June 8, 2017
Political and Security Matters
The Government of Liberia briefed the European Union delegation on preparations for the 2017 Presidential and Legislative elections and on plans to ensure a smooth handover to the incoming administration in January 2018. The European Union expressed its confidence in the National Election Commission's capacity and welcomed the Ganta and Farmington River Declarations in which the leaders or standard bearers of political parties committed themselves to peaceful elections and resolution of electoral disputes through mediation or judicial means. The European Union also underlined the importance of a successful administrative transition and appreciated receiving an update on Government’s efforts in this regard.
As is customary, the political session also addressed human rights issues. The European Union acknowledged Liberia's overall positive track record in upholding fundamental freedoms and welcomed the news that the Bill to Decriminalize the Violation of the Right to Freedom of Expression has been submitted to the Legislature and is currently being debated. However, concern was expressed about continued delay in passing the Domestic Violence Bill. The European Union welcomed Liberia's continued adherence to a de facto moratorium on use of the death penalty and repeated its principled position on complete abolition of capital punishment. The parties discussed the complex issues behind the high level of pre-trial detention in Liberia and the European Union committed to continue its support for Government’s efforts to address these challenges. The Government of Liberia apprised of ongoing discussion between prosecutors and the Judiciary, in search of solution to the protracted problem of the unacceptably high level of pre-trial detention.
Economic and Trade Issues
In the economic and trade session, the parties had an open discussion on the need to create a better environment for business if Liberia is to achieve its objective of becoming a middle income country. The Government of Liberia set out a number of ongoing initiatives designed to simplify and clarify business regulations including the constitution of the National Trade Facilitation Committee (NTFC) with the help of UNCTAD and the World Bank in order to address issues affecting trade and propose recommendations on how such issues can be tackled, as well as the formation of the Business Reform Committee to coordinate reforms to improve Liberia’s indicators for the World Bank Doing Business Index. The European Union welcomed these efforts and hoped that they will reduce the element of discretion in the application of rules and lead to greater predictability for businesses.
The Government of Liberia briefed on the economic and budgetary situation, expressing its gratitude for the European Union's continued budget support. The Government explained that 2017 is expected to see a return to economic growth after three years of recession. Nevertheless, revenue collection remains below expectations, reflecting continued economic difficulties. As a result, the Government has deemed it prudent to prepare a draft National Budget for 2017-18 that is lower than the 2016-17 National Budget. The Government assured the European Union that spending for the elections and election security have been prioritised within the National Budget and that arrangements are being made to ensure timely disbursement of election related funds. The Government also explained a number of measures that have been taken to reduce recurrent costs, such as cuts to allowances and travel and reductions in goods and services budgets. The European Union recognised these efforts and underlined the importance of all branches of government showing restraint and leadership in this area at a time when ordinary people are experiencing challenges.
The Government of Liberia provided an update on the "Last Mile" plan, explaining that around 70% of projects are on track, with others requiring remedial action. At the same time the Government is continuing to identify ongoing priority needs and potential projects for the next planning cycle. This will ensure the new administration is able to quickly agree its own development strategy and avoid any gap in donor support. The European Union agreed with the importance of continuity in development efforts and highlighted a number of areas where the Government of Liberia must now ensure the sustainability of donor supported reforms, including through appropriate allocations in the National Budget. These include decentralisation, civil service reform and sustainable forestry management. The importance of creating the right enabling environment for continued donor investment in infrastructure was also discussed, with an emphasis on regulation of the electricity market and effective use of the Road Fund for road maintenance.
The parties highlighted the relevance of the EU-Liberia Sustainable Fisheries Partnership Agreement (SFPA) and welcomed the ongoing second Joint Committee meeting, which is taking place in Brussels from 8-9 June. They also committed to engage constructively in upcoming technical discussions on the recent warning issued by the European Union in relation to regulation of fishing vessels on Liberia's international shipping register. The parties also expressed their ongoing commitment to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. The Government undertook to encourage the Legislature to ratify the Agreement before the end of the current session.
At the end of the dialogue both parties commented on the benefits of a regular exchange of views and expressed their confidence that the next administration would find the annual dialogue equally useful. The parties reaffirmed their commitment to further strengthening their relationship and expressed the desire that the 6th Annual EU-Liberia Political Dialogue would take place in accordance with the normal schedule in May 2018.
Other members of the Liberian delegation included the Minister of Finance and Economic Planning, Mr. Boima Kamara; Minister of Justice, Cllr. Frederick Cherue; Minister of Commerce and Industry, Mr. Axel Addy; Chairperson of the Governance Commission, Dr. Amos Sawyer, and a host of other officials of government.
Representing the European Union were the following: Ambassador of France, H.E. Joel Godeau; Ambassador of the United Kingdom, H.E. Mr. David Belgrove; Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany, H.E. Hubert Josef Jäger; Chargé d’Affaires of the Embassy of Sweden, Ms. Elisabeth Hårleman; Political Counselor of the European Union, Mrs. Emma Sundbald and the Head of Operations, European Union Delegation, Mr. Alberto Menghini.