Monrovia — The European Union (EU) and the Government of Liberia (GOL) have signed four separate financing agreements to promote and support democracy, youth empowerment, and the forestry sector, with a call for the conduct of free, fair and transparent elections and combat against the huge importation of the country staple food rice.
Liberians are expected to go to the polls to elect their new leaders on October 10, according to the timetable released by the National Elections Commission (NEC).
The financing agreements signed include: Strengthening Inclusive and Accountable Democracy in Liberia (US$16.5million), Youth Rising: EU Support to Technical and Vocational Education and Training (US$31M), From Productivity To Product, Linking Peers to Peers (US$22M) and the Forestry and Conservation for a Sustainable Economic Development Programme (US$16.5M).
The Head of Mission of the EU Delegation to Liberia Ambassador Laurent Delahousse signed on behalf of the EU, while Finance and Development Planning Minister Samuel Tweah signed on behalf of the government and people of Liberia.
The agreements were signed at a brief ceremony held at the offices of the EU in Monrovia on Monday, June 5. The signing was also in commemoration of the 50th anniversary celebration of the EU-Liberia partnership.
Speaking during the ceremony, Ambassador Delahousse disclosed that the four (4) financing agreements signed kicks off the new phase of EU's support to Liberia from 2021-2027.
He said under the Strengthening Inclusive and Accountable Democracy in Liberia (US$16.5million), the EU will provide structural supports to the National Elections Commission (NEC).
"We have four programs this time and there will be four more programs that we're working on with the government and that will be signed sometime next year. The first program that we have here today is on elections. This is not only about the 2023 elections; it is also a longer term support to the NEC."
He maintained that his institution believes that the conduct of elections has to be financed by a country itself; noting that, "this is what is happening now and we are very happy that all of the necessary funds have now being provided by the government through the NEC to run the elections."
This agreement aims to promote a more inclusive and transparent democracy in Liberia. It will also support the electoral cycle and sustain peace, enable the meaningful participation of women and inclusion of marginalized groups in political processes, increase the participation of citizens in the decision-making process and accountability. It will be implemented by the NEC, through the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).
As for the Youth Rising: EU Support to Technical and Vocational Education and Training or TVET (US$31M) program, Ambassador Delahousse pointed out that the program will be expanded to the remaining eight (8) counties that have not been covered by the TVET program of the EU.
Already, seven counties are benefitting from the program.
He stressed that with the collaboration of the relevant stakeholders, the program will ensure that young people acquire TVET skills and training and are given jobs following the completion of their studies.
He said these young people will be properly trained and equipped to be fully prepared and ready to be absorbed in the public and private sectors.
The Ministries of Youth and Sports and Education will implement the program through the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO).
Forestry Conservation and Economic Empowerment
"On forestry and biodiversity, it is about contributing to ensure that there are existing forests and biodiversity in Liberia will still be there for your children and the children of your children and for their own children in the future," Ambassador Delahousse stated.
He observed that in terms of deforestation, much is needed to be done in Liberia to ensure that the country has a sustainable forest in the future.
He said the move is not only about conserving parts of the forest or preventing human interference, but it also borders on ensuring that logging activities are compatible with sustainability.
"It is not about stopping logging or the exploitation of the forest which contributes to the development of the country, but it is about doing so in a sustainable way and the EU will support FDA and forestry development communities to ensure that this is in place."
Ambassador Delahousse noted that a wider support will be provided to agriculture cooperation to ensure food security.
He said despite the huge support to the sector in the past, there has been nothing much to show.
With the other development partners, he added that, the EU intends to ensure that adequate support is provided to Liberia to be able to "feed themselves," around issues of nutrition, food systems, incorporating seed policy, extension, among others.
He said these initiatives should be able to ensure that "Liberian rice can feed Liberians rather than depending so much on imported rice."
He expressed the hope that this program will help reform the country's agricultural sector by ensuring that farmers are able to establish sustainable companies to move forward and not depending on support from the government or other entities.
The Forestry and Conservation for a Sustainable Economic Development Programme (US$16.5M) of the EU seeks to promote job creation and income generation through the sustainable use and conservation of natural resources such as agroforestry, fuelwood plantation, multipurpose tree nurseries, and formalization of chainsaw millers.
It is also aimed at protecting the rich biodiversity of Liberia. The program will be implemented by the FDA and partners such as community forest organizations.
Ambassador Delahousse, however, expressed the hope that these financing agreements will be implemented by the government, through its relevant line ministries and agencies to guarantee the future of Liberia and its citizens.
For his part, Finance and Development Planning Minister Samuel Tweah assured of the Liberian government's commitment to the conduct of free, fair and transparent elections in the country.
As evidenced by this, Minister Tweah pointed out that the government remains committed to fulfilling its financial obligations to the NEC.
"Today we have gathered here to celebrate new milestone in our 50 years relationship with the EU. We've done well with elections financing. Probably, we have small amount to finish up with the NEC. Funding has been well balanced."
He said the expenditure of huge money on voters' registration should be addressed by the new agreement signed by emerging the separate data bases to one.
"As a government and country we are committed to holding free, fair and transparent elections this year and making sure that all the funding are available and there are no constraint to financing and we are prepare to run the elections in October."
Not benefiting from resources
He further observed that Liberia remains a wealthy country that is faced with mountainous challenges.
Minister Tweah said despite the abundance of wealth and resources, Liberia has been experiencing difficulties in transforming the potentials of its natural resources and wealth into a reality.
"Liberia is not a poor country. One natural resource wealth means we are wealthy. Whether it is wealth in terms of fisheries, forestry, iron ore-that's wealth. We are engaged with partners and investors in the process of converting that potential into reality."
Minister Tweah added that Liberia has not been able to adequately benefit from its natural wealth and resources.
He expressed optimism that the opportunities that exist in all of the areas in the financing agreements signed will work in the interest of the Liberian people.
Minister Tweah stressed the need of the reservation of Liberia's forests to also address infrastructural and human capital constraints confronting the nation and its people.
Quoting a latest report from the World Bank, the Liberian Finance and Development Planning Minister disclosed that, lack of human capital development poses a significant risk to Liberia.
According to him, the government presently needs to spend about US$100 every year within a five-year period if the country must "turn the human capital story around in terms of education."
Minister Tweah, however, used the occasion to disclose that the government is working with the World Bank for the construction of a modern port to boost the fishery sector and provide job opportunities for Liberians.
He observed that for long in the agricultural sector, Liberia has been struggling to produce rice in commercial quantity.
He said local farmers have attributed the low production of rice to huge difficulties they continue to experience in clearing their lands for farming activities.
Minister Tweah stated that local farmers can do better if their lands are cleared by the government and its partners.
"The farmers have identified their constraints. They have said the reason why they have insufficient rice is because; they don't have lands that are cleared. They are basically planting rice among trees and stumps. So, we need investors to clear their land."
Minister Tweah observed that the price of locally produced rice and the ones imported are not competitive due to the current situation.
He, however, expressed the hope that the financing agreements signed will ensure that the rice market does not collapse and the price of locally produced rice is cheaper as compared to the ones being imported.
He said the government is assiduously working to ensure that all governance systems are tight.
According to him, the government has also improved on its audit systems, as evidenced by the audit of its Consolidated Account.
Minister Tweah, however, commended the EU for its numerous support to Liberia and its citizens since its offices were opened in Liberia in 1973.