A Donor Conference on Liberia

By Ezekiel Pajibo

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

February 2, 2004

From February 5-6, the Bretton Woods Institutions - the World Bank (WB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) along the with United Nations and the United States Government will meet in New York to pledge financial and technical assistance for Liberia economic recovery and the enhancement of the UN peacekeeping forces in the country. The United States Government has already pledged $200 million in additional to another amount of about $240 million for peacekeeping activities in Liberia. The American pledge is welcomed and appreciated.

However a number of principles should animate the entire conference process. What are these principles? About five years ago, the United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan, who will co-chair the meeting along with U.S. Secretary of State, Colin Powell, called on the international donor community to establish policy measures that would ensure that 50% of all donor funding especially to third world countries be spent on resources, services and expertise of the recipient countries. It was also agreed among the OECD countries that no strings should be attached to donor funding. These anti-conditionality measures have yet to be implemented. Calls for the removal of strings to donor assistance is cognizant of the need for certain fundamental guidelines to be in place including accountability, good governance and transparency. As well, the development priorities should serve to enhance the material conditions of the targeted people and the people must be fully and duly involved in the processes of conceptualising, formulating and implementing these policy options.

These principles are glaringly absent from the current process that is underway in relations to the Donor Conference on Liberia. Liberians were not adequately consulted on the tenets of the Liberian Economic Recovery Programme that is to be presented in New York. True, the Ministry of Planning and Economic Affairs held a one-week stakeholder “consultations” but the process was wanting in many ways. The majority of Liberians had no enabling mechanisms to constructively contribute to the process. This is rather important given the fact that the current government in Liberia does not derive its sovereignty from the people. Even the Monrovia “consultations” were merely an attempt by government officials to placate the international community and not a genuine attempt to solicit inputs from the participants. Clearly most participants in the process were not part of drafting the conceptual framework, had nothing to do with the micro-economy policy measures and they did not participate in decision-making nor did they have any opportunity to see the final outcome document that is to be presented in New York. The whole process appears to be a re-enactment of the processes that some African countries have undergone to elaborate the Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers, required by the IFI’s, for countries to obtain debt relief. The issue of participation is important, as it will inevitably play a role in national ownership of the program content that is to be implemented.

A serious flaw in the document is the fact that the Liberian Government has been intimidated to the point that it has shy away from stating what the actual cost for resuscitating the Liberian economy and the rehabilitation of our social and communication infrastructures. In his State of the Nation Address, Chairman of the Liberia Transitional Legislative Assembly suggested that the Government would not name a price tag since it could undermine donor’s contribution. This is unacceptable public policy. The government needs to come up with a price tag and lobby the various government and international agencies to see the correctness of its figure. As it now stands, the country position is one of a “beggar has no choice”. The fact that the LNTG government is unable or unwilling to robustly engage the international community about the genuine needs of the Liberian people is a testimony to the weak nature of the transitional process.

I believe that the Liberian government should be seeking at least 1% of the total amounts of money earmarked for Iraq’s reconstruction needs. Our economy is in total ruins, our infrastructure absolutely destroyed. According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) 72 % of Liberians live below the poverty line while another 52% live in absolute poverty. This means that out of every 10 Liberians more than 7 have to live on less than US$1.00/day while 5 out of every 10 Liberians have to live on less than US$0.50/day. Meanwhile over 85% of Liberians are unemployed and perhaps unemployable. Added to this extreme condition is the fact that majority of Liberians don’t have access to shelter because of the massive destruction of homes especially in the rural areas during the war years. More than a million Liberians, a third of the population, find themselves in this rather precarious state. The task to rebuild Liberia is a mammoth one and certainly 1% of total monies spent on Iraq for Liberia is a principled task that should be shouldered by the international community.

Liberia’s debt of about US$3 billion dollars should be cancelled. The United States Government has said that the Iraqi debt should be cancelled since it falls into the “odious debt category.” In other words, the debt was obtained by an unaccountable regime and used to strengthen its repressive rule. The Iraqi people therefore did not benefit from these loans and are not morally responsible to repay it. This principle is equally true for Liberians. The international community meeting in New York must, out of principle cancel Liberia’s debt. This will ensure that savings from debt repayment will be used to provide basic services to the people including housing, schools, hospitals, clean and safe drinking water, a sanitary environment, electricity and opportunities to acquire jobs that pay a liveable wage.

The prospect for peace is real in Liberia and so is the prospect for instability in the region. How Liberia peace process proceeds will be sufficient basis to rate the international community engagement with Africa. For quite some time now the international community has tried to do it cheaper or cheaply in Africa and we have Rwanda to show for that grotesque policy. Liberia presents an important opportunity for the international community to do something right in Africa for once.