MONROVIA: International support to the Liberian economy surged yesterday, Monday, June 5, 2023, when the government and one of its development partners, the European Union (EU), signed a whopping $88m agreement to support four areas including electoral support, technical and vocational education, food systems and forestry and conservation just as the Minister of Finance and Development Planning Samuel D. Tweah, Jr lauded the initiative, describing it as a “new era”.
Moment after the signing ceremony which was also witnessed by other diplomats as well as top government functionaries including the Minister of Agriculture Jeannie Cooper, the European Union posted on its official Facebook page to break the news, expressing delight over the development
“We are delighted to announce that this morning Ambassador Delahousse and Finance Minister Samuel D. Tweah Jr. signed four new support programmes of the European Union to Liberia, totaling 88 million US dollars. The signature ceremony kick-started the new phase of the EU-Liberia development partnership, for which a total of 210 million US dollars have been earmarked.
The four programmes signed cover the areas of electoral support, technical and vocational education, food systems and forestry and conservation and will be implemented in line with the Team Europe approach, working together the EU Member States represented in Liberia(Germany, France, Ireland and Sweden)”, the foreign mission said.
Speaking at the signing ceremony, EU Ambassador to Liberia Laurent Delahouse, said he was happy for the efforts by EU to identify with Liberia’s strive for economic development and prosperity, adding that the donation coincided with the 50th anniversary of the cooperation between Liberia and the European community, which was formerly known as the European Economic Comsmunity(EEC) when it started identifying with Liberia in 1973.
“Today marks the 50th anniversary for the European Community to start opening representation in Liberia in 1973.
‘The four programs that we are signing today kicked off with new phase of support and there will be four more programs which will be signed next year.
“The first program is on election and we are happy to bring structural support to NEC, not only towards the 2023 election, but a long term support to the National Elections Commission. We feel election should be supported financially by the country itself but we are supporting because we are partners”, Ambassador Delahousie said.
He also said the program covers the Technical and Vocational Education and Training(TVET) program of the government, adding that the EU has completed providing facilities in some TVET institutions in some counties at it is the desire of EU to provide opportunities for the young people of the country
“We want to find a way that the young people we are going to train have jobs immediately as they come out both in the public and private sector”, he said.
On Liberia’s biodiversity, Ambassador Delahousie said the EU is also working with other embassies to help some of the issues affecting forest biodiversity and food system “to ensure that the forest of Liberia remains here for the children of your children”, adding that Liberia’s biodiversity places the country above many other countries in the world “and there is much we need to do something so that the future will be with a sustainable forestry”
The tough talking Ambassador also spoke on the food system of the country and said the support to the agriculture sector has been substantial from external sources, including the EU but there was little that can be shown and urged the government to exert more efforts for the country to achieve food security especially the production of the local Liberian rice.
Speaking also, Minister Tweah thanked the EU for once again providing the $88m that will assist in critical areas of the country which he described as “a new era”. He said the government under the leadership of President George Manneh Weah has been making frantic efforts towards the development and the line ministries involved in the sectors have taken note of the seriousness of the program and will ensure that it will yield its intended result.
He said Liberia will leverage on the “greenness” of the economy and hope that the money it will generate “will come here to solve many constraints we have such as electricity, roads and human capital”.
“The World Bank report said human capital development poses a significant risk to Liberia. We need to spend $100m every year going forward for the next 5 years if we are to turn the human capital story around in Liberia.
“Where is the money going to come from? Well, some of the money will come from our greenery. That is where we are going”, Minister Tweah said.
He said the fishery sector has been doing well to provide jobs for Liberians according to report from the World Bank but noted the sector still needs to scale up to get to the next level and expressed optimism that with the support from the international community, especially the World Bank more will be achieved.
Minister Tweah spent ample time to address the issue of job creation and unemployment in Liberia which he described as a “misconception”, maintaining that it is a fallacy that big companies create jobs but on the contrary it is the smaller business entities like the SMEs that provide most of the jobs and there was a need to support them.
“And let me clarify what I mean by misconception. Many people believe that if a company comes here, let say ArcelorMittal, and employs 1,000 persons then jobs are provided. Another company comes and employs 700 persons but we cannot have continuously a number of companies in the mining sector employing people like that because we don’t have those natural reserves that will continue to attract companies coming in.
“Natural resources are finite and are depleting. So it is not going to touch the employment potential. What touches the employment potentials is the small business sector that provide employment. Most of the employment you find in the world today are not by the big companies but the smaller companies.
So what this agreement is saying is we now understand the logic. What do we do for these SMEs to move to the industrial scales using guarantee scheme, using business support. How do we move the private sector to respond to the unemployment issue?” Tweah said.
He emphasized that small businesses in Liberia need loans and lamented that no bank is willing to give loan to the agricultural sector because of the associated risk.
He specifically made reference to the rubber sector which he said is in dire need of financial support in the range of about $10m and that if such amount is not secured the “sector will collapse and we will be in serious trouble because it provides more employment to the people”
Further expansion on the program shows that there are three priority areas, with the first being in the enhancing and preserving natural resources for sustainable growth. The indicative sectors are agriculture, forestry andfisheries, food and nutrition, food safety, resources management, environment protection (governance, biodiversity, ecosystem services, etc
The Second priority is promoting decent jobs and inclusive growth and focuses on technical and vocational education and training, SMEs development (processing of food and industrial cops, business environment, innovation, transportation and storage (road infrastructure, storage facilitie, etc as indicative sectors.
The third priority is improving financial and democratic governance with indicative sectors as economic governance (PFM, business and investment climate), democratic participation (inclusive and transparent democracy, election, women’s right (gender equality, ending violence against women and girls.