Do they not care that these countries perish or they care that these countries perish?

economic recovery in the post COVID era – rich & powerful vs poor & weak

The powerful countries will be printing money as means of jump-starting their economies as part of the post COVID-19 economic recovery. And it makes sense! Folks need to make major investments in infrastructure and human capital development in order to get things moving again. What else are they supposed to do?

But it seems that many of the world’s poorest countries will not be allowed to even borrow modest amount of money to make any kind of investments. Our international partners will tell us that we can’t borrow because it might put us in moderate or high “debt distress” as shown by our DSA (debt sustainability analysis). They will tell us that there is a “speed bump” that we can’t cross over even if it means that our people will suffer and die. I am not sure what other options are there for us.

Our “development” partners will define debt in all sorts of ways just to ensure that our countries do not borrow any money to make the investments required to move our economies forward. When the COVID recovery is over, the gap between the rich countries which borrowed multiple times their GDP and poor countries which did not borrow anything and therefore could not make any investments will be wider than we have ever seen.

The debts of the rich and powerful can hit any limit but poor and weak are not allowed to borrow to do anything. Some of the poor countries are not even able or allowed to print their own currencies to replace mutilated notes.

The argument from our “development” partners is that we don’t have the “absorptive” capacity. I really have never understood what this meant. That if you built roads and power plant we will not be able to use (absorb) them? Because the monies that these countries want are for critical infrastructure needed to unlock the growth potentials in their economies. If these “binding” constraints are not removed, these countries will never make any progress. With poor infrastructure, there is no foreseeable way that these countries can escape the “poverty trap.”

The partners do not even want to have a conservation about which projects these countries want to undertake. All the partners care about is that these countries shouldn’t borrow. What if they want to borrow to build a power plant so that value-addition and light manufacturing can begin? The partners don’t care. For them, once you don’t have the money, you don’t deserve cheap power or better roads.

The partners don’t want us to borrow against future income. For them, it is against the rule of development. For them, you must have the money in hand (appropriated in your budget) before you can even begin the procurement process for anything. They say, it is irresponsible to borrow against future income. Really? I thought that was what the smartest business people did: borrow to invest and when the return comes, you pay back the debt.

If a country is expecting $100 million in future income over the next 20 years ($5 million per year) and the country wants to build a bridge that cost $80 million with a 2 year construction period. The partners demand that the country can’t borrow the $80 million to build the bridge in 2 years. Instead, the country should construct $5 million worth of the bridge every year until it is complete. This means that it may take 16 years to complete the bridge. Don’t you think that the portion of the bridge that was constructed in year one would be structurally challenged before we get to year 16?

I really have never understood the logic behind the argument of the partners. For me, the bridge in 2 years might even open up more opportunities such that we might not even miss the $5 million per year. Lots of other economic and social benefits would have accrued over those years.

Some times it makes me to wonder what the motives of these “development” partners are? Do they not care that these countries perish or they care that these countries perish? Seems that either way, these countries are perishing….

Second Visit to Juba, South Sudan – my reflections

I arrived in Juba, South Sudan a few days ago. I came upon the invitation of the Government and I have spent some time talking to various officials and stakeholders. I have also spent some time talking to ordinary people on the streets. It has been fascinating!

Since the beginning of 2021, I have been putting more time on my advisory efforts: trying to work with governments and multinationals to navigate the complex paths of development and investments. I am not an expert but the fact is that I do have some experience. I have made a number of mistakes and I think folks can learn from those mistakes. I continue to argue that you don’t have to make the same mistakes especially when those made those mistakes are willing to share with their experiences with you – for a fee though. It can be more expensive when you decide to make your own mistakes.

For the newest African Republic, I believe that they should not have to make the same mistakes that other countries made: they can leapfrog into development if they chose the path less travelled. Orthodoxy won’t get them there.

I see that South Sudan has a lot of potential and holds great promise. But the few days I have spent here also show me that the challenges are enormous, daunting, and complex. Unless the Government and People of South Sudan thread very carefully, they might remain an under-developed country for a long time. But they chose the path of learning from the mistakes of others and I think they will get ahead faster. I don’t think time is on their side. They must act now and act fast.

My advice to them is: don’t do things the same way other countries have done it because you will get the same results.

If South Sudan wants to move forward faster, the political leadership must make some tough, unorthodox decisions. A lot of people will not like the decisions but after the results are shown, they will come to appreciate it.

My advice, if you ask me is DON’T LISTEN TO THEM. There is no where in the literature that shows that they have helped any country. It is time to tell them, thanks but no thanks and move forward.

Here is my argument: moving with THEM will lead you nowhere. If you move without THEM and get nowhere, you have lost nothing. But moving without THEM holds the possibility that you could get there faster.

Reflections: my ulaa listserv days

I was going through my yahoo email account and reflecting back about the days when I was into politics. Looking back, it all looks very interesting.

On or about April 26, 2007 some colleagues (actually big brothers) who didn’t like that I became too active in the Liberian immigration (TPS) process decided to go after me. These guys know how to play dirty. And I was an innocent kid who was trying to see if we could get some results. But it was never about results: it had always been about who takes the credit.

These guys (withholding their names) entered my yahoo email and wrote something as if it was coming from me and then responded to it in such a way that scared me.

I had gone to help the OLM (Organization of Liberians in Minnesota) people do some last minute prep work. I used the OLM computer to log into my yahoo mail and there is something there that keeps you logged in on that particular computer default unless you unclick that button. I didn’t know and these guys got into my email box and did what they did.

After writing the email that made it look like I was bragging, then they responded with a title that read like this: HAS MEGALOMANIA SET IN?

To today’s date, I don’t know what megalomania means but it sounded very ugly then. Doesn’t it?

Anyway, I forgive those guys and didn’t take it personal. That is how they were trained to fight.

Launching Cardinal Point Advisors…

In May 2014, when I informed Madam President that I intended to leave the Government and move into private practice, I organized and incorporated Cardinal Point Advisors.

However, when Madam President convinced me to stay on for a few more years especially since the Ministry was in the middle of reform, I decided to shelf the firm since I couldn’t run the firm and at the same time hold a government position.

I always knew that a government job, especially at the senior level, was a temporary gig. I tell my colleagues that the exit from the government is at the top: as you rise, beware that you are on your way out.

I decided that Cardinal Point Advisors would be the baby that I wanted to nurture and grow.

As a value proposition, I felt that others could benefit by learning from the mistakes we made. Wouldn’t it be nice if other leaders from developing countries didn’t have to make the same mistakes we made? To me this is worth a lot.

I have never thought that we had the all answers to transforming a developing country but I think that if can explain the mistakes we made, then others wouldn’t have to make them. And by not making those mistakes, they can make progress faster. This would be a great help to them.

Even if they think that I m not advising them on what to do, I will be advising them on what not to do.

And I think that is worth a lot. And I should get paid for that. Don’t you think so?

That is the value proposition of Cardinal Point Advisors : that you don’t have to make the mistakes we made. You can skip that mistake and pay us for showing you how…

Debating “Settled Matters” – a waste of valuable time

Throughout my adult life and especially my time in public service, I have not seen the utility in debating or proving a matter was settled. I have always seen it as a classic waste of valuable time and energy.

For example, if in 2016 or before that time, someone had argued with me that there was no way on ‘God’s green earth’ that I could become Commissioner of Maritime and then in September 2016, Madam Sirleaf announced me as Commissioner of Maritime, I would consider that matter closed.

In scholarship, one would say that the matter is “settled”. It would be a waste of my time to keep arguing with the person or trying to provr to them (through whatever means) I could become the Commissioner of Maritime. I am already the Commissioner of Maritime. I don’t have to argue about that or try to prove to the person that I told them that I could become.

What I would rather spend my time doing is to ensure that I become a good Commissioner of Maritime. And if it means hiring that person, if they have the skills, to ensure that I become a good Commissioner of Maritime then I will do that. In fact, I think by hiring the person I will be further demonstrating that the argument is over and that I am a bigger person.

By moving beyond the argument that has been ‘settled’ and expanding the frontier so that I can launch myself into the category as one of the best Commissioners of Maritime, I will be ensuring my place in maritime history.

I didn’t just want to be a Commissioner of Maritime, I wanted to be one of the best that the institution had ever seen. I wanted to leave a legacy. I wanted to be remembered by the colleagues at the Authority as someone who moved the Authority one step forward.

I hope that my three (3) year tenure at the Authority did accomplish a little bit of that and that I did not spend my time proving to anyone that I could be a Commissioner of Maritime. That matter was “settled” by my appointment to the post.

In my next blogpost, I want to talk about ‘loyalty’ vs ‘competence”. Watch out…

PS. Let me be clear. This post has nothing to do with the nonsense that was posted on Facebook about James Kollie going to the Ministry of Finance. It is not true! It is not possible. In 2016, I was invited to be considered for the post of Minister of Finance and I turned it down. So those circulations don’t turn my head and I believe the disinterest is mutual…

Congratulations Scholar Ibrahim Al-bakri Nyei! My outmost respect

Scholar Nyei, as I love to call you, I am especially proud of you for achieving this milestone – earning a PhD.

I am sure you know that I am not surprised that you would have achieved this great fete. You have made everyone of proud. I am honored to call you my friend and comrade.

I can remember a few short years ago when Dr. Sawyer (the Papay) approached me and asked that we invest in you because you held great promise as a future leader. It was a decision that needed no time to think about and we immediately did our part. If I am asked again and I have the same opportunity, I will repeat it in a heart beat.

Investing in you was ‘riskless’ risk: it only had an upside and absolutely no downside.

Thank you for making us proud and demonstrating that believing in you was not a mistake.

Congratulations comrade, scholar Nyei…

4 years and moving on…

On September 14, 2016, I had the distinguished honor of being asked by Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of the Republic of Liberia, to serve as Chief of Executive Officer and Commissioner of the Liberia Maritime Authority. It was an honor for me to have served for 4 years.

I remain grateful to Madam Presidemt for opportunity afforded me. I will argue that nothing in my parentage or social status warranted this honor but through the blessings of the Almighty, I was asked to serve.

It could only be the Almighty!

After four (4) years of service, I am soldiering on to other things. I hope that I made some impact in the lives and careers of those professionals that I encountered at the Maritime Authority. But if nothing else, they definitely impacted me. I will continue to cherish the memories of the time we spent working together.

I hope I respected and honored them as much as they did to me.

However, in the process of discharging my duties, if I did hurt anyone, I am profoundly sorry and I seek your forgiveness.

In terms of accomplishments at the Authority, I hope that I did leave behind a system of management and operations that is embedded in the DNA of the Authority. I am not concern about infrastructure (the national HQ); I am more concerned about the system and processes that will enable the new leadership of the Authority to achieve more.

I want to thank all the young professionals that I met at the Authority and enormous support they gave me. They taught me a lot.

I am not a maritime professional by training and so I relied on the cadre of technicians at the Authority to achieve the little we did. What I carried to the Authority was a professional management experience that I thought could be used to harness and direct the technical capabilities of the professionals to deliver results.

In my fantasy, we did! But I stand corrected!

I am hopeful that our paths will definitely cross again as I “punctuate” this journey and soldier on….

It’s not good bye; it is see you later

Taking your bow

When I was active in the government and on Facebook, I repeatedly warned my fellow ‘government officials’ to be careful how they treated others because the table was going to turn. I emphasised that the table had always turned and so everyone should expect that will turn again. Someone was in that position before you got there and you won’t be the last.

My admonition was based on the fear that if you didn’t treat people well, you might not be able to face them when you leave that high office. And, I wanted my colleagues to remember that the friends we made while on our high horses were not our true friends. Those people were beholden to the offices that we held at that time.

Some took my admonition and others did not. Well, the table turned and we are here.

One thing that I took from my boss, AMK, was that we should all be prepared and ready to take a “bow.” However, he said to me, “Jimmy, always learn to take a bow when people are still clapping; not when they start to boo.”

I had no idea that AMK did “theatre.” All along I only knew that he studied Public Administration at Harvard but he was right. In theatre, you take your bow when the crowd is still clapping rather than….

Story on Budget Surplus. Nice Try

On Monday, July 27, 2020, a junior colleague, Michael Roberts, brought to my attention an article on facebook about budget surplus that had been attributed to me. I was astonished that someone would write something and for some dubious reason decide to attach my name to it. I do not know the motive of the individual who did this nonsense but I will like to state for the public record that I did not and will not do such nonsense.

Whenever I to express my views, I have my blog where I will post my views, opinion, and positions.

If I have any suggestions for the Minister of Finance or the team at the Ministry of Finance, I have a channel through which to express them and that channel affords me more possibility of getting my views or thoughts reflected and/or incorporated.

Whoever did this nonsensical article have their own reason but should have kept me out of it.

Code of Conduct: Important but Flawed from Inception

With the resignation of the Foreign Minister, H.E. Milton Findley, for the purpose of contesting the ensuing senatorial elections, I see that Code of Conduct (CoC) has, once again, become a topical issue. And rightly so.

But here is my take on the CoC. I think it is fundamentally flawed. The March 2014 Law was never a product of a deliberative lawmaking process. It was a knee jerk reaction by the political elites to suppress the presidential ambition of Governor Joseph Mills Jones. This was wrong and never should have happened. Why do I say that? Well, let me start from beginning…

When I returned home in June 2009 to begin the process of managing the implementation of the Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS), I realized that one of the policy interventions in the PRS under the Governance and Rule of Law (GRL) Pillar that was managed by Cllr. Arthur Johnson, was the enactment of a Code of Conduct for Civil Servants and Public Officials. According to the implementation schedule, this intervention had a completion date of December 2008 but the briefing that Cllr. Johnson provided to me indicated that the draft law was before the National Legislature with no movement. The two (2) institutions responsible for this intervention were the Civil Service Agency (CSA) and the Governance Commission (GC). Cllr. Johnson noted that the political process to enact such a legislation was onerous and would take some time.

In one of our LRDC Steering Committee (SC) meeting in 2009, which was chaired by the President, the Deputy Speaker, Tokpah Mulbah, was accompanied by some other members of the National Legislature. In that meeting, the Deputy Speaker was asked about the status of the CoC. It was astonishing that the Deputy Speaker indicated that the CoC was too complex and that they (the Natioal Legislature) were taking a more detailed look at it because it seems that the CoC might prevent them from accepting ‘chicken’ and ‘goat’ from their people as gift. I am serious! Chicken was mentioned. The National Legislature wanted to ensure that the CoC would not prevent them from accepting chicken. But he mentioned that if we want the law to not apply to them (the Legislators) but only to the Executive then they could look at it, quickly. This was in 2009.

Well, until the end of the implementation of the PRS in 2011, nothing was ever heard of the CoC. It was technically dead.

Remember that not only did the PRS require that a CoC be enacted but Article 90 (c) of the 1986 Constitution stipulates that the Legislature shall prescribe a Code of Conduct (CoC) for the purpose of ensuring that public officials don’t engage in conflicts of interest or act against public policies. This was a constitutional requirement but who cares, right?

But when the Central Bank of Liberia’s Governor, Joseph Jones, started behaving in manners that no other central banker, the world over, had ever behaved, then the “system” or political elites got terrified. Governor Jones had been encouraged by Theo Bettie (the late) to run for the presidency. To achieve this end, Governor Jones needed to start participating in ‘gowning ceremonies’ and national-wide tours and providing loans to various interest and political groups.

With Governor Joseph Jones presiding over the nation’s coffers, the ‘system’ needed a way to put him in check. Remember, at this point, the Vice President (Joseph Boakai) intended to run to replace his boss; Speaker Tyler was also considering a potential run; and Nuquay and other legislators were organizing a political party, the PUP. These powerful forces had to figure out a way to prevent Governor Jones from having an unfair advantage over them.

The first step that the system took was to amend the Central Bank of Liberia’s Act of 1999. On February 13, 2014 or thereabout, the National Legislature made several amendments to the CBL Act of 1999 but the two (2) important provisions were: (1) the Governor should not run for political office but he/she wanted to run for office, he/she should resign three (3) years prior to the elections; and (2) that the CBL can only ‘issue’ banknotes or mint currencies upon approval of the National Legislature.

With the passage of this amendment, the ‘system’ believed that it had Joseph Jones exactly where it wanted him. Well, the Governor had a well-oiled political machinery and before long, the commentaries on national radio and within legal circle was that the amendment would not affect Governor Jones because it did not exist at the time he took the job. It might be for the next governor that comes after him.

Wow! The ‘system’ then needed to do something else and boom: The Code of Conduct.  The ‘system’ decided that it would dust the CoC and quickly enact it into Law and this time it could catch Governor Jones. Passing the CoC was an easy thing because it protected the political interests of the legislators who were coming up for re-elections in 2017. The CoC would ensure that cabinet ministers (deputy and assistants) would not have an advantage over sitting lawmakers. For sitting lawmakers, their major challengers were those in the cabinet because they might have the financial means to put up a fight. Well, with all the rational self-interests aligned, on March 4, 2014, the CoC was enacted.

Remember, this a law that had been sitting in the Legislature since 2008 but because its passage could potentially prevent a sitting a lawmaker from accepting chicken, it never went anywhere. But now that it seems that Governor Jones might become President or that sitting lawmakers might meet stiff political fight from cabinet ministers, the CoC becomes easy to pass.

Because the law itself was not a product a deliberative lawmaking process, a very flawed instrument was created. Just reading the Law provides several difficulties in its implementation. For example, when do we know that someone had the ‘desire’ or ‘intent’ to run? Then the law complicated itself further when it talked about the office of the Ombudsman. It does not say how many persons will constitute this office. Will he/she or they be confirmed by the Senate? How long he/she or they serve? It says nothing! Some legal minds tried to put together an Executive Order to clarify those issues, but it was late in the day and so some smart legislators decided to intervene under the pretext that they will fix the law. Well, I am not sure they ever did and now we have another election coming up.

Actually, I think the law was passed under the wrong circumstances. The CoC should be a very important instrument and was not to be used to go after a particular person. It was wrong. The system should have told Governor Jones that he changes his mode of operations and behave as a responsible central banker by being politically non-aligned or disinterested or the system requests and accepts his resignation. Though he had tenure of office, but he could be removed especially given the way he had been comporting himself. No central bank governor engages in open political activities the way Governor Jones did. But that was no reason for the system to enact a law that targeted him. Now we have a Law that has become an embarrassment, so to speak.

That’s my take…