5 October 2012

Liberia: Min. Konneh Wows Harvard Students

Harvard-trained Liberian Finance Minister Amara Konneh had an eventful Monday as guest of the prestigious Harvard school in Boston, Massachusetts, where he participated in a series of specially organized sessions for students across the vast campus.

Presents Liberia's Success Stories, Challenges

Following a hectic week-long activities at the United Nations General Assembly in New York with President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Minister Konneh honored an invitation from the Harvard where he had an opportunity to engage scores of students in three classroom sessions at the Business School and the Kennedy School of Government.

During these sessions, the returning alumnus Konneh unsurprisingly put on his classroom teaching skills, reminisce of his days at the refugee camp in Guinea where he presided over a school project and taught in the class rooms. He enthralled the curious economic and public policy students as he provided them useful information on Liberia.

Minister Konneh presented the state of the Liberian economy, the agenda for transformation, the challenges and the way forward for sustainable development in the post conflict nation. He also explained the factors that led to the economic collapse and how the Ellen Johnson-led administration has put Liberia back into business by overturning those anomalies.

The students were enlightened, especially for those who had misconceptions that Liberia's economic recovery process was in shambles. Minister Konneh dispelled those notions. "Liberia has a strong economy. Though it is small, we are going beyond the borders." He further explained Liberia's success stories and the challenges the country faces in its development process.

Minister Konneh told his young audience that Liberia's economic growth is on an upward trajectory and that economic prospects over the medium term remain favorable. He revealed that Liberia's Real GDP growth driven by continued strong growth in the mining sector and rising activity in construction and other services is expected to reach close to 9 percent in 2012.

The Liberian Treasury Chief, who earned a Master's degree in Public Administration with emphasis in political and economic development from the Harvard's Kennedy School of Government told his young audience that though there are challenges, Liberia which is regarded a post-conflict success story by the international community, has made tremendous progress in its development effort. He said the Government of Liberia is making certain key investments especially in the energy sector to boost the economy.

According to Minister Konneh, investing in energy, reconstructing the major roads and ports across the country and creating jobs and building the capacity of the young people will open up the Liberian economy and ensure sustainable peace and security for the people of Liberia. He maintained that the country's energy program has been put on the front burner of government's next development strategy, stressing that Liberia will not tie its energy program to donors or third countries.

He informed the students that as a manifestation of GOL not tying its energy program to donors or third countries, beginning with the national budget, government has allocated about ten percent of the country's capital expenditure totaling some forty million United States dollars annually. Minister Konneh added that the ten percent annual allocation of the country's capital expenditure in the national budget which will run for three years will amount to the total of one hundred and twenty million United States dollars in the budget towards the country's energy program.

He revealed that government will also take some intermediate steps aimed at reducing the current high tariff placed on electricity in the country, adding: "Today, the cost of electricity is about fifty-four cents per kilo watt hour; the highest in Africa, and that is why most people can't afford to get on the Liberia Electricity Corporation (LEC) line. We need to bring it down."

The Liberian executive furthered that the Government of Liberia is making investment in the education sector to improve the quality of teachings in the Liberian schools, including universities. "We want our young people to be able to compete with others students around the world."

"The challenge now is how to manage the country's available resources to be able to get the much needed investments in Liberia," Minister Konneh said and expressed optimism that Liberia's new development agenda known as Liberia RISING 2030 will create a middle class in the country and spread the wealth among the citizens.

The Liberian government passed a project-based budget. At its core, the reformation and the building of a robust and prosperous Liberian middle class. The budget, a first of its kind in contemporary Liberian history, seeks to lift Liberians and those living within our boarders, out of poverty and into a more meaningful and dignifying life.

Minister Konneh asserted, "Our strategy is to finance national infrastructures as a stimulus to the economy. This infusion of capital will put Liberians back to work. The rebuilding of the hydro to provide 24 hours electricity at a reduce cost; the building of roads, bridges to increase national and international commerce and the freedom to move about the length and breadth of a country that is the size of the state of Ohio; and to build or renovate buildings and invest in education to sustain an expendable economic freedom for our future.

He informed that students that in order to support a broadly share prosperous vision of a middle class, the Government of Liberia has made available twenty-five percent of its purchasing budget to support businesses that are locally based. "We believe that outsourcing and contracting local Liberian businesses and organizations will spur economic and financial growth for businesses, entrepreneurs and professionals."

Minister Konneh noted that financing these Liberian-owned businesses will help them have the potential of developing Liberia's middle class. By so doing, it will reduce the unemployment rates and reduce poverty in the country and less dependency on government jobs. "So what was once been considered a dream is now a policy that MUST be implemented and will be successful," said Minister Konneh.

Liberia's Minister of Finance is among a new generation of African policymakers that are transforming their countries. He aggressively led on the implementation of Liberia's development agenda known as Lift Liberia's Poverty Reduction Strategy and has traveled extensively on behalf of the Liberian Government to mobilize resources, and is currently leading on the crafting of Liberia's next development strategy (Liberia RISING or Agenda for Transformation).

Minister Konneh was accompanied to the Harvard sessions by Professor Eric Werker.

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