Re­build­ing Liberia

Finweek English Edition - - INSIDE - BY LAMEEZ OMARJEE ed­i­to­rial@fin­

De­spite the past chal­lenges fac­ing the war-torn state, the im­pact of lower com­mod­ity pr i ces a nd t he l oss of de­vel­op­ment gains by the deadly Ebola out­break, Pres­i­dent Ellen John­son Sir­leaf de­scribes Liberia as a well-en­dowed coun­try.

Speak­ing at t he Johannesburg Cham­ber of Com­merce and In­dus­try on 11 June, Sir­leaf, who be­came the f i rst fe­male demo­crat­i­cally elected head of state on the con­ti­nent in 2006, pro­moted Liberia’s nat­u­ral re­sources as in­vest­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties. The min­ing, agri­cul­ture, forestry and marine sec­tors all have po­ten­tial for growth, she says. “We’ve been tr ying to build on the strength of our nat­u­ral re­sources… and that en­dow­ment is still there.”

Liberia’s ge­og­ra­phy sup­ports its at­trac­tive­ness for in­vest­ment. The f low of goods across in­ter­na­tional mar­kets is made easy via sea­ports along its 579km shore­line, ex­plains Ge­orge Wis­ner, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Na­tional In­vest­ment Com­mis­sion ( NIC). Op­por­tu­ni­ties to de­velop in­fra­struc­ture of air­port fa­cil­i­ties gives Liberia a com­par­a­tive ad­van­tage over neigh­bour­ing coun­tries as it is in close prox­im­ity to Latin and North Amer­ica, and Europe and the Mid­dle East, says Wis­ner.

The long-term Vi­sion 2030 plan for trans­for­ma­tion will see Liberia be­come a mid­dle-in­come coun­try. This would in­clude ad­dress­ing its long-stand­ing in­fras­truc­tural prob­lems, says Sir­leaf. In the past, the coun­try did not have the di­ver­sity to with­stand eco­nomic shocks and the largest con­straint to achiev­ing di­ver­sity has been the lack of in­fras­truc­tural de­vel­op­ment, she says. One of the is­sues that will be ad­dressed within the next 18 to 22 months is the need for energy re­sources in­clud­ing re­new­able energy such as so­lar and hy­dro­elec­tric­ity.

“We be­lieve that we are now on the road to re­cov­ery and we can use the ex­pe­ri­ence of the past to achieve the di­ver­sity and trans­for­ma­tion goals,” says Sir­leaf. Through the ef­fec­tive use of

re­sources and part­ner­ships for fi­nanc­ing, the coun­try can ad­dress poverty and en­sure sus­tain­able eco­nomic growth, she adds.

If in­vestors take ad­van­tage of the “huge po­ten­tial” that ex­ists in Liberia, it will ben­e­fit job cre­ation, says the coun­try’s f i nance min­is­ter Amara Kon­neh.

Liberia has in­cen­tivised in­vestors by mak­ing the en­vi­ron­ment con­ducive for busi­ness, he says. The ef­fi­ciency of the en­vi­ron­ment en­sures that it takes 10 days to register a busi­ness, he ex­plains. “We also have an at­trac­tive per­cent­age in our rev­enue growth for in­vestors,” he adds. The NIC al­lows easy repa­tri­a­tion of profit, mak­ing it easy for in­vest­ment to grow, says Wis­ner. “In­vestors find it easy to in­vest and find it easy to get prof­its.

“The big­gest guar­an­tee we have is the sta­bil­ity in the coun­try, which we have demon­strated in the past two elec­tion cy­cles. Our coun­try is on an ir­re­versible path to sus­tain growth and de­vel­op­ment,” says Kon­neh.

It will be ideal if in­vestors “set up shop” in Liberia, adds Kon­neh. “We want to make our econ­omy a three-ship econ­omy. Right now we are only one ship.”

Liberia’s ma­jor trade part­ners are Europe and China. There is a trade def icit be­tween Liberia and South Africa. Past ef­forts to es­tab­lish trade part­ner­ships be­tween the two coun­tries failed, but there are still hopes to es­tab­lish busi­ness part­ner­ships with South African en­ti­ties, says Sir­leaf. MTN is the best­known lo­cal com­pany with oper­a­tions in Liberia.

A woman stands in front of her mar­ket stall selling var­i­ous grains in the Liberian cap­i­tal Mon­rovia.

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