6 January 2014

Africa: Amara Konneh Named 'Africa Finance Minister of the Year'

The world's most read financial magazine in Europe, The Banker which is owned by the Financial Times, has awarded Finance Minister Amara Konneh as its "Finance Minister of the Year, Africa" for his leadership in maintaining economic stability and growth in Liberia.

The Banker's Finance Minister of the Year awards celebrate the officials who managed to restore economic stability and even growth to their countries following a turbulent few years.

Every year, The magazine selects the "Finance Ministers of the Year" by region and was delighted to inform Minister Konneh that its January 2014 edition will be dedicated to him as the "Finance Minister of the Year, Africa".

Minister Konneh is among other honorees from other continents. Among them are: Luis Videgaray of Mexico (Global and Americas), Michael Noonan, Ireland (Europe), Cesar Purisima of the Philippines (Asia-Pacific) and HE Sultan bin Saeed Nasser Al Mansouri of United Arab Emirates (The Middle East).

According to the Banker, the decision was made after discussions among the magazine's editors and a survey of views among bankers and economists.

In a formal communication to Minister Konneh, the Banker said the Liberian fiscal manager's award represents a vote of confidence by the markets in the role played by the Liberian Ministry of Finance over the past year. The Banker letter furthers: "Many congratulations to you and your colleagues."

The Banker said Minister Konneh was also selected for the award based on careful review of his activities as Minister of Finance.

The magazine noted the wide-ranging economic reforms that are being carried out to develop Liberia's institutions, infrastructure and financial system was crucialin their selection of the Liberian Treasury Chief.

The Banker has been the premier monthly magazine on global finance since 1926, and is owned by the Financial Times group. It is the most-read monthly financial magazine in Europe, with an influential worldwide audience of senior bank executives and financial policy-makers. This is the 13th year in which the Banker has given awards to finance ministers. The latest edition dedicated to Minister Konneh will be distributed among world leaders in the banking and treasury sectors at the upcoming World Economic Forum in Davos. The Banker will present the Liberian official with an award and a certificate at a ceremony in London, England.

The recognition comes as Liberia celebrates 10 years of sustained peace and economic development. Konneh inherited an economy that was responding to recovery, but has managed to stir the country towards the path of double digit growth with his nuace for fiscal discipline and his vision for investing in infrastructure.

Under his watch, government has invested over 140 million dollars in several key projects, at the same fighting fiscal impropriety, fraud, waste and abuse. The country's $2bn economy is once again buoyant, growing 8.3% in 2012 and almost as much last year. It has made impressive gains in other areas, too: between 2011 and in 2013 it climbed eight places to 174 (out of 187) in the UN's Human Development Index and has risen 10 positions in the World Bank's last two Ease of Doing Business reports, taking it above Tanzania and Nigeria.

Much of this success has resulted from the government's focus on developing its security services and attracting outside investment to revive industries that thrived before war struck. "As a post-conflict country, a major part of our strategy in the past five years was to ensure that peace and security were sustained," says Mr. Konneh.

"Together with our development partners, we invested heavily in improving the national police services and the army.

"For the economy, the goal has been to resuscitate the traditional sectors, such as mining, forestry, rubber and palm oil."

The efforts are paying off. Mining, which in 2006 accounted for just 2% of gross domestic product (GDP), now makes up 10% of the economy, thanks mainly to more than $1bn of investments in iron ore production by ArcelorMittal.

Mr. Konneh, who started his role in February 2012, is trying to take Liberia through its next phase of development. He has implemented plenty of reforms, including pushing through measures to increase the use of the local currency in what is still a heavily dollarized economy.

In 2012, he introduced the country's first medium-term budget, which had a four-year outlook, arguing that Liberia could not carry out its policies while only preparing one year in advance. He says this will help ensure that his expansionary fiscal plans, which have led the budget deficit to rise from 0.5% of GDP to 5.5% in the past two years, do not get out of hand.

"Because of our desire to invest in public sector programs, a budget deficit is to be expected," he says. "There is pressure on our budget. But it's not because of irresponsible spending. We have serious infrastructure challenges that need to be addressed."

Liberia has a long way to go and Mr. Konneh, who fled to neighboring Guinea as a refugee when he was a teenager to escape his country's violence, has no illusions about the scale of the task. But there is little doubt that substantial progress has been made so far.

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