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Liberia's Anti-Corruption Push Gets UN Help


The United Nations successfully re-established security in Liberia, and now as Liberia's new president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, aggressively pushes an anti-corruption agenda, the peacekeeping mission is trying to help with overall recovery. VOA's Nico Colombant recently met with Jordan Ryan, the U.N.'s new Deputy Special Representative for recovery and governance in Monrovia, Liberia.

U.N. peacekeeping missions are best known for deploying amid conflict and then disarming former fighters.

While some missions have a difficult time doing this - such as in the Democratic Republic of Congo or in Ivory Coast - in Liberia, the mission was successful in ending 25 years of conflict and turbulence.

Even in cases of security success, mission officials often regret they cannot do more economically. But in Liberia, which has a small population and rich natural resources, there is optimism. A new president is boldly tackling corruption and promising to help the poor.

Jordan Ryan, an American who was a U.N. resident coordinator in Vietnam during its economic boom, agrees with both priorities. "Liberia is a very limited national economy now. Its GNP [Gross National Product, which measures the total dollar value of all final goods and services produced for consumption in society during a particular time period] is something in the range of $80 million, not very much money when you think of it," Ryan told VOA, "and to have any of it leak out or go for corrupt purposes takes it away from that poorest, poorest child.

"And far too many children here still go to bed hungry, their parents, unemployed, unlikely to have a job," he continued. "So unless there is a total change in the way the economy works and a committed effort as there seems to be from the new president to make life different, we think that that plight of the poor will not change. But we are optimistic now with the new government in here, with the generosity of donors from around the world, we hope with the continued strong presence of the United Nations that ensures stability and focuses on the poor, that this country will have a new chance."

The United Nations mission is taking the lead in initiatives such as the Governance Economic Management Assistance Program, known as GEMAP. This will place international supervisors throughout ministries and lucrative sites, but Ryan says Liberians themselves have to bring about prosperity through diligent work and smart management.

"It's not waiting for a handout, it's taking your hands, your own hands and taking charge of development," he explained, "and we think that model of self-reliance, that model of people being empowered to have a better opportunity for the future is the right model. It's worked in Asia, we think it can work very well here in Africa, and we were delighted with the emphasis that the president put in her inaugural address on that: 'It's time for us recognize that we're not poor, we're rich and that we have our own responsibilities.' But also you need in a sense a regeneration of the mindset so that the recovery is a self recovery and a growth, and self-reliance."

During the Cold War, Liberia's first non-Americo-Liberian leader, former coup leader Samuel Doe, received massive American aid, but ordinary Liberians saw no benefit. Instead, social services began their steady decline, leading to the current dismal state of almost no roads, schools and hospitals, and no electricity or piped water.

Ryan likes the new cabinet Mrs. Sirleaf is assembling. He believes her administration will be much more efficient than previous ones. "Clearly, it seems that she has a good balance: men and women, different ethnic groups, a number that have very good educational formation, some of them trained in the United States, some of them worked at the World Bank," he said, "so we will be very excited about working with the new team."

Some of the things for the new team to accomplish include getting U.N. sanctions lifted on diamonds and timber. They will also revisit concession contracts that mortgage much of Liberia's resources to foreign companies for very little.

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