23 January 2013

Liberia: Ellen Launches 'Open Budget' Initiative, Dev. Agenda Today

In a ceremony celebrating the government's commitment to transparency and accountability, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is expected today (January 23) to officially inaugurate an electronic billboard, located at the Ministry of Finance, to display an updated profile of Liberia's public finances in a manner that the ordinary man and woman on the street will understand.

The US Government, via the USAID-funded Governance and Economic Management Support (USAID-GEMS) project, provided funding and technical assistance for the billboard, while the African Development Bank, through support to the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF), is also providing support to capacity needs of the effort.

The billboard is one way in which the Ministry will be implementing its Open Budget Initiative. The Government began taking steps over the last few years towards a more open budget. The 2012/13 approved budget is publically available on-line and town hall meetings were held to explain the budget and gain feedback. Explanatory materials on the budget including the Citizens' Guide to the budget have also been developed for the public.

To further improve transparency, the Minister of Finance worked with the USAID-GEMS project to provide an electronic billboard facing the street in front of the Ministry of Finance - served by dynamic information systems linked into the MOF financial data - that would allow the Ministry to describe and track the budget, and its execution. The Ministry of Finance has also produced a citizen guide to the FY 2012/13 budget with support from the African Development Bank.

The target audience for the OBI electronic billboard is the ordinary man and woman on the street - the person who is not necessarily serviced by the internet or newspaper. The Ministry of Finance and USAID-GEMS team designed the content and layout of the billboard display specifically for this audience.

The electronic billboard will serve as a powerful symbol to demonstrate the Ministry's emphasis on transparency in conducting its affairs. The Ministry hopes that it will eventually assist in holding line ministries, county governments and other funded entities to account.

The Ministry of Finance expects that benefits to Liberians that will come from the Open Budget Initiative include seeing the financial commitments of the government and how taxes and grant monies are being spent, understanding where budget money is allocated (e.g. by ministry, county, sector), tracking revenue flows, visualizing government projects and tracking their actual implementation against plans, seeing how Liberia is faring over time, compared to other West African and African countries, in developmental and demographic indices, and giving feedback to government on these issues.

Liberia signed to the international Open Government Partnership in November 2011, which commits it to increasing the availability of information about governmental activities, supporting civic participation, establishing the highest standards of professional integrity throughout Government, and increasing access to new technologies for openness and accountability.

USAID-GEMS is a five-year technical assistance project to support the Government of Liberia's own initiatives to improve performance through human and institutional capacity building within government ministries, agencies, and commissions.

The African Development Bank's Fragile State Facility is geared towards support service delivery in African states such as Liberia. Countries that have emerged from conflict to rapidly transform their efficiency, outputs in Public Financial management.

In a related development, President Sirleaf will also today launch the Liberia Development Alliance (LDA), intended to coordinate the implementation of the national development plan; The Agenda for Transformation.

The LDA is organized to maximize the participation of key stakeholders; Government of Liberia, Development Partners, Private Sector actors and Civil Society organizations to ensure the successful implementation of the Agenda for Transformation.

According to a Press Release issued by the Ministry of Finance Media Services Division, the LDA structure will consist of a Steering Committee chaired by the President and comprising of representatives of the Government of Liberia, Development Partners, Private Sector and Civil Society. The LDA Steering Committee will provide overall policy direction to ensure that the AfT delivers the expected transformational development to the Liberian people.

The LDA steering committee will be supported by a LDA Secretariat at the Ministry of Finance. The secretariat will be responsible for the day to day operations, working to coordinate the five pillars of the AfT to ensure successful implementation.

The establishment of the LDA is expected to provide the policy space and support that the private sector and civil society need to play their important role in the nation's development efforts.

In addition to the very critical role that Liberia's Development Partners have played and will continue to play in Liberia's development, the LDA will provide a better platform for a more robust engagement with the private sector to expand the economy and create jobs. The private sector will receive the support to be the engine of growth in the economy.

The LDA will find pragmatic and inclusive ways of implementing the AfT in order to expand the national economic pie by promoting the birth and growth of private enterprise - small and large, rural and urban - that would make the business ecosystem more diverse and productive; maximize the creation of good, productive, sustainable jobs for as many Liberians as possible.

The actions of the LDA should lead to the development of a new middle class, new suppliers and service providers, improved infrastructure, security and enriched livelihoods for a vast majority of the Liberian people; and to ensure that the LDA remains focused on those goals, the organization will pursue its mission of "putting Liberians in charge of the growth and development of the economy" in a deliberate and purposeful way.

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