17 December 2012

Liberia: Anticipating the Japanese Food Aid- Cautiously


The government and people of Japan have demonstrated enormous magnanimity towards Liberia in their lavish donation of rice and oil, both of which are prime commodities dear to the minds and hearts of Liberians. But from all indications, unfortunately, as per reports from the lens of the local media as well as the General Auditing Commission, these critical aids have ended up as mere goodwill for only the elites, particularly those whose institutions have had direct say in the management of oil and rice. In the later donation of 8,617 metric tons of rice by the Japanese government, our appreciation and joy are saddled by fears and apprehension—or the trauma—of the cold hands of corruption and gluttony which characterized early interventions from the good people of Japan.

In the first instance,if we can recall, Japan provided Liberia Food Aid in 2008 as a monetization scheme designed to support development in the Agriculture Sector of Liberia. A GAC report released June 2010 uncovered irregularities, particularly the purported “Protocol Rice” which the GAC thought undermined transparency and accountability and open corridors for pillage. According to the GAC, while the minimum price was set at US$14.012 per bag of rice, the Inter-Ministerial Committee based on market conditions at the time adjusted the price scheme downward to US$11.50, without a written approval from the Government of Japan or an amendment to the bilateral agreement; under-pricing that caused the variance of US$734,046.59 and contributed significantly to the overall revenue loss of US$831,624.09.

There was also the Petroleum Non-Project Grant of one billion, one hundred million Japanese Yen (¥1,100,000,000) to the Government of Liberia. Another GAC report on the audit of how this grant was used showed that the intended benefits failed to reach the ordinary people for whom it was intended. Colossal sums of money were lost to untold irregularities and deliberate siphoning, according to the country’s Supreme Audit Institution, the GAC.

Fortunately or unfortunately,the Government of Japan continues to pump into this country, and into the hands of the same people who managed previous aids, rice, oil and cash. Last week, for instance, it was announced by Government that it received yet another grant, which includes 8,617 metric tons of the country’s staple; fortunately because the mismanagement of funds and resources of previous grants appears not to discourage the Government of Japan and unfortunately because it is highly unlikely that the “masses of the people” whose socioeconomic burdens these are meant to ease will continue to be at the losing end again.

Well,surely, some pundits may argue that lessons learned from the implementation of previous grants in question could inform the handling of the current aid, and that it would be utterly wrong to think that in modern, dynamic Liberia, things are done the same way over and over. In the view of these proponents, every stratum of the Sirleaf administration is pursuing reform and that grant aids or loans are undergoing increasing innovative management styles.

Despite the aforementioned counter arguments, circumstances characterizing the donations of Japan to Liberia show clear evidence that absolutely nothing is done to build on lessons from previous endeavors. Had it been the case, the handling of the oil grant would have improved over the Food Aid, because paradoxically, the handling of the 2008 Food Aid proves far better than the 2010 oil grant. With no administrative actions announced by Government and publicized, it goes without saying that the worse could come in the current arrangements.

It is against this backdrop that we are not only cautiously greeting with news of the over US$33m aid by Japan to Liberia, but also calling on the Government to seriously strengthen monitoring and public participation in the processes that will lead to the dispensation of the aids provided. The management of the aids should not be limited to special inter-ministerial committees, but must be constituted to include the civil society and other important actors of society.

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