Anti-Graft Plan Endorsed to Cheers From World Donors
September 15, 2005

Liberia's transitional government has endorsed a far-reaching and controversial plan to combat graft that includes placing outsiders in key administrative positions over the next three years.

This week's signing of the so-called Governance and Economic Management Assistance Programme (GEMAP), despite resistance from some Liberian leaders, was widely welcomed at a press conference held by the country's international partners late on Wednesday.

"The US welcomes the signing of the GEMAP and we intend to ensure that the revenue of Liberia is captured for the people of Liberia and to ensure the funds get expended correctly," said US Ambassador to Liberia, Donald Booth.

Under the approved GEMAP document, special positions for foreign financial experts will be created in the Central Bank and five main revenue generating agencies: the National Port Authority, the Forestry Agency, the Bureau of Maritime Affairs, Robertsfield International Airport and the Petroleum Refining Corporation.

Representatives of the World Bank and European Union also welcomed the adoption of GEMAP but were quick to make assurances that the programme would not impinge the national sovereignty of Liberia.

"[GEMAP is] an assistance programme, and Liberia is a sovereign country," said Christopher Gabelle of the EU.

Only on the make-up of the judiciary was an original GEMAP proposal tamed. Proposals to bring foreign judges into Liberian courts were scrapped from the approved programme.

GEMAP was endorsed with the signature of the chairman of the transitional government, Gyude Bryant, over the weekend after donors warned that non-approval of the anti-corruption deal could threaten millions of dollars of promised aid.

After 14 years of civil war, restoring mains electricity, running water and rebuilding roads and bridges among other tasks, will be impossible without international backing.

Bryant approved GEMAP, which is now valid for an initial period of 36 months, while bound for the UN General Assembly in New York where he will make an address on Friday.

With presidential and legislative elections due on 11 October, the incoming elected government of Liberia will have to abide by the terms of GEMAP for the first three years in office.

Front-runner for the top job, international football legend George Weah, has repeatedly stated that he would support any measures that combat "fiscal disparity".

However, other contenders have been less supportive. Veteran Liberian politician, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, previously expressed concerns over sovereignty under such a programme.

Johnson-Sirleaf and other contenders for the presidency have yet to comment on the contents of the approved GEMAP document.

While GEMAP is in place, the Executive Director of the Bank of Liberia will be obliged to have all operational and financial matters co-signed by a "suitable international expert" selected by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Heads of the five government agencies will similarly have to pass all decisions through a non-Liberian counterpart with co-signatory powers.

During its lifetime an Economic Governance Steering Committee (EGSC), chaired by the Liberian head of state, will oversee the implementation of GEMAP.

The Committee's deputy will be a representative of one of Liberia's development partners.

The African Union, the regional economic body ECOWAS, the IMF, World Bank and UN will also have representation on the Committee.

Most Liberians, tired of war and corrupt leaders, welcomed the scheme to bring foreign watchdogs into government.

"We welcome the news that the GEMAP has been signed," said Theophillus Saway a government employee of 20 years. "This will stop those heartless government officials and their families from stealing our country's money and enriching themselves at our expense."