By Olando Testimony Zeongar
MONROVIA – Outgoing U.S. envoy to Liberia, Ambassador Michael A. McCarthy, has lamented the failure of the George Weah administration to release funding, as allotted in the country’s 2022-23 National Budget, to hospitals in counties located outside the capital, Monrovia.
In a statement released to the press on Monday, Ambassador McCarthy, who recently concluded a tour of counties in Liberia, revealed that he was startled and deeply troubled to encounter multiple county hospitals that received not one penny of what they were promised in the 2022 Budget.
He disclosed that hospitals on which lives depend, where outbreaks are prevented and suffering is alleviated, did not receive any portion of the US$100,000 or more appropriated by the Liberian Legislature for these health facilities to operate.
“As reported in the press last week with Tellowoyan Memorial Hospital in Lofa County, these facilities currently survive on the backs of incredibly dedicated health professionals, making do with whatever they can scrape together,” Ambassador McCarthy further disclosed.
He blames the failure of the Weah administration to release funding to these hospitals on what he suspects as a syndicate involving players at the Legislature, and others at the Ministries of Health and Internal Affairs respectively.
“Lest you think this is the work of one political party, that notion was quickly dispelled by Liberians I talked to. The blocking of resources is so complete that it must be institutional: and the lack of any alarm being raised indicates a syndicate involving players at the legislature, the Ministry of Health, and the Ministry of Internal Affairs,” Ambassador McCarthy emphasized.
With the Weah-led government’s failure to release US$100,000 to existing hospitals, Ambassador McCarthy doubts whether the Liberian government would assume the responsibility of spending US$3 million to US$4 million annually to operate a state-of-the-art National Reference Laboratory (NRL) that will cost the American government over US$40 million to construct for Liberia soon.
“The United States Government is about to spend a total of over US$40 million constructing Liberia’s state-of-the-art National Reference Laboratory (NRL) that, when completed, will require US$3 million to US$4 million a year from the Government of Liberia to operate. If the Government is failing to deliver statutory appropriations of only US$100,000 to existing hospitals, why would we ever trust annual pledges of US$3 million for the future NRL?” Ambassador McCarthy wonders.
The U.S. envoy, who disclosed that he also visited most of Liberia’s County Service Centers, with none yet to receive any budgetary allocation for 2022, which according to him, approximately sums up to US$13,333, also lamented that it was striking that the further he went from Monrovia, the more elaborate and explicit were the reasons given for the lack of funding from the central government.
He inferred that he marveled over the unrealistic excuses made by some locals in places he traveled, as being reasons responsible for the Liberian government’s failure to release funding to hospitals and service centers in those counties.
Said Ambassador McCarthy: “I wonder if these people are aware that, much to their credit, the LRA has surpassed projections and increased revenues for the past four years, climbing from US$435,682 million in 2019 to US$605,005 million in 2022?”
He continued: “I suspect the country folk don’t know that the Liberian economy grew by 3.7% in 2022. And I am quite sure they have not been told that the legislature has spent more every year for the past three years buttering their own bread, allocating over US$65 million in 2022 for salaries and operations. That’s correct – while hospitals went without, and service centers withered on the vine, the 30 senators and the 73 representatives spent sixty-five million U.S. dollars feathering their own nests.”
He then pointed out that the U.S. Embassy near Monrovia withholds 25% of the salaries of its Liberian employees at the Residence and at the Embassy to pay their legally mandated income tax to the LRA, wondering, “Why are the much better-paid representatives and senators not paying a full 25% of their salaries? Why are legislators and ministers, those living on the top of the heap, given annual duty-free imports that deny the LRA much-needed additional revenue? Is there any reason other than the perverted version of the Golden Rule – “those that have the gold, make the rules”?”
He recounted that U.S. taxpayers spend around US$60 million a year on health care in Liberia, and another US$23 million on education, indicating that in Liberia, the same Legislature that spent US$65 million on itself in 2022 appropriated around US$7.1 million for grants and subsidies to county health facilities and US$2.76 million for operations at basic and secondary education (although, as we saw, that doesn’t mean the funds reached their intended destinations).”
Howbeit, Ambassador McCarthy contended that if the Liberian Legislature could just appropriate an additional US$10 million a year to primary education, for a country that is tied in last place for average days of school attendance, and an additional US$10 million a year for county hospitals, even the greatest cynics concede that it would make a big difference.
“Just US$500,000 each per year of actual maintenance (not make-believe budgeted funds) on four unpaved roads (Zorzor – Voinjama; Zwedru – Fishtown; Greenville – Barclayville City; and Greenville – Buchanan) would dramatically improve the lives of more than a million of Liberia’s poorest citizens, lowering food costs, revolutionizing farm to market access, and eliminating seasonal shortages of life-saving medicines and equipment.” he pointed out, adding that even with that done, the Legislature would still have US$43 million a year to somehow get by.
As for him, Ambassador McCarthy stated that should the U.S. Congress ask how the elite in Monrovia are treating destitute citizens in the leeward counties, his honest response would have to be, “Those citizens are treated with a neglect that borders on contempt.”