The success of any socio-economic development strategy in post-conflict Liberia depends on the empowerment of the Liberian people with life skills, resources and opportunities to directly participate in the socio-economic development process. The goal of future Liberian policy-makers should be the removal of structural impediments, which include the lack of transportation infrastructure, access to financial resources, and a bloated government bureaucracy among others to economic development. The cornerstone of socio-economic development in Liberia should be the implementation of a “people-centered’’ economic policy i.e., the benefits of any economic development policy implemented in Liberia should accrue directly to the Liberian people.
Traditionally, Liberian socio-economic development strategy has been based on the creation of national entities that implemented a one-size-fit all solution to the development needs of Liberia. These national entities for the most part, failed to take into consideration the development needs of the local people; thereby, depriving the vast majority of Liberians the benefits of the resources they were endowed. The failure to implement a more equitable economic development strategy made it difficult for Liberia to achieve balanced socio-economic development.
In view of this, future policy-makers in Liberia have to adopt a local and regional approach to socio-economic development if the benefits of economic resources are to spread across the Liberian landscape. Liberians have to radically re-think their socio-economic development paradigm in the 21st century. Therefore, I propose the following local and regional approach to socio-economic development in Liberia:
A. Establish the Monrovia Urban Redevelopment Authority (MURA) to be the economic development agency for Monrovia. The MURA would primarily be responsible for economic development programs, business assistance and financing, housing, and a variety of financing options. The MURA would achieve these goals through public/private partnerships, the identification of domestic, bilateral, and multi-lateral resources to meet the economic development needs of Monrovia.
B. Establish the County Economic Development Authority (CEDA) to be responsible for planning and implementing economic development in each county. CEDA would also work with the local population of each county district to meet its socio-economic development objectives including capital investment and micro- enterprise financing. CEDA would achieve its development goals through national government allotments to each county, National Economic Development (NED) tax credits (see below for more details), and external sources of funding.
C. The Bureau of Economic Statistics at the Ministry of Planning should be the official economic and social statistical gathering agency for the government of Liberia, and eventually, the Ministry of Planning and Economic Affairs should be abolished. Liberia does not need a centralized economic planning agency. These measures should be a part of an overall government reorganization plan that streamlines the Liberian bureaucracy to make it more efficient.
D. Create Regional Economic Development Hubs in Liberia. The hubs would consist of Gbarnga, Buchanan, Ganta, Greenville, Harper, and Voinjama. The purpose of these regional hubs would be to serve as the centers for economic and social development in those parts of Liberia. They would provide the environment for entrepreneurs to undertake business development and provide employment opportunities for the Liberian people. The development of these economic development hubs would alleviate the burden that the lack of economic development in these parts of Liberia places on Monrovia. The hubs would also serve as a catalyst for the distribution of economic opportunities in Liberia.
E. Pass a National Economic Development (NED) Act by the legislature immediately after the civilian government takes office. The act should include a twenty percent economic development tax credit to corporations for financing socio-economic development projects identified by the counties in which they are located. For example, twenty percent of the royalties, fees, and taxes the Liberia Agriculture Company (LAC) pays to the government of Liberia each year would be transferred to the people of Grand Bassa County for socio-economic development projects they have identified. The NED would allow each county to take advantage of its niche for economic advancement.
F. Implement an agricultural development plan that provides financial resources to Liberian farmers. Liberia needs to invest money in agriculture to become self-sufficient in the production of its stable foods, and the production of exportable agricultural products such as cocoa, coffee, and others. The objective is to make Liberia self-sufficient in food production, and generate export earnings for Liberia. Export earnings would enable Liberia to import goods and services that cannot be provided locally, thereby helping to improve the standard of living for the Liberian people.
G. Establish the Center for Faith-Based and Community Organizations (CFABCO). The center would work with faith-based organizations to participate in the retraining and reintegration of ex-combatants and displaced Liberians. Faith-based organizations have a meaningful role to play in the process of making ex-combatants and displaced Liberians productive citizens. Historically, faith-based organizations in Liberia have emphasized compassion and forgiveness.
H. Appoint qualified Liberians with demonstrated experience to positions of responsibility in Liberia. For any socio-economic development program to succeed in Liberia, qualified individuals with the requisite skill sets and demonstrated experience have to be employed to implement various policy initiatives. One of the major reasons why governments fail in Liberia is the appointment of individuals based purely on academic qualifications without demonstrated experience. Academic qualifications are important, however, they should be complimented with experience in order to have immediate impact. Liberians that possess the educational qualifications without the requisite skill sets should serve as management trainees alongside more experienced Liberians until they develop the requisite skill sets to be placed in more responsible positions. It does not make any sense for example, to hire someone as a comptroller just because the individual has an MBA when the person does not have any management experience. In addition, the tendency to appoint people to positions of trust because of “social connection” regardless of whether the person has the requisite education or training must stop if Liberia is to move forward.
I. Public corporations were established in Liberia to provide goods and services that private capital could not provide. While profitability may not have been the intent, the goal was to at least break-even. Due to various factors in Liberia including a dysfunctional economy, political instability, inefficient management, and over- employment, they have been unable to provide goods and services efficiently or break-even. They have become a drag on the Liberian government. Therefore, I support the suggestion that almost all the public corporations should be sold except those that have national security significance. Therefore, the appointment of managing directors/executive directors of public corporations in the interim should be based on “measurable outcomes or deliverables”. If a managing director fails to achieve the outcomes or deliverables, the managing director’s services should be terminated.
The new Liberia requires a new way of thinking. Every Liberian has the responsibility to ensure it succeeds. The 2005 national elections are a historic opportunity for all Liberians to make Liberia a better place for generations to come.