All is not well in Liberia. Many Liberians have lost faith in President Weah. He seems to have abandoned what his country needs to break from cyclical curses of failure. IMANI did offer some ideas. They are still fresh and free.
In 2017, IMANI Center for Policy and Education released a report that examined key manifesto programmes of major political parties contesting the October 10 Presidential elections in Liberia. There were 20 contestants. IMANI investigated the plans and strategies of the 20 contestants to revive the ailing Liberian economy and analysed them for their feasibility in providing a conducive environment to promote the much-needed investment and growth. IMANI made recommendations too. The report was published in the prestigious Liberian Newspaper, Front Page Africa.
The report scrutinized key promises made by political parties in Liberia in the key sectors of economy, education, health, energy and mining. IMANI Africa President, Franklin Cudjoe said “Nowhere in West Africa is this exercise in dire need than in Liberia and Sierra Leone, two countries recently ravaged by prolonged wars and the inevitability of the dilapidated health systems which accentuated the spread of the deadly Ebola disease with fatal consequences. After 14 years of literally being to hell and back, politicians in Liberia need to develop smart policies that will enhance economic freedom by building basic infrastructure, facilitating the growth of small businesses, removing red tape, abandoning corruption and investing in education.”
Liberia’s education system was described by outgoing President Johnson Sirleaf, “as a mess” and opted to outsource public school education under the Partnership Schools for Liberia (PSL), a pilot public-private programme being run by the education ministry and non-state actors in education, aimed at providing every child, regardless of family background or income, access to high-quality education. In the midst of the promises made by the political parties, the private sector is absent from the education conversation especially as 54.8%of the 12,168 K12 (kindergarten to grade 12) schools in the country are non-state owned (Private, mission, and community), suggesting the important role the private sector can play in fixing the broken education system, as promised by the political parties.
IMANI recommended, that it will be prudent for the party that wins the Liberian election to engage various stakeholders on the capacity building, finance, technology, programmes and policies in education to help provide innovative ways of addressing the educational challenges.
Liberia’s health sector has mixed but troubling statistics; the number of physicians per 1,000 people in the country have dwindled from 0.107 in 1983 to 0.023 in 1997 to 0.014 in 2010. Some health indicators, however, are slowly improving. The neonatal mortality rate in Liberia, which was 39.7 per 1,000 live births in 2002, has steadily decreased to 25.3 in 2013 to 24.1 per 1,000 live births in 2015. Among the problems that Liberia’s health sector continues to face are a lack of data to adequately shape policymaking, as the World Health Organization has highlighted , a lack of psychological services especially after the trauma of prolonged war, malnutrition, and poor access to clean drinking water.
IMANI recommended, that what is needed foremost before implementing any policy changes, such as the suggested by several political parties, is adequate data on the state of healthcare in Liberia. As at 2011, access to publicly provided electricity in the whole of Liberia was close to 0%, Monrovia, Liberia’s capital city, had an urban access rate of 0.58% of its population . In 2016, access rate had improved to 2% in the country and 6.7% in Monrovia.
Surprisingly, allocation rules for revenue from extractives are derived from the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA) Act which states that revenue collected by the LRA should be paid directly into the consolidated fund (Section 26). All extractive industry revenues, therefore, go into and are distributed from the consolidated fund. In this case, revenue from extractives are not earmarked for specific developmental projects. Also, it becomes difficult to track the use of revenues from extractives.
IMANI recommended, that, keeping in mind the potential of the extractives and power sectors of Liberia, the political parties and voters should look out for promises capable of leveraging these two sectors for growth and development to achieve the following:
A commitment to prudent revenue management in the extractives sector: This will involve the formulation of requisite policy that will determine the direction of allocations or earmarking of resource revenue preferably towards development in pro-poor sectors such as education, health, agriculture and infrastructure development. This will also foster transparency and accountability as it will allow the tracking of the use of resource revenues. Ghana has been able to define the allocation of its petroleum revenues through its Petroleum Revenue Management Act, an example that Liberia could follow.
A commitment to formulate targeted policy towards long term industrial growth that would facilitate value addition to natural resources. A commitment towards securing fuel supply for thermal power generation in the short to medium term from neighbouring countries such as Ivory Coast and leveraging the country’s potential petroleum resources towards power generation in the long term. There should also be a critical look at diversifying sources of fuel for thermal generation.
A structured investment plan that would ensure growth and expansion of the electricity network (generation, transmission and distribution) in the long term and in the short term, intensifying the proliferation of mini/micro grids and stand-alone renewable energy systems in urban as well as rural areas. Provision of and following clear timelines for the implementation of the policy recommendations in the National Energy Policy and a commitment to implementation.
IMANI finally recommended that given the importance of a vibrant private sector to the growth of the Liberian economy , voters and political parties should also carefully consider the following in their quest to promote a conducive business environment.
Regulations that protect investors must be strengthened. Liberia ranked 179 out of 189 countries in terms of protecting minority investors in the 2017 Ease of Doing Business Index. A World Bank survey on investors identified insufficient legal protection of investors as the primary concern to Public Private Partnerships (PPPs).
The number of days required to access electricity for business needs to be reduced. Currently it takes an average of 465 days and cost 4066.6 percent of income per capita to get electricity due to factors such long bureaucratic processes. This can greatly hinder investor interest.
A robust credit information system is needed to facilitate wider dissemination of credit information aimed at reducing credit risk and to encourage lending. Liberia has zero percent credit bureau coverage and very limited distribution of credit information on both firms and individuals . Multiparty systems in Liberia has the potential to promote a stable democracy if political parties are able to identify the issues the nation faces and address them appropriately in their manifestos.
However, the true cost of democracy will be lost if voters lack a clear understanding of the promises made by political parties. Undeniably, in an attempt to win political power, electoral manifestos sometimes can be embellished and unrealistic .