Liberia, EU Confirm Strong Political Relations And Address Wide Rang Of Issues In Their 8th Political Dialogue
The Government of the Republic of Liberia (GoL) and the European Union (EU) met on February 7, 2020 for the 8th edition of the EU-Liberia Political Dialogue, under Article 8 of the Cotonou Partnership Agreement between the EU and the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) States, which enables the establishment of a platform for regular and comprehensive political dialogue.
The Dialogue was co-chaired by the Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hon. Henry B. Fahnbulleh, and the Head of the EU Delegation to Liberia, Ambassador Hélène Cavé. Members of the Liberian delegation included the Ministers of Finance & Development Planning, Commerce & Industry and Health; Deputy Ministers and senior officials of the Ministries of Justice and Gender, Children & Social Protection; Liberia’s Ambassador to the EU; and Heads of the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC), Governance Commission (GC), General Auditing Commission (GAC), Public Procurement & Concession Commission (PPCC), National Fisheries & Aquaculture Authority (NaFAA), National Investment Commission (NIC), and National Election Commission (NEC). The EU was represented by the Ambassadors of Germany, Sweden, France, Spain, and Ireland; and the Deputy Head of Mission of Denmark and First Secretary of The Netherlands.
During the Dialogue, both parties addressed a wide range of issues of mutual interest. Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs Hon. Henry B. Fahnbulleh thanked the EU for its long-standing commitment and support to Liberia. Head of the EU Delegation Ambassador Hélène Cavé emphasized that the EU will remain a committed and reliable partner of Liberia. Both stressed the importance of the Political Dialogue as a platform to regularly address issues of common interest and concern, and also to examine and take stock of the progress made on those issues.
ISSUES ADDRESSED AND DETAILS OF THE DISCUSSIONS:
- State of the economy: The GoL is implementing policies to address structural and long-standing economic shortcomings and new challenges, with the support of an IMF program (Extended Credit Facility of 213.6 million USD). A first necessary step was the reduction of the wage bill. It was a difficult reform, but if these sacrifices would not have been made, the situation now would have been much worse. The GoL will continue to implement the necessary reforms, including elimination of ghost workers, retirement of those workers who have reached pensionable age, and introduction of biometric data for all civil servants. Civil service capacity will be improved in collaboration with the Civil Service Agency (CSA). The GoL is working to fully regularize the payment of arrears of public workers’ salaries. Budget support received from the EU contributed to these efforts. The GoL is also strictly adhering to a policy of only committing and paying when it has the funds. The Public Finance Management (PFM) reform is underway, and a Domestic Revenue Mobilization (DRM) strategy has been developed. The Central Bank of Liberia (CBL)’s new monetary framework seeks to increase the stock of foreign reserves and keep inflation under control. The CBL is now fully independent from the GoL, and this is praised by the EU. It will no longer be part of the Economic Management Team, or function as lender to the GoL. Foundations for economic recovery have been firmly laid. Reforms to foster an enabling business/investment climate and fight corruption, as well as investments in agriculture, are crucial.
The EU recognized the efforts recently undertaken by the GoL to address economic challenges, and stressed the need for the GoL to remain vigilant and stay on track with the IMF program, in order to reap its benefits in the medium term. It also emphasized the importance of the timely payment of salaries of all public workers and moving forward in the PFM and DRM strategies, to better prevent and respond to financial challenges. The EU expressed concern over the impact of economic hardships on Liberians, in particular the poorest, reflected in recent protests, and commended Liberians for peacefully demonstrating. It welcomed the National Economic Dialogue held in September and noted the importance of implementing and following-up on its recommendations. The EU emphasized that reducing inflation is a pro-poor policy and maintaining macroeconomic stability has a direct positive impact on the welfare of Liberians and the protection of their social and economic rights, including the good functioning of basic social services, like health or education.
- An enabling business and investment climate for broad-based economic growth and job creation: Liberia presented measures adopted recently to improve the business environment, including the removal of unnecessary bureaucratic burdens, reforms on public procurement and efforts to foster public-private partnerships (PPP) and improve project feasibility studies (on the latter, it asked for the support of international partners). The MFDP stressed the GoL is determined to take strong action to improve the business/investment climate, fight corruption and change the public perception on the prevailing business/investment environment. A National Judiciary Conference will be held soon to allow the judiciary to play a role in business climate reforms, including law enforcement. The GoL is also working to improve infrastructure and transform the electricity sector. Other areas that need to be strengthened are: access to credit, transparency on business regulations (a website, investors’ guides), improvement of workforce skills (TVET), and revamp of sectors with the greatest economic potential (agriculture, fisheries). The MFDP asked for greater EU technical assistance to improve the business/investment climate.
The EU emphasized that an enabling business and investment climate is a necessary pre-condition for private sector development, broad-based economic growth and job creation. According to the World Bank Doing Business 2020 Report, Liberia is 175th out of 190 countries, with a score of 43/100, and the EU encouraged the GoL to take strong action to improve the situation. The EU and Liberia agreed on the importance of legal certainty, effective law enforcement, fight against corruption, and a platform for regular dialogue among the GoL, the private sector (both Liberian and foreign companies) and development partners to improve the business and investment climate. The MFDP advocated for an Act to protect ‘whistleblowers’ and improve transparency. He announced the issuance of visas will be eased before the end of 2020. The EU stressed its readiness to support the GoL to foster an enabling business/investment climate. The EU recently funded two studies with recommendations to create the right conditions for private sector development (second one will be shared soon with the GoL, as it was done for the first one). The EU Delegation recently hosted a meeting with EU companies in Liberia in support of the improvement of the business/investment climate. A European Businesses Organization may be created soon.
- Good governance, accountability and transparency: Heads of the GC, GAC, LACC and PPCC presented a number of measures adopted recently under Pillar 4 of the PAPD (reducing corruption). The GC mentioned the creation of a Governance & Decentralization Resource Center, a public awareness framework on the National Code of Conduct and a Standard Operation Manual for County Service Centers. The GAC mentioned the completion of 20 audits of Ministries, Agencies and Commissions and implementation of a Professionalization Strategy, thanking EU support. The LACC mentioned the verification of assets declarations and investigation of cases. The PPCC mentioned the conduction of procurement & anti-corruption training/awareness for over 150 new county administrators and institutions. Challenges identified by the GC, GAC, LACC and PPCC were the improvement of financial and logistical resources to support their work; passing of critical legal instruments put forward by the GC like the Whistleblower & Witness Protection Act; full and speedy constitution of the GC’s Board of Commissioners; greater cooperation from some GAC’s audit clients and implementation of audit recommendations (introduction of stringent audit compliance measures); accountability for noncompliance with rules/laws; and creation of a specialized court to fast track corruption cases.
The EU recalled that according to the Transparency International‘s 2019 Corruption Perception Index, Liberia is 137th of 180 countries with a score of 28/100. The EU welcomed President Weah’s commitment in his State of the Nation address to improving governance and intensifying the fight against corruption, and stressed that a strong political will is crucial. The MFDP announced a National Anti-Corruption Conference will be held soon, with an active participation of the judiciary, to boost its role in fighting corruption and enhancing prosecution and conviction rates. He acknowledged the need to do more to implement GAC’s audit recommendations.
- Fight against illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing: The DG of the NAFAA presented the measures taken by Liberia since 2017 to address shortcomings in the fight against IUU fishing (Liberia got a yellow card in May 2017) and be identified again as a cooperating third country to prevent, deter and eliminate IUU fishing. She also expressed interest on steps necessary for Liberian fishery products to access the EU market, including possible use of certified laboratories in third countries as export channel, as other countries in the region are doing. The EU acknowledged the progress made and tangible steps taken by Liberia, in particular since the creation of NaFAA. However, some additional measures are still necessary. Both parties agreed to work to clearly identify outstanding issues, reach a common understanding of what needs to be done, and outline a clear roadmap to complete the necessary measures. The EU will assist Liberia in gathering information on how to access the EU market to export fishery products. The EU also mentioned that the signature of a new Protocol of the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership Agreement (the current one will expire at the end of 2020) will depend on progress on the IUU front.
- Human Rights, focusing on sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) and prison conditions: The Ministry of Gender highlighted the passing of the Domestic Violence Act (DVA); start of implementation of the EU-UN Spotlight Program to fight SGBV and increase women’s and girls’ access to sexual and reproductive health and rights; validation of a National Comprehensive SGBV Prevention Strategy; and suspension for 1 year of all traditional schools where female genital mutilation (FGM) is practiced, followed by a national inventory of all schools. The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) lamented the very slow pace and low rate of prosecution of SGBV cases, including rape. It also expressed concern for the overcrowding of the Monrovia central prison, built for 375 inmates and now having more than 2,000 prisoners; lack of separation of juvenile inmates from the other detainees; and serious challenges in terms of prisoners’ nutrition conditions. Plans to build a new prison facility in Cheesemanburg (Montserrado), for which a new site has been acquired, are yet to materialize. The MFDP acknowledged the urgent need to address this issue.
The EU acknowledged the GoL’s commitment to fighting SGBV, but recalled that still too many Liberian women and girls continue to be subject to high levels of SGBV, including rape, FGM, child marriage and teenage pregnancy. The EU expects Spotlight to make a difference and have a real impact, and counts on the GoL for this. Liberia is one of the 8 African countries chosen to be a Spotlight partner, and the EU expects the GoL to show strong political leadership in this field. The EU also stressed that FGM is a grave human rights violation, which often leads to life-long medical and psychological effects on its victims. It expressed regret that FGM was not included in the DVA, but also confidence that it’s possible to bring all actors together to end FGM in Liberia, and encouraged the GoL to issue an executive order while working with the Legislature to ban FGM. The EU recognized the ongoing dialogue with traditional actors, but stressed a ban on FGM is also necessary, as other countries in the region have done. The EU expressed concern over prison overcrowding, aggravated by the high number of pre-trial long-term detainees, and urged the GoL to address this situation and safeguard the human rights of detainees. The EU recalled that in the political dialogue held in May 2019, the MOJ announced plans to build a new prison facility and pass legal measures aimed at reducing the number of pre-trial detainees.
- Electoral reform and preparation of 2020 elections: The NEC Chair explained that the NEC has reviewed all electoral reform recommendations by international and national election observer groups, including the EU Electoral Observation Mission (EOM) deployed in 2017. NEC set up a Technical Working Group on Legal Reform, which made a proposal to reform the electoral law that should be submitted to a national validation exercise and then to the Legislature for enactment not later than end March. NEC is currently engaged in the preparation of the mid-term Senatorial election and referendum on three constitutional amendments scheduled for October 2020. NEC has made efforts to reduce the election budget and has started to prepare the voter registration, but is faced with financial challenges. The MFDP said the GoL cannot commit funds not included in the current national budget, but the elections will be prepared and held on time. The EU stressed the need for the GoL to mobilize the necessary funds to prepare and hold the elections on time. It also expressed interest on the timeline for the expected replacement of 6 out of the 7 NEC Commissioners in the coming weeks, noting that this replacement should not disrupt the preparation of elections. The EU recognized the GoL’s initiative and efforts that resulted in the constitutional amendments which will be voted in referendum, but stressed the need to address other important issues, such as the financial sustainability of elections and women representation. The EU also announced that an EU Electoral Follow-up Mission (EFM) may come soon to Liberia to assess the implementation of the EOM recommendations.
- Follow-up on the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC): The MoJ informed that in September, President Weah sent a letter to the Legislature requesting advice and guidance on all legislative and other measures necessary for the implementation of the TRC report, including the establishment of economic and war crime courts. The EU expressed interest in receiving additional information following the President’s letter to the Legislature, and recalled that December 2019 was the 10th anniversary of the TRC report. The EU stressed its readiness to support Liberia’s process of post-conflict reconciliation. An EU assessment mission will come to Liberia end February to identify how the EU could best support Liberia’s efforts in this field. This mission will meet key national stakeholders, including public authorities.
- Post-Cotonou negotiations: The Liberian Ambassador to the EU informed on the state of negotiations of the new agreement to replace the Cotonou Partnership Agreement (2000-2020) framing the relations between ACP and EU countries. The EU explained that the new programming cycle of EU development cooperation in Liberia beyond 2020 will depend on the outcome of the ongoing negotiations of the 2021-2027 Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) for all EU activities. Under the 2021-2027 MFF, the EU has the ambition to remain a strong global player, which is committed, reliable, responsive and predictable. Africa will remain a priority for the EU.
- Brexit: The EU informed that the UK ceased to be a Member State of the EU on 1 February 2020. The Withdrawal Agreement signed by the EU and UK provides for an orderly withdrawal and a transition period at least until December 31 2020 (could be extended if both parties agree). During this period, the EU and UK will work to agree an ambitious partnership and lay strong and lasting foundations for this new chapter in their relationship. The EU will continue to live up to its commitments with its international partners, including Liberia.
- Update on the Coronavirus: The Ministry of Health (MOH) presented an update on the status of the Coronavirus and preventive measures being put in place by the MOH and National Public Health Institute of Liberia (NPHIL). The EU thanked the MOH for this update, and stressed the importance of receiving clear and detailed information by the Liberian authorities on preventive measures adopted, to be shared with EU citizens who travel to Liberia.
The GoL and the EU signed a Financing Agreement for an EU Technical Cooperation Facility/Support to the National Authorizing Officer and Aid Management and Coordination Unit at the MFDP, in charge of assisting current and future EU-Liberia development cooperation and reinforcing the aid coordination system, amounting to 3.5 Million Euros. Two other programmes funded by the EU will be signed very soon, on Rural Electrification, prioritizing the South-East (42 Million Euros), and on Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) for young people in Liberia (12 Million Euros).
Both parties reaffirmed their support to holding regular Political Dialogues and following-up on their conclusions. They agreed that the next (9th) EU-Liberia Political Dialogue would take place in the second half of June 2020 and be focused on human rights and social issues.