President-elect Joseph Nyumah Boakai, as vice President with ex-UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon

Under Boakai, Liberia Can Reinvent Itself – Without International Dependence

By Jones N. Williams |

The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are notable international institutions with lofty mission statements, goals, and objectives that are not particularly coordinated with realities in some parts of Africa. While international support is expedient; however, Liberia going forward must be self-restraint and avoid running to the World Bank and the IMF for unwarranted loans, guidance, and directions.  African nations including Liberia must disaffirm the illusion and mendacity that the World Bank and the IMF can solve their problems and reinvent them without self-assessment and the application of national efforts. Progress in Liberia will be visible if everyone in the country is morally compelled to do the right thing!

Lee Kuan Yew, the former Visionary Prime Minister of Singapore

That said, the election of one of Africa’s statemen, Ambassador Joseph Nyumah Boakai, president-elect of the Republic of Liberia, is a period of rebuilding trust in Liberia. Liberians and non-Liberians alike, at home and abroad, see the president-elect’s ascendancy to the country’s highest office as a cascade of opportunities for both the incoming Boakai administration and the Liberian people.  Seizing these opportunities demands having strong national and local institutions and a strategic national policy framework. It also requires a new way of conducting business and doing things in Liberia. It means Liberians must be nationalistic and patriotic to themselves, their country, and their fellow Liberians by thinking of Liberia, loving Liberia, and building Liberia, together as a better country. To think Liberia, love Liberia, and build Liberia, together as a better country, requires resisting a dependency syndrome such as absolute reliance on international institutions like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and several donor, multinational, and multi-lateral institutions. It also requires protecting the rule of law and ensuring the unapologetic application of accountability and transparency in public service.

Over the past decade and a half, several African nations including Liberia consistently run to the World Bank, the IMF, and other international institutions to borrow funds that subject their countries to impractical interferences without any rational need to do so.  In most cases, these borrowed funds end up facilitating and enriching the wealth-building and luxury lifestyles of a few people in public service. For instance, the outgoing Liberian administration is leaving behind a mountain of inexcusable debts that every Liberian is obligated to pay, and prior administrations before it did not do a respectable job either in making Liberia self-reliant and strategically manageable. Let the World Bank and the IMF be the last options after all else fails. For now, let Liberia mobilize its experts, at home and abroad, put on its thinking cap, and get to work. The incoming Boakai administration can change Liberia and make a real difference without subscribing to the World Bank and the IMF loan schemes by doing a few things and following governance models like Singapore.  The reason is Liberia is not a poor country. A poor country will not have its armchairs lawmakers earning US$12,000 to US$15,000 a month, government bureaucrats driving and owning several vehicles valued at U$45,000 each, and select elected offices having millions of dollars in unjustified appropriations. These self-inflicted weaknesses must change. The citizens must demand that lawmakers earn not more than US$4,000 each per month, and eligible select elected offices (Pro Tempore of the Senate; Speaker of the House, Chief Justice, etc.) receive an annual appropriation of not more than US$200,000.  The Boakai administration can succeed, and Liberia will be better and flourish if Liberia can reinvent itself.

First, the Liberian people and the incoming administration must have a sober reflection to see what has worked and what has not worked. What has not worked is the way successive Liberian administrations were run and organized – the government is not and should never be a business to make a few people wealthy. Besides, people must be entrusted with government functions, duties, and responsibilities based on their capacity and ability to deliver; produce concrete, measurable results; and derive impact that advances the country in one way or the other.

Second, just like Singapore’s, Liberia’s instant development will and can come from a combination of strategic planning, strong governance, and favorable economic policies. Like Singapore, Liberia has all the features to succeed and the factors that can contribute to its remarkable transformation as follows:

  1. Strategic Location: Liberia’s strategic maritime and geographic location in West Africa can and should make it a major trading and industry hub combined with investment in improved financial services, information technology, and medical services. Its four seaports can be crucial for maritime trade, and in attracting businesses and foreign investments.
  1. Comprehensive Economic Policies: Like Singapore, Liberia must adopt pro-business policies, such as low corporate taxes, low import/export taxes, minimal red tape, and open trade policies, and ensure that businesses are free from harassment by government entities. This will encourage both local and foreign businesses to operate and invest in the country.
  1. Corruption-Free Environment: Like Singapore, Liberia must prioritize, ensure, and be known as a clean and corruption-free environment. This will instill confidence in businesses and investors and will allow businesses and companies to operate and flourish without fear of bribery or undue influence.
  1. Investment in Infrastructure: Like Singapore, Liberia must drive private sector investment and partner with the private sector to invest heavily in developing the country’s infrastructure, including building a good road network nationwide, modern ports, well-organized transportation systems, a world-class airport, information technology system, and advanced telecommunications networks. These investments will facilitate trade and business activities.
  1. Skilled Workforce and Education: Like Singapore, Liberia must place importance on and invest in education and human capital development. Its young people and graduates, be they high school, vocational, or college completers, must be known to have elevated levels of competence in science, technology, engineering, math, and other skill proficiency.  This will attract investments and multinational corporations seeking a talented workforce.
  1. Diversification of the Liberian Economy: Like Singapore, Liberia needs to diversify its economy by moving beyond extractive industries to a knowledge-based economy, advanced manufacturing, and agricultural food production. The country must develop industries such as finance, manufacturing, technology, biotechnology, healthcare, and tourism. This will reduce its reliance on a single sector.
  1. Global Connectivity: Like Singapore, Liberia needs to situate and brand itself as a global financial center and regional distribution hub in West Africa by attracting international banks, insurers, businesses, and investors. Such connectivity to the rest of the world will contribute immensely to the country’s economic success.
  1. Housing and Urban Planning: Like Singapore, Liberia must begin to carefully plan its urban development and develop useful housing policies that will ensure efficient land use and high-quality living conditions for its citizens and residents. Commercial areas must be distinct from residential areas and properties must be cleaned, and clearly and easily identifiable by communities, streets, and roads.
  1. Focus on Research and Innovation: Like Singapore, Liberia must invest in research and development. This will encourage innovation and technology adoption. Institutions of higher learning in the country must be encouraged to focus on research and forge collaborations with international universities and entities in various fields.
  1. Attract Foreign Investment: To attract foreign investment like Singapore, Liberia must partner with, and support the private sector, and establish special economic zones, free trade zones, and industrial parks. These zones and parks will offer incentives like tax breaks, streamlined regulatory processes, and infrastructure support to foreign businesses and companies.

Third, Liberia needs a free market economy, one that is data-driven, private-sector-centered, self-reliant, nationalistic, and transparent. In addition, there is no need to provide unjustifiable advantages to foreign businesspeople over Liberians in business, including awarding foreigners single-sourced contracts of national relevance.  Besides, certain domestic businesses should be limited to Liberians. Rather than bribing and coercing for monopoly, Chinese, Indians, Lebanese, and others from non-African nations in Liberia should be engaged in honest and large-scale advanced manufacturing and other investment operations through a free market process.  In India, they have what is known as the “Competition Act.” According to the Indian government, the Act “establishes a Commission to prevent practices that would have adverse effects on competition, to promote and sustain competition in markets, to protect the interests of consumers and to ensure freedom of trade.”  In Lebanon, they have what is called “Competition Law.”  The purpose of the Competition Law “is to promote and regulate free competition and prohibit trusts, monopolies, and cartels. The Law also aims to protect consumers’ rights, achieve economic efficiency, enhance production, innovation, and technical development, and maintain high-quality products.”  Accordingly, the “competition law, or antitrust law, has three main elements: prohibiting agreements or practices that restrict free trading and competition between businesses. This includes the repression of free trade caused by cartels.”

The question is, why are the influential Indian and Lebanese businesspeople in Liberia adamant about monopolizing the Liberian economy, and creating cartels, including controlling the country’s staple food products (rice importation) and the importation and sales of building materials? The answer is simple: they see and regard Liberian officials as unsophisticated, corrupt, and useless. If competition is good for India and Lebanon, what makes these Indian and Lebanese businesspeople in Liberia think it is not good for Liberia? A tax break is fine. No one should have a monopoly on any commodity, importation, or business activity. Doing so under corrupt pretense is to surrender Liberia’s sovereignty and economic control to non-Liberians.  For this reason, the administration must establish a roundtable for Liberian CEOs.

Finally, the Boakai administration must draw Liberia to a singular vision, and develop and communicate effective policies supported by data-driven programs and the Liberian people. The crux of the policies and programs must have as its central nerves job creation, industry innovation, and workforce development. Rather than the Liberian government or its proxies prematurely engaging the World Bank and the IMF without a national agenda, it needs to put in place a strong, capable, and innovative domestic policy team to help the president and the administration succeed and the country reinvents itself like Rwanda, where mothers receive ante and post-natal healthcare and maternal mortality ratios decreased, where newborns are vaccinated, the cities are clean and people can walk safely at night, and where ministers no longer require personal security details and are protected like any other Rwandans. All things constant, Boakai’s ethics, integrity, and the fact that Liberians are embracing this real change means nothing can easily prevent the country’s prosperity if the private sector is incorporated fully in the country’s reinvention process.

About the Author:

Jones N. Williams is the interim CEO of the West Africa-based Equity Link Capital-Africa and a former State Administrator of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics programs and labor market information in the State of Maryland

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