ANALYSIS: What Liberia Must Do to Maintain the Millennium Challenge Compact After Dismal Scorecard
Monrovia – While Sierra Leonean President Julius Maadi Bio was being congratulated by Maria Brewer, United States Ambassador to next-door Sierra Leone, for his country successfully passing the 2020 Millennium Challenge Corporation(MCC) – Scorecard, Liberian President George Manneh Weah was setting his sights on reforms he says are crucial to how the MCC rates the performance of countries for its annual scorecard that is used to qualify countries for millions of dollars in the MCC Compact money.
Report by Rodney D. Sieh, [email protected]
In his own words, the President felt that there is a need for a ‘paradigm shift’ in the way the scores are given. “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 financed by the MCC.
While acknowledging that the MCC Compact is a good thing for Liberia, the President said the paradigm shift is necessary for Liberia to gain the necessary experience and tutelage from the US, to enable his government successfully pass the scorecard next year – or at least improve. “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,” President Weah said.
“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 financed by the MCC.”George Manneh Weah, President, Republic of Liberia
The MCC Scorecard measures a country’s performance in three key areas: economic freedom, ruling justly, and investing in its people. Countries have to pass 10 of 20 indicators and must pass the Control of Corruption indicator to become eligible. Liberia passed the control of corruption indicator this year, but significant work is needed across government and the wider society regarding public perception of corruption.
The Passing, Failing Indicators
Out of 20 indicators, Liberia failed in 12 key areas and passed in 8 areas, including, two critical indicators – control of corruption and democratic rights.
To understand it simply, a country must pass the control of corruption and democratic rights in addition to passing half of the scorecards, as next-door Sierra Leone did.
The eight areas in which 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 in which 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.
Liberia has benefited immensely from the compact, since first qualifying in 2015, when it signed the first grant, which is now being used to support the energy sector, providing access to reliable and affordable electricity and building the foundation for the periodic maintenance of primary roads in the country.
In 2016, Liberia received a grant of US$257 million from the United States through the MCC to enhance its electricity and road projects. A total of 85% of the Compact funds have been committed in contracts, while 73% of total compact budget has been disbursed. The five-year compact is already into its halfway stage and intends to impact an estimated half a million Liberians before ending in 2021.
In this year’s scorecard, Liberia did show some promise, but not enough to warrant a passing mark and the current scorecard will not affect the country’s compact eligibility, which will be based on next year’s scorecard.
In order for Liberia to remain in the program, several factors have to come into play and the Weah-led government, in response to the below performance on the 2020 scorecard, has acknowledged that it is challenged to work to improve in a whole set of areas.
Gauging on past numbers, the administration is hopeful of making improvements. For example, last year Liberia passed inflation but failed Health Care Expenditure. This year Liberia failed inflation but passed Health care expenditure. The rise in inflation took Liberia above the median score of its peers. Passing the Healthcare spending this year keeps Liberia at 8 out of minimum 10 indicators needed to pass.
Must-Do List 1: The Task Force Approach
Love it – or hate it, the Sirleaf-led government knew how to play the international networks but the key reason why it was successful in passing the scorecard, year after year, was its ability to prepare.
In 2017, the last year, Liberia passed successfully, the country passing 10 of the 20 indicators on the 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.
US Ambassador Christine Elder, congratulating Sirleaf at the time, trumpeted the government’s strong commitment to reducing poverty through broad-based and sustainable economic growth.”
But more importantly, Sirleaf and her team put in the work which led to a successful score.
The most important asset for Sirleaf, was her administration’s emphasis on setting up a task force which met regularly to gauge how the government was faring in the key indicators serving as a prelude to a successful scorecard.
It was a point, Kateri Clement, Resident Country Director in Liberia for the MCC highlighted when Liberia achieved its 2017 success. “We also recognize the important efforts by the government to create a scorecard committee that works with government institutions on the indicators,” Clement said.
Must-Do List II: Learning from Failed Scores
Understanding the concept of the MCC is key for countries looking to get in – or maintain its grip. The MCC partnerships are usually goal-oriented in hopes of rewarding developing countries who are committed to good governance, economic freedom and investing in their citizens. The grants are designed to complement other U.S. and international development programs, as well as create an enabling environment for private sector investment.
For Liberia to improve its score in the next year, it will have to not only score at least ten out of the twenty indicators but also maintain or improve its position on – control of corruption and democratic rights.
Must-Do List III – Heed the Cautions
“To obtain a second compact, the board looks at the extent at which a country was able to deliver and have a high-quality implementation of the first compact. The board generally looks for improved performance on the scorecard over time as well. I’m here to engage with President Weah and his administration to review the progress that has been made to date and to take a look ahead at the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for the completion of the particular compact.”Jonathan Nash, the Chief Operating officer of MCC
The scorecards are usually preceded by innuendos, cautions and warnings. For example, in June this year, Jonathan Nash, the Chief Operating officer of MCC visited Liberia, held several meetings with top government officials during which the point was made abundantly clear what was needed from Liberia end to become successful on the scorecard.
At the time, Mr. Nash emphasized that if Liberia must regain another compact it must first perform on the upcoming scorecard.
Said Nash while in Monrovia in June 2018: “To obtain a second compact, the board looks at the extent at which a country was able to deliver and have a high-quality implementation of the first compact. The board generally looks for improved performance on the scorecard over time as well. I’m here to engage with President Weah and his administration to review the progress that has been made to date and to take a look ahead at the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for the completion of the particular compact.”
More than a year later, Liberia’s failure to adhere has resulted in the current predicament it now finds itself.
Mr. Nash’s warning went unheeded and now Liberia is in danger and staring down at the possibility of losing another compact.
A Liberian economist who asked to remain anonymous told FrontPageAfrica, “the government’s lackadaisical attitude and failure to ignore the warning signs about the ramifications of its policy action now threatens to disrupt its own much-publicized Pro-Poor Agenda, which heavily relies on international funding from donor countries.”
Must-Do List IV- Beyond Lip Service
For the Weah-led government to improve, diplomatic observers say, the government would have to back up its words with action. Perceptions of corruption and selective justice are likely to raise suspicions as donors and MCC assessors zero in on the lapses.
Issues of corruption in the judiciary and amongst elected and appointed officials often test the strength and effectiveness of the government’s anti-corruption laws, policies, institutions and public trust in the financial honesty of politicians.
While the administration has been making some headlines in attempts to go after officials of the former Sirleaf-led government, many have taken the government to task for not going after those accused under its watch.
In 2006, Sirleaf faced similar criticism when she chose to go after officials of the Gyude Bryant led government without tackling first the corruption in her own Government. For some, the Weah administration is following the identical path for Sirleaf.
Must-Do List V – Capitalize on the Opportunities
“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.”– Lenn Eugene Nagbe, Minister of Information
For the immediate future, the Weah administration has its work cut out to make adjustments, address its faults and deliberate on the windows of opportunities at its disposal.
On paper, Mr. Lenn Eugene Nagbe, Minister of Information, Culture Affairs and Tourism is confident that the government believes there are significant opportunities for Liberia to improve its MCC Scorecard performance for FY 2021.
Said Mr. Nagbe: “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.”
In particular, the minister says, Liberia is looking to pass the Gender in the Economy Indicator next year, especially with the passage of the Domestic Violence Law in August of 2019, which he says, 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.”
Additionally, he says, the country is also looking to make some improvements on the rule of law indicator, acknowledging that the country is just at the margin on this.
“Even on the World Bank’s ease of doing business indicator, the rule of law indicator shows no movement between last year and this year. The Government is working closely now with the Judiciary to resolve long-standing contract enforcement and rule of law issues as a way of improving the business climate.”
According to the Information Minister, the Chief Justice Francis Korkpor has taken the lead to resolve long-standing issues by setting up a panel of judges and experts to work with the Government and the Liberian Bar Association to deliver improvements in the country’s business and investment climate.
On the education expenditure where it scored low amongst the current indicators, the minister says, Liberia will push to pass the Education Expenditure Indicator next year and has increased government expenditure to the education sector over the past two years.
In addition to ensuring teachers not previously paid are put on the government payroll, the government says it has also increased teachers’ salaries over the past year and continues to make direct contributions to public and private schools and other education initiatives.
The government also says it is reviewing data quality to ensure the correct data is reported to the relevant third-party institution so that Liberia’s score for the Government expenditure on education reflects the Government’s actual spending and commitment to the education sector.
Must-Do List VI – Avoid the Unexpected
On paper, the government through its acknowledgement of some lapses which caused it to fail the 2020 MCC scorecard, appears ready to do what is required. In most instances, however, as has been the case, in the past year and a half, unforeseen circumstances and occurrences have a way of interrupting the norms.
In the past year alone, there have been several protests over the government’s failure to pay salaries, the closure of Roots FM and attempts to silence its owner, Henry Costa and the government’s refusal to keep broadcast journalist Patrick Honnah and the Punch FM off the air, despite the station and its owner, having filed, completed and fulfilled all that it was required to get its station on the air, are all instances that fall under the rule of law and democratic rights, likely to pose issues for the administration in the not too distance future.
Must-Do List VII – The Ultimate Sacrifice
“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.– George Manneh Weah, President of Liberia, pleads with U.S. Government over Liberia’s poor performance in the Mellinnium Challenge Compact
Realizing that it is on the threshold in several indicators, requiring policy action, the Weah-led government says it is keen to improve Liberia’s MCC Scorecard in those areas where it came up short. But where it gets a bit tricky, is the implementation stage. How far is the government willing to go and how much of a sacrifice is it willing to make?
Diplomatic observers say, the administration’s acknowledgment that the MCC scorecard is crucial for securing a Compact to contribute to the country’s economic growth – and ensuring the success of the Government’s Pro-Poor agenda, could mark a step in the right direction. In the final analysis, however, it all could boil down to avoiding the shortcuts President Weah may be seeking to improve his country’s score.
As the President said Friday: “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.”
That effort, some say would require a lot of sacrifices.
It is a sacrifice, President Weah appears to suggest, he may be willing to make while pleading for a level playing field.
The President said, “America is our partner and we need to feel the presence of America in this country. We need to see your companies that made you a great country, we need to see them here. If it means that we will get all American companies in this country for Liberia to succeed then we will do it. But we must be fair with each other, we must work together for the benefit of our both countries.”
All of this is coming at the time when Liberia is about to enter IMF program with multiple prior actions and subsequent performance benchmarks to meet.