An African Development Bank (AfDB) Group delegation, led by its vice president, Joseph Eichenberger, last week participated in the 2008 Liberia Poverty Reduction Forum hosted by the German Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development in Berlin. The objective of the meeting was to present the country’s recently published 2008-2011 Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS) in order to solicit support from development partners. The PRS is a follow-up to the Interim Poverty Reduction Paper (I-PRSP) for 2007 which was jointly supported by the AfDB and the World Bank through a joint interim strategy document. Under the PRS, support from the Bank is mainly in the areas of water supply and sanitation infrastructure as well as budget support. The Liberian delegation to the forum was led by the country’s president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, with the participation of key government officials and members of the donor community supporting Liberia’s social and economic development such as the United States, the United Nations system, the IMF, the World Bank, the EU, DFID, Sweden, Norway, Japan and France, among others. Liberia reengaged with the Bank Group after the clearance of some $240 million in arrears in December 2007 after nearly two decades of sanctions.
Speaking during the event, AfDB’s vice president Joseph Eichenberger, said the presentation of the country’s PRS was an opportunity for the AfDB and Liberia to express their shared commitment to achieve a common purpose. He noted that the AfDB’s common purpose with the Liberian people goes back many years. He recalled that the Bank Group’s charter was drafted at the Monrovia Conference in 1961. Two decades of tragedy, he said, had obscured and damaged that common purpose, but could not destroy it and the event offered both parties the opportunity to reaffirm their faith and confidence in a future of peace, dignity and shared prosperity for the Liberian people.
He pointed out that the poverty reduction strategy admirably captured both the immensity of the challenge and the common purpose with which it could be overcome, adding that it was hugely ambitious, but appropriately so.
"… one cannot read the PRS without appreciating that it is grounded in a fundamental humanity. Its anchor is the aspirations and inherent promise of the Liberian people. It presents the core challenges in their essential human context, and it sets objectives that are ultimately about redeeming human promise. In a genre that is all too often technocratic and remote, this document stands out. We hear in it the voices of the people: clear, strong and hopeful. The government deserves real credit for the enormous efforts that no doubt went into this. A new and higher standard has been set, from which all of us can learn. What the Liberian people have asked for is what each of us would have asked for-- nothing more. We must, together, do everything we can to help them achieve it," he stressed.
Mr. Eichenberger explained that the country’s poverty reduction strategy had a special significance for all Liberia’s partners. "This means building systematically on what we have started, and intensifying our efforts everywhere we can," he said. For the African Development Bank, he said, " a quarter-century of arrears have been cleared and relations normalized, thanks to the generosity of many partners and the credibility of Liberia’s program and vision; we have created a new pool of funds, the Fragile States Facility, which will provide Liberia with substantially more resources than available to it through our regular allocation mechanisms; we are committed to reducing the many obstacles and transaction costs imposed by our own procedures, and we look forward to your ideas on how to get this done; we will be focusing our support on infrastructure - particularly water supply and sanitation - and on strengthening the institutions needed for capable and accountable public administration, including through direct budget support."
It should be recalled that Liberia played a critical role in the establishment of AfDB Group, with Dr. Romeo A. Horton of Liberia (1923 – 2005) playing a leading role in the entire process.