Delegation of the European Union to Liberia

LIBERIA AND THE EUROPEAN UNION REINFORCE POLITICAL RELATIONS

07/08/2018 - 17:58
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The Government of the Republic of Liberia and the European Union met on July 12, 2018 for the Sixth edition of the EU-Liberia Political Dialogue, under the theme: “Liberia Towards and Beyond the Pro poor Agenda,” The dialogue was co-chaired by H.E. Mr. Gbehzohngar Milton Findley, Minister of Foreign Affairs and H.E. Ms. Hélène Cavé, Ambassador, Head of EU Delegation to Liberia. Following the dialogue the Joint Press Release below was issued.

Overlapping EU and Liberian flags

JOINT PRESS RELEASE

LIBERIA AND THE EUROPEAN UNION REINFORCE POLITICAL RELATIONS

The Government of the Republic of Liberia and the European Union met on July 12, 2018 for the Sixth edition of the EU-Liberia Political Dialogue. It is guided by specific provisions of Article 8 of the Cotonou Partnership Agreement (partnership Agreement between the European Union and the African, Caribbean and Pacific States for the period 2000-2020) which enables the establishment of a platform for regular and comprehensive political dialogue and aims at commitments reached on both sides to uphold the outcome of the dialogue. The platform for such a dialogue was formally launched in June 2012, Monrovia.

This year’s dialogue was held under the theme: “Liberia Towards and Beyond the Pro poor Agenda,” with H.E. Mr. Gbehzohngar Milton Findley, Minister of Foreign Affairs and H.E. Ms. Hélène Cavé, Ambassador, Head of EU Delegation to Liberia, both serving as  co-chairs of the dialogue and heads of their respective delegations.  Other members of the Liberian side included Hon. Samuel D. Tweah, Minister of Finance and Development Planning, Hon. Wilson K. Tarpeh, Minister of Commerce and Industry, Hon. Jerome Korkoya, Chairman, National Elections Commission (NEC), Cecil T.O. Brandy, Chairman, Liberia Land Authority, Hon. Varney Sirleaf, Minister of Internal Affairs, Hon. Gesler E. Murray, Minister of Land Mines and Energy, Bartholomew B. Colley, Acting Chairman of the Independent National Commission on Human Rights, C. Mike Doryen, Managing Director of Forestry Development Authority, while  H.E. David Belgrove, Ambassador of the United Kingdom, H.E. Hubert Jäger, Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany, H.E. Ingrid Wetterqvist, Ambassador of Sweden, H.E.  Terence Wills, Ambassador of France, (all resident), and H.E. Hugues Chantry Ambassador of Belgium, H.E. Catherine Campbell, Ambassador of Ireland (non-resident), Mr. Alberto Menghini, Mr. Hans Lambrecht of the European Union Delegation to Liberia, Ms Kate Brady, Chargé d'Affaires a.i, Embassy of Ireland, Ms Elisabeth Hårleman, Head of Swedish Cooperation, formed the EU side.

The Dialogue focused on political and economic issues covering a wide range of topics: legislative agenda, EU Election Observation Mission, human rights, Brexit and Post-Cotonou Agreement challenges, Schengen visas, pro-poor agenda for prosperity and development, state of the economy and 2018/2019 budget, conditions for economic growth, sustainable exploitation of natural resources.

DETAILS OF THE DISCUSSIONS:

1. Legislative agenda: The Liberian Delegation reported some success with the discussions on the passage of the Local Government Act (LGA). The Act has been passed by the lower house of the Liberian legislature but needs concurrence by the Senate. The Liberian delegates were however confident that with the progress recorded the LGA will be passed. According to the Government through the Internal Affairs Ministry, when the LGA comes into effect, some cities and statutory districts will phase out and become centers owing to their economic viability.

According to the Liberia Land Authority (LLA) land rights remain one of the greatest threats to Liberian peace; the Government is working diligently to mitigate the threat by allowing indigenous people and communities to own land. Currently, indigenous people only have the right to use land. The EU extoled the Liberian Government noting the dialogue show-cased the value both parties attach to the relations. The EU supports President Weah’s stance to alter the ethnic clause within the Constitution so as to allow dual citizenship for Liberians and citizenship for non-Liberians which will enable them access to land ownership, while committing itself to regular political and thematic dialogues and urged the Government to find innovative ways and means to accommodate fellow Liberians and foreign nationals; enabling them to process resources and create jobs in the country. Whilst flagging the  mounting Sexual Gender Based Violence (SGBV) that women and girls are faced with in Liberia, it admonished men in Liberia to get involved in curbing (SGBV) and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) “Men are pivotal to changing culture and dogmas”, the EU noted, as it disclosed a EUR 16 million to addressed Sexual Gender Based Violence, (SGBV).

The Liberian Government recommitted its earnest desire to eradicate traditional practices that are harmful to women and girls through education, community mobilization and sustained awareness by working with stakeholders to ensure the FGM Bill is passed by the National Legislature.

2. EU Election Observation Mission: The EU explained that the EU Election Observation Mission, which was led by Chief Observer Maria Arena, Member of the European Parliament for Belgium, was in Liberia upon request of the Government of Liberia. The final report, which was officially presented to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the National Elections Commission, contains 23 recommendations addressing the following areas: legislative framework (7 recommendations), electoral complaints and dispute resolution (3), election administration (3), election campaign (2), party finance (2), human rights (3), media (2) and civil society/citizens observers (1). Six recommendations are indicated as a priority; they relate to: the ethnic definition of Liberian citizenship, the span of appeals timelines, a passive voter registration system based on a reliable Civil Register, the opportunity to vote for all qualified citizens, enforceable affirmative action for women participation and the extension of domestic observation groups to the whole electoral cycle. The Chairman of the National Elections Commission considers the recommendations interesting and important, but explained that some require a constitutional referendum, legislation and collaboration with other Government agencies. The priority for the National Elections Commission is to address the issue of the use of biometrics in voter registration and is already collaborating with the National Identification Registry on this matter. Recommendations regarding legislation will be introduced in the law reform process. The EU in the context of the elections project funded inter alia by Sweden, Ireland and the EU, and implemented by UNDP, will propose a follow-up of the recommendations.

3. Human Rights: The Independent National Commission on Human Rights (INCHR) highlighted that while death penalty is foreseen by the law, Liberia has been applying a de facto moratorium. The EU welcomed the moratorium but encouraged Liberia to consider legal abolition. The EU also encouraged Liberia to consider voting in favour of the global resolution on Death Penalty Moratorium that will be re-presented later this year at the UN General Assembly. Both parties recognized and expressed concerns for the high prevalence of SGBV in Liberia and agreed that the eradication of this phenomenon requires a combination of public education and legal reforms, including the criminalization of SGBV. On the criminalization of FGM the parties agreed that it is crucial to overcome the notion that this would be seen as an attack on traditional culture. The EU encouraged Liberia to take bold steps to inform and convince the general public in order to change their perspective on the FGM issues, and stressed that a greater female representation in the Legislature would favour legal reforms in this respect.

4. Brexit – Post-Cotonou Agreement: The UK stressed that developing countries will not be affected by Brexit. For the time being, the UK will live up to its commitments to the EU budget. Afterwards, the UK will continue to collaborate with the EU in terms of development cooperation as is already demonstrated in the forestry sector in Liberia.  In the future the UK would work to ensure that trading arrangements were as advantageous as Liberia has with the EU.

The EU highlighted that the Cotonou Agreement (2000-2020) has been the framework for the relationship with African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Countries, even though not exclusively, the Joint Africa-EU Strategy being another platform. The world has changed considerably since the Agreement was adopted almost two decades ago. Global and regional contexts evolved significantly, in Africa in particular, and so have the common global challenges to be addressed and opportunities to be grasped. Therefore, the core objectives of the partnership have to be reviewed to adapt to the new realities. The budgetary commitments of the EU to a successor Agreement are linked to the current discussion on the new EU Multiannual Financial Framework 2021-2027, for which a proposal has been made by the European Commission, and negotiations will continue with the European Parliament and the European Council. A new cooperation instrument is expected to fuse most of existing instruments, including the European Development Fund and will channel an important share to external actions. In the current proposal the funds for external actions will increase by around 30%, which is an unprecedented investment for the EU global role. In the discussion on the new Agreement, some African countries favour a strong ACP umbrella while others prefer a ‘continent-to-continent’ (AU) discussion. The EU would like to know what the position of Liberia is in this matter. The Minister of Foreign Affairs explained that Liberia is part of the Kigali deal and ECOWAS, and its position vis-à-vis the Post-Cotonou Agreement will be based on the ECOWAS position which is still being debated. The Minister of Finance and Development Planning stressed that it is encouraging that the overall EU support for development cooperation is expected to increase because size does matter for countries like Liberia that are affected by severe macro-economic challenges.

5. Schengen Visas: EU Member State Ambassadors of Schengen countries (Sweden, Germany, Belgium and France) explained the challenges to issue Schengen visas in Liberia. The main challenge is the cost involved. Sweden is currently the only Schengen Member State issuing visas in Liberia but only to officials that travel to Sweden in the context of the Swedish development cooperation programme. France is exploring the option that a private company collects biometric data in Liberia and sends them to Embassies abroad that then decide on and issue the visas. The cost is also an issue for this option because the price of a visa cannot be increased too much and the company needs to be able to make a profit, but France is committed to find a solution. The Minister of Foreign Affairs explained that the Government of Liberia is very concerned about this situation because it is now very expensive for Liberians to obtain a visa considering the travel expenses when requesting the visa in a country in the region. The example of a visa centre in Accra (Ghana) that handles visa request for several countries was mentioned and it could serve as an example for Liberia. It was recalled that this issue was recently debated between President Weah and President Tusk in Brussels and that President Tusk mentioned that he will address this issue with his Member States counterparts. The Minister of Finance and Development Planning stressed that the time to solve the issue is now when having a President with a strong ‘European identity’. Both parties concluded that a solution needs to be found.

6. State of the Economy / Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development: The Liberian Government disclosed that the Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development (PAPD) policy document will be released to stakeholders in a fortnight for their inputs. The Government bemoaned the high inflation and the alarming depreciation of the Liberian dollars. The Government disclosed an array of short term policies to stabilize the economy. The measures include: Central Bank of Liberia taking a proactive and lead role in the economic, changing the currency, reduction in interest rates, etc. The Government has reduced tariffs on 2,500 essential commodities to mitigate the spiraling hike in prices of major commodities. The first national budget of the administration was passed by the legislature at USD 570,148,000 and is pending the President’s approval.

The EU also requested how the ambitious revenue targets were expected to be met. The EU Delegation to Liberia made a favorable assessment of the payment request for the general budget support tranche for this fiscal year and forwarded the file to the colleagues in Brussels for their assessment. The EU requested that the budget support technical and policy dialogue can resume soon. The EU reiterated their concern about the two loans in the pipeline, highlighting the necessity to have a prudent approach concerning debt sustainability. The EU flagged its intent to follow developments on the reform of the pay-roll, and to raise this matter for a more in-depth discussion at the next EU-Liberia political dialogue.

7. Creating the Conditions for Economic Growth: The Minister of Commerce and Industry praised the solid partnership between Liberia and the EU which has also been instrumental in facilitating Liberia's accessions to the WTO. He outlined the 5 priority areas of intervention of his Ministry, namely: Food standards (Import/Export); Accountability; Economic Diversification; Empowerment and development of SMEs; Improving the Import Process. He stressed that the government remains committed to creating the conditions for economic growth through stability and rule of law, but also through specific support initiatives such as the recently launched Liberian Business Hub and the establishment of the SME Fund. He disclosed that the Executive will aim at supporting local businesses and investments, limiting foreign investments to sectors where the local supply cannot meet the local demand. He expressed concerns that the support to agriculture provided by international partners during the post-conflict period has not produced the expected results, especially in terms of creating employment opportunities for the 70% of Liberians below 40 years of age.

The Chair of the National Investment Commission announced the creation of a National Investment Fund to finance pre-feasibility and feasibility studies in all the priority sectors of the current administration, in order to have a set of bankable projects to be presented to perspective investors. He also expressed frustration with some foreign investors that, despite benefitting of specific incentives, are not living up to their commitment in terms of employing local workforce. He announced that work is ongoing for an MoU with the Ministry of Youth and Sports to facilitate internships for graduates of vocational training schools, as well as for reviving the Market Reform Committee with the objective of monitoring Doing Business indicators in Liberia. The EU encouraged Liberia to continue paying special attention to stability and rule of law to maintain the presence of the investors already on the ground and to attract fresh capitals.

8. Sustainable Exploitation of Natural Resources: The Minister of Mines and Energy (MoME) stressed the importance of sustainable exploitation of mining resources as a catalyst of socioeconomic growth, and disclosed that under the approved 2018/19 Budget the sector is expected to contribute USD 40 million to the national revenue. They expressed concerns about competing land uses for the development of the sector and called for a more harmonized land use planning. He highlighted in particular issues with mineral deposits falling within the boundaries of protected areas, which will have to be resolved through improved government coordination.

The Liberia Maritime Authority (LiMA), the National Fisheries and Aquaculture Authority (NaFAA) committed to addressing swiftly the remaining concerns behind the pre-identification of Liberia under the EU Regulation on Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) Fisheries (the so-called "yellow card"). NaFAA informed that they had productive discussions with the competent services of the European Commission between July 2 and 4, 2018 and that they agreed on a set of actions to be undertaken for the lifting of the "yellow card". They include submission of the new Fisheries Law to the Legislature by the end of 2018, further strengthening of the capacity of the Fisheries Monitoring Centre and finalisation of a Memorandum of Understanding to improve the coordination of NaFAA and other relevant agencies (Liberia Coast Guard, Bureau of Immigration and Naturalisation, LiMA). NaFAA also expressed satisfaction with the pace of implementation of the EU-Liberia Sustainable Fisheries Partnership Agreement (SFPA), as confirmed by the outcome of the Joint Committee held in Monrovia between July 4 and 6, 2018. They called for EU support in developing a National Plan of Action for against IUU and for expanding the fisheries Community Management Associations (CMAs) to the coastal counties. The EU confirmed the positive dynamic of the fisheries discussions and informed that discussions are underway for the extension of the SFPA from tuna to shrimps and deep sea crabs. These species are an important opportunity for Liberia as they can generate jobs and growth in the country.

The Forestry Development Authority (FDA) expressed appreciation for the work conducted under the EU-Liberia Voluntary Partnership Agreement. They renewed their commitment to rule of law to improve governance of the sector and nature conservation in order to ensure access to natural resources for future generation. In response to an EU question about available resources to ensure timber legality, FDA informed that they have entered negotiations with the current provider of chain of custody services (SGS) for a temporary extension of their contract. They also disclosed that the 2018/19 budget allocates USD 600 000 for the functioning of the Legal Verification Department.

The Minister of Commerce and Industry (MoCI) provided an update on the work of the Special Review Committee on Concessions and Contracts established by President Weah in February 2018. He informed that the Committee is currently scrutinizing 5 agreements. He also provided assurance that the objective of the exercise is not to necessarily modify existing concession agreements and contracts but rather to ensure their legality and implementation. The EU stressed the importance of respecting contractual terms and the rule of law in order to attract foreign investments and improve the business climate.

In the margins of the political dialogue, the EU and Liberia signed a EUR 4 million projects on Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) to support the forestry sector. One of the aims of the VPA is to assist Liberia export up to 34 high value certified woods to Europe at the 2020 horizon.

Finally, the EU and Liberia agreed to remain focused and positively engaged on the dialogue for an enhanced partnership, while reaffirming their desires to support the regular exchange of views and expressed the need to have two dialogues yearly. The EU mentioned that specific issues will need to be revisited in more details in the next political dialogue. The seventh annual EU-Liberia Political Dialogue will take place in February 2019 and the eighth will most probably take place in July 2019, after the AU Summit.

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