An update from UK Ambassador, one year on from successful Liberia visit
On 27 April, BGIPU hosted a briefing with Her Majesty’s Ambassador to Liberia, His Excellency Neil Bradley. The meeting was chaired by Ms Harriett Baldwin MP, Chair of BGIPU and former Minister for Africa. It was attended by a range of MPs and Peers all with a keen interest in the West African country. The Ambassador provided a broad overview of the political, social and humanitarian situation in Liberia, one of the poorest countries in the world.
The briefing was a follow-up from the outward delegation that BGIPU organised in March 2020. Lord Hannay wrote a summary of the delegation visit available here.
In December 2020, the Liberia held mid-term senatorial elections. The Ambassador explained that the elections had been largely peaceful and orderly, helped by well-timed statements from the President and the international community urging peaceful conduct. The President had also conceded at an early stage the opposition’s win in the hotly-contested Senate seat in Montserrado, Liberia’s most populous County. The President’s actions reinforced democratic principles, a positive harbinger for the 2023 presidential elections. A Constitutional referendum, held at the time of the elections, on whether to allow dual nationality and shorten the term lengths for holders of elected office failed to achieve the necessary threshold of votes to pass. Female political participation currently stands at 11% in the lower house and 6% in the upper house. Discussions are underway to have a binding quota of 30%.
The Ambassador gave details about the current economic situation in Liberia. The economy had contracted by 3% in 2020, due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on demand for Liberia’s major exports of iron ore, gold, diamonds and rubber, but was expected to bounce back by 3% in 2021. Although inflation had reduced significantly, the Liberian dollar had depreciated in value against the US dollar. There was a shortage of hard currency in the country. The last time currency was printed allegations arose that a significant portion had disappeared, prompting an independent investigation. The Central Bank of Liberia would oversee a robust procurement process for the next generation of Liberian Dollar Notes.
Discussions followed concerning the need for Liberia to grow its private sector and how to accomplish this goal. Liberia was ranked 175/190 on the World Bank scale of ease of doing business. Investments in infrastructure and energy, and measures to strengthen transparency, would be important in this regard. Sectors such as agriculture and sustainable tourism had good potential for growth.
The Members and Peers were pleased to hear that, despite travel disruption caused by the pandemic, the Chevening scholarship scheme continued to function normally. There were three places available to prospective Liberian students and the Embassy was interviewing applicants as part of the selection process. Lord Hannay raised the point about the curious and cumbersome requirement for the scholarship recipients to travel to Ghana to sit an English language test to obtain a visa – not least given Liberia is an English-speaking country.
The excellent briefing given by Ambassador Neil Bradley gave the MPs and Peers in attendance a thorough overview of the social and political situation in this West African country. It is clear that the bilateral relationship between the UK and Liberia has potential for further development, and engagement through BGIPU auspices allows for important issues to be discussed at a parliamentary level. Despite attending its first meeting in 1889, Liberia is no longer a member of the IPU, however, there is hope that they might re-join in the future.