LIBERIA AND THE EUROPEAN UNION DEEPEN THEIR POLITICAL PARTNERSHIP AND ADDRESS A WIDE RANGE OF ISSUES IN THEIR 9TH POLITICAL DIALOGUE
The Government of the Republic of Liberia (GoL) and the European Union (EU) met on March 12, 2021 for the 9th 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 Minister of Foreign Affairs, H. E. Ambassador Dee-Maxwell Saah Kemayah Sr., and the Head of the EU Delegation to Liberia, Ambassador Laurent Delahousse. Members of the Liberian delegation included the Ministers of Finance and Development Planning, Hon. Samuel Tweah; Commerce and Industry, Hon. Mawine Diggs; Gender, Children and Social Protection, Hon. Williametta Peso Tarr-Saydee; Justice, Hon. Frank Musah Dean, Jr.; Agriculture, Hon. Jeanine Milley Cooper; Education, Hon. Ansu Sonii (Prof.) and Health, Hon. Wilhemina Jallah (Dr.); as well as Liberia’s Ambassador to the EU, H. E. Isaac W. Nyenabo II; the Heads of the National Investment Commission (NIC), Mr. Molewuleh B. Gray; Governance Commission (GC), Ms. Elizabeth Dorkin; Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC), Mr. Kanio Bai Gbala; General Auditing Commission (GAC), Ms. Yusador Gaye; Independent National Human Rights Commission (INHRC), Rev. Bartholomew B. Colley and Forestry Development Authority (FDA), Mr. C. Mike Doryen and a member of the National Elections Commission (NEC), Cllr. Boakai Dukuly. The EU Member States were represented by the Ambassador of Germany Hubert J. Jäger, Ambassador of Sweden Ingrid Wetterqvist, Ambassador of Ireland Lesley Ni Bhriain and Ambassador of France Michaël Roux.
During the Dialogue, both parties addressed a wide range of issues of mutual interest. Minister of Foreign Affairs (MFA) H. E. Ambassador Kemayah highlighted that this dialogue coincided with the beginning of a new EU-Liberia partnership for the period 2021-2027, and that the regular EU-Liberia political dialogue would play a pivotal role in this new partnership. Head of the EU Delegation Ambassador Delahousse said that the large representation from the GoL and the presence of members of the Legislature were a testimony to the importance that Liberia attaches to its partnership with the EU, and that the EU and EU Member States value their partnership with Liberia in the same way. He underlined that Team Europe (EU + Member States) remains committed to supporting the implementation of the Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development (PAPD), as trustworthy and durable partners, delivering to the people of Liberia. He stressed that the EU aims to bring its partnership with Liberia to a new level, addressing not only the EU proposals and commitments for the country’s development, but also what the EU expects in return, in terms of good governance by Liberian State institutions. He added that the EU-Liberia Political Dialogue should focus on deliverables, implementation and follow-up.
ISSUES ADDRESSED AND DETAILS OF THE DISCUSSIONS:
1. State of the economy and implementation of the PAPD: The Minister of Finance and Development Planning (MFDP) stressed that the EU-Liberia partnership 2021-2027 comes at a ‘watershed moment’, when the Liberian economy is starting to recover from the 2018-2019 crisis and the COVID-19 impact in 2020. GoL’s efforts for macroeconomic stabilisation have been recognized by the IMF’s Extended Credit Facility Program. The GoL thanks the EU for its budget support to Liberia during the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020 (total EU budget support in 2020 amounted to USD 17.7 million). The GoL remains committed to the implementation of the PAPD through investments in infrastructure (in particular roads and electricity), social sectors (health, education) and agriculture. Minister Tweah called on the EU to support the development of the road sector, stressing that this development is crucial for the agriculture and food sectors, and confirmed the GoL’s plans to continue to invest in the extension of the electricity network, particularly in the south-east region with EU support. The MFDP said that H. E. the President has mandated the GoL to increase the budget funds allocated to the social sectors. He called on the EU to continue to support agriculture and technical and vocational education and training (TVET). He stressed the GoL’s commitment to fighting corruption and improving the business and investment climate.
The EU welcomed the GoL’s plans to increase investments in the agriculture sector, as an engine for inclusive and sustainable economic growth. In response to the EU, the MFDP emphasized that the GoL remains committed to staying on track with the IMF Program, not backing down on the payroll harmonisation exercise, generating additional domestic revenue, implementing the Economic Recovery Plan (the MFDP informed that the Plan is almost ready and would include support to social sectors), supporting money liquidity and ratifying the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) (after the President announced on 25 January that he would forward the AfCFTA to the Legislature for urgent attention and ratification) (the MFDP informed that the AfCFTA would be submitted soon to the Legislature).
2. Creating the conditions for broad-based economic growth and job creation through business and investment climate measures: The Minister of Commerce and Industry stressed the importance of facilitating access to finance and training for small and medium entreprises (SMEs), ratifying the AfCFTA and supporting certification by Liberian producers to access world markets. Minister Diggs unveiled the GoL’s plans to create regional offices for business registration, which would have a positive impact on the creation of SME and domestic revenue generation. The Head of the NIC highlighted a new pro-active strategy to attract investment and plans to publish an investment guide that would include Liberia’s investment rules and regulations.
The EU recalled H. E. the President’s recent statement at the State of the Nation address (25 January) that ‘Liberia understands that investors require greater levels of confidence in Liberia’s ability to deliver on their investments, and that this will require greater transparency and improving Liberia’s ease of doing business’. The EU emphasized the crucial importance of predictability – including the regulatory and fiscal environment - for investors making medium to long term investments in Liberia and for the confidence of the private sector. The EU expressed its confidence that success stories of foreign investors would drive others. The EU marked its readiness to support the policy conducted by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry in favour of manufacturers and producers in Liberia, in particular SMEs, including opportunities of access to finance and training. EU support to certification may be considered, to help Liberian exporters benefit from the ‘Everything But Arms’ (EBA) scheme to access the EU market free of tariffs and quotas.
3. Good governance, accountability, transparency and anti-corruption measures: The Head of the LACC highlighted the final recommendations of the national anti-corruption conference convened by the GoL in September 2020: the amendment of the Judiciary Law to create a dedicated Corruption Court, the amendment of the 2008 Act creating the LACC to give the LACC prosecutorial powers to take cases under investigation to court, the removal of statute of limitations (the period of time after which prosecution is not legally possible) and the authority to ensure compliance with the asset declaration regime across the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary, and the passage of the Whistleblowers and Witness Protection Acts (in his recent State of the Nation address, H. E. the President appealed to the Legislature to endorse these ‘key recommendations’). Mr. Gbala stressed the need for the LACC to receive more financial support and extend its presence and operations outside Monrovia. The Auditor General thanked the EU for its support and highlighted the need for effective follow-up of GAC audit reports, which are supposed to be examined in public Legislature hearings and should be instrumental in ensuring accountability, as well as the need for coordination among integrity bodies (GAC, LACC, GC). Ms. Gaye signalled that this would be her last Political Dialogue meeting as Chairperson of the GAC, as her term would end soon.
The EU recalled that according to Transparency International‘s 2020 Corruption Perception Index, Liberia is ranked 137th out of 180 countries with a score of 28 out of 100, a reduction of 13 points since 2012. The EU emphasized the importance of strong concrete actions taken by the GoL to fight corruption, and not only strengthening but effectively implementing the anti-corruption legal framework in force. The EU stressed that governance and the fight against corruption remain important challenges in Liberia and the EU would continue to support Liberia’s governance efforts. The EU-Liberia partnership must be based on good governance, transparency and accountability and the EU can only work with partners that are well-managd, efficient and law-abiding. The EU stressed the importance of ensuring the traceability and accountability of the public funds related to the GoL’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Head of the GAC informed that COVID-19 audit reports would be published soon. The Minister of Health stressed that the funds received and managed by the Ministry would be fully accounted for.
4. Public health: The Health Minister highlighted the importance of the early and strong preventive measures that Liberia adopted in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Minister Jallah emphasized the need to strengthen and decentralize Liberia’s public health capacities. The EU highlighted its support to the health sector in Liberia through bilateral programmes and multilateral institutions working to strengthen health systems and respond to emergencies, including a contribution of USD 2.6 billion by EU and Member States to the COVAX Facility for fair and equitable access to safe COVID-19 vaccines. In response to the EU, the MOH informed that the GoL plans to enhance COVID-19 community testing and surveillance soon, in order to have a more complete and clearer picture of the epidemiological situation in the country, with the support of rapid tests. The EU expressed interest in the COVID-19 national vaccination roll-out and the progress in the resumption of routine public health services affected by the COVID-19 outbreak.
5. Human Rights: The EU recalled the close link between Human Rights, the PAPD and the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The EU recognized the GoL’s commitment to complying with Liberia’s international Human Rights obligations and the concrete actions undertaken in this regard, like the Domestic Violence Act, the 2-year Roadmap to fight SGBV, the National Action Plan to fight Trafficking in Persons, the Kamara Act on Press Freedom, the adoption of the National Human Rights Action Plan (NHRAP) 2019-2023 and the creation of a NHRAP steering committee to improve coordination amongst relevant Government institutions.
The EU welcomed Liberia’s acceptance of 158 recommendations issued from the November 2020 Universal Periodic Review (UPR), and encouraged the GoL to deliver on these accepted recommendations, in issues like: allocating sufficient financial resources to implement the 2-year Roadmap to fight SGBV and the 4-year National Action Plan for Child Welfare and Protection, increasing women’s political participation, promoting girls education especially in rural areas, ensuring free birth registration, taking legal measures to eliminate child and forced marriages, legally abolish the death penalty, or continuing to implement measures to reform the justice sector. The EU strongly encouraged and called on the Executive and Legislature to move forward regarding the 41 recommendations that Liberia noted but did not accept, including 33 recommendations to legally ban FGM (supported by 10 Subsaharan African States) and expand public awareness campaigns against FGM and 14 recommendations to fight discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation. The EU commended the GoL for inviting the EU and other partners to an event before the preparation of Liberia’s response to the UPR recommendations.
The EU emphasized the importance of continuing the fight against the high levels of SGBV to which Liberian women and girls continue to be subjected, and asked about the implementation of the 2-year Roadmap to fight SGBV, to which the EU and Member States remain commited, including through the Spotlight program. The EU encouraged the GoL to strengthen the capacity and resources of the police and justice bodies to investigate and prosecute rape and other SGBV cases, increase access to justice and provide medical and psychosocial support to SGBV victims, and work on SGBV prevention including education. The EU stressed that female genital mutilation (FGM) is a grave Human Rights violation, which often leads to life-long medical and psychological effects, and called on the GoL to take action by approving an executive order to ban FGM and by working with the Legislature to deliver a permanent ban, as other countries in the region have done, including Sierra Leone. At the same time, the EU encouraged the GoL to lead in implementing other measures on the social, economic and cultural fronts, particularly at the community level, that are necessary to make headway in the fight against FGM, working with the National Council of Chiefs and Elders to find practical and effective ways to ultimately end FGM in Liberia, addressing harmful traditional practices like FGM while respecting and adapting beneficial traditional practices.
The Minister of Gender, Children and Social Protection (MGCSP) informed that the implementation of the Roadmap to fight SGBV is underway, with funding made available from the national budget. Minister Tarr-Saydee and Minister of Justice (MOJ) explained that the fact that Liberia did not accept but only noted 41 UPR recommendations does not mean that Liberia rejects those recommendations, but that firstly the GoL wishes to work to create the right conditions in the country to comply with those recommendations once they are accepted. They emphasized the need to address all aspects related to FGM (economic, social, cultural), including creating alternative livelihoods for FGM practitioners, and continuing to engage and work with traditional leaders. Minister Musah Dean, Jr. said that there is a need to amend Liberia’s laws to eliminate the death penalty, in compliance with Liberia’s international obligation under the Second Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Liberia is a party. He stressed the GoL’s commitment to protecting the human rights of all persons and fighting discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation.
The EU welcomed the collaboration between the GoL and civil society organizations (CSOs) on Human Rights issues, and, recognizing that the recently adopted national aid and NGO policy deals with an important need for aid coordination, invited the GoL to address the concerns expressed by CSOs about the possibility that this new policy could result in a shrinking space for CSOs. The MFDP clarified that this policy is aimed at improving transparency and aid coordination, and not at discriminating CSOs. He stressed that the GoL wants CSOs to continue to play an active role in Liberia’s development process.
6. Elections: The EU commended the Liberian people and institutions for the conduct of the 8 December 2020 mid-term Senatorial elections and Constitutional referendum, a very important step in Liberia’s peace and democracy consolidation process. However, the EU regretted that women’s participation in these elections was severely hampered, and expressed concern for incidents of electoral violence like the one in Gbarpolu county, which targeted a female candidate and her supporters. The EU expressed confidence that authorities would ensure accountability for this and other incidents. The EU called on the Liberian State institutions to address the important lessons learned from these elections sufficiently ahead of the 2023 Presidential and Legislative elections, and therefore take measures to: avoid excessive delays in the publication of the complete election results and certification of the election winners; plan and provide timely and sufficient funding to the NEC to carry out electoral preparations adequately (and in the longer term, reflect on how to introduce a more financially sustainable electoral system in Liberia); build trust among all political actors on the integrity and credibility of the electoral process (in particular the voter’s list); and ensure adequate civic and voter education before the elections.
The EU pointed out that the approval of the electoral reform bill submitted by the NEC to the Legislature in March 2020, based on recommendations made by national and international election observers, including the 2017 EU Electoral Observation Mission (EOM), in due time before the 2023 elections would be very important. The EU recalled that in the last elections there were only 20 female candidates of 118, which speaks of the great challenges and obstacles that Liberian women still face to access decision-making political positions at all levels. The EU called on the Legislature and Executive to support the enforceable 30% gender quota on candidate lists and on the leadership of parties and coalitions included in the electoral reform bill, which represents a unique opportunity to address the longstanding issue of underrepresentation of Liberian women in politics. The EU informed that an EU Election Follow-up Mission is planned to come to Liberia soon, to support Liberia in addressing the lessons learned from the 2020 elections and advance the electoral reform process before the 2023 elections. The EU expressed interest in the recent Constitutional Review Commissions and their proposals and arguments that may remain valid.
The MOJ stressed the GoL’s commitment to enhancing women political participation. Deputy MFDP Augustus J. Flomo pointed out that concerns regarding the need for timely and sufficient funding for electoral preparations have been taken very seriously by the Ministry of Finance, and adequate financial resources from the national budget would be allocated in advance.
7. Implementation of the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC): The MOJ emphasized that the GoL remains committed to the implementation of the TRC recommendations, as stated by H. E. the President before the UN General Assembly and in the PAPD. Among these recommendations, the GoL is looking particularly at low hanging fruits that can be more easily implemented in the short term. The MOJ highlighted the importance of the TRC recommendations on the Palava Hut process, women empowerment and memorialisation. He announced that a broad national conference on reconciliation and peacebuilding, with participation of the 15 counties and the diaspora, would be held soon. The MOJ recognized that there are issues still to be resolved and stressed that the Liberian people must decide the way to deal with those issues. He highlighted the GoL’s full collaboration with third countries (France, Finland, Norway, Switzerland, the US..) that have started judicial procedures for crimes commited during the civil conflict. The MFA emphasized that these are pivotal issues for Liberia to move forward.
The EU said that the process of post-conflict reconciliation and transitional justice must be a Liberia-owned and Liberia-led process, and the EU stands ready to support this process. The EU expressed interest in the follow-up on the letter sent by the President to the Legislature in September 2019, requesting advice on measures necessary for the implementation of the TRC report, and on the resolution signed in October 2019 by a majority of members of the House of Representatives backing the implementation of the TRC recommendations. The EU recalled that one of Liberia’s accepted 2020 UPR recommendations is to adopt the necessary measures to implement the TRC recommendations, and expressed interest in the GoL's plans in this regard. The EU suggested possible measures to safeguard and provide broad public access to the TRC work and documentation and further efforts on memorialisation.
8. Food security: The Minister of Agriculture (MOA) highlighted the GoL’s commitment to supporting agriculture and agri-business as a major engine of economic growth in the country. Minister Cooper stressed that efforts to improve food security and sustainable food systems are paramount. The Ministry would like to invest in evidence-based information systems, improve access to finance, step-up quality production and boost post-harvest processing. The MOA also highlighted the important role of Liberian forests in countering global warming and climate change and the need to reconcile Liberia’s agricultural development with the protection of forestry and the environment. The EU noted that food and nutrition security is a multi-sectoral issue, which requires good institutional coordination and clear leadership, and pledged its support to the GoL’s increased focus on agriculture, which would be one of the priorities of the EU programme for 2021-2027.
9. Education: The GoL and the EU agreed to continue to work together to strengthen the public education system in Liberia, including technical and vocational education and training (TVET). The Minister of Education Prof. Ansu Sonii stressed the critical need to improve public schools’ infrastructure across the country and to achieve complete TVET coverage in all 15 counties, and asked the EU to expand its TVET ‘Youth Rising’ Programme. The Minister also expressed interest in exploring the possibility to offer a ‘skills path’ to secondary education for those students who will not pursue the line of education further. The EU expressed its readiness to discuss this suggestion.
10. EU Programming 2021-2027: The EU highlighted the two proposed “Team Europe Initiatives” for the EU and Member States’ future partnership with Liberia, on “Safe & Sustainable Food Systems” and “Forestry & Biodiversity”, both consistent with Liberia’s greatest potential and opportunities. The EU and GoL agreed to exchange regularly on the EU programming 2021-2027 (the EU proposed to hold by mid-2021 a high-level session with relevant Ministries and Agencies).
Both parties reaffirmed their commitment to continuing to hold regular Political Dialogue meetings and following-up on their conclusions. They agreed that the next (10th) EU-Liberia Political Dialogue would take place in the second half of 2021 and be focused on a more limited number of topics, to facilitate a deeper, more lively and robust debate, as well as a follow-up on the announcements and commitments made and the deliverables reached in the course of the Political Dialogue meetings.