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Liberian Official Says Debt Relief Would Make Rebuilding Easier

Finance Minister Augustine Ngaufuan says this week's $4.6 billion debt relief package should not be seen as panacea for Liberia's post-war problems

Liberia’s finance minister said this week’s decision by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to grant Liberia a $4.6 billion debt reduction should not be seen as a cure for all of the country’s post-war problems.

But Augustine Ngaufuan said the debt relief would make more resources available for Liberia to rebuild its broken roads and electricity supply system as well as expand its health care and education programs.

map of Liberia
map of Liberia

The finance minister said President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s government will continue its policy of fiscal discipline.

“In 2006 when the government of Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf took over, we inherited, as a legacy of the past, a very huge debt burden of a little over $5 billion in terms of external and internal debt. And because of acceding to the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries initiative, the HIPC initiative and instituting and implementing reforms, we’ve gained the confidence of the international community and we’ve reached the HIPC completion point meaning about $4.6 billion of our debt has been waved,” he said.

In a joint statement earlier this week, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund praised Liberia for successfully implementing a poverty reduction strategy and maintaining a stable macroeconomic environment, despite the global economic crisis.

Minister Ngaufuan cautioned Liberians against expecting too much from the debt relief.

“Let me sound a caveat here because we don’t want to create an expectation gap in our populace. This is not a panacea to our problems. This doesn’t mean that the next morning milk and honey is going to flow on Broad Street. What it means is that we are now within what is called debt sustainability threshold giving Liberia the opportunity to go and take loans that we intend to use principally for infrastructure,” Ngaufuan said.

He said Liberia will use the new resources it will acquire from the debt relief to help rebuild its poor roads network as well as its ports which he said are in need of repair.

“You know roads are a catalyst to development. They connect people and reduce transportation fares. We also intend to use that on ports because now the two functional ports are the ports of Buchanan and Monrovia,” he said.

Ngaufuan rejects the suggestion that the new resources from the debt relief initiative would encourage more correction in Liberia.

He said the government of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has done more to fight corruption than any other Liberian government.

“If you look at the amount of measures that this government has taken, no government in the history of this country has done so. Firstly we strengthened, for the first time ever, an Anti-Corruption Commission that is now investigating corruption; we strengthened and made autonomous an auditing commission that is coming out with all these reports. We have brought transparency to the extractive industry, and because of that, Liberia is the only country in Africa that has been deemed as EITI (Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative) compliant,” he said.

Although President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has declared war on corruption since coming to power five years ago, her critics say corruption has become more rampant because of the government’s inability to successfully prosecute those officials who have been accused of corruption.

Finance Minister Ngaufuan said President Sirleaf recently asked the country’s judicial branch to expedite corruption cases.

“Firstly, let me say that we don’t have a dictatorial government. Those years when we had the imperial presidency are over. We have an independent judiciary. The president just cut ribbon for a new court, and as part of her statement she asked for a fast-track court to try corruption. We hope that the Chief Justice will move forward on that because no matter your intention, you cannot make anybody guilty,” Ngaufuan said.