The eyes of the world were on Liberia earlier in the month, as the UN High Level Panel (HLP) on the post-2015 agenda met in Monrovia to discuss what should replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) once they expire in 2015.
The Budget Strengthening Initiative’s Natasha Sharma sat down with Christopher Wallace, Liberia’s Deputy Minister of Planning and Economic Affairs and the Government lead on the HLP, to discuss the meetings and Liberia’s development plans.
NS: As the government representative for the Liberian Secretariat for the High Level Panel, what were the major highlights for this round of talks?
CW: The UN Panel of Eminent Persons was tasked to take stock of the current MDGs and design the vision for the post- MDG agenda to address the challenges to end extreme poverty. The major highlights of the conference included:
Discussions on the importance of building a broad political consensus focussed on achieving economic growth, social equality, and environmental sustainability.
Proposing key principles for reshaping global partnership and development, many of which are related to the current MDGs, SDGs and the New Deal for engagement in fragile states. The world has now realized that there should be a different approach for fragile states. There are specific challenges that need to be addressed, such as deeper engagement to identify local priorities and the causes of fragility, and emphasis on the use of country systems.
In Liberia we have done substantive work to develop a five year plan called the Agenda for Transformation, and we have a vision to become a middle income country by 2030. There was extensive outreach to capture priorities and form a common vision for the country. For Liberia, this means focusing on peace building, security, economic transformation and human development.
NS: Fragile and conflict affected states are widely held to have made the least progress towards achieving the MDGs. How would you like to see the post-2015 agenda address the particular challenges faced by fragile states?
CW: By focusing on mutual trust, global partnership, and greater accountability. We would like to see aid mechanisms designed that use country systems. This will help us to avoid duplication and ensure that development partners focus on the priorities of the Government. For example, in Liberia it is common to see three different billboards outside a school or a health clinic. Why? They are each advertising a different donor agency’s contribution to a project. We’d like to see donors focus on different regions in the country, each working towards common goals and objectives in accordance with the Liberian Government’s plans.
Technically, all support should be demand driven. When donors support capacity building they should focus on the skills that are needed in the country or region they are assisting. They should also ensure that the skills that are transferred are retained by the country. Another challenge is to look at the targets that we have signed up to. Let’s take education: we need quality not just quantity. We can enrol children in school, but we also need to look at the quality of education they receive.
NS: President Sirleaf recently emphasised the importance of improving government transparency and accountability. And Liberia has is an example of a country that has made great progress in the Open Budget Survey. What are some of the things that Liberia has done to improve government transparency?
CW: A lot of progress has been made. We now publish key budget documents; we have enacted the Public Financial Management Law, introduced the Public Procurement and Concessions Committee Act and the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission. We are now compliant with the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. However, there is still too much emphasis on Monrovia. We need to accelerate efforts towards decentralization. This means creating further awareness in the all regions [counties of Liberia] about where resources come from, how they will be spent and in what region [county]. We also need to ensure the county authorities are involved in the design of the projects. Although we have a citizen’s guide, we need to go further and explain how the budget works in local languages so that people who live all across the country can understand and participate.
NS: You mentioned Liberia’s aim to graduate from aid and achieve middle-income country status by 2030. What are some of the strategies to achieve this?
CW: The most important element to achieving the vision is to have national commitment and patriotism from each Liberian citizen. The justice system needs to be free, fair and transparent and void of induced influences so that individuals can be held accountable for their actions. Rwanda has made great progress in this area; this is a lead we can follow. We have set up systems in Liberia, but we need high level commitment to improve governance. We also need to introduce a merit based system. Currently, bureaucrats are appointed by the President. After confirmation, they can bring in their own team. This can compromise neutrality. This remains an issue across all three branches of government, as well as in the autonomous agencies and state-owned enterprises. That is, employment rules are not fully adhered to.
Another important strategy is to build our capacity to sustain natural resource revenue and to develop negotiating capacity for concessions contracts. We need a value added approach that truly focusses on areas of demand in the Liberian market. If we get this right, Liberia could become an economic hub for a variety of commodities.
NS: What do you think are some of the lessons other countries that are emerging from conflict can learn from Liberia’s experience?
Over the past six to seven years, we have exercised resilience and tolerance. We have a leader who accommodates everyone’s views, whether they are positive or negative. This helps to reduce social tensions, as everyone is free to come on the air and talk.
Overall, we hope that the High Level Panel should help to focus the international community to meet the needs of Liberia better. The world has learned that the priorities are the same, but the approach to achieving them differ. The next set of global goals should be people centred, clearly understood, easy to communicate and measurable.