Liberia: Foreign Minister Kemayah calls on Financial Institutions to Ease Debt Burden on Least Developed Countries  

Photo credit: United Nations

DOHA, Qatar – “Development partners and financial institutions must ease the pressure on countries “drowning in debt”, says Liberia’s head of delegation at the ongoing 5th United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries (LCDs), Foreign Minister Dee Maxwell Kemayah. 

“In the premise, and as further enhancement for the successful implementation of the Doha Program of Action, we call on the international and development financing partners of the Least Developed Countries and financial institutions to ensure comprehensive debt relief as a necessary imperative for debt distressed Least Developed Countries,” Minister Kemayah said.

Gerald C. Koinyeneh – [email protected]

This week, leaders of the world’s least developed countries are meeting in Doha for the Fifth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries (LDC5).

The overarching message by all LDCs’ leaders and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres at the conference has been a call on wealthy nations and financial institutions to increase their support to LDCs’ countries.

In his opening statement, Guterres said a deeply biased global financial system is handing Least Developed Countries the rawest of deals, facing interest rates that are up to eight times higher than developed countries. “And it’s only getting worse,” he said.

He added: “Today, 25 developing economies are spending over 20 per cent of government revenues not on building schools, not on feeding people, not on expanding opportunities for women and girls — but solely on servicing debt.” 

Kemayah backed Guterres’ call on wealthy nations to make an annual payment of US$500 billion to developing countries. He said the money when paid, will help developing countries tackle the high cost of debt and rising risks of debt distress; scale-up affordable long-term financing for development and expand contingency financing to countries in need.

Foreign Minister Kemayah acknowledged that more than 50 years since its inception, the development aspirations of LDCs continue to be stifled amidst complex challenges.

Liberia was ravaged by a 14-year civil war from 1989 to 2003. By the end of the war in 2003, it inherited a debt of US$4.6 billion, making it difficult for the new Government under then President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to borrow money to undertake major development projects.

However, after instituting several reforms and meeting the “completion point” under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) waived Liberia’s huge debt.

Minister Kemayah’s call for debt relief comes as Liberia’s debt is climbing rapidly again. In his state of the nation address in January this year, President George Weah announced that the country’s external debt stood at $1.13 billion as of January 31 this year.

In his address, Kemayah, once Liberia’s Permanent Representatives to the UN said the Doha Program of Action (DPoA), which succeeds the Istanbul Program of Action, is the surest way to boost prosperity and attain the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGS).

The theme of the conference, “From Potential to Prosperity,” he said “is in anticipation of building momentum to concretize commitments, support, and forge cooperation for the implementation of the Program of Action, including its six priority areas for the next decade-2022-2031.”

He acknowledged that more than 50 years since its inception, the development aspirations of LDCs continue to be stifled amidst complex challenges.

Lessons from the implementation of the Istanbul Program of Action (IPoA), he noted, should remind the LCDs that the goal of structural transformation to boost economic growth and poverty eradication still remains a pressing challenge in LDCs. And chief among these impediments are efforts of LDCs to implement their national development plans remain hindered by lack of adequate finance – both internally and externally, he said. 

Admitted into the LDC in 1990, Liberia’s membership has been plagued with series of challenges – the brutal 14-year civil war that led to the loss of human assets and infrastructures, 2014 deadly Ebola outbreak and COVID-19.

Gov’t is making stride amid challenges

Despite these setbacks, Kemayah noted that Liberia continues to make strides towards national development and prosperity. 

The Dean of the Liberian Cabinet further said the Government’s five-year development plan, known as the “Pro-poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development (PAPD),” manifest its “shared determination to achieve peace, stability, development, democracy, prosperity, alleviate poverty, combat climate change and environmental degradation; and address the structural impediments to economic growth and national development.”

Through the plan which is aligned with the Doha Programme of Action, the government continues to commit resources in critical sectors such as health and education, he noted.

It has been a little over 50 years since 1971 when the LDC category was established by the UN General Assembly as an acknowledgment by the international community that special support measures were needed to assist the least developed countries among the developing countries. The gathering in Doha marks the 5th conference since the first LDC conference in 1981.