Liberia: Minnesota Loses Consulate Status

Ambassador Dee-Maxwell Saah Kemayah, Sr.

... GOL discloses plans to turn center into career and passport application center; Consulates in Italy, Israel, and two others given temporary Exemption from GOL’s Closure Mandate

After nearly a month of the abrupt closure of the Minnesota Consulate Center (MCC) that angered scores of Liberians in that state and others around the Midwest region of the United States, the Liberian government has disclosed that the center will now cease to exist.

The government, through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), said there are plans to turn the MCC into a career counseling center, as well as a passport application center, all of which are contingent on approval from the United States Department.

In a new plan announced on Monday, Foreign Minister D. Maxwell Kemayah disclosed that all consular services will cease in Minnesota but only passport applications where Liberians in that country can renew their passports.

“As you may know we are working to ensure the opening of our passport application center and will also turn that place into career counseling as it takes,” Kemayah said at the launch of the revised honorary consul regulations 2022 in Monrovia on Monday.

The government, through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs last month, relieved all of the country's honorary Consuls around the world from representing the government — closing all consulates  that would strain access to consular services — especially in areas that have a huge Liberian population like the US State of Minnesota.

This news was not well received by many Liberians as they expressed disgust over the move as the service center in Minnesota, which covers the Midwest region of the USA, including states such as Illinois, North, and South Dakota, where tens of thousands of Liberians, could be impacted negatively, reside. 

The consular office in Minnesota, the US state with one of the biggest Liberian populations, serves an estimated 35,000 individuals. However, the government has also made a few exemptions while reiterating that it has mandated all honorary consuls to with immediate effect cease all functions and operations.

Kemayah said the closure of all Liberian consulate offices is part of ongoing uncompromising reform efforts at the Ministry. Under the new regulations, he said honorary consul will serve for two years and their appointment would be subject to renewal.   

He added that the new regulations will allow the government to collect revenue from consulates that provide services for the central government as opposed to consul generals only collecting revenue to pay themselves, staff, and rent for premises.

"When I assumed the leadership of the ministry in 2020, I announced a number of reforms,” he said. “One of such reforms was to review the administrative regulations governing honorary consuls who were representing Liberia around the world.”

Honorary consuls, Kemayah disclosed, have not been remitting revenue to the government for several years and there was difficulty tracking their activities.

“Honorary Consuls will report every penny to the Government of Liberia Consolidated Account. Any embassy that does not remit government funds, the mission's head, or its finance director's rent or salary will not be processed,” he said.

However, the revised regulations have timelines for reporting as well as penalties for non-compliance with reporting requirements.

"It will allow for the creation of an up-to-date database and directory of honorary consuls,” he said. “It will also ensure that the country benefits from the services of successful applicants in line with the government's development agenda as well as providing tenures for honorary consuls."

Kemayah said, "We need money and this is an election year. We need money to develop roads and other things because we cannot continue to depend on our international partners. This is why we need to step up our game as a government."

He further noted that the revised regulations will also track individuals who are serving Liberia, and evaluate their performances and actions.

He said only the president or minister of foreign affairs can deem it necessary to issue a diplomatic passport to honorary consuls. The Minister disclosed that no Honorary Consul will be given a commission from revenue generated for the Liberian government.

"We are going to be more vigilant this year to ensure that every Liberian embassy follows the new regulations to ensure money collected from the missions is remitted to the government's consolidated account at the Central Bank of Liberia," said Kemayah. 

"It will track individuals who are serving Liberia, evaluate their performances through periodic reports to the Ministry, as well as match their words with actions."

He, however, expressed the hope that the new regulations will yield the necessary imperative dividends for Liberians.

Meanwhile, the government has said that honorary consuls serving in Italy, Israel, Argentina, and Greece are exempted from the cease-to-function order from the government.

The exemptions are a result of a three-month grace period given by the government to these consulates, due to ongoing maritime and other operations they are presently engaged in.

“These exemptions are meant to avoid disrupting the functions of the Liberia Maritime Commission, which could have implications on revenue generation,” the government said. 

It added that the launch of the new regulations, which provide additional clarity and also prescribe compliance systems to enable the country to benefit from the services of individuals who applied for the positions, is in fulfillment of the reform agenda of the current administration at the ministry.

“It will track individuals who are serving Liberia, evaluate their performance through periodic reports to the ministry as well as match their words with actions and allows for reactivation and strengthening of the Standing Committee to vet applications and bring on board other actors relevant to the approval process,” the government added.