The Government of the Republic of Liberia (GoL) and the European Union (EU) met on May 6, 2019 for the 7th edition of the EU-Liberia Political Dialogue, in keeping with Art. 8 of the Cotonou Partnership Agreement between the EU and the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) States which, led to the establishment of a platform for regular and comprehensive political dialogue.
The Dialogue was co-chaired by H.E. Mr. Gbehzohngar M. Findley, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Ambassador Hélène Cavé, Head of EU Delegation to Liberia. Members of the Liberian delegation included Hon. Samuel D. Tweah, Minister of Finance and Development Planning; Hon. Wilson K. Tarpeh, Minister of Commerce and Industry; Hon. Williametta P. Saydee-Tarr, Minister of Gender, Children and Social Protection; Hon. Moses Y. Kollie, Minister of Labor; Amb. Wesley Johnson, Commissioner at the Governance Commission; Mr. Molewuleh B. Gray, Chairman of the National Investment Commission; and Mr. C. Mike Doryen, Managing Director of the Forestry Development Authority. The EU was represented by Ambassador Hugues Chantry of Belgium; Ambassador Terence Wills of France; Ambassador Catherine Campbell of Ireland; Ambassador Ingrid Wetterqvist of Sweden; Ambassador David Belgrove of the United Kingdom; Mr. Günter Plambeck, Chargé d'Affaires a. i. of Germany; and Mr. Peter Eilschow Olesen, Deputy Head of Mission of Denmark.
ISSUES ADDRESSED AND DETAILS OF THE DISCUSSIONS:
1. Government's Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development (PAPD): The Liberian Delegation highlighted the government’s PAPD focuses on: infrastructure, in particular roads; education, and the need to improve skills in order to enhance Liberia's economic competitiveness; healthcare delivery efforts to reduce high rates of child and maternal mortality; peacebuilding, and the need to strengthen Liberia’s security sector following UNMIL's departure; and governance and transparency to implement the GoL's commitment to ensuring that public institutions perform and deliver under the PAPD. Liberia announced that new governance and transparency measures, including measures to fight corruption, would be forthcoming.
The EU emphasized its full support for the PAPD. With respect to the PAPD's implementation, the EU stressed the importance of setting clear priorities and ensuring that these were reflected in the national budget, even if financial resources were limited. The EU expressed interest in the domestic revenue mobilization strategy to finance the PAPD adequately. The Liberian and the EU delegations agreed on the need to find the right balance between "delivering fast and delivering well" in the PAPD's implementation. The Liberian Delegation confirmed that the national budget would be aligned with the PAPD. The EU underlined the importance of national ownership of the PAPD among Ministries, Agencies and Commissions.
2. State of the Economy and 2019-2020 National Budget: The Liberian Delegation explained that the macroeconomic context remains very challenging, and expressed concern for high currency depreciation and inflation. It emphasized that the GoL was undertaking measures aimed at stabilizing the economy as the first priority. The Ministry of Finance and Development Planning (MFDP) announced that Liberia would enter into an IMF-backed program, and the national budget 2019-2020 would be reviewed to bring public expenditure closer to revenue. The GoL expects that a solid budget would be approved, and the National Legislature would be part of the budgetary reform. The MFDP underlined the importance of fiscal discipline and responsibility. However, it explained that austerity should not affect productive expenditure and the need for the national budget to inject more financial resources into the economy in order to stimulate growth. Therefore, the MFDP stressed the need for Liberia to continue to receive budget support.
The EU agreed with the GoL on the need to address the economic situation and expressed concern for the impact of high inflation on the poorest and most vulnerable elements of the society. The Liberian delegation responded that fiscal stability and the need to alleviate the impact of inflation on Liberian citizens were matters of great concern to the GoL.
3. Human Rights: The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) acknowledged that prison conditions and overcrowding remain a cause of concern. It emphasized that the GoL was determined to build a new prison facility and pass legal measures aimed at reducing the number of pre-trial detainees. The MOJ announced that a new executive order banning Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) of girls below the age of 18 or non-consenting adults would be reactivated shortly. The Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection stated that the GoL was confident in shortly passing the Domestic Violence Bill. It explained that President Weah was committed to signing a new executive order banning FGM, and the GoL was engaging with traditional leaders to ensure its successful implementation. It also underlined the GoL's commitment to enhancing women's representation in public service and decision-making positions. The Ministry of Labor announced that Liberia had approved a National Action Plan, National Secretariat and Communication Strategy to tackle Trafficking in Persons, including child abuse and child labor. It stressed the GoL's commitment to increasing the number of prosecution and conviction cases in this area.
The EU emphasized the need to fight high levels of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) in Liberia, and stressed the importance of allocating adequate resources to education. It highlighted the new EU-UN Spotlight Initiative, which would invest considerable resources to fight SGBV in Liberia. The EU recalled that FGM was a harmful practice that continues to violate the human rights of a significant number of Liberian women and girls. The EU encouraged the GoL to sign a new executive order as soon as possible and resume work with the Legislature to deliver a permanent legal ban on FGM, as other countries in the region had done. The EU encouraged the GoL to address prison overcrowding and take appropriate measures to reduce the backlog of court cases resulting in lengthy periods of pre-trial detention for a large number of people. It recalled that women remain underrepresented in public service and decision-making, and invited the GoL to work together with the Legislature and political parties to consider repealing registration fees for women candidates and introducing temporary special measures, if necessary.
4. Fostering an enabling business & investment environment for private sector development: The Ministry of Commerce and Industry (MOCI) and the EU agreed that businesses and investments need predictability, transparency and fair legal processes. The MOCI stressed that the GoL was determined to improve the business climate and set the right conditions for a private sector-driven economy, and was working to introduce more clarity in the legal and regulatory framework and more simplicity in administrative proceedings, in collaboration with the business community. The MOCI highlighted the GoL's efforts to reduce the time necessary to register a business, and plans to create a single-window platform for businesses, improve small and medium enterprises (SMEs)' access to finance, establish a loan facility for businesswomen, and strengthen Special Economic Zones to boost the manufacturing sector.
The EU stressed its readiness to support the GoL in promoting an enabling business and investment climate which provides the right conditions for private sector development. It explained that, as part of the External Investment Plan (EIP), the EU had a number of tools and facilities available to assist a country in improving its business and investment climate, like value chain analyses, economic regulation reviews, and support to private sector consultations. As a first step, the EU would finance a mission to assess possible areas of intervention to improve Liberia's business climate. It also emphasized that the EU Delegation and Embassies of EU Member States (MS) would continue to foster win-win investments and partnerships with local businesses involving European companies, though there was still concern among European businesses about the treatment of foreign companies and the respect for existing contractual obligations. The EU raised the recent cancellation of demurrage fees charged by shipping companies as example. The EU expressed interest in the Business Climate Working Group created by the GoL.
5. Good Governance, Accountability and Transparency: The Governance Commission informed about ongoing activities under PAPD's Pillar 4 (good governance, transparency and the fight against corruption). The Liberian Delegation highlighted the project to set a Special Court to deal with cases of corruption and the GoL's determination to maintain tenured posts at 'transparency and integrity institutions' like the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC), General Auditing Commission (GAC) and Public Procurement and Concessions Commission (PPCC). It also highlighted the recent passage of the Kamara Abdullah Kamara Act of Press Freedom.
The EU delegation stressed that the EU and its Member States remain committed to supporting the GoL's efforts to improve governance, accountability, transparency, institutional building, the rule of law, the sustainable and equitable management of natural resources, and sound economic policies. The EU recalled that progress in all these areas would enhance the confidence of development partners and investors in the country. The EU emphasized that zero tolerance on corruption was vital, and encouraged the GoL to strengthen the role of integrity institutions like the LACC, GAC and PPCC. The EU also stressed the importance of maintaining tenured posts at these integrity institutions. In response, the MFDP recognized that governance issues are critical to nation building.
6. Post-Cotonou Negotiations and EU Future Programming Exercise in Line with PAPD: The EU recalled that the Cotonou Agreement framing the relations between EU and ACP countries would come to an end in 2020 and a new agreement was being negotiated with emphasis on the areas of economic growth and job creation, human development, peace and security, climate change, migration and global issues. The new EU programming cycle 2021-2027 was also being prepared. A new instrument, the NDICI [Neighborhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument], had been proposed, with 3 pillars; Geographic, Thematic, Rapid Response. Very soon the EU would start in each country, including Liberia, a dialogue with the partner Government and other stakeholders on the priorities of the new programming exercise.
7. Liberian Official Passports: The Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed concern over the lack of recognition of Liberian official passports, issued in addition to diplomatic and service passports, by some EU MS, and asked MS for clarification on their policy with regard to this issue. The EU Delegation encouraged the GoL to recirculate specimen of the various categories of passports among EU Member States.
8. Post-Brexit: The UK stated that discussions within the UK Government on the Withdrawal Agreement were ongoing. The UK Government's intent, post Brexit, was to work, where possible, in collaboration and coordination with the EU on development programmes, striving to avoid any negative impact on developing countries. A recent example was DFID's forestry programme in Liberia. It previously had been a joint EU/DFID programme but had now separated into two separate programmes, one EU led, one DFID led, which were complementary to each other.
9. Schengen visas: France confirmed that Schengen visas would be shortly delivered in Monrovia.
The EU and Liberia agreed to remain engaged on this regular and comprehensive political dialogue for an enhanced partnership, addressing issues of common concern in a frank and open manner, and continuing to work together for the good of the Liberian people. The EU-Liberia Political Dialogue will take stock of progress in the areas addressed in previous dialogues and discuss new issues twice a year. The 8th EU-Liberia Political Dialogue will take place in November 2019.