Signaling Around the Post Ebola Recovery in Liberia

Mobile cinema in LiberiaBy: Marvin Tarawally, Winter Resident, Washington DC

Confronted with a finite budget and faced with harsh socio-economic realities, the government of Liberia and its international partners are at a crossroads as the Ebola outbreak is brought under control. Recently, the Liberian government reported that 12 counties (out of an affected 15) have reported zero cases for the past 21 days. The evidence shows that the efforts to combat the deadly Ebola Virus, by both the Liberian government, the Center for Disease Control, the World Health Organization, and other partners, have yielded substantial positive results.

Recently, the Center for Global Development convened a forum to discuss “Liberia after Ebola” at its Washington D.C headquarters. With a diverse group of key officials and international partners- including U.S Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Liberian Minister of Public Works, Gyude Moore- the discussion centered on outlining a new road map for the post Ebola economic recovery as the outbreak is brought under control. Senator Flake remarked, “we can’t allow Ebola to lay waste the progress that the West African nations have made over the past decade of rebuilding out of brutal civil wars.” However, progress in these countries had already been stymied by corruption, lack of human capital and basic infrastructure, and a glaring lack of accountability. According to Francisco H.G. Ferreira, the World Bank’s Chief Economist for the Africa Region, who was also a panelist, the Ebola crisis has cost the affected countries 2 billion in lost revenue (long term). For Liberians, this means economic and social hardships which are a recipe for potential sociopolitical discontent.

The Liberian Minister of Public Works, Gyude Moore, pushed for more accountability within the international aid system. He noted that the government of Liberia is contracting with PwC to conduct an audit of Ebola monies received and disbursed by the government of Liberia and urged the donor community to follow suit. This resonates with conversations the Accountability Lab has been listening to in the tea shops of Monrovia, which reflect a real desire among the population for transparency in spending on the Ebola response. It also points to deficiencies in local institutions such as the General Auditing Commission, which have been formed for just such a purpose. The hefty fees paid to such international firms could provide a critical boost to underfunded budgets such as teachers’ salaries, for example.

The Minister also highlighted the government’s plan to reopen schools next month and the symbolic significance of this action. Undoubtedly, having students out of school for a year is a major loss to Liberia’s rebuilding efforts. Capacities could have been developed in this period to reduce the country’s human capital deficit that is a clear hindrance to economic development.  But this is not simply an act of reopening schools- it is a signal to the Liberian people and the rest of the world that the country is returning to some semblance of functionality, with important signals for the private sector, donors, the diaspora and other groups who need to be engaged in Liberia. There are, however, significant logistical questions that at this stage that the government does not appear to have answered.

This moment is pivotal. The recovery in Liberia, as Minister Moore and Senator Flake noted, has to be long-term and efforts should empower local people to sustain developmental gains. This approach will ensure that the optimism of the government and its international partners translates into continuing prosperity for the Liberian people. The Accountability Lab, through its youth empowerment efforts and citizen-centric grassroots approach aims to ensure that the present moment is not another lost opportunity for Liberia.

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Making power-holders accountable in the developing world

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