How Will World Bank’s US$40 Million Grant Address Limp Progress on Governance Reform?

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World Bank Country Director Larisa Leshchenko spoke in generalities on Tuesday, November 22 when she addressed the media on the Bank’s US$40 million grant for governance reform in Liberia.

She touched on many subjects which the grant targets. Among them is, yes, governance reform. But she included quite a few other issues, among them the government’s policy efforts to adjust the “twin shocks” of the Ebola crisis and the slump in commodity prices, especially rubber and iron ore.

The grant is designed “to strengthen governance,” she said, “with particular emphasis on transparency and accountability as well as budget execution and oversight. It will address key constraints to growth, including electricity, and improve human capacity development, particularly through improved access to education and health.”

The grant will also help create a more transparent government, limit corruption and raise the confidence of citizens and investors.

Madam Leshchenko also spoke of support within the next three to five years “towards engaging with various stakeholders, including media, to get inputs.”

Errol Graham, the Bank’s program leader, added that the grant “will also strengthen weak infrastructure, which is critical for achieving inclusive growth in Liberia.”

Well, that is a whole lot that this US$40 million grant is attempting to help accomplish. The question is, what will be its key focus? Is it governance? Is it transparency and accountability? Is it strengthening media? How?

Everyone knows that the Liberian media have many, many constraints, including the availability and high cost of newsprint and bond paper, equipment, such as printing machinery, computers, cameras and transmitters to widen radio and television coverage. Since Madam Leshchenko mentioned “media to get inputs,” we would like to know what she really meant.

We raise these questions in order to understand what exactly will be the main focus of this grant. What exactly is it that the grant is intended to fix?

In Gbarnga, Bong County two weeks ago, the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA), held an important two-day forum to engage the media in helping to promote decentralization of GOL services. The MIA also craved media support toward the passage through the Legislature of the Governance Reform Act, which has already obtained Representatives and is awaiting Senate concurrence. But it is unclear how the MIA and GOL could be empowered to meet these challenges. The huge GOL indebtedness to media and the serious difficulties media face in getting various GOL Ministries and Agencies and surprisingly several NGOs to pay the media were among the issues raised by journalists during the Gbarnga forum.

Madam Leshchenko did not mention how this US$40 million grant will impact the actual governance reform agenda, including decentralization and the devolution of power, which seems to have taken a back seat recently in the whole governance process.

We say that because as recently as November 14, 2016 President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf appointed a number of lower ranking county officials, including assistant superintendents, city mayors and district commissioners. These local government appointments, we submit, lie at the heart of the whole governance reform exercise—the devolution of power from the President to the people. Is the US$40 million grant intended to address that? How?

That is why we say that the World Bank Country Director spoke in generalities. The question remains, what will be the grant’s main focus? Is it fisheries? Is it finalizing the actual governance challenge, the devolution of power and decentralization?

Or is it electricity and addressing the “twin shocks” of Ebola and fall in commodity prices? How?

What particularly is this huge sum of money intended to accomplish? Is there any hope that the media might benefit in any way from it?

We pause for answers.

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