Liberia: No Shortcut – Or Paradigm Shift On MCC; Just Do The Right Thing, Mr. President


MOMENTS AFTER receiving the grim news that Liberia had for the first time since 2009, taken a dip on the annual assessment of the Millennium Challenge Corporation, President George Manneh Weah, while breaking grounds for a US$18 million, 48-inch diameter pipeline, at White Plains, which is part of the energy project  under the MCC Compact, appeared to be unhappy with the way in which the scorecard was generated.

THE PRESIDENT said while he is not disappointed with the below-par performance of Liberia, he felt that there is a need for a paradigm shift in the way the scores are given countries under the MCC. “We need a paradigm shift in the MCC,” the President said Friday as he broke ground Friday for the US$18 million raw water pipeline at White Plains.

THE PRESIDENT ADDED: “I’m not disappointed in the MCC but I have hope because I believe the MCC is a good thing for Liberia and it can help us. But we need a paradigm shift, so we can work together so, at least our passing grade can be of use to us.”

THE PRESIDENT went on to appeal to the Americans to work with Liberia to improve its score. “I did not go to university to stay in school for the rest of my life – that’s why I was doing homework and what have you. So, if we get homework to do  and we have courses to take, please give us the extra study class and let teachers be there, so we can make an effort.”

THE TRUTH OF THE MATTER is, there are simply no shortcut or paradigm shift around the MCC process. Countries looking to benefit must do what is required in order to be considered.

THE SCORECARDS are a key component in the agency’s annual competitive selection process that determines which countries will receive MCC development funds.

IN 2017, WHEN THE MCC released its fiscal year scorecards, Liberia passed because it had performed well by passing 10 of the 20 indicators on the FY 2017 scorecard, including maintaining good performance on both hard hurdles – the Democratic Rights and Control of Corruption. Additionally, Liberia saw improvements on the Civil Liberties and Political Rights indicators that year.

AT THE TIME, US Ambassador Christine Elder remarked:  “The passage of the scorecard once again shows a strong commitment from the Government of Liberia to reducing poverty through broad-based and sustainable economic growth.”

TO FORMER PRESIDENT SIRLEAF’S credit, serious work was put in the process leading to a successful score. Sirleaf had a task force which met regularly, a point trumpeted by Kateri Clement, Resident Country Director in Liberia for the Millennium Challenge Corporation at the time, who said: “We also recognize the important efforts by the government to create a scorecard committee that works with government institutions on the indicators.”

IN THE 2020 scorecard released Friday, the Weah-led government only passed 8 out of 20, meaning Liberia failed in 12 key areas. The country, howbeit, did passed, although barely, two critical indicators – control of corruption and democratic rights.  A country must pass control of corruption and democratic rights in addition to passing half of the scorecards.

At the end of the day, this government must muster the courage to do the right thing for its people. The arrogance of power and unconventional diatribes on which much of the lapses have been characterized by, simply cannot and should not be allowed to go on.

THE EIGHT AREAS LIBERIA passed include: Access to credit, 53 percent, Business Start-up, 64 percent, political rights, 27 percent, civil liberties, 35 percent, control of corruption, 52 percent, freedom of information, 83 percent, health expenditure, 52 percent and Immunization rates, 54 percent.

THE 12 AREAS LIBERIA FAILED include: Fiscal Policy, 38 percent, Inflation, 23.5 percent, Regulatory Quality, 40 percent, Trade Policy 28 percent, Gender in the Economy, 50 percent, Land Rights and Access, 35 percent, Government Effectiveness, 31 percent, Rule of Law, 50 percent, Natural Resource Protection, 21 percent, Girls’ Primary Education, 17 percent, Child Health, 42 percent  and Primary Education, 24 percent.

THE BOTTOM LINE IS when a country fails corruption and democratic rights, it cannot be considered for meeting the MCC benchmark, meaning the window of opportunity could be closing on the Weah-led government, to improve because if it fails to improve in those critical areas, it would risk being booted out.

THE POOR RESULTS under the Weah-led government is reflected in the low score the government received.  As one diplomat said Sunday: “Many government officials don’t even care about the MCC. Many have even said, they can take their money and go. Poor but arrogant.”

IN OCT 2015, a US$257 million MCC Liberia pact was signed, and entered into force in January 2016. 

THE COMPACT is key to development because it seeks to address two binding constraints to economic growth in Liberia: lack of access to reliable and affordable electricity and inadequate road infrastructure. The compact includes funding for the rehabilitation of the Mt. Coffee Hydroelectric Plant, development of a training center for technicians in the electricity sector, support for the creation of an independent energy sector regulator and support for the development of a nationwide road maintenance framework.

FOR A PRO-POOR GOVERNMENT in tatters, such a program, if utilized the right way, is one-way government can easily address the needs of those languishing at the bottom of the economic ladder.

PRESIDENT WEAH and his Coalition for Democratic Change-led government has its work cut out to put the brakes on the missteps and find a way to correct those failings that cause Liberia to fall below the passing mark on the MCC scorecard.

THE TRUTH IS, there are no shortcuts. The scorecards are based on a collection of 20 independent, third-party indicators that measure a country’s policy performance in the areas of economic freedom, ruling justly and investing in its people. Every year each MCC candidate country receives a scorecard assessing performance in three policy categories: Ruling Justly, Investing in People, and Encouraging Economic Freedom.

COUNTRIES ARE EVALUATED on the following factors: The prevalence of grand corruption and petty corruption at all levels of government; The effect of corruption on the “attractiveness” of a country as a place to do business; The frequency of “irregular payments” associated with import and export permits, public contracts, public utilities, tax assessments, and judicial decisions; Nepotism, cronyism and patronage in the civil service; The estimated cost of bribery as a share of a company’s annual sales;
The perceived involvement of elected officials, border officials, tax officials, judges, and magistrates in corruption; The strength and effectiveness of a government’s anti-corruption laws, policies, and institutions; Public trust in the financial honesty of politicians; The extent to which: processes are put in place for accountability and transparency in decision-making and disclosure of information at the local level.

COUNTIES ARE ALSO assessed on how government authorities monitor the prevalence of corruption and implement sanctions transparently; conflict of interest and ethics rules for public servants are observed and enforced; the income and asset declarations of public officials are subject to verification and open to public and media scrutiny; senior government officials are immune from prosecution under the law for malfeasance; the government provides victims of corruption with adequate mechanisms to pursue their rights; the tax administrator implements effective internal audit systems to ensure the accountability of tax collection; the executive budget-making process is comprehensive and transparent and subject to meaningful legislative review and scrutiny; the government ensures transparency, open-bidding, and effective competition in the awarding of government contracts.

THE MCC SCORECARDS are a key component in the MCC’s annual competitive selection process that determines which countries are eligible to develop compacts – grant investments that last 5-years. The scorecard indicators can also be used by businesses, investors, and the private sector to inform investment decisions and better understand the operating environment in a specific country.

THE GOOD NEWS for the Weah-led government is that the scores this year will not affect Liberia’s Compact eligibility, which will be based on next year’s scorecard. 

WHILE WE COMMEND the government for acknowledging that it is challenged to work to improve in a whole set of areas, we caution that it has to go beyond words and rhetoric but emulating what worked for the Sirleaf era by setting up a special task force of competent individuals to gauge the scores and put the government on the right trajectory to meet the benchmark.

THE GOVERNMENT cannot afford to allow this process to be handled by Minister of State for Presidential Affairs, Nathaniel McGill alone as most things are these days.

WE ALSO WELCOME the government’s assurances that there are significant opportunities for Liberia to improve its MCC Scorecard performance for FY 2021. “The Government is working to ensure that ownership of the eligibility process is achieved at the highest levels of Government so that the right data can be reported in time to reflect the right performance of the country,” Information Minister Lenn Eugene Nagbe said in a statement on the weekend.

IMPROVEMENTS in the Gender and Economy Indicator next year could go a long way. So, would the passage of the Domestic Violence Law in August of 2019, which, according to the government,  was not reflected in this year’s score because the passage came late. “It will affect next year’s score. Liberia also did not get credit for the protection contained in Liberia’s Decent Work Act of 2015, which prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace. The Government is committed to ensuring next year’s scores fully reflect these gains, which will put Liberia above the median score. With these key legal protections and progress made towards gender equality, the Government strongly believes Liberia will pass this indicator for FY21.”

AT THE END OF THE DAY, this government must muster the courage to do the right thing for its people. The arrogance of power and unconventional diatribes on which much of the lapses have been characterized by, simply cannot and should not be allowed to go on.

PRESIDENT WEAH MUST seize his moment and his words carefully because, what matters most, is the work put in, not the shortcuts we seek to get an easy pass.