Viewing cable 07MONROVIA910

07MONROVIA9102007-07-27 15:17:00 2011-08-30 01:44:00 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Monrovia

DE RUEHMV #0910/01 2081517
P 271517Z JUL 07
E.O. 12958: N/A 
¶1. (SBU) Embassy welcomes the August 16, 2007 visit of the 
Congressional delegation led by Representative Nita Lowey, 
Chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, Subcommittee on 
Foreign Operations.  Liberia is at a critical moment in its history, 
emerging from 14 years of civil war under a democratically elected 
government that has been in office a year and a half. The Government 
of Liberia faces daunting challenges.  The country's civil and 
societal institutions, as well as its infrastructure, were destroyed 
during the conflict. Rebuilding Liberia involves reestablishing the 
rule of law, recruiting and training a new police force, standing up 
a new army, rebuilding procedures and institutions for sound 
economic governance, controlling rampant corruption, and putting in 
place infrastructure needed to stimulate economic growth and to 
facilitate provision of basic services. In addition to rebuilding 
infrastructure, the issue of social relationships and 
reconciliation, including coming to terms  with the atrocities of 
the war, are all part of the agenda facing the new government and 
are essential to moving Liberia from being a failed state to 
becoming fully functional once again. 
Political Overview 
¶2. (U) Liberia, Africa's oldest republic, is located on the West 
Coast of Africa, along the Gulf of Guinea, and shares borders with 
Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Cote d'Ivoire. Liberia is a member of the 
Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the African 
Union (AU), the Mano River Union and the United Nations.  Liberia's 
population is estimated to be 3.4 million with a population growth 
rate of 2.5 percent. Approximately 1 to 1.5 million persons live in 
greater Monrovia, the country's capital, while the rest of the 
country is sparsely populated. Approximately 60% of the population 
is under 25 years old.  The last census was conducted in the mid 
1980s. A new census will be taken in 2008. 
¶3. (U) Peace was restored to Liberia after a fourteen-year civil war 
with the signing of the Accra Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 
August 2003.  The CPA established the National Transitional 
Government of Liberia (NTGL), which was constituted by 
representatives of former warring factions, former Government of 
Liberia officials, and civil society representatives.  The United 
Nations stationed 15,000 peacekeeping troops in Liberia and 
initiated a disarmament and demobilization program in which 103,000 
ex-combatants enrolled.  Over the course of 2003 to 2004, the United 
Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) expanded its deployment to all of 
Liberia's fifteen counties and is still primarily responsible for 
security throughout the country. 
¶4. (U) As specified by the CPA, national elections took place on 
October 11, 2005 to choose Liberia's President, Vice President, 
Senate, and House of Representatives.  Thirty political parties were 
recognized for the election and 22 candidates ran for the 
Presidency. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of the Unity Party (UP) was 
elected President in a November 8 run-off election against former 
soccer star George Weah of the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) 
party.  Johnson Sirleaf was inaugurated as Africa's first female 
head of state on January 16, 2006.  The executive branch has 20 
ministries and 15 parastatal companies or state-owned enterprises. 
Capacity below senior levels of most ministries is quite low, as are 
civil service salaries (In the government's budget for July 
2007-June 2008, the minimum wage for civil servants was set at US$ 
50 per month.) This lack of capacity hinders implementation of 
government reforms. 
¶5. (SBU) There are 11 political parties represented in Liberia's 
legislature.  The CDC party has the largest single block in the 
House of Representatives with 16 elected members out of a total of 
64 members (one seat is currently vacant following the death of the 
sitting legislator).  The Coalition for the Transformation of 
Liberia (COTOL) has the largest single block of representation in 
the Senate with 7 elected members out of a total of 30 Senators. The 
Liberian legislature has been largely ineffective during its first 
year and a half, passing no more than a handful of laws.  Members of 
the House of Representatives spent the first month of the current 
session, which began January 15, mired in a crisis brought about by 
an attempt to unseat former Speaker Edwin Snowe.  Some members of 
the House refused to sit under Snowe's gavel and held plenary 
sessions at a separate location and passed a resolution removing 
Snowe.  Snowe responded by alleging that his colleagues had accepted 
bribes in exchange for ousting him and lodged a case before the 
Supreme Court alleging that his constitutional right to due process 
and his rights under the Standing Rules of the House of 
Representatives were violated.  The Supreme Court decided that the 
acts taken to remove Snowe were unconstitutional and vacated his 
removal from office.  Snowe ultimately resigned as Speaker on 
February 15.  While Liberia's citizens waited for legislation to 
provide them with basic services, jobs, and an improved quality of 
life, their elected representatives squabbled. Alex Tyler of COTOL 
was elected Speaker of the House on April 5, with a small margin of 
32 votes out of a total of 60. 
¶6. (SBU) The Liberian judiciary is divided into four levels: justice 
of the peace courts, magistrate courts, circuit courts, and the 
Supreme Court.  Judges and magistrates are assigned throughout 
Liberia's 15 counties, but not all counties have a courthouse and 
many lack furniture and basic supplies.  Judges are subject to 
political, social, and financial pressures and corruption exists. 
Trials are public and juries are used in circuit court trials, but 
not at the magistrate court level.  Under the law, defendants have 
the right to consult with an attorney in a timely manner and to have 
access to government-held evidence relevant to their case.  However, 
in practice these rights are not always observed.  There continue to 
be long delays in disposition of cases and most prisoners are in 
pre-trial detention. 
Economic Overview 
¶7. (U) Liberia's abundant natural resources make it a country with 
great potential for investment, th3ugh civil unrest, insecurity, and 
corruption have stymied this potential in the last 25 years. 
Liberia's infrastructure was destroyed during its civil war, leaving 
it with a limited transportation network, scores of broken down or 
half-finished buildings, no central electric power, no piped water 
system, and no landline phone system.  Poor infrastructure makes it 
difficult for Liberians to conduct business and even more difficult 
to attract the investment needed to create jobs and give Liberian 
tangible evidence of a better future. 
¶8. (U) Liberia is one of the poorest countries in the world with an 
estimated per capita GDP of US $407.  We estimate that only 15% of 
the labor force is employed in the formal sector.  Estimates of 
illiteracy range from 60-85%.  Liberia's largely unskilled labor 
force works as rubber tappers, petty traders, seafarers, miners, and 
agricultural workers.  The government has prepared an Interim 
Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (IPRSP) as part of its strategy to 
address economic development. Downsizing of the civil service and 
raising salary levels are government priorities.  The legislature 
passed forestry legislation in September 2006, which provides the 
legal framework for the development of this sector of the economy 
and resulted in the lifting of UN sanctions on the export of timber. 
 The first timber concessions will not be awarded before late 2007 
and timber exports are not expected until 2008.  Liberia was deemed 
compliant with the Kimberly Process in May 2007 and the UN ban on 
exports was lifted. However, a mining moratorium remains in effect 
until Kimberly Process certificates are received. U.S. assistance 
including resident experts from the USDA Forestry Service and the US 
Geological Service were critical in helping Liberia get out from 
under UN sanctions on timber and diamonds. 
¶9. (U) Liberia was designated AGOA-eligible on December 29, 2006 and 
the Ministry of Commerce is aggressively seeking ways to take 
advantage of AGOA.   The high price of rubber is encouraging 
development of that sector after years of neglect and 
Bridgestone/Firestone, the country's largest rubber exporter and 
largest private employer, is pursuing a multi-year investment and 
replanting program. In the iron ore mining sector, Acelor/Mittal 
signed a revised mineral develpment agreement on December 28, 2006 
to rehabilitate the Yekepa mine, rebuild the railroad between Yekepa 
and the Port of Buchanan, and renovate the Port of Buchanan.  The 
estimated investment is one billion dollars and the project is 
expected to stimulate corollary developments in housing, power 
generation, and agricultural production, and will create over 3,500 
direct jobs. 
¶10. (U) In February 2007, the U.S. and Liberia concluded an "Open 
Skies" aviation agreement, although at the present time there is no 
direct air service from Liberia to the United States.  Also in 
February 2007, the United States Trade Representative (USTR) and the 
Government of Liberia signed a bilateral Trade and Investment 
Framework Agreement (TIFA). 
USG Programs in Liberia 
¶11. U.S. strategy for helping build post-conflict Liberia is based 
on the recognition that there are linkages between key areas of 
security, economic recovery, governance, and provision of basic 
services.  As a result we are engaged on a variety of issues 
including: reintegration of ex-combatants, IDPs, and refugees, 
reform of the security sector, community reintegration, 
strengthening the rule of law and respect for human rights, 
promotion of transparent and effective governance, rehabilitation of 
key infrastructure, restructuring of the forestry and diamond 
sectors, and expanded access to and quantity of health care and 
education.  Establishing rule of law is one of Liberia's most 
important challenges. The U.S.-funded Justice Sector Support-Liberia 
(JSSL) program is helping rebuild Liberia's justice system by 
improving the quality of criminal investigations and prosecutions, 
improving coordination among police and prosecutors, strengthening 
the capacity of public defenders, improving court administration and 
criminal case management procedures, and developing the 
institutional capacity of the Supreme Court and Ministry of Justice 
to develop and manage budget and finance functions.  The U.S. is 
taking the lead in Liberia's security sector reform by managing the 
restructuring of the Liberian armed forces, retraining President 
Johnson Sirleaf's protective detail (SSS) and supporting UNMIL in 
restructuring the national police. 
¶12. USAID manages a range of activities including vocational skills 
training; education; health; community development; capacity 
building; rebuilding infrastructure; literacy; support for 
democratic and transparent elections; economic development 
initiatives; improving transparency and accountability in government 
entities; strengthening the legislature, political parties and 
elections systems, and improving civil society's capacity to hold 
government accountable; supporting increased agriculture 
productivity and market development; increasing access to justice 
through the establishment of legal aid clinics, victim abuse centers 
legal internships, alternative dispute resolution mechanism, and 
legal training.  Throughout FY 2004 and 2005, USAID implemented a 
nationwide public works and skills training program that employed up 
to 34,000 ex-combatants and other war-affected Liberians to 
rehabilitate urban and rural roads, community buildings, hospitals, 
clinics, schools, and community offices.  In FY06, USAID funding 
created more sustainable jobs and increased farmer incomes by 
resuscitating the agricultural sector with a focus on improving 
production of cocoa and rubber.  In FY07, USAID programs are 
focusing on basic community infrastructure, maternal and child 
health, primary education, improving public sector executive 
functions, sustainable natural resource development, promoting 
agricultural sector productivity, expanding energy services, and 
improving roads and facilities at Roberts International Airport, the 
country's only international airfield and the port of Monrovia.  In 
December 2006, President Bush announced that Liberia would be added 
to the list of focus countries that will receive assistance under 
the $1.2 billion President's Malaria Initiative (PMI). 
¶13.  Other USG programs in Liberia include the US Trade and 
Development Agency (TDA), which is funding a feasibility study for 
the rehabilitation of the Mt. Coffee Hydro Electric Dam and the U.S. 
African Development Foundation (ADF), which is currently in its 
third round of no-interest loans and technical assistance for 
entrepreneurial expansion and small business development in Liberia. 
 In FY-07 ADF provided loans/grants to 8 entities for a total of US$ 
1.3 million.  The Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) is 
also actively engaged in Liberia.  It is providing $20 million in 
debt capital for the Liberian Enterprise Development Fund in 
collaboration with ADF and the Robert L. Johnson Foundation. 
¶14.  With funding from USAID, the National Democratic Institute for 
International Affairs (NDI), the International Republican Institute 
(IRI) and the International Foundation for Elections Systems (IFESH) 
are engaged in political party development, legislative 
strengthening, and support for elections processes.  In addition, 
the Carter Center and the Clinton Foundation have programs in 
Liberia.  George Soros, the Scott Foundation, and several other 
private American philanthropic groups are also actively supporting 
Liberia's recovery.