Liberia: The Real Facts Surrounding African Union’s Sanctions Over Liberia’s Failure to Pay Dues

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Monrovia – Last February, FrontPageAfrica reported that Liberia was at risk of being sanctioned by the African Union unless it settles its indebtedness to the continent’s governing body.


Report by Rodney D. Sieh, [email protected]


Prior to his departure, multiple sources confirmed to FrontPageAfrica that former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Gbezohnga Milton Findley sent several communications to the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning, prevailing on the ministry to settle nearly a million dollars in unpaid arrears representing Liberia’s indebtedness to the African Union.

FrontPageAfrica has learned that all of those communications came up short, dealing a major blow to Liberia’s full-membership status in the AU.

In recent days, Liberia reportedly lost its voting rights and was relegated to an observer status, a far cry from being a founder to a shocking rejected stone, one who understood the purpose for which the organization was founded.

Over the past three years, Liberia have struggled with meeting up with every single report to be submitted to the AU. These reports are the core responsibilities of being a member country, some of these reports either come in later or never do, with key diplomats at the AU headquarters truly bothered about the ministry of foreign affairs in Liberia and the Minister not understanding the core function of international diplomacy, starting with the African Union.

What EJS Left; What Weah Inherited

This is not the first time Liberia has been in the red.

When the Government of former President Ellen Johnson Sirelaf took office in 2006, Liberia had been sanctions and deprived of its voting rights and full membership privileges at virtually all international organizations, as a result of failure to pay its dues dating as far back, in some cases, as the early 1990s. The Sirleaf-led government negotiated payment plans with all its international organizations and budgeted and made annual payments of its arrears in accordance with the payment plan agreed.

In some cases, and given the magnitude of the arrears, the Government negotiated for the payment of a certain percentage of the arrears and the cancellation of the balance. By the end of 2008, the Government had succeeded in restoring full membership rights of Liberia in all international organizations.

On Thursday, FrontPageAfrica gathered from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that the government is racing against time to make a US$800K payment to the AU to enable it to appeal for the lifting of the sanctions.

Relevant communications viewed by FrontPageAfrica were exchanged between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Development Planning(MFDP)Thursday and frantic efforts are reportedly being applied to make payment before the close of business today,  Friday, September 12, 2020 or early next week.

Liberia’s delinquency in payment of its dues to international organizations is not a phenomenon that affects only the AU. Credible information points to mounting arrears also with the UN, ECOWAS, International Maritime Organizations (IMO), INTERPOL, etc.

When the Government of former President Ellen Johnson Sirelaf took office in 2006, Liberia had been sanctions and deprived of its voting rights and full membership privileges at virtually all international organizations, as a result of failure to pay its dues dating as far back, in some cases, as the early 1990s. The Sirleaf-led government negotiated payment plans with all its international organizations and budgeted and made annual payments of its arrears in accordance with the payment plan agreed.

Sanctions Threat from AU

In November 2018, the African Union held an Extraordinary Summit on Institutional Reforms in Addis Ababa to address, among other things, the issue of due (assessed contribution) payment. At the meeting, the AU decided to impose sanctions on member states who do not pay 50% of their assessed contributions within six months. (See link to the AU press release: https://au.int/pressreleases/20181127/african-union-strengthens-its-sanction-regime-non-payment-dues?fbclid=IwAR0s8ufIq6c6lryIY0c_YwYySCPMpfPJ3h1Xl7p7-du_Rx6f1C5ItF3erZI.

According to the AU, such states will be deprived their right to take the floor or make any contributions in the meetings of the African Union, three different forms of sanctions on defaulting member states were agreed, based on the length of the period of payment default: The three sanction packages are as follows:

Cautionary, which is “applied to member states who do not pay 50% of their assessed contributions within six months. Such states will be deprived their right to take the floor or make any contributions in the meetings of the African Union”

Intermediate sanctions  which “shall apply to members who are in arrears for one year. In this instance, the member states shall be suspended from being a member of a Bureau of any organ of the Union; host any organ, institution or office of the Union; lose the right to have their nationals participate in electoral observations missions, human rights observation missions and will not be invited to meetings organized by the Union and further, such states will not have their nationals appointed as staff members, consultants, volunteers or interns at the African Union.”

Comprehensive Sanctions – Where Liberia Fits

Comprehensive sanctions which “kick in after a member state defaults its payments for two years, such states are liable to the cautionary and intermediary sanctions and their right to participate in the meetings of the Union will be suspended. Exceptions will be granted to members who demonstrate conditions beyond their control to meet their financial obligations.”

Because of Liberia’s failure to make payments to the AU for three consecutive years (2018, 2019, and 2020), the AU imposed comprehensive sanctions on Liberia.

Government sources and diplomatic pundits have attributed the imposition of comprehensive sanctions on Liberia by the AU to two main reasons:

Failure to make payment of Liberia’s due ( annual assessed contributions) from 2018 up to present, despite repeated written warnings from the AU to the Government of Liberia through the MofA that continued failure to pay against mounting arrears would lead to the imposition of sanctions. 

Arrears Was at US$400K When Weah Took Office

Both MoFA and MFDP sources point to the fact that Liberia’s financial obligation to the AU by January 2018 (the month President Weah came to power) was around US$400.00. However, since the CDC Government came to power, it has made no payment to the AU, thus making the obligations to AU to balloon to US$1.6M.  The comprehensive sanctions imposed on Liberia affects not only the government but individual Liberian citizens who cannot be employed within the AU as staff members, consultants and interns; and Liberians cannot take part in AU Observation missions.  In fact, in 2019, a qualified Liberian who had applied for the position of Political Affairs Officer at the AU Office at the UN was disqualified from further consideration because of the sanction on Liberia. It can be recalled that Liberia settled all its arrears at the AU in 2016 and ratified all outstanding AU protocols, thus paying the was for Liberia’s election in 2017 as Chair of the prestigious Peace and Security Council (PSC) of the AU.  Our sources informed us that the AU alerted Liberia in early 2018 that it needed to pay its obligations of nearly US$400K. Former Liberia AU Ambassador George Patten appealed with the AU for consideration while he tried to lobby with the Liberia government to pay its obligations, which unfortunately did not yield fruits. We are informed that the AU sent several letters to Liberia alerting it of the mounting arrears and its failure to make payment. Former Foreign Minister Findley is reported to have sent countless letters to the MFDP and made several follow ups to ensure payment against the arrears, but all to no avail.

Relevant communications viewed by FrontPageAfrica were exchanged between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Development Planning(MFDP)Thursday and frantic efforts are reportedly being applied to make payment before close of business today,  Friday, September 12, 2020 or early next week. Liberia’s delinquency in payment of its dues to international organizations is not a phenomenon that affects only the AU. Credible information point to mounting arrears also with the UN, ECOWAS, International Maritime Organizations (IMO), INTERPOL, etc.

FrontPageAfrica has also learned that there has been a lack of effective representation at the AU. Since Ambassador George Patten was transferred some two years ago from his post as Liberia’s Ambassador to AU to Liberia Ambassador to the US, the Liberia government has failed to name and accredit any substantive ambassador to this very significant diplomatic outpost.

Mrs. Sarah Fyneah Dorbor, Minister Counselor to the AU, has been holding over as Officer-In-Charge since Ambassador Patten left. In 2019, the Liberian Government sent Ambassador-At-Large Robert Lormia to AU Mission in Addis for a month or two to hold over and prepare for an upcoming AU Summit. After the Summit, Ambassador Lormia returned to Monrovia, thus continuing with the vacuum in representation at the AU. thus few months to help in preparation for an upcoming AU Summit.  The failure of Liberia to accredit an Ambassador for a little more than two years is a diplomatic signal that Liberia does not highly value its representation at the premier African continental body.

Since last February when FPA reported about the arrears, Liberia’s debt was said to be close to a million dollars, which if not paid could lead to a loss of voting rights and rights to weigh in on key decisions regarding the continent.

The threat of sanctions came just two years after the AU’s11th extraordinary summit agreed that the imposition of sanctions was necessary to keep members who fail to honor their annual financial contributions in check.

In recent years, dues payments by member-states have dropped. At the end of the financial year in 2019, only 50% of member states had paid their dues. 

Under the sanctions regime, indebted nations adopted a total suspension of a member state who will be barred from participating in the meetings of the assembly or any meeting of the African Union.”

The contribution required from AU member states toward the bloc’s budget increased to 14 percent in 2017, which is an 11 percent increase from previous years, according to AU figures. 

Currently, the AU depends on foreign donors, who, in 2019, will pay for 54 percent of a total budget of US$681.5 million, or 596 million euros.

The AU’s initial financing proposal, dating from the 2016 Rwanda Summit, seeks to create “equitable and predictable sources of financing and reduce dependency on partner funds, and cover 100 percent of the AU’s operational budget, 75 percent of its program budget, and 25 percent of its peace funding.

The proposal directs member states to implement a 0.2 percent levy on eligible imports from non-AU member countries to help the union realize its goal of financial independence.

The sanctions measures is aimed at ensuring that the AU’s 55 member states meet their financial obligations to the Union in time. 

The sanctions regime which came into effect 2018, stipulates the short and long term measures member-states will face for defaulting to pay part or in full, their assessed contributions, within a period of six months to two years. 

Failure to pay dues continues to put the AU in a difficult position in trying to plan, implement and execute programs and activities. The sanctions regime, according to the AU is key to addressing the weaknesses in the compliance arrangements.

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