10 December 2012

Liberia: 'Trajectory Of Success' -Finance Minister Konneh Describes Vision 2030

One of the chief ideologues Vision 2030 which is the country's emerging development blueprint, has got fond words for the program ahead of the assembly of national and international stakeholders today in Gbarnga, Bong County. Amara Konneh believes in 18 years, the Vision will move more than 60% of Liberians out of poverty into a middle class.

"In these 18 years, we also aim to address the inequities, inequalities and social cleavages that have afflicted Liberians for generations. It is this dual realization of economic and political development we call Vision 2030," he said, acknowledging achieving these aims is a daunting challenge, but that together Liberians can overcome the challenge.

See full text of Konneh's perspective on the Vision 2030 below:

National Vision Perspectives From Finance Minister of  AMARA M. Konneh

The National Vision Conference in Gbarnga is a historic undertaking.  Special thanks to the Conference organizers and to national stakeholders and Development Partners  who have worked tirelessly to construct the Vision, one which is radically different from any in Liberia's past. In these few pages, I share my perspective on the implications of rolling out the National Vision, which is ambitious in one breadth and realistic and achievable in another.

Liberians are Right to be Skeptical

The Gbarnga Conference is not a talking shop. The ideas discussed there do not lie in theoretical abstraction. They affect the lives of many Liberians who long to end the scourge of endemic poverty; they define the future of a society reeling from 14 years of state collapse and looking to avert a recurrence of national tragedies by availing opportunities, minimizing inequities and strengthening institutions. These idea challenge Liberians to overcome the pathology of short-term thinking. By gathering in Gbarnga, delegates hailing from every nook and cranny of the Liberian society are determined to position the National Vision on a trajectory of success.

As the Conference  commences, questions linger the minds of many Liberians who are far removed from the Conference discussions. What is Vision 2030 and why should it be taken more seriously or perceived differently than the many other visions that preceded it? Why should the implementation of Vision 2030 see outcomes that are different than previous visions? These are fundamentally legitimate questions. Our people have seen many fancier development acronyms  yet development has eluded them for generations.  So where Liberians are skeptical, their skepticism is founded because of what has happened before: we Liberians have struggled to use the space and the instruments of public policy to meaningfully affect the lives our fellow compatriots. So to the many skeptical Liberians who are asking these questions, Vision 2030 constitutes the aim of the Liberian people to develop policies, programs and institutions that will successfully transition Liberia into a middle income country by 2030.  In 18 years, we hope to move more than 60% of Liberians out of poverty into a middle class. In these 18 years, we also aim to address the inequities, inequalities and social cleavages that have afflicted Liberians for generations. It is this dual realization of economic and political development we call Vision 2030.

We acknowledge achieving these aims is a daunting challenge, but together Liberians can overcome the challenge. As Finance Minister, I will spare no effort in the full realization of the objectives of the Vision.

We Need to Understand Why Visions of the Past Have Failed

The last several months have seen unprecedented efforts in preparing the country for the lunch and execution of the Vision. Recently, we operationalized  the Medium Term Expenditure Framework, which enables multiyear budget planning and have substantially developed project-based budgeting. The current national budget  reduced recurrent expenditure by more than US$105 million. Recurrent expenditure  had been on an explosive  increase  over the last several years. High recurrent costs would  undermine expected outcomes of  Vision 2030, since recurrent costs lock up  resources that can otherwise go to pay for meaningful projects. Under the current budget, the saving of US$105 million has paid for  investments in critical infrastructure, capacity and youth development.  I commit to further reducing costs over the medium term and to raising revenue in support of the Vision.

Rationalizing the country's fiscal space supports vision execution by creating an enabling environment in which success is more assured.  While Development Partners would be critical to financing the Vision, the Government of Liberia must leverage domestic resources to the fullest.  This is all the more important since the Government will share in funding  the Agenda, which covers the first five years of the Vision. The cumulative five year cost of the AfT has been put at US$3.2 billion-- in 2012 prices-- with the GoL expected to foot more than half of this bill over the next five years. Achieving these aims means putting public expenditure on a sound and efficient footing.

But 'implementation' is not a new word in Liberia political and economic parlance. The narrative is that Liberians have never lacked for plans. Implementing these plans has been the  perennial problem. A critical question that  the Conference may want to consider is what are the relevant factors that have impeded vision execution in the past?. How do these challenges inform implementation of the current vision? How do we overcome these historical challenges? Though broadly consultative, inclusive and strategically designed, Vision 2030 might still stray from its expected path if these constraining  factors  are not  addressed. Historically, what are these constraints? I briefly outline several constraints that have generally impeded the execution of plans. The list is by no means exhaustive. They include:

1.    The absence of a robust policy environment;

2.    Extremely weak interagency coordination;

3.    Extremely weak  regimes of accountability;

4.    The failure to integrate the functions of national development planning and budgeting;

5.    National capacity deficiencies;

6.    The general absence of strong political will and commitment from national state actors;

The above factors had generally characterized Liberian fiscal governance in the years prior to the signing of the signing of the Accra Peace Accord in 2003.  The Accra  Accord   spurred immense interests and international focus on the need to reform Liberia's public financial management infrastructure.

This Time the Foundation for Success is Strong

A series of measures since 2003 has been responsible for a radical departure from a historical pattern of weak public financial management. Beginning with the General Economic Management and Assistance Program (GEMAP) launched in 2003, through the establishment of a statutorily independent General Auditing Commission (GAC)  to a Public Financial Management law, the fiscal landscape has seen its fair share of revolution. Liberia's historically weak policy environment has been strengthened by a battery of public finance legislations and policies enacted by post-Accra national legislatures. Both the public financial management and national legislative oversight of the development process are stronger than they were 20 to 40 years ago. We have begun to take strong measures to address the country's capacity challenge. The current budget earmarks $US 7.0 million to strengthen Liberian capacity. It must be noted that on average that country had been investing about $US 3.0 million annually in capacity development prior to the current budget. We have now increased national commitment to capacity development by a whopping 133%, which if sustained over the first five years of the Vision, would fundamentally alter the status quo. Over the next several months we look to finalize the merger of Ministries of Finance and Planning and Economic Affairs into the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning. As part of this drive of fiscal strengthening, we are rolling out a separate Revenue authority which will aim to streamline and enhance revenue performance.

The main point is that today, Liberians face a dramatically improved fiscal landscape for delivering on the National Vision, although strong impediments remain. Key challenges persist in the existence of a weak coordination environment, weak service delivery capabilities and serious capacity deficits.

The Challenges are Surmountable

The issue of coordination in rolling out a vision of this magnitude is important. The absence of robust coordination would impose staggering costs on the Vision, leading to massive waste and duplication of scare resources. We cannot and must not allow this to happen. Coordination means stakeholders from implementing agencies and ministries are actively and creatively engaged in Vision implementation, share knowledge and  information on a routine basis, robustly manage the linkages between the different components of the Vision both within and across  ministries, agencies and sectors, as well as  collectively own the National Vision. Coordination entails the engagement and involvement of all actors at different levels, not just those at the highest levels of governance. It is important to stress  that the current level of interagency and –sectoral coordination and ownership of various government programs is unsatisfactory. It is my sincere wish that Conference and post-conference deliberations and actions lend centrality to the issue of coordination in rolling out the Vision.

Another challenge is the much discussed issue of national capacity. The Vision and its implementation are hurdled  by the absence of critical capacity to deliver needed services. Building on a National Capacity Strategy developed more than three years ago, the Government has itemized US$7.0 for national capacity development for FY 2012/13 year, and has projected US$10 million for the rest of the medium term. A capacity development implementation strategy is   being finalized. The Ministry of Finance will soon hold a National Capacity Development Workshop with key stakeholders on capacity development implementation.

Also related to the capacity challenge is the ability of reformed public institutions to deliver services to the Liberian people in a timely and efficient manner. Service delivery capabilities in the education, healthcare and security sectors, just to name a few, can use significant improvement. The visioning process should aim to deliver strong outcomes in the area of service delivery. I believe these themes will preoccupy the many political leaders, legislators technocrats and Development Partners in attendance at  the Conference.

When all is said and done, the National Vision is the ultimate expression  of Liberia's transformative aspiration. We all are challenged to ensure its realization and to fulfill our individual and institutional responsibilities. As a Government, we pledge to structure the enabling and optimal policy and strategic environment for Vision success, to plug gaps where they exist and build synergies among Government, the public and private sectors  as well as civil society. We trust that Development Partners, who have demonstrated enormous commitment over the years of Liberia's recovery, would  scale up their commitment in rolling out this Vision.  On behalf of the President, I ask Development Partners to dig deeper as the years ahead are most critical for Liberia's development.

Liberians, Let's Run with this Vision

Liberian business leaders would have to  take advantage of opportunities availed by the National Vision. The Government of Liberia can only catalyze economic development. Risk taking agents in the private sector, spurred by the profit motive and other  incentives, have the enormous responsibility of developing, growing and maturing the space of private sector competition. Small businesses  are the net provider of jobs in most economies around the world. Small businesses in Liberia too should be able to provide jobs for the majority of our people. But to do so they must be enabled and strengthened. The National Vision has ample opportunities to strengthen small businesses. It is hoped that coming out of the Conference will be a renewed emphasis on Liberian businesses.

In the end, it is our much we make of the Vision that makes the difference. An enormous amount of resources would be spent over the next five years to begin the march toward middle income status. Resources and opportunities would make their way to households. A huge number of Liberians would be trained and deployed across sectors. Infrastructure would be developed and institutions strengthened.  All of these fundamental changes hinge on the Liberians and their ability to leverage available opportunities. Doubts and cynicism must give way to creative energies and dynamic synergies across communities. Liberians must forge a stronger work ethic, knowing they don't have the time to spare. We cannot merely gripe and criticize our way into the future. We must seize that future and determine its horizons. We now have that opportunity in the current Vision.  The time  to act in the interest of Liberia and its  people is now.

Amara M. Konneh is Liberia's Minister of Finance. He is a key architect of planned economic transformation.

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