Liberia is a strange place, it’s a country where the laws are broken at every echelon of the society or the laws are never applied in any sector or flouted for every reason. Perpetrators hardly get punished. The country, anyone can safely say, runs on impunity. Yet the weirdest thing imaginable in this part of the world is that loan, a key revenue generating plank for most financial institutions is a huge risk for loss in Liberia. Here debts hardly get repaid.
On December 19, 2018, the government of Liberia through the President George Weah showboated at the country’s largest business district in the City of Paynesville launching a US$3 million loan scheme. The President was quick to remind would be borrowers that this was not “free money” and that they needed to repay their debts. Why should they have to repay? Because this is going to be a revolving fund. The President made that clear that repayment will afford other potential, eventual borrowers to access the loan.
Although there is so much publicity stunt made about this loan, it’s not the first of its kind in the nation. There have always been loan schemes in Liberia, especially since the establishment of the Liberia Bank for Development and Investment (LBDI) and loan cushion remains at the bank. However, it has gone for only the privilege. In 2006, a few months after the late Harry Greaves took over as head of Liberia Petroleum Refinery Company (LPRC) he borrowed US$400, 000 to construct his upscaled PA Rib House in Sinkor. Also a few months after this government came to power, Presidential Minister, Nathaniel McGill loaned US$200, 000 to purchase a private residence. There is where the money has always gone.
In the 1980s under President Samuel Doe, a meeting of Liberian businesses was held on live television about how to help market women and small Liberian businesses compete with foreign businesses. Meanwhile, a few months before the late President had authorized a small business loan scheme for local businesses. A market woman stood and told the President they small business people needed help with money. President Doe asked the LBDI head about the loan money. He said it was loaned to Liberian businesses. And the market woman retorted, ‘you took the loan yourself’ referring to the banker. He just stood there with a poker face, embarrassed.
This is the story of our lives. The bureaucrats ask for the loan money in the name of the ordinary people and loan it to the rich, influential and powerful. Another case in point is the James Kollie managed loan at the Ministry of Finance under Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. That was never a loan but a bounty shared to friends and cronies. Or maybe we needed to mention the loans from Poverty Doctor, Dr. Mills Jones formerly of the Central Bank of Liberia when money was distributed from the national coffers under the guise of helping Liberian businesses but directed at political supporters.
And here, we are at it again: US$3 million loan money reportedly being made available for Liberian businesses. What we have yet to know is the requirement to access the loan. What we do know is that it does have the same ease access like simple interest and collateral free conditions. We have no doubt this will be another loan to the rich, influential and powerful with no repayment and no penalties. We have serious doubt that this money would not go to political supporters, friends, cronies, and public officials. We shall hold this doubt until we find that money is disbursed to people who have good innovations for manufacturing or owners for businesses who are not related to public officials, linked to the ruling party or forced to give kick back.