SONA 2021: “Gov’t Rescues 1 Million Inhabitants During COVID-19”
Liberia, with a population less than 5 million, began early COVID-19 precautionary methods in March 2020 when the then Director General of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Nathaniel Blama, was diagnosed with the symptoms of the viral disease. Since then, the administration of President George M. Weah has been making frantic efforts in aiding those mostly in need.
In April 2020, the National Legislature approved a state of emergency and a proposed stimulus package for those considered mostly in need. However, this package, due to its significance and impact, was misconstrued by the non-beneficiaries as meant not only for the mostly in need but for the entire citizenry. This myth is still being told, and thus government being lashed for the misconception.
It can be recalled that the National Legislature approved a US$25 million stimulus package, in the form of food support, to the “mostly in need” throughout the country. Even though the term “mostly in need” was not specifically defined, it was well understood that the stimulus was not intended for everyone; as such, some communities received a minute portion of the package while other communities hugely benefitted. Some communities (considered middle-income areas) were not even covered in the food ration.
Apparently not to be seen as bias or siphoning the funds, the government contracted the World Food Program (WFP) to carry out the food distribution while it plays a supervisory role; as such, the US$25 million appropriated for the relief program was transferred to WFP.
To date, WFP records have declared that up to one million inhabitants benefited from the food distribution, which included two bags of 25kg rice, Argo oil and beans. The records also show that individuals considered mostly in need in ten counties have benefitted. Counties covered are Montserrado, Bomi, Grand Cape Mount, Bong, Grand Bassa, River Cess, Nimba, Grand Gedeh, Maryland and Margibi.
The food distribution, which is expected to be completed with a no-renewal contract in March 2021, is expected to target the less-privileged residents of Gbarpolu, Lofa, River Gee, Sinoe and Grand Kru counties.
Arguably, it can be said that the government has met its target of subsidizing the citizenry during the harsh economic times, as no report of death by starvation was recorded. There were humanitarians who buttressed government’s effort in complementing the population with food rations. Noticeable among them were the Indian Consul General, Jeety, and the Inspector General of the Liberia National Police (LNP), Patrick Sudue.
In his fourth State-of-the-Nation Address on Monday, January 25, 2021, President Weah recognized the immense contribution of the nation’s international partners during the year under review, and observed a moment of silence for those who lost their lives to the deadly Coronavirus.
In addition to the COVID-19 food distribution, President Weah noted in his address, “The Government also provided support to the Liberia Electricity Corporation and the Liberia Water and Sewer Corporation for household electricity and water relief. Nearly one ($1.0) million US dollars was provided to the Liberian Electricity Corporation to fund COVID-19 electricity subsidies, which benefitted nearly 38,000 households across Montserrado, Margibi, Nimba, Maryland and Grand Gedeh counties. This means that around 188,000 Liberians benefitted from the government-funded electricity program.
“The government also provided $1.5 Million US dollars to the Liberia Water and Sewer Corporation to fund water subsidies for almost five months, benefitting nearly 10,000 households from a targeted network base of 12,000 households. This means that eighty-three (83%) percent of the targeted base, or almost 50,000 Liberians, benefitted in Montserrado, Grand Bassa and Margibi counties.
“The Legislature also approved the amount of US$2.0 million for market women and petty traders support. This amount has been placed in escrow at the Central Bank of Liberia.
“The government is also working with the United States government through the United States Agency for International Development to deliver US$10 million under a COVID-19 cash transfer program to about 85,000 petty traders, market women and other vulnerable Liberians trading in the informal economy.
“Government has agreed to underwrite the cost of providing biometric identification cards to these 85,000 Liberians. The distribution of the government’s US$2 million will greatly benefit from the enrollment under the USAID supported program, since it may avoid duplication of payments to the same individuals.
“The Government of Liberia has also extended COVID-19-related relief to healthcare workers and private school teachers. The amount of US$2 million was budgeted and has been paid to healthcare workers as part of hazard pay. “Government has also provided US$1 million to the Ministry of Education for private school teachers throughout Liberia. This payment is through a digital platform and is presently on-going.”