During the year 2013, the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) under the governorship of Dr. Joseph Mills Jones continued the approach of advancing financial inclusion in Liberia through the support and engagement of microfinance institutions, community credit unions, and village savings and loan associations. CBL also continued the process of working with mass-based organizations to structure for their members, a financial credit union so that those members could also be gradually integrated into the formal financial system.
There were a number of new registrations of microfinance institutions, bringing the total number of registered institutions by year-end, to eighteen. However, distribution of offices in the political subdivisions of the country is still a challenge as most of these institutions are quartered in Montserrado County.
The Central Bank continued the active engagement of credit unions and village savings and loan associations (VSLAs) primarily because these are the two categories of institutions that serve the rural areas. The number of registered credit unions grew from 220 in 2012 to 350 by 2013 year-end, covering all fifteen counties.
CBL had been in discussions with the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) Micro Lead Program for technical assistance to the credit union sector in Liberia. Those discussions materialized in the form of an approved, 5-year project which commenced in 2013 and is being implemented by the World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU). Under that project, four regional professional credit unions are being constructed in Bomi, Nimba, Grand Gedeh and Grand Bassa counties.
On the VSLA front, CBL commenced the process of structuring a national apex for VSLAs in the country. Over 400 VSLAs have now been identified nationally and the Microfinance Unit of the CBL has completed the structures at the village, district, and county levels.
Elections of officers have been held at all three levels and the first VSLA national convention will be held in March, 2014, at which time elections for a national leadership will be conducted.
Improving the Regulatory Environment
Under a grant from the Alliance for Financial Inclusion, CBL undertook a project to update the Liberian National Strategy for Financial Inclusion which expired in 2013. The year-long project has engaged national stakeholders in focus group discussions in all of the counties. Under the project, CBL conducted for the first time in Liberia, a national baseline survey aimed at collecting financial inclusion data.
Both demand and supply-side data were collected. Results from the survey will inform future national policy decisions regarding financial inclusion initiatives in Liberia.
Significant strides continued to be made in exploring opportunities for expansion of mobile money in Liberia. During the year, CBL hosted a Landscape Assessment Mission which brought together the UN Capital Development Fund, USAID-GEMS, GSMA together with national stakeholders to assess the regulatory environment and identify the challenges and constraints faced in Liberia. Arising out of that assessment was the decision to consider changes in the current regulations. A concept of those changes has been developed and has been submitted to the CBL Board of Governors.
Creating opportunities for Access to Finance
During the course of the year, CBL continued to support initiatives intended to enhance job creation and improve general access to finance opportunities, particularly in rural Liberia. These initiatives are intended to enhance growth and economic development. The following economic intervention initiatives were continued:
- The CBL small/medium enterprise (SME) Credit Stimulus Initiative continued providing loans to Liberian-owned small businesses. By the end of the program in September, 2013, (September 2010-September, 2013) a total of 93 loans had been awarded in Margibi, Nimba and Montserrado counties, impacting industries including fisheries, petroleum, manufacturing, and agriculture, amongst others. Thirty-one of these loans were provided to women-owned businesses.
- The Loan Extension and Availability Facility (LEAF) continued during the year. The program was designed as a collateral-free soft loan program to non-bank financial institutions: microfinance institutions, credit unions, and village savings and loan associations. The intent of the program was to provide an opportunity of access to finance to the microfinance sector to stimulate economic activities in rural Liberia. The program commenced in January, 2012 and to date a total of L$400,000,000 million Liberian dollars have been allotted the program. By year-end, 2013, a total of L$340,000,000 of that amount had been disbursed throughout the nation’s fifteen counties to: 10 Microfinance institutions, 118 credit unions, and 345 village savings and loan associations. Women represented over 80% of beneficiaries under the program.
- The CBL Mortgage Stimulus Initiative provided for the first time in Liberia a facility allocated through a commercial bank for Liberians to get loans for homeownership. A total of 69 loans, totaling over US$2.6 million have been disbursed under the program.
- The CBL Agricultural Stimulus Initiative recognized that agriculture is the main driver of economic activities in rural Liberia. The US$7.5 million stimulus has a focus on the rehabilitation of preexisting farms with preference for investments requiring minimal gestation periods. The facility provides structured loans with consideration for the gestation period and is intended to impact rural Liberia. Over US$4.6 million and over L$65 million have been approved and disbursed within sectors such as rubber, cocoa, coffee, and oil palm, amongst others. A total of 12 counties have benefitted under this program.
- The CBL Credit Stimulus Initiative for Members of the Liberia Business Association (LIBA) is the second infusion of funds that provides access to finance for Liberian-owned businesses and is being implemented in conjunction with three commercial banks. A total of 38 loans have been approved under the program for over US$1.2 million and 32% of those loans have gone to women-owned businesses. A total of 6 counties have now benefitted under this program.
CBL Launches the Rural Community Finance Institution Project
In 2013, the Board of Governors of the Central Bank of Liberia approved the implementation plan for the establishment of Rural Community Finance Institutions in all of the political subdivisions of Liberia. The establishment of these Rural Community Finance Institutions is consistent with the Government’s focus on creating an inclusive financial environment through the delivery of financial services to the people of Liberia, based on the National Strategy for Financial Inclusion, adopted in 2009. Services to be provided by these Rural Community Institutions will include:
- savings mobilization
- checking accounts
- direct deposits
- money transfer services, including those of moneygram and western union
The mobilization of savings in the rural communities will also spur local investment and increase economic activity. Overtime, people in the rural areas will become more fully integrated into the traditional banking sector.
The Central Bank of Liberia has been working in conjunction with Afriland First Bank, which has significant experience in the establishment and operations of these institutions in the East African Region. Each Institution will be owned and operated by members of the community through a share/purchase arrangement. The first of these institutions: Gbehley-Geh Rural Community Finance Institution was opened in Karnplay, Nimba County, in December, 2013. Personal Honors for Dr. J. Mills Jones in 2013
In recognition of his unprecedented and bold steps in transforming the Liberian economy through the promotion of sound financial inclusion and access to credit strategies, the Executive Governor was honored by several organizations, both at home and abroad, during the year 2013.
The African Global Super Center, LLC in partnership with Cornerstone Consultancy International and African Women Entrepreneurship program based in the United States of America (USA) honored the Executive Governor of the Central Bank of Liberia for his invaluable services to Liberians. The program was held at the Crown Plaza in Reading, Pennsylvania, the USA, on Wednesday, the 2ndof October, 2013.
The citation of Honour to Dr. Jones was read by Mrs. Sylvia Litana Robertson, in which she stated that “the Liberian people and the world were overwhelmed by the enormous and unprecedented invaluable financial and technical support the Liberian society has received and continue to receive from the Central Bank of Liberia, under the visionary leadership of Dr. Joseph Mills Jones, in his capacity as Executive Governor:” Some of the reasons given for the honour by these organizations were:
- For bringing confidence to the banking sector of the country;
- For the high level of reputation the Bank continues to gain under his visionary leadership; and
- For financial inclusive in Liberia and support to Liberians youth and women in general.
In respond, Dr. Jones thanked the benefactors of the award. He accepted it with humility in the name of the Board of Governors, Management and Staff of the Bank and dedicated it to the new spirit of Liberian entrepreneurship.
The wordings on the certificate of honour presented, to Dr. Jones read: “In recognition of your unprecedented, invaluable, committed and dedicated services towards the empowerment of the Liberian people and strengthening of the Liberian economy through the practical demonstration of your indigenous approach to building Liberia’s economy.” The award was presented to Governor Jones by Mr. Vaughn D. Spencer, Mayor of Reading, Pennsylvania, USA.
On October 28, 2013, the Executive Governor of the Central Bank of Liberia, (CBL), Dr. Joseph Mills Jones was also honored by the Global Trade Leaders’ Club (GTLC), a promoter of the International Europe Award for Quality Services based in Spain. The honoring ceremony took place in the French capital, Paris. Mr. Crayton O. Duncan, the Chief of Staff of the Office of the Executive Governor received the Award on behalf of the Executive Governor. The inscription on the Award won was similar to that of the one won in Pennsylvania, USA. The GTLC said it was particularly overwhelmed by the enormous and unprecedented financial and technical support the Liberian economy has received from the CBL, under the governorship of Dr. Jones. The overarching objective of the Club is to promote trade exchanges and human relationships amongst businessmen and women all over the world, focusing specifically on large, small, and medium-size businesses. The GTLC is an association of leading businesses comprising more than 7,500 members from 95 countries around the world, all working in their respective services sectors.
On the home front, Dr. Jones received myriad honors for ushering in a new day for Liberian businessmen and women, and for creating the enabling environment for easy access to finance—no longer an issue.The acquisition of skills and knowledge through capacity-building are resulting milestones in the process of accelerating the growth and expansion of Liberian- owned businesses.
On June 29, 2013 while serving as the Guest Speaker at the 52nd Commencement Convocation of Cuttington University, his alma mater, Dr. Jones was awarded the Doctor of Humane Letters (L.H.D) HonorisCausa by the Board of Trustees and Faculty for his immense contributions to the growth and development of the Liberian economy. Thegesture was in recognition of a US$5 million loan that the CBL, under the governorship of Dr. Jones, made available through the banks for Liberian entrepreneurs, under the auspices of the Liberia Business Association (LIBA).The loan was intended to help small and medium-sized businesses grow and promote the manufacturing of local goods. The strategy intends to promote what is called “economic inclusion” by providing loans to rural market women and men through registered Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA) and credit unions, amongst others.
On September, 4, 2013, Dr. Jones was also honored by the National Council of Chiefs and Elders of Liberia (NALCCEL), stating: “With no regard to politics, we want to use this occasion to recognize your efforts in making finance accessible to the Liberian people and identifying with all Liberians, irrespective of status.
The chairman of the National Council of Chiefs & Elders of Liberia (NALCCEL), Chief ZanzanKawwor, described the Executive Governor as a people-centered governor. At a program held at the Liberia Crusaders for Peace Women and Children’s Village in Fendall, Montserrado County, the council further described the CBL’s loan schemes as people-driven initiatives. The wordings on the plaque presented Dr. Jones reads:“we honour this CBL boss to encourage him to do more of what he has started. We have not enjoyed our own country’s money under any governor of the CBL besides you. You deserve this honour.” In response, the CBL boss challenged his compatriots to attack the root causes of the nation’s problems and not their symptoms. Governor Jones explained that Liberia has the same land features as its neighbours; “yet we go across the borders to buy peppers. Why should we not empower our people?”
In recognition of his invaluable contributions in the fight against poverty, Dr J. Mills Jones, in December, 2013, received 3 separate honours inNimbaCounty. The first award came from the Nimba Youth Network who said that he was truly working in the interest of Liberian businesses. The Certificate of honour read: “In recognition of your unprecedented, invaluable, committed and dedicated services toward the empowerment of the Liberian people and the strengthening of the economy through the practical demonstration of your indigenous approach to building Liberia’s economy, we hereby award you this certificate of honour.”
Next came an award from the Transport Union, Nimba Charter, which revealed its extreme delight over the professional path the governor has chosen to trod. The Union’s boss recounted the enormous and unprecedented financial support to the economy from the CBL. Finally, the Rural Women Association (who gowned the Executive Government) made their move. With ‘ease of access to finance’ no longer an issue, they underscored the acquisition of skills and knowledge as a capacity-building block that made all the difference in the world.
In another traditional ceremony, the Executive Governor was gowned in Nimba County by the elders and chiefs and named “SayeTozaye.” (In the Mano vernacular, (Saye means: ‘first son’ and Tozaye means: ‘stay here.’) The sentiments conveyed appreciation and support for Dr. Jones’ leadership at the CBL and his vision of bringing Liberia to Liberians, through financial inclusion.
In response, Dr. Jones expressed gratitude to the people of Nimba and underscored that the CBL through its Board of Governors were committed to working for the sustainable transformation of the Liberian economy. Dr. Jones received all these awards when he travelled to the county to dedicate a newly constructed, rural finance institution in Karnplay, a provincial city in the county.
Among several student and youth groupings and associations that honored Dr. Jones during the year, the Coalition of Youth and Students of Liberia honored the Executive Governor, recognizing the progress the Bank, under Dr. Jones, continues to make despite several challenges. The group praised the Governor’s access to credit schemes, stressing the need for other national leaders and institutions to imitate the good examples of Dr. Jones in bringing to the war-torn country, sustainable and inclusive growth, and development.
For all of the above mentioned tremendous contributions to the Liberian economy, the Liberian Daily Observer has named Dr. J. Mills Jones Person of the Year 2013.