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Debt Relief Talks Top Sirleaf's Washington Agenda

For the past year, Liberia has been enjoying international support for its democratically elected leadership. But the country’s economy remains bogged down by an enormous, seemingly insurmountable debt burden stemming from more than two decades of war and dictatorial regimes. Advocacy Coordinator Debayani Kar of the Jubilee USA Network tells VOA English to Africa reporter Howard Lesser that President Sirleaf’s third visit to the United States in less than a year signals the key role she believes Washington can play to help Monrovia find a way out of paying for its turbulent past and building a secure future.

“Debt and these other economic issues that are in many ways controlled by the creditors point to why President Sirleaf needs to come here to negotiate. Prior to obtaining debt relief, the creditors are saying that first, the Liberian government needs to pay the back payments – the interests and penalties that accrued – from past regimes. And that is a very hefty sum of $1.5 billion. So roughly half the debt of Liberia today, which stands at $3.7 billion is these arrears, or these interest and penalties accumulated by the regimes of Samuel Doe and Charles Taylor, who were, of course, brutal and undemocratic leaders,” she said.

Debayani Kar estimates that with the current budget of the Liberian government running at about $76 million a year and a repayment rate of between $80 and $100 million per year, it will take Liberia forever to get back on its feet economically.

She says, “Right now, what the government of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has been servicing has been closer to sixty to one hundred thousand dollars a year. So by that calculation, if they continue to pay a hundred thousand dollars a year to their creditors, it would take thousands of years for them actually to pay off this debt, which is why we are saying it must be cancelled, and that must happen now.”

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