Might MCC Bend Rules for Liberia?

Members of the delegation with U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham(center) include Monrovia City Mayor Jefferson T. Koijee, Ambassador George Patten, Minister of State Nathaniel McGill, Finance Minister Samuel D. Tweah, Jr., Information Minister Ledgerhood J. Rennie, and Abdul Hafiz Koroma.

-- U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham promises to rally support for Liberia’s second MCC bid, in spite of the country’s sub-par performance 3 years in a row

Influential U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham has committed to rallying his congressional colleagues of the Republican Party to sign a “Letter of Support” for Liberia’s second bid of the coveted Compact Program under the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), a dispatch from a high-level Liberian government delegation to Washington, DC has said. 

The MCC Development Assistance is a U.S. government foreign aid program that provides beneficiary countries time-bound grants which are targeted at ensuring economic growth, reducing poverty and strengthening governmental institutions. 

The investments of the MCC do not only support a country’s stability and prosperity, but also enhance American Interests. Liberia has already benefited from the MCC Assistance and Investments that led to about US$257 million having been spent on the rebuilding of the country’s war-ravaged electricity grid.

According to the dispatch, the Senator from South Carolina, during the meeting with the Liberian Government delegation, committed to work with his colleagues to get Liberia a second shot at benefiting from the MCC Strategic Assistance Program.

“I‘ll do a letter in support of Liberia’s Bid and have my Republican Colleagues sign up on to it in favor of your country,” Senator Graham said. 

Currently serving his fourth term, Senator Lindsey Graham is currently a ranking member of the Budget Committee and also serves the U.S. Congress Committee on Appropriations and Judiciary. He is regarded by many as a person whose voice is weighty in determining the direction of the U.S. Government's International development assistance.

The hustle for a deal

Amid a series of daunting political and economic challenges over the past four years, the Weah Administration appears to have combed heaven and earth in a bid to locate and secure funding for this road infrastructure agenda. 

During the early months of the Administration, it can be recalled, the infamous financing deals proffered by two companies, ETON (believed to be from Singapore) and EBOMAF (believed to be from Niger), met stiff resistance from all angles including the public, the Legislature and the political opposition, citing concerns that those companies either could not be credibly identified and or the terms they were offering were not transparent. 

One of the requirements for the deals to go through, especially the ETON Fiance arrangement, was that of a “sovereign guarantee” -- the commitment of a national asset to act as collateral. Through both deals, which were slightly under US$500 million each, President Weah aimed to get a head start in proving himself as a pro-development leader. Yet, even when those deals did not materialize, he embarked on a series of much smaller road projects, dubbing himself the “Bad Road Medicine”. 

Millennium Challenge Compact

Just like the MCC compact with Liberia, which entered into force on January 20, 2016 and ended at midnight January 20, 2021, all MCC compacts have a fixed 5-year life span, ending on the fifth anniversary after the entry into force of a Compact. 

At the closure of the compact earlier this year, the Chief Executive Officer of the Millennium Challenge Account-Liberia (MCA-L), Monie R. Captan, clarified that MCC compacts are five-year agreements through which the United States provides grants to partner countries to support programs to reduce poverty through economic growth.

According to him, the MCC might grant a second five-year compact or even a concurrent regional compact to eligible countries once it has reviewed a country’s performance on its first compact and determined that it has satisfactorily passed its scorecard. Regarding the just ended compact implementation, Mr. Captan said MCA-L was producing its compact completion report that will be shared with the Government of Liberia and other stakeholders.

He said once a country is deemed eligible by MCC, it enters into a period of compact development, which can take up to two years. After the compact development phase and the approval of a compact program, MCC and the beneficiary country will enter into negotiations leading to another signed five-year compact. 

Liberia’s eligibility for a second compact, Captan continued, will depend on its performance on subsequent MCC scorecards and a performance evaluation on the implementation of the initial compact. During the year 2020, Liberia improved its scorecard performance by passing 9 out of 20 indicators, compared to 8 out of 20 indicators in the previous year. If Liberia’s performance continues to improve, eligibility for a second compact is possible since a country needs to pass 10 out of 20 indicators. 

Every year each MCC candidate country receives a scorecard assessing performance in three policy categories: Ruling Justly, Investing in People, and Encouraging Economic Freedom. In its FY2021 scorecard, Liberia failed to reach the threshold, passing only nine out of 20 indicators. The highest marks this time were earned in the Ruling Justly category (5 out of 6 indicators passed), followed by Economic freedom (3 out of 8 indicators passed). Liberia performed poorly in the category Investing in People, passing in only 1 out of 6 indicators.  During FY2018, FY2017, and FY2016, Liberia did achieve the threshold of 10 out of 20 indicators passed.

US$500M if approved

Finance and Development Planning Minister Samuel D Tweah Jr., as part of the Liberian Government's delegation, had earlier made the country's case to Senator Graham, seeking his support, while also citing the close historical ties that exist between both nations and Liberia's work with the U.S. at bilateral and multilateral institutions to garner technical and financial support for Liberia's Economic recovery.

“We ran a very successful MCC Program inherited from the previous administration and are seeking your support to get us back on the MCC Compact for a second program,” the Minister said. The Weah Administration hopes to use the MCC grant, which could be around US$500 million if finally approved, to fund its ambitious road and infrastructure development drive under the national development roadmap -- the Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development. 

The Minister of State for Presidential Affairs, Nathaniel F. Mcgill, who heads the delegation, apprised Congressman Graham of the delegation's overall mission to Washington, noting that they are exploring greater opportunities with the Biden Administration, including U.S. Lawmakers, and also Corporate Policy Makers that could positively enhance Liberia’s visibility in the U.S. political, corporate and social arenas.

“We are messengers of President Weah, whose government represents the poor people of Liberia and believe we must bring our message and agenda to the United States for attention and assistance for our country that was founded by freed slaves from here,” he said.

Continuing, Minister McGill informed the Senator that “Next year, we [Liberia] celebrate 200 years since the first batch of the freed slaves from the U.S. settled in Liberia leading to the founding of the Republic. There has to be a massive U.S. involvement in celebrating this bicentennial.”  The Minister then formally extended an invitation, which Senator Graham immediately accepted and committed to being in Monrovia when the bicentennial is launched during the first quarter of 2022.

“I want to come when it is winter here [US] and dry out there. It might be around February or March” the Congressman said. The U.S. Senator has also promised to be a voice among his congressional colleagues to promote the bicentennial.  The Liberian delegation is expected to also meet Senior Biden Administration Officials and Democratic and Republican  Congressmen in the coming days to garner bipartisan support for Liberia's development efforts and Bicentennial commemoration. 

Members of the delegation include Monrovia City Mayor Jefferson T. Koijee, Ambassador George Patten, Minister of State Nathaniel McGill, Finance Minister Samuel D. Tweah, Jr., Information Minister Ledgerhood J. Rennie, and Abdul Hafiz Koroma.