24 January 2013

Liberia: No Turning Back! -Sirleaf Takes Giant Anti-Corruption Step

The Sirleaf Administration has done everything in and out of the book to keep corruption at bay. It had strengthened financial laws and institutions; it had dismissed and reshuffled officials suspected of breaching or having the potential to breach public trust; and it had retorted critics' claims of official collusion, arguing one time that corruption is "endemic" in the Liberian society. All of this neither change critics' view nor reduce incidence and report of corruption in post war Liberia as much as most Liberians would like. Now, the Sirleaf Administration appears to be saying, "There is no turning back from the ant-corruption fight," and it is taking extraordinary, nearly foolproof, giant steps to eradicating corruption. The Analyst, reports.

President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf yesterday in Monrovia, using the proverbial 'seven-at-one-blow format', launched the Liberia Development Alliance (LDA) and the Open Government Initiative (OGI) in Monrovia – back to back.

The launch of the LDA and OGI, observers say, represents the first-ever frontal attack in the Sirleaf Administration's effort to fight corruption, discouraging the mindset amongst most Liberians that the corruption menace, being endemic in society, is not combatable.

The LDA launch

In her LDA launch remarks, the Liberian chief executive said the alliance represents a slice of the Agenda For Transformation (AfT), a subset of National Vision 2030, which her administration launched officially in Gbarnga last year.

She said the LDA is a structure to that brings together all stakeholders, including civil society organizations (CSOs), line ministry officials, the private sector, and Liberia's foreign development partners.

"They have come together to implement and sustain all of the programs and policies as contain in the AfT," the president said.

LDA replaces Liberia Reconstruction and Development Committee (LRDC), which served as the implementing and monitoring body for government's now idle three-year poverty reduction strategy (PRS).

It is not clear what the differences between the PRS and LRDC were, nor is it clear what benefits the swapping of one for the other would contribute to the fight against the massive breach of public trust, which critics say associated with the implementation of the PRS.

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.

The committee comprises 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 release said, 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, and security.

It will also provide enriched livelihoods for a vast majority of the Liberian people and 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, the statement reiterated.

The OGI launch

However, later on at the official lunch of the OGI during which the president switched on an digital open budget billboard, she noted that Liberians interested in how their resources were being managed would as of yesterday have such lead way rather relying on hearsay or unfounded speculations about corruption or misapplication of funds.

The digital billboard displays data on all revenues collected, funds expended, and projects initiated across the country by the Liberian government.

Presenting the instrument to President Sirleaf for onward launching, Finance Minister Amara Konneh said, "Madam President, I give you the Open Budget Billboard. This is just the beginning; there are more to come. This billboard is on the internet. The Ministry of Information is concluding arrangements with radio and television stations and newspapers across Liberia to help spread the open budget message to our people."

Scores of government officials, foreign development partners, representatives of the private sector, representatives of CSOs, and heads of diplomatic missions graced yesterday's historic launch. The launch followed the group's inspection of a brand new upgraded Integrated Financial Management Information System (IFMIS) and a customer service center, amongst other facilities.

The Open Budget Project, which the Ministry of Finance initiated, was funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the African development Bank (AFDB). The cost was not disclosed.

The Open Government Initiative (OGI is one of several endeavors by the government to combat corruption. It is also a platform on which the wrongs and rights of line ministries and agencies would be provided to the public, Minister Konneh said.

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 will include seeing the financial commitments of the government and how taxes and grant monies are being spent.

Also, the benefits will include 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," a recent Finance Ministry statement said.

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