No More Economic Spectators -Weah Actualizes Inaugural Promise with Impressive LIFT Project

MONROVIA – In fulfilment of his inaugural pledge made January 22, 2018 that Liberians would no longer be spectators in their own economy, President George Manneh Weah on Tuesday, March 7, 2023 launched the milestone Liberia Investment Finance and Trade (LIFT) Project at the Ministerial Complex in Congo Town.

Hosted under the auspices of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, the LIFT Project targets US$40 million from a World Bank grant and loan portfolio, focusing on the private sector’s Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs).

Launching the LIFT Project, President Weah assured his government’s full commitment to the implementation of this project, noting that the success of the LIFT Project will inspire the World Bank to commit more resources to support Liberia’s national development plan, the Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development.

“When we promised the Liberian people that they would not be mere spectators within their own economy, we knew that we would have to create the enabling environment to enable them to contribute meaningfully and participate fully in every aspect of business, trade, and commerce.  I am grateful that my promise becomes easier to fulfill through projects such as this,” President Weah enthused.

According to the Liberian leader, the Liberia Investment, Finance and Trade Project is intended to improve the investment climate, expand access to finance, and increase the efficiency of trade in Liberia.  However, even more importantly, the Project incorporates features that seek to address gaps that have been identified between men and women with respect to their participation in economic activities in the Liberian economy.

“It will monitor the extent to which activities are contributing towards closing gender gaps by measuring, among other things: the number of women-led Small and Medium Enterprises (SME’s) who will get trained under the program; the number of women-led SMEs that will get a loan through this project; and the number of National Single Window users who are women.

“To assist with the facilitation of private investment, trade, and access to finance, I am told that the Project will support activities organized under three complementary components: Investment Climate and Trade; SME Access to Markets and Finance, and Digital Financial Services infrastructure.  There will also be a fourth component for project management, monitoring, and evaluation, as well as contingency emergency response.

“With the procurement of a new digital platform for the Liberia Business Registry under this Project, I am also informed that the challenges faced with the registration of businesses and renewal of certificates will soon be over, as new businesses will now be able to be registered within a matter of hours, something which currently takes weeks to complete.  This should considerably enhance the ease-of-doing-business index for Liberia.

“I am further informed that the LIFT-P Project will support the National Single Window and the provision of a National Electronic Payment Switch. These new trading platforms will allow you to transact your business online, even if you are in your village or out of this country, and make instant payments between banks.

My government is fully committed to the implementation of this project, and I trust that its success will inspire the World Bank to commit more resources in support of our national development plan, the Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development.

“We will continue to provide the necessary political support, so that we create an environment that is so conducive for investment, trade, and commerce, that a clear message can be sent to the World that Liberia is open for exciting and profitable business opportunities for Liberians and foreigners alike,” Weah stated ecstatically.

Also gracing the prestigious occasion, World Bank Liberia’s Country Manager Khwima Nthara expressed profound gratitude for the excellent partnership between the Bank and the Government of Liberia over the past four years.

“Congratulations Mr. President, as Liberia stands out today in the region as a leader of microfinance stability, including access to finance and market. Through the LIFT Project, the Government will create a one-stop-shop for business registration and licensing, so it becomes easy to start a business in Liberia.

“Through the LIFT Project, the government will simplify and automate the process of exporting and importing goods by creating a national single weight of trade. Through the LIFT Project, the government will establish a new electronic fair and swift system that will connect and improve the efficiency of finance systems including commercial banks, microfinance banks, mobile money agents, etc.

Through the LIFT Project, the Government will establish a modern credit reference system which is necessary for banks to lend individuals and businesses. This is because through the modern credit reference system, banks can easily check who has a good credit, and through this government can provide a line of credit for small and medium enterprises, as well as build their capacities to access finance, including training, market linkages, investment facilitation and finance. Through the LIFT Project, the government will strengthen the capacity of the National Investment Commission to attract large investments and negotiate investment agreements in order to get the best for Liberia.

Through the LIFT Project, the Government will establish the systems for special economic zones and industrial parks. This LIFT Project will be truly transformational for Liberia,” Mr. Nthara enthused.

For her part, World Bank Practice Manager for the Finance, Competitiveness and Innovation (FCI) Global Practice in Central and West Africa, Rashmi Shankar, said the LIFT Project is the first step in opening up the market in Liberia.

“We are together with you. We hope that we can do more together. This is such an exciting project, and I am excited to be working with the Government of Liberia,” Madam Shankar said.

Apart from the influx of government officials including the Minister of Finance and Development Planning, Samuel Tweah, as well as the host Minister of Commerce and Industry Mawine Diggs, the LIFT Project launch witnessed a splattering of dignitaries from the international community and the Liberian business community, with 38 sectoral leaders of Liberia’s economy rising to the occasion to hail President Weah for the landmark project.

Speaking on behalf of the Liberia Business Association, President James Strother noted how when President Weah made the speech in 2018 that Liberians will not be spectators in their own economy, some people said the speech he had made was not taking effect.

“But I told them that there is a time and season for everything. This shows to us today that what you said on that day, you were working towards it. What you said yesterday is taking place now.

“To all of our donor partners who have made this dream a success, we want to say thank you. Liberian businesses will never be spectators hereafter. We have worked over the years with our Minister to put the “t” and the “I” where they should be. I can assure you that those who say Liberian people cannot pay debt, that this dispensation will make sure that President Weah’s legacy remains,” Mr. Strother said.

Also speaking, Liberia Chamber of Commerce Vice President O. Natty B. Davis, who proxied for the President of the Liberia Chamber of Commerce, Cllr. Oswald Tweh, who was out of the country on international engagements, congratulated all of the crafters and designers of the LIFT project.

“The Liberia Chamber of Commerce will continue to work closely with the government of Liberia, particularly with the components of this project; the Ministry of Commerce, the National Investment Commission, the World Bank, and also the Project Implementation Unit, that is critical to ensuring the implementation of projects in a timely manner.

“We have had over the years a lot of support from donors, but we consume what we don’t produce, and we produce what we don’t consume. We need to move more to the direction where we consume what we produce; particularly the Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of Finance to see overtime how we integrate the LIFT initiative with other initiatives that are already happening in the agriculture sector,” Mr. Davis noted.

“The women are the backbone of local internal trade. And so, we congratulate you Madam Minister for what we saw outside, and what the lift will represent to continue lifting those women and their issues. I recall specifically, when you’re passing Red Light, and see all those stores in front; go behind. You will see all of the warehouses that are owned by women. And when you look in those warehouses, you will see in many cases inventories of over $50-60,000 of goods that they bring outside of Liberia. And so, we call on the government to create the opportunity for financing, and for technical assistance to our women that will improve cross border trade, because Liberia can do better if we first connect with the Mano River Union, and then ECOWAS through the Africa-Continental Free Trade. In that regard, Madam Minister, we call on your leadership to see how we can move that process forward to get the ratification for the Africa Continental Free Trade, to greatly accelerate the growth that we are all looking for.

With regards to your statement that Liberians will not be onlookers as major players within the economy, I will like to bring to your attention, Mr. President, before I close, that one of the members of our Chamber, you will soon be getting an invitation for the opening of his battery production facility, which will represent the first pharmaceutical company here in Liberia,” the seasoned Liberian business incubator expert stated amidst thunderous applause.

Beneficiaries’ Appreciation

Displaying their wares outside the conference hall, beneficiaries of the LIFT Project who hailed from the 15 political subdivisions of the country, expressed elation over the opportunity afforded them to finally enter the economic stadium through empowerment.

A female representative of Yummy Mummy Artistry, producer of processed fast-food items, effusively thanked President Weah, Commerce Minister Diggs and the donor community for coming to the aid of SMEs.

“We are so excited about the LIFT Project because it will help us to expand our business. If we have access to finance, we will be able to do all of the things that we want to do.

“I think Liberian businesses need to pay back loans. My mom always used to say, to buy is to own, and to borrow is to return. The best way is to put some financial management plan into practice for your business,” the Yummy Mummy Artistry rep stated matter-of-factly.

As for Esther N. Harris from the Green Coast Farmer Enterprise, although the loan may not be sufficient, she wants to do mechanized farming. Esther is currently involved in processing and packaging local food products for the Liberian market.

“The LIFT Project will impact my business because it is good that our government has come up with this initiative for our fellow Liberians to impact our businesses meaningfully,” Madam Harris said.

Precious T. Blayeh is a business woman from Grand Bassa County, who is overjoyed about the LIFT Project.

“I am happy to be here as a Bassa woman, to take part in this program. Our President George Manneh Weah and Minister Mawine Diggs brought money for us poor people because not everybody will work in the government. Most of our husbands are zogos now, so we are helping ourselves. We thank God we got a strong President and a strong Minister of Commerce who are helping us to become strong again.

As for Mr. Newton from the Nina Group of Agriculture Products, the LIFT Project will help productivity for his business.

“The more we are supported and we have increased productivity, the more products we will have on the market and even for us to export,” says Newton who has a workforce of six persons.

It can be recalled that the World Bank in February 2022 approved a financing package to improve the investment climate, expand sustainable access to finance, and increase the efficiency of trade in Liberia. The Liberia Investment, Finance, and Trade (LIFT) project, financed by the International Development Association (IDA) in the amount of $40 million ($20 million grant and $20 million credit), is the first World Bank financing project in a generation to support Liberia’s private and financial sectors and the first such for the Ministry of Commerce and Industry and the Central Bank of Liberia.

The LIFT project will improve the investment climate, expand sustainable access to finance, and increase the efficiency of trade in Liberia. In doing so, the project is supporting Liberia’s Pro-poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development, in particular, pillar two that focuses on the Economy and Jobs. It has been prepared under the Government’s leadership and in close collaboration with the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and other Donors that are also supporting Liberia’s private and financial sectors.

Stating his optimism at the time, World Bank Country Manager in Liberia Dr. Khwima Nthara said, “The financing package will be critical to supporting the Government’s jobs agenda, as it is through the private sector that Liberia can create more and sustainable jobs,” noting in particular that the project will build on recent improvements in macroeconomic indicators, to support far-reaching structural reforms that will improve the business environment and hence, send a clear message that Liberia is truly open for business.

The LIFT Project will improve Liberia’s investment climate by strengthening institutions providing government to business services covering investment support, business licensing and an international trade single window; and improve capabilities and competitiveness of Small and Medium Enterprises through targeted technical assistance linking them to markets and access to finance, through technical assistance and a Line of Credit. Additionally, the Liberia Investment, Finance and Trade Project supports access to digital financial services, through a new National Electronic Payment Switch, and a Credit Reference System.

“The need for increased private sector investment and for SMEs to have access to markets and finance is very critical,” said Task Team Leaders Thomas Vis and Kiyotaka Tanaka at the time.

“Therefore, this LIFT Project will seek to capitalize on emerging national, regional and international trade opportunities and the existence and potential of Foreign Direct Investment in Liberia, to offer a combination of technical assistance and finance to support SMEs to access markets, improve capabilities, and increase productivity” they added.

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