Global Policy Forum

Liberia Joins Global Transparency Plan,


By Alphonso Toweh

July 18, 2007

Liberia has joined a global campaign to clean up natural resource industries and will extend it beyond minerals to cover the timber trade that helped fund its civil war, the African Development Bank said on Wednesday. The West African country, led by Harvard-trained economist Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, is reviving its resource-dependent economy after 14 years of on-off fighting that ended in 2003.

Then British Prime Minister Tony Blair announced the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative in 2002 to maximise the benefits from natural resources, especially to developing countries in Africa where diamonds and other riches have fuelled years of conflict. The African Development Bank said in a statement it would support the programme "to ensure that Liberia's natural resources -- mines, forests, and potentially oil -- are used in the interests of the people rather than to enrich individuals. "This will be done through the publication of all payments made by mining, petroleum and forestry companies to government and government personnel. Payment and revenue information will be reconciled by an independent administrator and will undergo external audits," it said.

In Liberia, after years of political repression under autocratic coup-leader President Samuel Doe, escaped prisoner Charles Taylor launched a civil war in 1989, using revenues from timber exports to fund his armed campaign. Elected president in 1997, Taylor was forced into exile by a new rebellion six years later. He is now on trial in The Hague for his role in an intertwined civil war in Sierra Leone, where investigators have said rebels notorious for chopping off civilians' hands and feet sold diamonds via Liberia in exchange for guns.

Liberia, once the world's fifth biggest exporter of iron ore, is working hard to revive a mining industry that ground to a virtual halt during the war years. Johnson-Sirleaf renegotiated a $1 billion iron ore mining deal with top steel maker Arcelor Mittal late last year, securing $100,000 more than a deal initially signed by an interim post-war administration condemned as riven with graft.

The U.N. Security Council lifted a wartime ban on Liberia's timber exports last year and ended a similar ban on diamond sales in April, paving the way for a resource-led revival. Former World Bank economist Johnson-Sirleaf has declared corruption "public enemy number one" and travelled the world drumming up donor support for relief from Liberia's crippling foreign debts and for her economic and social programmes.

But the campaign for better governance has been a tough task in the hornets' nest of Liberian politics shot through with divided loyalties and ill-feeling left over by years of bloodshed that killed almost one in 10 of the country's people. The auditor general, who is paid by the international community, said last month the 2007/2008 draft budget left millions of dollars unaccounted for, and accused Johnson-Sirleaf's government of being "3.2 times more corrupt" than its predecessor. The government denies this.

More Information on the Security Council
More Information on Liberia
More Information on Timber in Conflict
More Information on The Dark Side of Natural Resources


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