— Financial expert critiques donor support to Liberia
A financial analyst says donor funds to Liberia amounting to US$612 million exclusively for agriculture between 2012 and 2019, to improve food security in Liberia and to reduce poverty in the lives of smallholder farmers, has not shown any sustainable impact.
J. Yanqui Zaza, a financial expert who works for the New York State as a Certified Public Accountant, draws his findings and analysis from the Liberia Citizens’ Budget, an annual financial document that is published by the Government of Liberia every year. The annual document shows the progression of funds earmarked for various sectors by the Government of Liberia and its international partners and spent on various development projects.
According to Zaza the US$612 million mentioned during the stipulated period was contributed by partners including the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), International Development Association (IDA), and the African Development Bank (AfDB), specifically to support agriculture.
“It is unfortunate that the money spent does not actually reflect the current realities of agriculture activities. Where are the achievements of the various projects implemented by NGOs to get the country food-secure? Today, we are still importing our staple food in huge quantities. Even the vegetables that can be produced in Liberia are still coming from neighboring countries in bulk. Why can’t we export food right now? Many ex-combatants who should have gained employment in agriculture are still languishing in abject poverty,” Zaza argued.
“Is there any evidence of rice farm, cassava farm, or coffee farm, to support the claims that the former President utilized funds received from partners?” he wondered.
He said that portion of the 2012 report spelled out that the Sirleaf administration spent US$85 million for agriculture and did not review the results. However, the following year, another US$85 million was approved, which he described as a bad management practice.
“Where are the results of the US$85 million spent in 2012, for example? Did former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the winner of the Mo Ibrahim Prize for African Leadership who won the US$5 million award, review reasons why the US$85 million has no results in 2012, before approving [another] US$85 million allocated for agriculture in 2013?
Zaza however said the Liberian citizens’ budget documents did not make a distinction between loans, donations or grants.
“Officials should have provided clarification since grants also can be loans. This is important because low interest loans can be classified as grants; nevertheless, this is debt, which has to be repaid,” he stated.
According to Zaza, the poor outcomes of agriculture funding derived from the activities of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the agricultural sector.
Zaza recalled that as it was done in Rwanda, where the government instituted measures for the operation of NGOs, it is important that the Government of Liberia applies similar measures and, if any NGO fails to comply, the same be denied registration renewal.
He also lamented on the roles of members of the Legislature who are responsible to ratify projects before implementation.
“The lawmakers must ensure their oversight responsibility to ensure the sucess of projects if we are to trasform the economy through agriculture,” he said.
Zaza further said while it is true that the government may not have enough resources to stimulate agriculture, the mismanagement of funds for agriculture — or any sector, for that matter — is something that should be taken seriously.
“It is true that the government does not have the resources, but it can reject international nongovernmental organizations’ (INGOs) registrations or deny renewal of registrations as it has been instituted by the Rwandan government,” he said.
In September this year, the Government of Liberia, through the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning, launched the National Aid & NGO Policy of Liberia (NAPL), accompanied by a unique reporting tool – the Liberia Project Dashboard (LPD).
A basic query on the Dashboard shows that between FY2013/14 and FY2019/20, out of a planned US$558.4 million earmarked for Liberia’s agriculture sector, only US$309.7 million (55.4 percent) in sector funding was disbursed. The Dashboard provides a list of various agricultural project interventions by the funding agencies named and the dollar amounts committed.
Zaza further said that in addition to the US$612 million agricultural funding from 2012 to 2019, another was the US$30 million ADA Rice Project in Lofa County which, he stated, was mismanaged under the Sirleaf administration.
The US$30 million project was one of the interventions of the late Lybian leader, Muammar Gaddafi, as part of his vision to liberate Africa. This project took place during the first term of the Sirleaf administration.
“But to its credit,” Zaza noted, “the Lofa Project bought equipment, leased the farmland, and employed former combatants, though this project was not part of the US$612 million donor funding.”
Meanwhile, Zaza has called on the government to reform external audit procedures that require INGOs seeking government projects to publish their financial statements and require evaluation reports and recommendations.
He also said that the report should include stakeholders of nongovernmental institutions that can help to select INGOs for any donor funding as well as prepare comprehensive reports and increase the number of pages from 15 to 65 pages, since limited information does not help management and or third parties to prepare an authentic report or reliable audit.
The Daily Observer contacted Kwame Clement, USAID Liberia Communications Director via email to ascertain the level of funding by the United States Government to support agriculture in Liberia and how it has sustainably impacted the lives of smallholder farmers during the Sirleaf administration. Since our communication was sent, Mr. Clement has not responded, up to the publication of this story.
USAID is one of the partners that supported Liberia’s agriculture from 2012-2016 through the Feed the Future Food and Enterprise Development Program (FED), a five-year, US$75 million project aimed at assisting smallholder farmers in four food value chains including rice, cassava, vegetables and goats. The Project also aimed to build the capacities of several institutions to enhance food and nutrition security in Liberia. Even though the project made some significant contributions, there are reports that the intervention was not sustainable.
According to a former government official from the Sirleaf administration, who asked not to be named, the agriculture sector was volatile as a result of the civil war and, without donor support, it could not have been rejuvenated.
“I do not have access to the report. But for someone to say that donor funds for agriculture did not show any impact, it must be compared with the growth in the agriculture sector to authenticate the facts. You can look at the various growth rates, given the context in which the report talks about,” the former official said.
“The money spent by government to support agriculture was not only used to increase food production, but it was used to also build infrastructures like roads and processing facilities,” the former official added.
The former official further said that most of the interventions made were to rejuvenate the sector — the first phase — were done during the first term of the Sirleaf administration, which ended in 2011. In the second phase, interventions were made on the foundation of the first phase, “to reach a place of actual recovery.”
“The key issue of donor funding is coordination to make sure that the right things are done. But this country was definitely going through a tough time. So it has been the contribution of partners that have moved the sector forward,” the former official explained.
“Without the NGOs, we could not have reached where we are. However, NGO projects have a life span, which is something from which the government has learned a lesson. But those partners who used to give us money can no longer do so because they are also going through problems,” the former official said.
Agriculture contributes to about 37 percent of Liberia’s estimated annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The growth of the agricultural sector in 2016/2017 was about 6 percent according to the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL). The World Bank 2020 report puts the annual growth rate of agriculture at around three percent. Though, the Ebola and COVID-19 pandemic contribute somehow to the decline in the growth rate it is far below the Malabo Declaration for Food and Nutrition Security annual growth for agriculture, which requires 10 percent budgetary allotment for agriculture by African governments in order to achieve at least six percent growth annually.