Liberia Soars on Overall Governance Performance -But Internal Report Shows Governance Imbalances

The Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf Presidential Center for Women and Development, in collaboration with the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, over the weekend hosted a landmark webinar mapping the governance progress in Liberia, gauging the 2020 Ibrahim Index of African Governance (IIAG) as a statistical barometer to enhance good governance. Bringing together a Who’s-Who list of continental and Liberian luminaries in their respective fields of studies, the webinar, held under the theme: “Mapping Progress in Liberia: The 2020 Ibrahim Index of African Governance”, sought to address finding from a decade-long research that showed governance gains and challenges in Liberia, with the view of providing policy makers a roadmap towards good governance. Astonishingly, findings from the IIAG Index showed that, in terms of overall governance performance, Liberia showed improvements over the decade but a worrying decline in recent years, with a score of 47.9 (out of 100.0), making the country to rank 27th in Overall Governance in 2019. The report also showed that Liberia has improved its Overall Governance score over the last decade, but is showing warning signs with a worrying decline since 2015.

Madam Ophelia Weeks, Executive Director of the EJS Center, introducing the virtual event, and promising a “very spirited deliberation”, opened the floor, introducing renowned international and corporate lawyer, Seward Montgomery Cooper, who expertly led the webinar as host.

The day-long event addressed four key governance themes of Security and the Rule of Law; Participation, Rights and Inclusion; Foundations for Economic Opportunity; as well as Human Development.

According to Cllr. Cooper, each of these categories formed the theme of the four panel discussions held throughout the mapping progress in Liberia event, to be addressed by distinguished members of the Liberian society, members of the government, including members of President’s cabinet, both present and past; the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of Liberia, academia, the private business sector and the civil society.

Cllr. Cooper further informed that the Mo Ibrahim Foundation had enlisted the service of its head of research, Camilla Rocca; and senior researcher Ines Schultes, to provide an overview of Liberia’s results in all four of the categories.

Research Methodology

According to Madam Camilla Rocca and her colleague Ines Schultes of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, the IIAG research work is conducted to allow citizens know their rights about governance, within the context that governments are obligated to provide political, social and economic goods, and that the citizens have the right to expect from their governments the responsibility to deliver the necessary goods and services to them.

Accordingly, the definition of the Mo Ibrahim Index of African Governance was created in 2007 as a tool to assess governance progress on the African continent.

The IIAG researchers furthered that the data collection process of the IIAG Index followed a pattern of selection of sources, consultation, collection of data and calculation, thereby leading to the final results that are compiled in a report format, utilizing a suitable governance proxy that covers at least 33 of 54 countries. The data driven-duo said that the IIAG reports has collated at least two years’ worth of data since 2010, with the latest data point ranging from within the last three years.

On a continental level, the IIAG data analysts surmised that the continent has made progress towards governance, though in an unbalanced fashion.

“Twenty countries, hosting 40.9% of Africa’s population, have made progress in Human Development and Foundations for Economic Opportunity while simultaneously deteriorating in terms of Security & Rule of Law and Participation, Rights and Inclusion over the decade,” Madam Rocca stated during the presentation.

The IIAG Index showed that, in terms of overall governance performance, Liberia showed improvements over the decade but a worrying decline in recent years, with a score of 47.9 (out of 100.0), making the country to rank 27th in Overall Governance in 2019. The report also showed that Liberia has improved its Overall Governance score over the last decade, but is showing warning signs with a worrying decline since 2015.

The report further indicated that Liberia has seen one of the ten largest declines in Overall Governance between 2015 and 2019 on the continent. According to findings of the Index, Liberia sits on the upper half of the ranking table on Security and Rule of Law (22nd) and Participation, Rights & Inclusion (16th), but in the bottom half for Foundations for Economic Opportunities (41st) and Human Development (43rd).

According to the Index, Liberia’s decline in Overall Governance happened more than four times faster between 2015 and 2019 than its progress over the decade.

“Recent declines in Rule of Law & Justice and Anti-Corruption are issuing warning signs at the category level,” the IIAG report stated; and noted, Liberia is the most declined country on the continent in Anti-Corruption between 2015 and 2019, resulting in Liberia from 8th (top 10 scorers) in the ranking table in 2015 to 35th in 2019.

Although making progress in Security & Rule of Law over the decade, the report showed that Liberia followed a negative trajectory since 2015.

“Most progress has been made in Accountability and Transparency and Security and Safety although at a slower pace in the last five years for the latter. Progress over the decade in Rule of Law and Justice is being put at risk by the score declining between 2015 and 2019.

“Anti-corruption has declined marginally over the decade, but the deterioration has happened at a much faster rate between 2015 and 2019. On average, the score declined annually by -7.13 between 2015 and 2019 compared to an annual average decline of -0.01 over the decade,” the report stated.

Regarding the steep decline in security and safety, the report surmised there are key drivers fueling such, to include: less executive compliance with rule of law; increase in human trafficking, forced labor; corruption in public and private sectors; less institution of checks and balances; and non-compliance with public procurement procedures.

Panel Discussion on Security & the Rule of Law

With regards to the aspect of Security and the Rule of Law, Panel Discussant Major General Prince C. Johnson of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), posited that although Liberia has made significant gains since the end of the civil conflict in 2003, exemplified by the AFL inclusion in regional peacekeeping operations, and the expansion of space for equal gender participation with the rank and file of the army, Liberia started to slip in ranking since 2017, in sharp contrast to the data where the country scored 54.6% and ranked 22 over 54 countries, with an increase of +2.

“Internationally, Liberia is involved with MINUSMA, a commitment to stop the spread of terrorism from the Sahel to other parts of Africa. Liberia is also contributing to the ECOWAS Standby Force which is the regional approach.

“Bilateral engagements that have made Liberia to score high marks when it comes to security and safety include an MOU with neighboring countries. Thirty years ago, Liberia and its neighbors were very suspicious of each other, as we saw during our civil war. According to the TRC report, we have close to 28 warring factions and almost 50 percent of the warring factions used these neighboring countries to launch their own incursion into Liberia.

“Today, to curb reoccurrence of the past, Liberia now has a Memorandum of Understanding that both military can conduct joint border patrols along the border. That has reduced the element of suspicion among our neighboring countries.

“We also have liaison officers from our neighboring countries that are working in our own headquarters. We have agreed to not use any of our territory to destabilize another country. What are the policies today as they relate to the indicators? If you look at one of the indicators that talked about the absence of armed conflict, Liberia is ranked number one. Liberia scored 100%. But we cannot just rest on that achievement. We need to engage more with our neighbors based on what we experienced; and we have to continue our international engagement with MINUSMA.

“Another indicator that we scored 82% is “Absence of conflict against civilians”. But if we are not careful, we may slip down. We need to address the militarization of our young people. As we approach elections, we need to see how best we can cooperate, work together. We are not really concerned about security going against civilians – but rival groups going against each other. For example rival groups from the CDC and the CPP. If we don’t engage the political leaders to have them demilitarize their groups, it is going to be a big challenge for us.

“It’s not so much on account of the policies we’ve put in place that caused a good mark in security and safety; but because the Liberian people want peace.

Another panelist, renowned lawyer, Cllr. Yvette Chesson-Wureh, lamented the proliferation of idle youths engaging in drugs, as a serious threat to national security, as well the lack of access to economic opportunities which has accelerated forced migration of youths from rural to urban areas in search of jobs. She also highlighted the high prevalence of rape as a threat to security and safety.

“Women are so integral to peace and security because they and the children are victims of violence. Women have more to lose and are best equipped. Women Situation Room is a process in which women take over their country during elections to prevent violence before, during and after elections, and has proven that having women participating in the implementation and stabilization of peace in the country is essential. Women are natural peacemakers; they do this in their households. Additionally to protect the families, women have their ears to issues and intervene in many matters to deflate them before they become major issues. Women look at things differently than men. Liberia has proven that female leadership is different and superior. Starting with Chief Suakoko, it was a woman who consolidated our borders; it was a woman who transitioned Liberia from a post war country to having democratic elections. It was a woman, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who established democratic government, and had to deal with the question of priorities for reconstruction. All of these women led Liberia at different periods of our history,” Cllr. Wureh stated.

One of the panelists under this category, Cllr Nagballee Warner, who serves as Dean of the Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law of the University of Liberia, said while he is elated by the high marks that Liberia scored on Index, he remains perplexed as to how “Accountability and Transparency” had a 35 score and “Anti-corruption” was projected to be one of the worst.

Citing three reasons for his misgiving, Cllr. Warner pointed to the lack of accountability and transparency in the judicial sector as one of the underlying factors.

He said Liberian law provides that cases that are filed should be docketed in the order of filing.

“That should not be so surprising; this requirement has to do with statute. But for decades, before 2010 up to this date, cases that are filed are not docketed and numbered; and that a person who has a case forwarded 2008 will not have it heard as compared to the person who filed his or hers yesterday. What lawyers do is basically to go and appeal to judges to assign cases. That signifies lack of judicial accountability, and undermines performance under a judicial scale,” he intoned.

Cllr. Warner also stated as a serious drawback the lack of accountability and transparency in the fight against corruption.

“Let’s take the case of the code of conduct which provided for an ombudsman. That ombudsman’s office has been designed and deliberately structured not to be effective. A key component under the code of conduct is declaration of assets. I will suggest that everybody knows one of the key reasons why declaration of assets is not only to combat corruption but to enable society to participate in fighting corruption, especially illicit arrangements. From 2014 when the law was passed up till now, all of the declarations are held in secret. There is not much available for society to know so as to be able to help in the fight. And arguments have been made as to personal privacy; but the least civil society and others expect would be either to have a summary report or a redacted report or just a net worth.

“The last point on the question of accountability and transparency is this question of state capture and the failure to enforce statutory laws about campaign financing, regarding who will contribute to campaign funding. Our laws are clear about the campaign expenditure ceiling for president and lawmakers, but the laws are not enforced. Based on this summary, I am not surprised that anti-corruption is the worst performing. This is due in large part to the lack of transparency, lack of accountability, in the judiciary, executive and almost all sectors.”

Panel Discussion on Participation, Rights and Inclusion

Participation, Rights and Inclusion is the only category in which Liberia declined over the decade. This category has declined over the decade and more than twice as fast in the last five years. This is driven by deterioration in three of the four sub-categories: Gender, Participation and Rights. The pace of decline has accelerated for both Participation and Rights within the last 5 years. For Participation, the decline has been more than two times faster over the 5-year period than over the 10-year period, with the exception of Protection against Discrimination which hasn’t changed over the last 10 years.

The only sub-category where Liberia has progressed is Inclusion and Equality. Data shows that Liberia is one of the best countries in Africa that has more open civil society space, with Media Freedom scoring highly. However a marginal decline of the sub-category since 2015 is issuing warning signs.

Kula Fofanah is President of People’s Foundation for Africa, an organization working in marginalized and hard-to-reach communities in Liberia and across Africa. She is also a former Assistant Gender Minister for Youth Development.

Kula worries about the situation with the country’s largely youthful unemployed and idle population.

“There are young people who were participants in the civil conflict, and they are still in the streets. There are large groups of young people in ghettos, and substance abuse issues are very high in all of our counties. Our borders are very porous when it comes to access to narcotics and drugs with young people. And even the educational sector where we believe that our school systems should be places where our children go to attend education, are also becoming places for delinquent young people. So most of the young people have something called Special Friday where they have access to these substances. And those are things that we really should start thinking of.

“Unemployment rate is very high amongst young people. Our women or girls are most times made vulnerable. Reproductive health and rights, political and economic opportunities are very low for young women and girls, and access to justice is also low,” Madam Fofana surmised.

As for Liberia’s current Deputy Minister of Justice for Economic Affairs, Madam Kou Dorliea, she said while Liberia is generally participatory, inclusive and protective of rights, “we again saw that there are some challenges, particularly with regards to public perception, and also with regard to rights- specifically freedom of expression. So we do know some of the contributing factors that are impacting Liberia’s score card, and there are added discussions in government and civil society on some of these areas, including how we can improve participation of women in leadership. But despite the challenges, Liberia has made significant progress as was shown on the scorecard in the protection of rights, including the legislation of the Kamara Press Freedom Act, the Domestic Violence Act (although there is some work to do in that regard).”

“How can there be such a seemingly steep decline considering that Liberia is in the top 20 to ensure protection of these rights. I think part of the answer to that would be that the variables are events-driven; that there are specific events that may have contributed to that, but even at that, it is not indicative of the general policy direction of the governance framework in Liberia. For example, in terms of press freedom, Liberia has 30 radio stations including local radio stations. We can see that Liberia is protective of individual rights, especially social media rights. There is not a lot of censorship in Liberia of those rights. People are free to go on social media and engage in the political process and discuss issues of the day, and really hold the government to account for some of the issues that people are experiencing. Some of these events that have perhaps impacted on Liberia’s standing is not indicative of our policy framework in Liberia. I agree that more needs to be done, and we will have that discussion here today,” Madam Kou stated.

Panel Discussion on Human Development

Over the last 10 years Liberia has improved on the Human Development score, which is very positive from 2015-2019, in terms of the IIAG scorecard. Although education has declined over the past years, Liberia has improved in terms of international health.

According to panelist Christian Hena, founder of Healthy Women/Healthy Liberia, the government of Liberia and the private sectors need to work hand in hand, even though there has been marked progress in the area of Human Development Index, adding, Health for All (Public Health) should be prioritized under government’s agenda for prosperity.

As for panelist Dr. Mosoka Fallah, former Director-General of the National Public Health Institute, the major driver of improvement in Liberia’s health system is the country’s ability to respond to epidemics. However, he advised that health education must be in tandem with application, and to do that requires a lot.

Dr. Rommel Horton, president of Cuttington University, who served as one of the panelists within the category called on stakeholders to consider moving beyond discourse to implementing a plan of action while outlining policy gains within the last 10 years.

Dr. David Zinnah for his part concurred with his colleagues regarding the gains and deficits within the sector, but added, “There is no need to reinvent the wheel.”

“We don’t have a problem with policies, but our challenge is to implement policies, and we tend to reinvent the wheel. STEM courses must be prioritized to make our graduates self-employed instead of relying on the government,” Dr. Zinnah cautioned.

As for environmentalist Silas Siakor, Liberia has so many laws on the books to improve Human Development, but the problem is with implementation, noting that the IIAG Index hit the nail on the head of Liberia’s governance woes.

Silas further observed that technical capacity is extremely low within government and civil society circles, and the population is not taking full advantage of policies and laws in place to stimulate human development. He furthered that citizens have to take their responsibilities seriously.

Outlining that shortcomings within the sector are hindering progress, Silas Siakor listed lack of political will from those in position and the authorities to stimulate development in our society which he said needs to invest in capacity development. He also pointed to the lack of very clear and progressive leadership needed to lead the change in lifting people out of poverty.

Panel Discussion on Foundations for Economic Opportunity

In this category, level improvements have been driven by progress in 3 of the 4 sub-categories: Public Administration, Infrastructure and Rural Sector. However, progress has slowed for other Infrastructure and Public Administration since 2015.

Within this sub-category, the business environment has declined over both the decade and the 5-year period. The pace of the decline between 2015 and 2019 has been more than 16-times faster than over the decade. Liberia is the second lowest scoring country on the continent in this sub-category.

Former Finance Minister Boima Kamara, serving as one of the panelists within this category hailed the marked improvements, especially as they relate to revenue increment for civil registration (death and birth revenue intake the best performer in the 10-year period).

“It is a monumental achievement that in terms of 2019, the country was ranked 5th in the specific sub-section in terms of civil registration. Kudos to the government and all those who are in the process of ensuring that our vital statistics are kept up to date,” Mr. Kamara said.

“Under the context of tax resource mobilization, there was improvement over the 10-year period; however, in the last 5 years commencing 2015 our ranking has been declining to the extent that there is a slow rate of improvement of just 2.4. But the data shows -8 in terms of resource mobilization. There is a need to revisit Liberia’s resource mobilization efficiency, taking into account sectors outside Monrovia.

On the budget, there is significant deterioration. Which brings to question; who are the staff within administration? How were they recruited? Do they possess institutional memory? This assessment of almost -17 decline is a call for concern that we need to pay more attention to how we are recruiting public servants, meaning that there’s a need for the civil service reform to be placed on attention.

As for current Commerce Minister Mawine Diggs, a lot of progress has been made.

“Today in Liberia, access to finance is still a challenge for our small medium enterprises, as well as other businesses. So that is why our government, with the Ministry of Trade and Commerce, in collaboration with the UNDP, we’re currently implementing a program called the Livelihood and Employment Project to address the structural issues for individuals and businesses trying to access financing from various lending institutions. These include the formulation and registration of petty traders which forms a huge part of our informal trade sector. This will help their ability to write business plans, and also establish a registry for these petty traders to allow us the ability to track, monitor and move them from the informal to formal sector,” she indicated.

Ambassador Monie Captan is Liberia’s former Foreign Affairs Minister and Chairman of the Board of the Liberia Electricity Corporation.

He said also IIAG scorecard reports that access to electricity has increased to about 21 over the past ten year, Liberia remains far below the African average, while noting the marked improvements in the energy sector.

“Reconstruction of our energy sector can be attributed to numerous factors, for example, the US Government through the Millennium Challenge Corporation (USAID), the World Bank, the EU, the African Development Bank, the Governments of Germany, Sweden and Japan.

“Passage of the Regulator Law in 2015 which regularized the energy sector is expected to expand private sector participation in the electricity sector, thus meeting future electricity demands in an efficient market-driven environment,” Captan noted.

He further disclosed that the Mount Coffee Hydro which operated 88 Megawatts capacity has increased electricity generation base capacity from to 126 megawatts representing a 232% increase in generation capacity, which has contributed to increased access to electricity.

“Besides, Liberia now has access to a regional line through the CLSG project which will facilitate trade among many countries in Cote d’Ivoire, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea,” Mr. Captan indicated.

As for Agriculture Minister Jeanine Cooper, the rural sector is the best in Africa in terms of the Index assessment considering Economic Opportunities. But in Liberia, it is the third, only outperforming Infrastructure.

“Land and Water Access declined until 2019 in Liberia, but there was one game-changing event that occurred in 2019, and that’s passage of the Land Rights Act which gives communities greater access to the way the rural sector operates.

“Rural Sector is the one that is doing the best in our category, and it’s driving our rural economy, particularly the agriculture economy with the projects that are coming through ODA,” Minister Cooper indicated.

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