Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Liberia: To Become a Middle Income Country by 2030 Growth Must Have a Broad Reach - Planning Mini

Source: Topix Local News Liberia

Washington, DC — Amara Konneh recently returned to his post as Liberia's minister of planning and economic affairs and a member of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf's economic management team, following a brief interruption in early November when the president sent her entire Cabinet on administrative leave. When Konneh was a young man, he fled Liberia after much of his family was killed during the civil war in 1990. He joined his sister in Guinea, where he started a school for refugees and eventually gained asylum to enter the United States. He earned a bachelor's degree from Drexel University and a graduate degree in Management Information Systems from Penn State University. He worked for a decade for the Vanguard investment group before playing a key role in Johnson Sirleaf's come-from-behind 2006 campaign.

Konneh served as the president's deputy chief of staff for public affairs before taking leave in 2007 to pursue a master's degree in Public Administration at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government. He was named to his current post in August 2008 and was among the first ministers to be recalled as the Cabinet was being reformulated. On a visit to Washington in October, Konneh outlined how he believes the government's new development strategy, Liberia RISING 2030, will transform Liberia into a middle-income country in two decades. Here are excerpts from part one of the two-part interview:

The president has made poverty reduction a top priority and mandated you to lead the effort. How are you tackling the task?

The Poverty Reduction Strategy is our three-year development agenda running from 2008 to 2011 before the elections. The process involved consultations across the country - in towns and villages in all 15 counties. We had close to 600 consultations across the country - probably one of the most intense consultative processes in the history of the nation.
Improving infrastructure, creating jobs and establishing commercial links are part of the Liberian government's strategy to boost the nation's economic standing.

We were able to understand from the people themselves what they thought the government needs to focus on in these three years - roads, schools and clinics. And that became the Lift Liberia Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS). We are in the final year of implementation.

What are some of the successes and what are the disappointments to date?

First, the progress we made on the PRS is enormous. We have laid the foundation to enhance our security environment. The abolishment of the old army and the creation of the new one was a poverty reduction intervention. In the consultation process, the people expressed clearly their distrust in the old army that was used to abuse their rights. And so the policy decision was made to dissolve the security apparatus, build a new one, beginning with the police and then the army. We have invested in the new police and the new army to provide security for the Liberian people - held democratically accountable to do that.

Our other success is on the economic front - the second pillar of the PRS, the economic revitalization pillar. The key issue in there was to get the huge debt burden off Liberia's back.

When this administration took office, it inherited an external debt burden of U.S.$4.9 billion dollars. Today, that burden is literally zero. So we embarked on an intense HIPC process, the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative, putting in place public financial laws and systems. Revitalizing the General Auditing Commission to ensure that we have transparency and accountability in the areas of public financial management. We reached the HIPC completing point in June of this year and got a debt waiver. We also went to the Paris Club [made up of the world's largest economies] and got a debt waiver.

We have taken measures to ensure that we were touching the lives of ordinary people. We are making the right investments with a very small budget.

On the health side, we have reopened all of our major referral hospitals. We have just built one in Tapeta to serve the population in the north and another in the southeast of the country. We have reduced the infant mortality rate, the malaria rates and the HIV rates in the country. We are still struggling with stabilizing the maternal mortality rates because most of the women are not going to the clinic and the health centers to deliver. They are using midwives and home delivery method which is a cultural issue.

Also, we are resuscitating agriculture, particularly the small holders and small-crop farmers.

The other success is in the area of infrastructure. All of the roads and the bridges in the country were out following the war. Today, we can boast about rehabilitating the primary roads in the country, the streets of the capital and the newly paved highway from Monrovia to Buchanan, which is a major economic corridor. We are also working with our development partners to do the feeder and secondary roads that lead to farms and other areas for people to move their crops.

In the area of basic services, we have restored some energy to Monrovia and its environs. We have restored pipe-born water to about 80 percent of the population of Monrovia, which is about 1.3 million. We have also restored running water in the cities of Kakata and Zwedru. All of this was part of the PRS program.

As a result of free and compulsory primary education, we have seen an upsurge in the education rate. You have more kids in school today than in 2004. We are now investing in teacher training with support from the government and the international community, so that we can certify our teachers and bring them up to West African standards.

What are your biggest challenges?

The biggest challenge is human capital. We still have not been able to create sufficient jobs, especially for the youth. We have about U.S.$18 billion in foreign direct investments in the pipeline from Arcelor Mittal, Sime Darby, Golden Veroleum, China Union, BHP Billiton and now Chevron is here as well. (See Government Signs Up Chevron as Oil Exploration Partner)

But they have not started operations at the level where they can begin to create direct jobs for Liberians. That will take some time. The war created a situation where there was a brain drain in Liberia. We don't have the capacity to implement relative to the potential that the country should have in terms of all of the goodwill that's coming from the international community so that's hurting us quite a bit.

Another challenge we have in the implementation of our development agenda is sector coordination or sector leadership. We have a situation where NGOs are implementing most of the programs with good intent. But some of them are not really aligned to the development agenda. The donors, because of this lack of capacity, are hesitant to infuse their support in a way that we will begin to see a dramatic improvement in implementation. We are going to use this experience as our lessons learned and begin to correct them through policy measures.

How does Liberia RISING 2030 differ from the PRS?

It's a long-term development agenda. The PRS was just for three years - a short term to lay the foundation for this long-term work - and it's going to focus on resolving some of the socio-political anomalies that we have had within our country. Also, to tackle some of the economic issues that will now leverage all of the investments that we have in the pipeline, the gains we have made. It puts the country on the trajectory to a middle-income status by 2030.

How do you make happen such a rapid rise from impoverished to middle income?

Liberia Aims to be Middle-Income Country
First, we need to step back as a country to look at our history. In Africa, we are a unique country by virtue of our founding. Because of the way we were founded, we have a huge division in the country amongst various groups. You have the issue of inequality, the issue of marginalization, the founding constitution.

What do you do about it? We have to think about where Liberia was in the early 60s to early 70s. We had about a decade and half of growth. When we got to the 1970s, we began to see turbulence in the economy until the economy collapsed in 1990. Why? Because the institutions for resolving conflicts, the institutions for managing property right, the institutions for decentralizing power from the center to the periphery were weak.

So we are not going to focus only on the hard economic issues of jobs creation and wealth creation for our people, but we will also focus on the socio-political issues that we did not take into account when we were in the 60s and 70s registering the growth numbers.

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Everyone is a genius

Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid. – A Einstein

Drawing the line in Liberia

Crimes sponsored, committed, or masterminded by handful of individuals cannot be blamed upon an entire nationality. In this case, Liberians! The need for post-war justice is a step toward lasting peace, stability and prosperity for Liberia. Liberia needs a war crimes tribunal or some credible legal forum that is capable of dealing with atrocities perpetrated against defenseless men, women and children during the country's brutal war. Without justice, peace shall remain elusive and investment in Liberia will not produce the intended results. - Bernard Gbayee Goah

Men with unhealthy characters should not champion any noble cause

They pretend to advocate the cause of the people when their deeds in the dark mirror nothing else but EVIL!!
When evil and corrupt men try to champion a cause that is so noble … such cause, how noble it may be, becomes meaningless in the eyes of the people - Bernard Gbayee Goah.

If Liberia must move forward ...

If Liberia must move forward in order to claim its place as a civilized nation amongst world community of nations, come 2017 elections, Liberians must critically review the events of the past with honesty and objectivity. They must make a new commitment to seek lasting solutions. The track records of those who are presenting themselves as candidates for the position of "President of the Republic of Liberia" must be well examined. Liberians must be fair to themselves because results from the 2011 elections will determine the future of Liberia’s unborn generations to come - Bernard Gbayee Goah

Liberia's greatest problem!

While it is true that an individual may be held responsible for corruption and mismanagement of funds in government, the lack of proper system to work with may as well impede the process of ethical, managerial, and financial accountability - Bernard Gbayee Goah

What do I think should be done?

The situation in Liberia is Compound Complex and cannot be fixed unless the entire system of government is reinvented.
Liberia needs a workable but uncompromising system that will make the country an asylum free from abuse, and other forms of corruption.
Any attempt to institute the system mentioned above in the absence of rule of law is meaningless, and more detrimental to Liberia as a whole - Bernard Gbayee Goah

Liberia's Natural Resources
Besides land water and few other resources, most of Liberia’s dependable natural resources are not infinite, they are finite and therefore can be depleted.
Liberia’s gold, diamond, and other natural resources will not always be an available source of revenue generation for its people and its government. The need to invent a system in government that focuses on an alternative income generation method cannot be over emphasized at this point - Bernard Gbayee Goah

Liberia needs a proper system
If Liberians refuse to erect a proper system in place that promotes the minimization of corruption and mismanagement of public funds by government institutions, and individuals, there will come a time when the value of the entire country will be seen as a large valueless land suited on the west coast of Africa with some polluted bodies of waters and nothing else. To have no system in place in any country is to have no respect for rule of law. To have no respect for rule of law is to believe in lawlessness. And where there is lawlessness, there is always corruption - Bernard Gbayee Goah

Solving problems in the absence of war talks

As political instability continues to increase in Africa, it has become abundantly clear that military intervention as a primary remedy to peace is not a durable solution. Such intervention only increases insecurity and massive economic hardship. An existing example which could be a valuable lesson for Liberia is Great Britain, and the US war on terror for the purpose of global security. The use of arms whether in peace keeping, occupation, or invasion as a primary means of solving problem has yield only little results. Military intervention by any country as the only solution to problem solving will result into massive military spending, economic hardship, more fear, and animosity as well as increase insecurity. The alternative is learning how to solve problems in the absence of war talks. The objective of such alternative must be to provide real sustainable human security which cannot be achieved through military arm intervention, or aggression. In order to achieve results that will make the peaceful coexistence of all mankind possible, there must be a common ground for the stories of all sides to be heard. I believe there are always three sides to every story: Their side of the story, Our side of the story, and The truthBernard Gbayee Goah


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