The standard bearer of the Movement for Economic Empowerment (MOVEE), Dr. J. Mills Jones, has told officials of the Prince George’s County Economic Development Corporation in Maryland, United States that Liberia’s development must be driven by a strong private sector, with Liberian entrepreneurs playing a significant role.
“There is no alternative, if Liberia is to build a thriving middle class and a more inclusive socio-political system,” Dr. Jones said.
He made the statement when he assessed models and strategies of several Economic Development Corporations during his recent visit to the United States for future business partnerships with Liberia.
Economic Development Corporations are successful public and private partnership bodies that are focused on growing and diversifying the economy of their respective states and counties, while enhancing their unique natural and cultural environments in the United States. They are catalysts for creating vibrant economies that are sustainable and globally competitive. They are also rich resources for entrepreneurs considering sites for new enterprise, as well as for existing business owners exploring relocation or expansion outside their borders.
Jones said that he was prepared to face this challenge by developing a framework for financing and nurturing sustainable Liberian-owned businesses, which has been a consistent view of Dr. Jones’, which many believe is a distinguishing aspect of his presidential race.
Dr. Jones discussed the possibility of health care and infrastructure investment in Liberia, considering the need to go beyond looking only to the government to develop these areas; trade shows to promote made in Liberia products; and for Liberia to begin to focus on expanding exports, not just looking at rubber and iron ore. He said he wants business mentoring and internship opportunities for young Liberian professionals.
Dr. Jones stressed that an economic model that does not pay sufficient attention to the youthful population will limit the potential of the country.
He said he sees the possibility for private firms and the government working in partnership to improve vocational and technical education, even some aspects of tertiary education, to develop the workforce needed for a diversified economy.
Dr. Jones said the Private Sector Development Authority will also revisit the Investment Incentive Code of Liberia to make it a more dynamic tool for promoting investment and develop policies that will encourage Liberians in the Diaspora to save and invest in Liberia, including through Diaspora Bonds. Another area of attention for this authority, Dr. Jones said, will be to actively encourage foreign direct investment to help develop the manufacturing sector, including giving consideration to the establishment of Special Economic Zones.
Dr. Jones’ economic plan also includes working with other shareholders to recapitalize the Liberia Bank for Development and Investment (LBDI) to help the bank return in a meaningful way to its original mandate to finance investment and the development of a capital market, work which saw considerable progress in that direction while he served as Executive Governor of the Central Bank of Liberia.
The MOVEE political leader said that Liberia’s financial landscape will also be improved by deepening the market for treasury bills/bonds. It can also be recalled that while serving as Executive Governor of the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL), Dr. Jones spearheaded the work leading to the sale of treasury bills. Dr. Jones emphasized that in short, the Movement for Economic Empowerment is committed to a private sector development program that will be built on public/private partnership to help speed up the process of Liberia’s economic growth and development.
“In the view of the Movement for Economic Empowerment, Liberia needs a leadership that will hit the ground running when it comes to the all-important issue of strengthening the country’s economy,” Dr. Jones asserted.
“We must do more than having the government promise to direct 25 percent of its annual purchasing to Liberian businesses, which even now is yet to be done. We cannot continue with plenty talk with little action. That is why change is necessary.”
In his conversations with officials of several Economic Development Corporations in the United States, Dr. Jones said the Liberian economy is not a zero-sum game, meaning that both domestic and foreign investors can work together for the good of the economy.
In this connection, Dr. Jones repeated his intention to establish an informal Private Sector Development Advisory Council that will meet with the president at periodic intervals, comprising both Liberian and foreign entrepreneurs because “economic history shows that foreign investment can be a force for good.”
During the meeting, Dr. Jones also made the point that the war on corruption, which he intends to pursue vigorously, was not only needed to protect the government of Liberia’s finances, but also to help create a better environment for business, including minimizing the risk to capital.
Dr. Jones said “when people put money into a business, they should expect a transparent and predictable environment because too many regulations and too many discretionary powers help create uncertainty; as well as room for corruption to flourish.” This is an aspect of the corruption issue not generally discussed, but is important for supporting the private sector as the engine of economic growth and development, he added.
He said while he explores best practices and models for establishing a Private Sector Development Authority, he will continue discussions with such institutions abroad, while being aware of the need to tailor policies and strategies to the domestic circumstances.
It may be recalled that in a speech to students at Cuttington University, Dr. Jones, as part of his plan to inject new vigour into the private sector, stated his intention to change the National Investment Commission into a Private Sector Development Authority that will be more focused on fostering an enabling environment for both Liberian and foreign investments, promoting women and youth entrepreneurship, brokering of finance, and work readiness and training, among others.