost can come down if the government, the National Port Authority, shipping lines and other stakeholders remain on the current path of bringing prices and costs down and improving efficiency in the sector.
Also, Tweah pinpointed the cost and liability associated with electricity as another factor that is posing challenge to the business environment, adding that the cost for a kilowatt in Liberia is US$0.35 cents as compared to other countries in West Africa which is less than US$0.15 cents.
He assured Liberians that the completion of the CLSG transmission line early next year will enable Liberians to import cheaper power from neighboring countries which will help improve the business climate.
Tweah extolled President Weah, participants, as well as development partners for their contributions leading to the realization of the economic dialogue.
He further called on participants to bring forth their suggestions, recommendations and expertise aimed at reviving the current state of the Liberian economy for the best.