Supporters of the proposed Economic Governance Action Plan for Liberia (EGAP) keep telling the rest of us that EGAP is neither a de facto trusteeship nor a serious challenge to the sovereignty of Liberia. The Analyst quoted the executive committee chairman of Liberia’s interim legislative assembly, Dr. El Mohammed Sheriff as dismissing “claims about EGAP being a proposal to subject Liberia to trusteeship as mere rumors” because “the issue of Liberia’s economic governance and action plan has nothing to do with Liberia’s sovereignty” (Analystnewspaper.com, 2005). And writing in the Daily Observer, former journalist Alex Redd asked, “Where do we draw the line of sovereignty, when our country has been invaded three times?… I also agree with the need to respect and preserve our sovereignty but as it now appears from personal experience over a decade, Liberia has not yet developed the full capacity and ability to cannibalize absolute sovereignty” (Liberian Observer.com, 2005). Drafters of EGAP also went to great length to include a clause in the Economic Plan that reads, “The EGAP has been developed jointly between the NTGL and its partners on the basis of full respect for the sovereignty of Liberia…” (EGAP, 2005).
In addition, two US-based Liberian groups, the Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas (ULAA) and the Movement for Political Reform in Liberia (MOP) dismiss concerns about Liberian sovereignty as irrelevant to the goals of EGAP. In a press statement MOP (2005) argues, “…if we can allow foreign soldiers to take over our national security without raising issue of sovereignty, then we must also be prepared to accommodate people from the outside in strengthening our judiciary, increasing our ability to generate and to efficiently manage our economy” And, in a similar press statement ULAA (2005) says, “ULAA views calls for the outright rejection of the plan based on the sovereignty argument as “paranoid nationalism” because “How can one argue sovereignty when the nation cannot feed itself nor provide its own security?” (The Perspective.org).
Of course, ULAA’s use of “paranoid nationalism“ to describe opponents of EGAP only shows the level of contempt or disdain with which MOP, ULAA, Redd, Sheriff, and other supporters of EGAP regard persons opposed to EGAP. The general argument of the proponents of EGAP seems to be that those Liberians who opposed EGAP either stand to gain politically or economically should the Plan not be implemented, or that they are just a bunch of “disingenuous” people who don’t care for the plight of the Liberian people. Yet several concerned Liberian groups, individuals, and organizations, including Dr. Amos Sawyer, former interim president of Liberia, presidential aspirant Dr. Marcus Dahn, the Liberian History, Education, and Development, Inc, (LIHEDE), and others think it will be a great blow to Liberian sovereignty and a serious mistake for Liberians to accept EGAP in its current form. Dr. Sawyer said, “It will be a sad thing were Liberia placed under the United Nations Trusteeship,” and called on the chairman of Liberia’s interim government “to convene a special conference involving all patriotic Liberians to discuss the future of their country so that it cannot be placed under UN Trusteeship” (Forum, 2005).
LIHEDE, in a statement released late June on behalf of a group of US-based former Liberian government officials, county associations, and nonprofit organizations, expressed concern about the legality of both the scope and implementation process of EGAP, and said “It seems odd that an Economic Plan intended to establish a system of good governance, fiscal responsibility, democracy, and political accountability and transparency in Liberia would opt for foreigners to run the courts and other public institutions of Liberia without any real efforts to solicit the direct input of Liberians or recruit qualified Liberian professionals at home and abroad in the design and implementation of the Plan” (Liberian times.com, 2005). And Dr. Dahn said calls to put Liberia under UN trusteeship is "unhealthy and lacks political sense” because "This is a strange political development for a sovereign nation to be governed and managed by other people," (Liberian Observer.com, 2005).
Generally, proponents of EGAP think the Plan provides the best option for controlling political corruption in Liberia and revitalizing the Liberian economy for sustainable national development. They also argue that potential for economic viability under EGAP outweighs any concerns for the sovereignty of Liberia. Conversely, opponents of EGAP consider the Plan as unnecessary infringements on the sovereignty of Liberia, in specific regard to violating the 1986 Constitution and other organic laws of Liberia. They also argue that if EGAP is necessary at all, it should not to be handed down to Liberians by foreigners, but that Liberians must have a direct say in the design and implementation of the Economic Action Plan, including the recruitment of qualified Liberians at home and abroad to take control of and implement EGAP, instead of entrusting the future of Liberia in the care of foreigner nationals.
Interestingly, both proponents and opponents of EGAP have each advanced such valid points that someone had suggested the best option is for EGAP to be tested before the Liberian people in a national referendum. But it seems unlikely that EGAP would be tested in a national referendum, given the desire of the drafters of EGAP to have it implemented immediately. The EGAP document states, “The implementation of this Action Plan will be immediate and will be monitored by the Implementation Monitoring Committee (IMC)…The active participation of the Liberian Government in implementation of this ‘Liberian Economic Governance Plan’ is a sine qua non” (EGAP 2005). So what exactly is EGAP and what good is it to Liberia? Is EGAP a form of trusteeship and does it infringe upon the sovereignty of Liberia?
To me, EGAP is definitely a form of trusteeship and it does infringe upon the sovereignty of Liberia by assigning to itself administrative functions and authority that run afoul of the 1986 Constitution and other organic laws of Liberia. The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language (2000) defines “trusteeship” as the “Administration of a territory by a country or countries so commissioned by the United Nations.” EGAP is the brainchild of the so-called Contact Group on Liberia—the UN, ECOWAS, African Union, European Union, the IMF, and the World Bank—which together wields not only political and diplomatic influence in Liberia, but also stands to exercise total control of Liberia’s financial resources, including revenue collection, spending, procurement, budgetary allocations and disbursements and travel expenditure. The EGAP technical teams assigned at the Finance Ministry and other government ministries and agencies would also exercise exclusive or near monopoly powers over the generation and direction of primary policy and administrative documents except for final approval rights to be retained by each cabinet minister, while foreign nationals on the supervisory committee of the EGAP would have veto power over the president of Liberia on financial and other administrative issues, as each member of the committee has the right to veto the action of the other.
The EGAP basically focuses on six broad areas of the Liberian economy, including 1) Securing Liberia's Revenue Base; 2) Improving Budgeting and Expenditure Management; 3) Improving procurement practices and granting of concessions’ 4) Establishing Effective Judicial Processes to Control Corruption; 5) Supporting Key Institutions, and 6) Capacity Building. Five of these six areas deal exclusively with management of the Liberian economy by foreign nationals, while the sixth area mandates that foreign nationals serve as judges in Liberian courts. However, in order to legally assume these roles, the foreign nationals would have to assume the necessary statutory power, authority, functions and responsibilities of any number of Liberian government ministries and agencies such as Finance, Commerce, the National Port Authority, the Roberts International Airport, and other such revenue generating agencies of Liberia. But can foreigners assume functions constitutionally and legislatively assigned to Liberians without violating the Constitution and other organic laws of Liberia? The answer is a resounding “NO.”
Articles 65-74 of the Liberian Constitution (1986) make it illegal for foreigners to serve as judges in Liberian courts. Article 69 in particular states: “The judges of subordinate courts of record shall, with the consent of the Senate, be appointed and commissioned by the President, provided that any person so appointed shall be: [a.] a citizen of Liberia and of good moral character; and [b.] an Attorney-at-Law whom has practiced for at least 3 years, or a counselor of the Supreme Court Bar.” This means that EGAP cannot legally hire foreign nationals as judges in Liberian courts unless the Liberian constitution is amended. And Articles 91 and 92 specify conditions for amending the Liberian constitution, which are not attainable under EGAP. Article 91, for instance, states: ”This Constitution may be amended whenever a proposal by either (1) two-thirds of the membership of both Houses of the Legislature or (2) a petition submitted to the Legislature, by not fewer than 10,000 citizens which receives the concurrence of two-thirds of the membership of both Houses of the Legislature, is ratified by two-thirds of the registered voters, voting in a referendum conducted by the Elections Commission not sooner than one year after the action of the Legislature” (1986 Liberian Constitution). Therefore, if EGAP is implemented without the necessary constitutional amendments, then EGAP is by default infringing on the sovereignty of Liberia.
Notwithstanding, some supporters of EGAP have argued that the Accra Comprehensive Peace Agreement on Liberia (ACPA) gives legal validity to EGAP, but not so. Article XXXV of the ACPA (Special Provisions) makes legal allowance only for the establishment and smooth running of the current transitional government of Liberia, as it makes clear in Section XXXV-d that “All other provisions of the 1986 Constitution of the Republic of Liberia shall remain in force” and in XXXV-e that “All suspended provisions of the Constitution, Statutes and other laws of Liberia, affected as a result of this Agreement, shall be deemed to be restored with the inauguration of the elected Government by January 2006. All legal obligations of the transitional government shall be inherited by the elected government.” This means that EGAP cannot legally change the provisions of the ACAP prior to the October 2005 elections simply to award contracts and concessions that could constrain the development priorities of the newly elected Liberian government.
In addition, the EGAP has no legal basis to hire foreign nationals as judges in Liberia. Article XXVII –1 of the ACPA states specifically, “The Judiciary shall be the third organ of the NTGL. Its structure shall remain unchanged.” The legal validity of EGAP also becomes dubious if we consider Article XXXIII of the ACAP (Role Of The International Community) which states, “The Parties call on ECOWAS, the UN, the African Union and the International Contact Group on Liberia (ICGL), to use their good offices and best efforts to ensure that the spirit and content of this Peace Agreement are implemented in good faith and with integrity by the Parties.” Article XXXIII requests the international contact group to ensure that the peace agreement governing the make up and activities of the transitional government to be implemented in “good faith and with integrity by the Parties (LURD, MODEL, NPP, and Political Parties)” and nothing more. There is nothing in these provisions of the ACAP that gives the Contact Group the right to take economic actions that would bind Liberia beyond the two-year lifespan of the ACAP and the transitional government of Liberia.
Rationale Given for EGAP
The drafters and supporters of EGAP cite current waves of corruption in Liberia as rational for EGAP. The EGAP document says, “Financial malfeasance, lack of transparency, and an absence of accountability are undermining the scrupulous implementation of the ACPA,“ while key supporter ULAA says, “Unbridled corruption and mismanagement have continued to bedevil the country since its founding.” The MOP also says, “news of unending corruption in this interim government shows that the only people who are benefiting from Mr. Bryant's so-called sovereignty are those in high places who are looting the limited resources.” Assemblyman Sheriff then argues, “This action plan [EGAP] is to help partnership with Liberia in safeguarding against corruption in public offices that will once again make the country to experience set back in its infrastructure development” (LiberianObserver.com). I think these are legitimate concerns but they are outside the scope of the ACAP from which EGAP professes to draw its authority. The mandate of ACAP is not that of an anti-corruption squad, but a technical agency designed to help the transitional government restore peace, stability, and normal economic activity to Liberia after 14 years of civil war.
The drafters of EGAP even admit in the Plan document the “Transitional Government’s record in certain areas has shown improvement since its installation…it has centralized revenues which has permitted it to pay regularly civil servant salaries…it has provided financial support to the National Electoral Commission and the DDRR exercise…it has authorized audits of the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) and five state owned enterprises,” yet the EGAP still thinks “ broad-based weak fiscal management which has perpetuated systemic and endemic corruption” are good justifications to extend the mandate of the ACAP and have the EGAP takeover effective economic governance activities in Liberia. But how so, and where does the EGAP derive its authority? Article XXIX of the ACPA (International Assistance) spells out clearly the role of the international Contact Group in the implementation of the ACPA. Article XXIX-4 states, “The Parties also agree on the need for ECOWAS, in collaboration with the UN, AU and International Community, to organize periodic donor conferences for resource mobilization for post-conflict rehabilitation and reconstruction in Liberia.” Were resources mobilized for the rehabilitation and reconstruction of post-conflict Liberia as envisaged under the ACPA?
Again, the answer a resounding “NO” if we take at face value EGAP’s justifications for potential takeover of the Liberian economy that “after more than eighteen months of intensive technical and policy advice and financial support” by highly-paid international managers, consultants, and monitors, Liberia still needs a robust economic recovery program. Certainly, Liberia does need a robust economic plan because basic social services such as electricity and water are yet to be restored under the transitional government these international monitors have been advising for nearly two years. But does EGAP have to extent the mandate of the ACPA beyond the original two-year transitional period and takeover the statutory functions of the Liberian government in such crucial areas as “revenue, expenditure, procurement, new contracts and concessions,” for the economic plan to be valid? Why is it necessary for “immediate implementation by the NTGL and subsequent adherence by any future Government of Liberia” of the EGAP? Why can’t the new elected government that emerges out of the October 2005 elections implement the EGAP?
Article XXIX-3 of the ACPA states in part, “The Parties agree on the need for regular joint meetings between this Implementation Monitoring Committee and representatives of the NTGL, in order to assess implementation of the provisions of this Agreement” yet the chairman of Liberia’s transitional government has not only publicly opposed EGAP, but has also threatened to resign if EGAP is imposed on Liberia. The EGAP document even states, ”Liberian civil society representatives shall be informed by the [Contact] Group of the content of this “resolution” [about EGAP]. The document also says, “They [civil society representatives] will be requested to assist the Group in ensuring the scrupulous implementation of the Action Plan, whenever they can play a role…[as] An important aspect of this role will be to inform the presidential and legislative aspirants of the crucial importance of adopting the principles and technical aspects of the Action Plan.” So which part of XXIX-3 of the ACPA was applied if Liberian civil society, political parties, and presidential candidates were not consulted in the drafting of EGAP? How can EGAP be in “partnership” with the transitional government when the head of the transitional government is weary of EGAP?
Moreover, the EGAP document assures “EGAP has been developed jointly between the NTGL and its partners on the basis of full respect for the sovereignty of Liberia” yet the same document says “The implementation of this Action Plan will be immediate” and that “outside judges must be brought in to return the rule of law to Liberia,” as if the problems in Liberia were not political and economic but judicial. But more to the point, how can foreign nationals exercise the constitutional powers of the President of Liberia, the Liberian Judiciary, and the statutory responsibilities of Liberian government ministries and agencies under the EGAP while the EGAP is still purporting to fully “respect” the sovereignty of Liberia? I think a mere assurance of “full respect for the sovereignty of Liberia” means nothing when the Plan is specific about functions that directly violate the Liberian Constitution regarding judicial appointments, the exercise of executive powers, and the overseeing of ministries and agencies in Liberia.
Article XXVI-7 of the ACPA does not give the UN, ECOWAS, African Union, the IMF, and the World Bank the statutory authority to assign foreign nationals either to serve as judges in Liberian courts or to exercise approval powers over Liberian revenue and other financial resources but rather to provide “technical support and assistance” to Liberian ministries and agencies in their daily operations. Moreover, EGAP is neither a panacea nor a permanent solution for Liberia’s myriad socio-economic and political problems. EGAP is at best a temporary measure aimed at facilitating fiscal management and accountability in Liberia, as opposed to facilitating needed political and social reforms and infrastructual development in Liberia. In fact, the very involvement of the IMF and the World Bank in the design and implementation of EGAP makes the case more pressing for the Plan to be scrutinized because these institutions are in business to make profit and not to provide charity (see my research report IMF Assessment & Development Priorities in Liberia http://limany.org/nggbe1.html).
As long as foreigners will enjoy judicial and executive powers under EGAP, with direct control of Liberia’s revenue collection and spending, government procurements, concessionary agreements and other contracts, and every other stream of economic flow in Liberia, EGAP is a de facto trusteeship and not a partnership. And granted that Liberia is the senior partner based on sovereignty, no “partnerships” either in business or government would permit a junior partner to exercise veto power and oversight responsibility over the senior partner. So it is difficult to talk about “full respect for the sovereignty of Liberia” when a foreign national under EGAP will retain the right to veto certain policy decisions of the president of Liberia. Besides, the key problems in Liberia right now are not judicial reforms, with or without foreigners as judges, but an urgent and compelling need for the restoration of basic social services such as electricity, pipe-borne water, and primary healthcare facilities, as well as the reconstruction of road networks, schools, housing, and other permanent development projects. Yet these were not priority to the drafters of EGAP. The EGAP document says the “targeting [of] national revenues and expenditures, will be accompanied by a plan to enable medium-term planning for poverty reduction and capacity building.” So if “a plan to enable medium-term planning for poverty reduction and capacity building” in Liberia are not ready, why is it necessary for implementation of EGAP to take “immediate” effect?
I believe that EGAP has such potential to violate the constitution and related organic laws of Liberia that any Liberian who has qualms with the Plan should be able to express his or her views without being held in contempt by groups like ULAA, MOP, and so forth. I do not think there is anything “disingenuous” or “paranoid” about concerned Liberians demanding of drafters of EGAP to explain the urgency of their Plan. The same group behind EGAP has worked with the transitional government for nearly two years without much success. So what couldn’t be done in 18 months that can now be done in three months for which Liberia should surrender its sovereignty? Or is the EGAP a scheme to maintain foreign control of the Liberian economy for the foreseeable future? These are basic questions about the EGAP for which I need answers. Therefore, I am opposed to EGAP for what it is structurally and legally, and not for whatever socio-economic and fiscal management problems it proposes to solve in Liberia.
I hold the view that no level of foreign intervention or assistance to Liberia will solve the basic social, economic, and political problems of Liberia. Liberians must take the initiative and leadership responsibility to bring about lasting peace, unity, and development in Liberia. The EGAP cannot be substituted for the responsibility of Liberians to develop their own country, as mere extension of the ACAP will do the country no good. The ACAP was meant as a temporary two-year, confidence-building effort intended to restore peace to Liberia after 14 years of civil war, and not as an effort to permanently reconfigure the Liberian judiciary and other socio-economic institutions of Liberia. The mandate of the ACPA will expire in a few months just as a new national leadership is being elected, so I do not see the relevance of EGAP to the ACPA. The new government should be permitted to implement its policy goals, without being hamstrung by the goals of EGAP. I do not think Liberia should submit to a de facto trusteeship or surrender its sovereignty to outsiders under such haphazard arrangement like EGAP. If EGAP is really in the interest of Liberia, Liberians must be fully involved in its design and implementation and not foreigners. The implementation of EGAP must also not be rushed through before the October elections to permit the new Liberian government after January 2006 to review the Plan.
Mr. Gbessagee is a former director of public affairs in the Liberian Ministry of Information, Culture & Tourism. He is Executive Editor/Senior Writer with Galarea Communications and Secretary-General of LIHEDE. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.