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Renovate the storefront before Opening for Business

Originally published in the Liberia Daily Observer as an Op-ed by Amara Kamara

President Weah says "Liberia is Open for Business." But Liberia’s storefront needs structural and systemic makeover, so is it really open?

Liberia is a poor and severely underdeveloped country. It is one of the few countries on the face of the earth that has undergone some of the worst human, socio-economic, and political sufferings. It is also one of few countries where every single segment of life needs some forms of curative interventions.

The country has historically received foreign assistance including budgetary supports for everyday government needs for things like procuring fuel, office papers, furniture, vehicles, and even government salaries. In fact, Liberia receives more than 80 percent of its national fiscal budget from foreign aids on a routine basis.  

Liberia's problems and challenges have never been the lack of supports or foreign aids. Similarly, Liberia has never been closed for business as the president's declaration of "Liberia is open of business" would imply. Liberia has always been opened, and it has been doing business.

But for any good business, there needs to be clearly defined rules and regulations, actionable blueprints, and a sense of commitment to some viable and sustainable financial plans.

With President George Weah calling on other nations and international organizations to come and do business with Liberia, which he will continue to do throughout his term, it is time for the president to demonstrate signs to indicate that his government is practically ready for business. If Liberia was ready and opened for business, there would be business-friendly laws, policies, and procedures that govern everything ranging from import, trade, government spending, to the rule of law. It will also have a clearly actionable “business” plan for how it intends to do or fix other things (i.e. systems and infrastructure) if it had the money to do so.

In the absence of a responsible economic and legal framework to guide and do things differently, the Global Finance Magazine ranks Liberia in the 174th place out 190 countries as having the worst business environment. In fact, the Global Finance reports that Liberia is good (37 out of 190) at starting a business but worse (176 out of 190) at enforcing contracts and even worse (179 out of 190) at protecting minority investors.

Liberia’s virtual business storefront needs structural and systemic makeover, and the Weah administration can do the simplest of them in his first 100 days without needing international aids. Things like asset declaration, revisiting government salary and benefit structure, drafting a road-map on how the president intends to address the critical infrastructural challenges, are examples of a few things that the government can do now without stretching hands out for help.

What is Liberia as a country if our first instinct is to ask for help? Without making any change to the status quo, President Weah’s call for business is not any different from similar calls in the past from those that preceded him. Hasn’t Liberia been opened for business since 1847? Every president since then has made the case of more foreign investments just as President Weah is doing now. They all made foreign trips and made sensible and emotional pleas for help.

But without any practical demonstrable change, the president’s mantra of “Liberia is Open for business” triggers the question of who will benefit from this mantra. Up until the time of this writing, the answer to the question is in the status quo. There are no indicators that any new businesses and investments in the current environment would benefit the everyday Liberians. With the current systems in place, politicians would benefit more from the president’s mantra because the lack of checks and balances mean that new government funds will not reach the vast majority of the citizenry.

President Weah will need to demonstrate his commitment to implementing changes that will make Liberia business storefront viable and attractive for business. A soccer diplomacy will not add any significant value to Liberia's investment portfolio.

Liberia receives aids from the USA, and China, and with a commitment now from France, the country is unique in benefiting from America, Europe, and Asia’s prominent economic powerhouses. But what good has all the help from US, China and other countries done since we ourselves have not been able to literally pick up the broom and clean our own backyard? Despite all the help of the past, nearly every segment of life in Liberia needs some forms of repairs or attention.

The president needs to stop whining that he inherited a broke economy, and roll up his sleeves to renovate the 'storefront' before opening Liberia for business. Liberia has always been poor. The president needs to stop whining about the economy as in Liberia, every new president inherits a broke economy because we lack checks and balances. The president can take advantage of his popular support and effect some fundamental systemic change that do not require international aid.

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