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Liberia Agrees to International Anti-Corruption Oversight

Liberia's transitional government has agreed to allow international organizations to oversee the country's future financial deals as part of the government's anti-corruption campaign. The move allays concern in Liberia that the international community will disengage from Liberia after elections.

Liberian Information Minister William Allen said Wednesday that the transitional government had signed an anti-corruption document as part of a financial assistance plan for the country.

The plan known as GEMAP will also give international officials the power to supervise how the government's revenue is collected and how major projects are financed.

The interim government, led by Chairman Gyude Bryant, has been accused of rampant corruption and Mr. Bryant reportedly refused to sign the financial assistance plan at first. He has denied any wrongdoing and says his government has been working for the welfare of the people.

The new plan ties international assistance to good government management. Mr. Allen said that the anti-corruption text will be renegotiated after 36 months, but will affect the new government which will be elected on October 11.

A representative from the World Bank's West Africa office, Mats Karlsson, said that the plan is innovative and allows international supervision of government contracts in areas such as customs and maritime resources.

"We are agreeing on an arrangement that would create a situation where we [become] partners to Liberia's transformation and future would be working with the sovereign government of Liberia to make sure that funds are used properly," he said.

Mr. Karlsson said the Liberian Central Bank would be subject to international oversight, similar to that in other countries evolving out of conflict, or newly independent nations.

The plan relieves some of the fears that Liberia could slide back into civil war if corruption is not dealt with. The poorly developed country has vast resources of diamonds and timber, squandered by generations of leaders through endemic corruption.

A recent report on Liberia by the Brussels-based research center, the International Crisis Group, advocates international involvement in revenue collection. The head of its Africa program, Baldo Suleiman, says that is the only way to be sure money in state coffers will go towards development.

"The international community has been pushing for a government and economic assistance program which calls for the transparency and for the takeover of the collection of revenue of the state by international actors like the United Nations."

The International Crisis Group report also stated there was room for optimism in the country devastated by more than a decade of civil war. The report said that elections were on track and refugees continue to return home. It recommended that the new government reform the Liberian judicial system and take measures to decentralize power as soon as it was elected.

A writer and researcher on Liberia at the Leiden Africa Studies Center in the Netherlands, Stephen Ellis, says that even a model president will not be able to ensure stability in the country by himself. Mr. Ellis says the United Nations must not scale down its operation after elections.

"The international community would be making a big mistake in my view, if they regard a successful election on the 11th of October as being a signal that the U.N mission can start to draw down, and that Liberia is well on the way to solving its own problems. It all needs to be looked at in a much longer time frame," Mr. Ellis said.

The U.N. mission in Liberia, with approximately 15,000 peacekeepers, is one of the world's largest. The United Nations has been in charge of demobilizing and disarming former combatants and is helping the government with security for the October elections.

Liberia's last elections in 1997, in which Charles Taylor won the presidency, did not bring peace to Liberia. Civil war resumed and continued until 2003 when Charles Taylor was forced into exile.