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Monday, 12 July 2010 13:14

U.S. Agency Commits U.S.$15 Million for Land, Education and Trade Reforms

By Boakai Fofana

ellen_johnsonMONROVIA, Liberia, July 12 (AllAfrica) — The Liberian government signed a grant agreement with the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), awarding U.S.$15 million to the country for what is called a threshold program grant.

 

The MCC is an independent U.S. government agency that assists countries deemed to be effectively pursuing economic and political reform. It provides grants to countries demonstrating a commitment to good governance, economic freedom and investments in their citizens. The grant for Liberia is for a three-year 'threshold program' focused on land rights and access, girls' primary education and trade policy.

 

"These areas represent key constraints to economic growth, identified by Liberians themselves as part of their own national development strategy," said Cassandra Butts, MCC senior advisor. She said the U.S. and Liberia partner on a number of fronts, including promoting democracy and good governance, and she thanked President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf for supporting the program, calling the Liberian leader "a beacon of optimism for Liberians and a model of progress for all Africa."

Through the threshold program, the MCC provides limited support to countries that are on course to meeting its stringent eligibility criteria, which are required to qualify for the next level of assistance, a five-year, large-scale compact.

The MCC signing event, which took place at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Monrovia, was graced by a large U.S congressional delegation, most of whom looked delighted to be part of the occasion.

The chairman of the U.S. House Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health, Donald Payne (Democract-New Jersey), who spoke on behalf of the delegation, congratulated Johnson Sirleaf and the people of Liberia for meeting the "strict criteria which warrants the threshold agreement," and he highlighted the importance of the specific areas the grant money covers.

The delegation includes members of the House Democracy Partnership, chaired by Rep. David Price (Democrat-NC), which supports the development of democratic governments around the world.

Since the end of Liberia's civil war in 2003, land disputes have been a source of ongoing tension with worrisome potential to disrupt post-conflict peace. Payne welcomed the Liberian government's decision to prioritize land rights and access, warning that "until the land issue is resolved, we cannot have real true development."

Payne also endorsed the importance of girls' education and cited the president's fervent commitment to female education, quipping that Johnson Sirleaf told him girls in Liberia are now saying to the boys: "Don't tell me what to do, our president is a woman."

The U.S ambassador to Liberia, Linda Thomas Greenfield, admonished the Sirleaf administration to press forward with the MCC program towards the Compact stage, where she said the "true reward comes to those countries that actually cross the threshold."

She cited the case of Ghana, Liberia's west African neighbor, which is receiving U.S. $547 million from the MCC. "It's that kind of money that could make a real difference. It could build miles of roads, bring electricity to thousands of people, and make a real difference in the lives of so many Liberians," she said.

Out of the 19 MCC compacts signed to date, 12 are with African countries.

ellen_johnsonThe ambassador acknowledged that the path to an MCC Compact is not easy, stressing that the MCC's byword is "accountability." She said the threshold program reflects U.S. confidence in and commitment to all that Liberia has achieved in five years. "Liberia now enjoys a free press, opened political debate, transparent budget, and ever-improving management of natural resources," she said.

For her part, Johnson Sirleaf thanked the congressional delegation for coming to Liberia and the Obama administration for continuing the MCC program, which was created by the United States Congress in January 2004 at the urging of former U.S. President George W. Bush.

She reiterated the importance of the grant's focus areas. Regarding land ownership, Sirleaf said she would like to see disputes resolved in a reasonable, rational and legal manner, adding that land redistribution may be a part of the resolution process.

The president also spoke of the establishment of the Liberian Education Trust (LET) that is providing scholarships for girls in order to breach the gender gap and is funded primarily by private institutions in the United States.

But there is more to be done, she said. "The problem is bigger than that, retaining them in school is the issue." While there may be many girls at the primary level now, she said, by the time they reach upper classes, they begin to drop out, due to poverty or sexual abuse. She said the MCC program will help her government tackle those problems.

Addressing the third MCC area, she said transitioning from a reliance on aid to economic growth built around trade is "our trade policy and Africa's long term ambition," adding that Liberia is committed to using its extensive natural resources to sustain its own development efforts.

 

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