Vice President Boakai, George Soros and Heather Higginbottom Discuss Transparency and Accountability of Africa’s Natural Resources at Open Society Foundations Luncheon

Wednesday, 6th August 2014
Liberia's Ambassador to the U.S. Solonteh (2nd left) and Foreign Minister Ngafuan (3rd left) among the guests at the Open Society Foundations luncheon
Liberia's Ambassador to the U.S. Solonteh (2nd left) and Foreign Minister Ngafuan (3rd left) among the guests at the Open Society Foundations luncheon
Photo Credit: VP Office

Washinton D.C. - Vice President Joseph N. Boakai, Sr., has told the world that, for the last eight years, Liberia has been working to piece together broken institutions, create new ones where none existed, and advance governance and the rule of law. He also said that governments can serve better when stronger institutions are created.


The Liberian Vice President made the statement when he joined the Chairman of the Open Society Foundations, billionaire George Soros, and the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources, Heather Higginbottom at a luncheon on Monday, August 4, the theme of which was “Resources for the Future: Partnering with Civil Society for Transparency and Accountability in Africa”. Introducing the program was Akwe Amosu, former Focus on Africa presenter, and now the Regional Director for Africa for the Open Society Foundations.


Co-sponsoring the event were: Global Integrity, ONE, OXFAM, the Natural Resource Governance Institute, Global Financial Integrity, Publish What You Pay, Human Rights Watch, International Budget Partnership, and Global Witness.


In his remarks, Vice President Boakai told the Washington gathering that Liberia has a strong position on good governance, accountability, transparency, and human rights. “We intend to keep our supportive position on these despite the many challenges as a post-conflict nation”, he pointed out.


He thanked the Open Society Foundations and its partners for the invitation, expressed regret for the absence of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, due to an unprecedented spread of Ebola in the country, and he thanked all present for being good friends of Liberia.


The Vice President indicated that the Open Society Foundations and its partners were informed about Liberia’s recent history, including the civil war, and aware of the many efforts towards rebuilding and reconciliation amidst disunity and challenges. He said that in eight years, Liberia has endeavored to keep the peace, reconcile people, grow the economy, and work towards sustainable and inclusive development.


As dictated by the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed in Accra in 2003, the Vice President said that the country has “worked to consolidate peace and security, revitalize the economy, rebuild governance and rule of law, rebuild infrastructures and provide basis social services”. The last eight years had focused on establishing institutions aimed at good governance, transparency, integrity, accountability -- all decimated by the civil war. “We are rebuilding, providing and expanding basic services in the areas of health, education, gender, youth empowerment and others”, he stressed.


On promoting transparency and accountability, the Vice President said that Liberia joined the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) process, a global standard promoting transparency in the management of resources, in 2007 and remains committed to breaking away from the corruption history of the past.


He explained that upon assuming the leadership of the country, the current government issued Executive Order #1, which saw the cancellation of 87 forestry concessions and a review of all existing concession agreements aimed at protecting the country’s resources. He said that Liberia had joined the Voluntary Partnership Agreement, which ensures that timber leaving Liberia comes from legal sources, thereby protecting the resources and using them for the benefit of the people. The country had also joined the Tropical Forest Alliance-2020, a public-private partnership aimed at taking voluntary actions to reduce deforestation.


Other achievements by Liberia aimed at transparency and accountability in its natural resources sector included: Liberia continues to lead the EITI process and has now submitted its 5th EITI Report; it was one of the first countries to commit its forestry sector to the EITI reporting;it wasthe first country to have a dedicated EITI legislation, and to move EITI reporting beyond the oil and gas industries to include agriculture and forestry.


Liberia, the Vice President informed the gathering, embarked upon the first major effort aimed at promoting contract transparency in EITI history by conducting a Post Award Process Audit, in 2013, of 68 material concession agreements awarded by the government in the oil, mining, agriculture, and forestry sectors between July 2009 and December 2011. While the audit revealed certain lapses in the processes leading to the award of some contracts, including lack of stakeholder participation, procurement missteps, and conflicting legislations, the Vice President believed that the courage to undertake the audit demonstrated Liberians’ determination to assess themselves and transform their destiny.  Such findings challenge us to exercise greater care in managing our resources for more transparent resource governance, he declared.


The Vice President concluded by urging the international community to maintain interest in the well-being and advancement of Liberia, and that Liberia would continue count on their counsel and support.


Speaking earlier, OSF Chairman George Soros spoke of the voice of civil society, which has had a very important role regarding some of the most important developments in Africa. In that connection, he mentioned the roles played by such organizations as Publish What You Pay, by Global Witness, and by the EITI, all of which received support from the Soros Foundation.


Mr. Soros informed the gathering that the new name for EITI is the Natural Resource Governance Institute (NRGI); that with the support of a number of governments, the Institute will be stronger and will play a more important role in the future. He also spoke of agriculture as a key area in dealing with natural resources and employment, noting that as mining becomes highly automated, it employs fewer people. He was therefore pleased that the organization ONE has made agriculture a main area of focus from now on.


On politics, Mr. Soros said that free and fair elections are important for the future of Africa. He also touched on such topics as communal violence; the need for a discussion on the formation of a counter-terrorism partnership; and the need for funding to socio-economic development.


He concluded by expressing his regrets that President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf could not be present because of the Ebola crisis in her country, as it would have been his pleasure to introduce her because she’s a model in working for better governance in Liberia.


In her remarks, the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State, Heather Higginbottom, pointed out that her government was providing support to Liberia in dealing with Ebola.


She stressed the importance of the participation of civil society in solving today’s problems; mentioned the Open Governance Partnership that was established by President Barack Obama, which a number of African countries have joined. Corruption hampers development, she said, and more African countries are aware of that. Transparency in the management of extractive resources was important to Africa’s growth, she stated.


Panelists in the ensuing discussion on transparency and accountability in Africa’s natural resources were: George Soros, OSF Chairman; Mo Ibrahim, Co-founder and Chair of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation; Ali Idrissa, National Coordinator of Publish What You Pay/ Niger; and Mojanku Gumbi, Trustee of the Thabo Mbeki Foundation. Simon Taylor, Co-Founder and Director of Global Witness, made closing remarks.  The Provocateur of the Panel discussion was Daniel Kaufmann, President of the Natural Resource Governance Institute.