The Government of Liberia, represented by a high level delegation, has concluded a two-week engagement and discussions with U.S. Government officials, Congressional leaders, and members of the business community. The delegation was led by the Minister of Finance and Development Planning, Samuel D. Tweah, and included the Minister of State for Presidential Affairs, Nathaniel F. McGill, the Minister of Gender, Children and Social Protection, Williametta Saydee-Tarr, the Minister of State without Portfolio, Trokon Kpui and the Mayor of the City of Monrovia, Jefferson Koijee. The group was supported by Liberia’s U.S. Ambassador, George S. W. Patten.
According to a release issued Sunday May 30, 2021, this is the government’s first major visit to Washington, DC since the outbreak of the Corona virus in December 2019. The delegation aimed to update U.S. officials, including Congressional leaders, about the progress of the administration of President George Manneh Weah, discuss critical challenges and explore opportunities for increased Liberia–U.S. partnerships.
The statement noted that the delegation held substantive meetings with several members of the United States House of Representatives. They included Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA), Chair of the House Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and related programs under the appropriations committee; Congressman Jim McGovern (D-MA), Co-Chair of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission; and Congressman James Clyburn (D-SC), the Majority Whip and the third ranking Democrat in the United States House of Representatives.
The statement further asserted that the delegation also met with U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield and held wide-ranging discussions with officials at the Departments of State and Treasury, and the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) and the Development Finance Corporation. At the State Department, the delegation held talks with Michael C. Gonzales, Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of African Affairs and with Madam Lisa Peterson, Acting Assistant Secretary and Scott Busby, Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, both in the Department of State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. At Treasury, the delegation met with Eric Meyer, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Africa and the Middle East. At the MCC, the delegation met with Mamoud Bah, Acting Chief Executive Officer and other members of senior management.
The release also said discussions were held with Congressional leaders and U.S. Government officials covered a wide range of subjects which can be narrowed into four broad areas:
1) Liberia’s recovery from the macro-economic shocks of 2018 and the subsequent COVID-19 pandemic, including the government’s evidentiary commitment to improving governance, fighting corruption, and preventing money laundering, terrorist financing and illicit financial flows.
2) Liberia’s investment opportunities and possibilities; the ambition to anchor Liberia-U.S. relations on American investment and on grounding Liberian tourism on the deep umbilical ties between Liberia and the United States, and the government’s commitment to reforming the business climate, highlighted by the pending Judicial Conference on the investment climate and the planned Investment Forum in Washington D.C. under the auspices of the Liberian Embassy
3) The state of Liberian democracy and the government’s evidentiary commitment to upholding the tenets of democratic governance through the holding of free and fair elections, the guaranteeing of basic freedoms to assemble, protests or criticize and upholding of the fundamental human rights of all Liberians
4) A review of five-year compact with the Millennium Challenge Corporation and the drive for a second compact through demonstrated governance improvements as gauged through the MCC eligibility scorecard and commitment to sustaining the impact investments under the first compact.
In all discussions, the delegation emphasized President Weah and the Government’s strong commitment to a slate of macro-economic and business climate reforms. The delegation noted that if President Weah could achieve wage reforms through salary harmonization and standardization, an outcome that was difficult to achieve since the end of war in 2003 because of its huge political risks, there is very little in the way of policy reform that the government cannot accomplish. The delegation stressed that with macro-economic stability in sight, as gauged by inflation coming down to 10% from a high of 31% two years ago, the government is working hard on investment and growing the economy. The delegation apprised the U.S. leaders of progress on ongoing discussions with Accelor Mittal on its phase two investment of nearly $800 million, on the Implementation Agreement signed with the Government of Guinea to develop the Liberia-Guinea Economic Corridor for the exploitation of Guinean ore through the port of Buchanan, as well as progress on the development of a Special Economic Zone in the Port of Buchanan.
As a sign of its commitment to resolving issues in the business climate the delegation presented the forthcoming Judicial Conference which is an agenda on the investment and the business climate as a critical step that brings the investment and business communities with Supreme Court justices, lawyers and judges to develop a framework for improving the business climate. The delegation invited Congressional Leaders and U.S. officials to pay close attention to the Judiciary Conference. The delegation expressed the government’s commitment to taking other actions to improve the investment and business climate.
They also assured the U.S. leaders of the government’s commitment to sustaining democratic freedoms, to upholding the rule of law through free, fair and transparent elections and to enlarging the space for civic participation. The delegation informed U.S. stakeholders about a pending engagement with all civil society actors with the aim of enlarging the space for civil society participation and strengthening the partnership between the government and the Liberian civil society. They noted that they view the U.S. State Department’s Human Rights Report as an important guide for improving the state of democracy in the country, and added that they are committed to addressing many of the structural issues the report has raised consistently over the last decade.
In response, Congressional leaders underscored their commitment to helping Liberia and expressed their thanks for the important updates provided by the delegation. Congresswoman Babara Lee promised to work toward leading members of the Congressional Black Caucus to visit Liberia, while Congressman Clyburn stressed the need to launch Liberia’s tourism ambition around the 200th anniversary of the landing of free slaves on the shores of Liberia, promising to work with the government to achieve these goals. Congressman McGovern stressed the importance of the government providing accurate information and updates on developments in Liberia to relevant Congressional leaders, showing particular appreciation for the updates provided by the delegation.
Meanwhile, the release from MICAT futher noted that officials at State and Treasury recognized the strong gains the Weah administration has made, but urged the Government to continue to work harder. Deputy Assistant Secretary Eric Meyer noted that updates the Treasury receives from the IMF Mission show strong progress on macro-economic recovery and applauded the government’s plan to overhaul anti money laundering, counter terrorist financing and illicit financial flows framework through legislation and other mechanism. Deputy Assistant Secretary Gonzales stressed the need for the government to demonstrate strong steps in the fight against corruption and continue to work on improving governance.
In response to the delegation’s call for an objective evidenced-based framework that guides and informs U.S. assessments of on-the-ground developments and actions by the Liberian Government, the release stated that both Meyer and Gonzales agreed that more engagement with the Liberian Government is needed beyond engagements that happen on the sidelines of annual World Bank and IMF meetings in Washington, with both committing to work toward developing such a framework.
During discussions held with senior management of MCC, Acting CEO Mamoud Bah and other senior members of management noted that Liberia’s second compact will depend on a sustained trajectory of improvements on the scorecard and on the government’s commitment to ensuring the continued success of MCC compact investments.
However, discussions with the Development Finance Corporation focused on ways and strategies to grow the pipeline of DFC projects in Liberia. Both the delegation and DFC officials agree on the importance of working together on an agreed upon framework that targets specific sectors and small and medium enterprises.
They also noted that beyond official U.S. government circles, the delegation engaged with tink-tanks and business organizations. This included the National Democratic Institute, holding discussions with Dr. Chris Fomunyoh, Senior Associate and Regional Director for Central and West Africa Programs, and, Madam Florie Liser, President and CEO of the Corporate Council on Africa, an organization which helps connects private sector investors to African markets.
According to the release the delegation is returning to Liberia to work with the government to reinforce ongoing actions on governance, the fight against corruption, the investment and business climate, the continual protection of fundamental freedoms and human rights, and the enlargement of democratic and civic space for civil society actors.